A Bond Girl winning an Academy Award? You must be joking! But it happened… as Halle Berry won for her heart-wrenching performance in Monster’s Ball. Who would’ve believed it? History was made that night, even as people found her acceptance speech as either pretentious fluff or sincere plea. But why should we care? Well, being a Bond Girl makes you almost immediately a Cult Siren. And if you’re an actress playing a weather-manipulating mutant with white hair in a super hero movie franchise, how could you go wrong?
Halle Berry was born on August 14th, 1966, the union of an African-American father, Jerome, and a white mother, Judith. She has an older sister, Heidi. Her name comes from the Halle Building in Cleveland, her home town, which housed a big department store and is the fictional setting of the store in The Drew Carey Show! The parents divorced when Halle was four, so she was raised by her mom, with whom she’s still close to this day. As a teenager, she trained to be a cheerleader and began appearing in beauty pageants, winning at the age of 17 the Miss Teen All-American Pageant, representing the state of Ohio. In 1986, she was the first runner-up in the Miss USA Pageant and first black American in the Miss World Competition. Consequently, Halle began to dream of a career in the entertainment business. What was a girl to do? Become a model, of course.
In 1989, her professional acting debut was made for the TV series Living Dolls, a sitcom about a teen model agency that lasted only one season. She was already perceived as an actress that remained in character during the entire shoot. Work was soon found in the popular TV show Knots Landing. 1991 was an even more important year. After appearing in a R. Kelly and Public Announcement’s music video, she made her movie debut in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, playing a crack addict. There’s still a rumor going around that she refused to bathe for weeks to stay in character. The same year, she also played a stripper in The Last Boy Scout, starring Bruce Willis.
In 1992, Halle made a great partner to Eddie Murphy in the comedy Boomerang. This was followed by a prestigious television mini-series, Queen, about author Alex Haley’s mother, narrating her arduous experiences with slavery. This role won her great acclaim when it was aired in February 1993. Halle was then seen in the role of Sharon Stone (no, not the actress) in the live-action adaptation of The Flintsones in 1994. With this amusing role, she got my attention for the first time. Another hit mini-series followed, this time playing no less than the Queen of Sheba in Solomon and Sheba, for which Halle was nominated for an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television movie, Mini-Series or Drama Special.
In 1995, she returned to crack addiction for Losing Isaiah alongside Jessica Lange. Did she take any baths for this one? This difficult role was an omen for things to come, in a way. But her next projects were a bit on the easier side, with Executive Decision where she can be seen as a stewardess, Girl 6 where she plays herself and the dumb comedy B*A*P*S for which, at least, she wore a colorful wardrobe. Believe it or not, she was nominated as Best Actress for this film at the Acapulco Black Film Festival! Was this a sign that meaty roles for black actresses were not that many in Hollywood?
She starred in a little more successful comedy in 1998, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, telling the story of singer Frankie Lymon and his three wives (played by Halle, Lela Rochon and Vivica A. Fox). Next came a TV movie produced by all-powerful Oprah Winfrey, The Wedding. But the main project in 1998 was being offered a role in Bulworth, a political satire directed by and starring Warren Beatty. Beatty as a hip’-hoppin’ soul brother? You better believe it and Halle again won great reviews. In fact, she began associating herself with more high-profile movie projects.
In 1999, Halle became engaged to singer Eric Benét, who already had a 8 year old daughter. An important part came along, that of doomed entertainer Dorothy Dandridge in a TV movie. Dandridge was virtually the only black female star in American movies of the fifties, a fact that was inspiring for Halle. In fact, Dandridge was once nominated as Best Actress at the Academy Awards, but didn’t win. Halle discovered that she and Dorothy were both born in the same Cleveland hospital. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge was a huge success and Halle’s performance hailed as a tour de force. She deservedly won the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries from the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie/Miniseries/Dramatic Special from the Image Awards, the Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television from the Golden Satellite Awards, the Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV from the Golden Globes Award and the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie from the Emmy Awards. And she also won many more fans.
But after all this acclaim, the year 2000 didn’t start in a very good way. In February, she allegedly ran a red light driving a rented Chevrolet Blazer, slammed into another car on Sunset Boulevard, and then left the scene of the accident before authorities arrived. A gash to her head required 20 stitches to close and the woman driving the other vehicle broke her wrist. Even if Halle reported the accident to a police officer at the hospital where she sought treatment, this made all the major news in an most embarrassing way. Hit and run! How bad! A judge plead her on three years probation and Halle was fined to pay $13,500 after pleading no contest on May 10, 2000, to a misdemeanor charge. She was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and to make restitution as determined by the outcome of civil litigation.
