Halle Berry Interview – Cloud Atlas – “As a teenager, I was so driven to pursue my dreams that I made a decision to quit school at 17…”
Q: Halle, playing so many gender-bending roles in this film must have been quite the experience?
BERRY: I never could have imagined being part of any film like this. Playing a white Jewish woman was one thing, but playing an Asian man like Dr. Ovid was soething else! (Laughs) I loved it. Never before in my life would I ever have thought anybody would ever hire me to be an Asian man for any reason. (Laughs) This film is something unique – I doubt if I’ll ever get the chance to be part of this kind of a project again.
Q: Talk about some of your feelings about Cloud Atlas and what it means?
BERRY: It would be impossible to explain what I really feel or think about the film. It exists on so many different levels. On one level, the most basic, it explores the consequences of human actions over the course of several centuries and hundreds of generations. The film also talks about the human soul and how an evil person can be transformed into a hero, in another body, after a single act of kindness.
Q: Much of the film deals with the notion of reincarnation as well as how small or large gestures or actions can change one’s existence or soul. Have you ever experienced such a life-changing moment or chapter in your own life?
BERRY: I believe that you can experience very profound moments of change in life…I never would have become an actress if I hadn’t dropped out of high school. As a teenager, I was so driven to pursue my dreams that I made a decision to quit school at 17 so I could find my voice as an actress and eventually the profession embraced me.
Q: What struck you as particularly important about this film?
BERRY: It was so innovative. It was so poignant for an actor, someone like me, to be able to shed my skin, and do something that I would never have been able to do if it weren’t for this kind of an extraordinary story.
I love the totality of all the characters. To play a Jewish woman, or an investigative journalist in 1970s San Francisco, to playing this extra-terrestrial being from another planet that came down to help this other group of people. I felt like it was such a diverse group of people that I got asked to play that it was like a revelation for me.
Q: Are you drawn to films that carry some sort of deeper meaning?
BERRY: I like films that have some sort of message and enlighten audiences in some way, whether it’s spiritual or political or what have you. I recently saw “The Lorax” with my daughter. (Laughs)
That film really moved me. This was an example of an animated film that a wonderful message for children: it discussed the planet, the trees, and things that are important in life. It gave me the chance to talk to my child about the importance of trees and green spaces on earth and about how bees are vital to flowers.
Q: Do you and your daughter watch a lot of movies together?
BERRY: I like Nahla to see movies rather than watching a lot of TV. The last few years I’ve been watching a lot of children’s films with her and it’s opened me up to her world. It’s fascinating to be able to see life through the eyes of your child. It simplifies a lot. You don’t feel as stressed as you normally would dealing with all the problems that tend to accumulate in the adult world. (Laughs).
Q: You actually broke your foot just two days before you were supposed to begin work on Cloud Atlas, didn’t you?
BERRY: Yes. I remember that I was sitting in my bed in Majorca, foot up in the air, the day the accident happened, and I got a call saying “Tom and Andy and Lana want to come talk to you.” I thought they were going to give me my walking papers, and say you know, “We love you, but too many people are involved, too many schedules have been made for too many years, and you know, we’re bringing in Angela Bassett.” (Laughs) But instead they told me how they were going to juggle things around and that there was never any thought of replacing me. So that was really wonderful of them.
Q: Did that involve a lot of scheduling changes?
BERRY: Yes. They basically threw out their initial schedule and gave up any hope of shooting in some sort of chronological order. So then it was all over the place and it involved travelling back and forth to Majorca and then Germany then we had to go back to Majorca when my foot got a little bit better and we were able to shoot some of that stuff on the mountainside when I could climb a little bit better. It was all over the place.
BERRY: Tom was a dream partner during the making of the film. Over the years I had the chance to meet Tom many times and it’s mainly through a mutual friend, Oprah Winfrey, that we’ve become close friends over the years.
Because of my broken foot, each day Tom would play nurse to me. He really took care of me. He would bring me coffee and soup and just stay with me during breaks in shooting because it was difficult for me to move around, especially at the beginning.
Q: How did that affect the actual shooting of your scenes?
BERRY: I basically had to be helped back to my chair after every take, but you learn to adapt to the situation. But with Tom at my side, I was really able to go beyond my own expectations of what I was capable of as an actress. He’s one of those rare actors and rare human beings who are so generous when it comes to not only your work but as one person to another. He was always there to encourage me and support me throughout the film. That was so beautiful of him.
I’ve always thought that when anyone receives an award for acting they should always thank their fellow actors, because the only way you’re going to deliver your best performance is when you have other good actors on the set supporting you and being very present for you even when the camera is not on them.
Q: You took a break from acting to focus on raising your daughter. Did you ever worry about waiting until your forties to have a child?
BERRY: I was 41 when I had Nahla and I think I was right to have waited. I don’t think I would have been as good a mother in my twenties or even in my thirties as I’m able to be now. It took me time to figure out so many things in my life – who I was, how to become happy, before I could reach the point where I could be the kind of mother I wanted to be.
Q: You seem like a very determined woman. Yet you’ve often struggled with many kinds of challenges in your life.
BERRY: I think when you grow up being confused about your identity and how you’re perceived in the world when you’re from a biracial family it makes you fight harder for everything. You have to work harder to prove yourself to others as well as to yourself.
Q: Do you think your admitted struggles with questions of identity and direction earlier in your life affected your romantic relationships and some of your choices in men who were not always very good for you?
BERRY: Although some people will say it’s a cliché, I think not having had a father when I was growing up affect me negatively because I didn’t have a good role model to follow. It’s hard to admit that you’ve made the wrong choices and gone through a lot of grief because of that. But you learn from your mistakes and I see things so much more clearly now. I’m very happy now.
Q: What has motherhood meant to you at this stage in your life?
BERRY: Being a mom puts things into perspective and what we take and we share in life. It’s a matter of juggling and finding what comes natural…Being a mother is probably the most important thing in my life right now. Career is important, but nothing really supersedes my role as a mother. That’s the most important thing I’m going to do in this life at this point.