Soon after, Halle allegedly complained about the lack of quality roles for African-American actresses, as she was supposedly dismayed at playing a super hero in some action film. The role of Storm in the X-Men movie was soon shrouded in criticism, as Halle’s white wig for the character didn’t seem to find approval among the rabid comic book fans. But her screen presence was formidable and the huge critical and box-office success of the film buried any harsh words of the past. In fact, it’s impossible to think that Halle didn’t find satisfaction in playing a high-profile black female super hero.
In 2001, Swordfish was unleashed on the big screens, starring John Travolta and Halle’s co-star in X-Men, Hugh Jackman. This movie got mixed reviews, but everyone talked about it, mainly for Halle’s magnificent topless scene, of which there’s still a rumor that she was paid a few dollars more to perform. The script was a mess, but Halle’s gorgeous in it! Then, out of the blue, came Monster’s Ball and a strong female role, which was passed down by Vanessa L. Williams and Angela Bassett, mainly for reason of on-screen nudity. Halle finally agreed to play Leticia, a young woman trying to make ends meet when her husband is electrocuted on Death Row (husband played by Puffy Diddy or whatever he’s called this week). Her son is fat and lazy. Leticia begins an unexpected relationship with a racist prison guard who served at her hubby’s death sentence. This movie was considered one of the best of the year and Halle’s work masterful.
Then came Oscar night and the events couldn’t have been better scripted, with Sydney Poitier being honored and Denzel Washington named as Best Actor. I was personally rooting for Halle, not for the lack of “black” recognition, but just for the simple fact that she gave the best performance of the nominees. Her direct competition was Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom, a movie which I consider an unbearable bore. Halle had already won at the Screen Actors Guild Award, the National Board of Review and the Berlin International Film Festival. So, she was the first African American actress to win the Oscar for Best Actress, Hattie McDaniel having won for Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for Gone with the Wind as Mammy.
Halle became a Bond Girl in 2002 for the 20th episode of 007’s adventures, Die Another Day. She gave homage to the first ever Bond Girl, Ursula Andress, wearing similar swimwear. The shoot was not without danger, however, as one of her eye received shrapnel during an action scene and she nearly choked to death on a fig, being rescued by Pierce Brosnan (who himself suffered an knee injury). Much was made of Halle’s nomination for Monster’s Ball, as she learned the news on location while working on Die Another Day. But it was also announced that her significant other, Eric Benét, was having wild orgies while Halle was away. Huh? Was it just tabloid nonsense, taking advantage of Halle’s rocky union with baseball player David Justice in the early ’90s? Not really, since the couple broke up.
The success of Die Another Day led to a rumor that Halle’s character, Jinx, would have her own action movie franchise, which if realized, would be a first for the Bond series. And, yes, I know that Kim Basinger won an Oscar too, but her 007 movie, Never Say Never Again, is not officially part of the “legitimate” Bond series. Reprising her role of Storm in X2, Halle clashed with returning director Bryan Singer during some turmoil between himself and the producers. She allegedly told him to “kiss her black ass” (which I hope he did… because I would!).
The future of Halle’s career should be promising. But will she be able to find some more strong roles as was the one in Monster’s Ball? Too often, recent Academy Award winning actresses have gone through a curious slump. The Catwoman project was viciously put down by fans and press alike, even before a single frame was shot (unexpectedly, Halle picked up in person the 2004 Razzies Award for Worst Actress, showing great maturity and good humor). I can only think of another beautiful and skilled African-America actress, Angela Bassett, who’s too rarely seen on big screens. Let’s hope for great success for them all. Still, Halle returned for X-Men: The Last Stand and urged fans to write the studios for the production of a fourth episode. She’s currently datnig a male model from Quebec.
1991 Jungle Fever; The Last Boy Scout; Strictly Business 1992 Boomerang 1993 CB4; Father Hood; The Program 1994 The Flintstones 1995 Losing Isaiah 1996 Executive Decision; Race the Sun; Girl 6; The Rich Man’s Wife 1997 B*A*P*S 1998 Bulworth; Why Do Fools Fall In Love 2000 X-Men; Welcome to Hollywood 2001 Swordfish; Monster’s Ball 2002 Die Another Day 2003 X2; Gothika 2004 Catwoman 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand 2007 Perfect Stranger; Things We Lost in the Fire 2010 Frankie & Alice 2011 New Year’s Eve 2012 Dark Tide; Cloud Atlas 2013 Movie 43; The Call