EN Interview 1 - Halle Berry has played Storm in the X-Men movies, a bikini-clad Bond girl, Catwoman, and even a white Jewish wife in last year’s Cloud Atlas. But she’s never played an astronaut before let alone one who returns from a 13-month solo space mission and discovers that she’s pregnant. That’s the stunning premise behind Extant, a daring new CBS sci-fi series produced by Steven Spielberg that gives Berry one of the highest profile roles of her career. Ironically, Berry was eight and a half months pregnant with her second child when she was first offered the part.
“It wasn’t much of a stretch for me to play this character right after I gave birth,” the 48-year-old Berry smiles. “I don’t know much about being an astronaut but I knew that I could fake being pregnant!”
“This was a series that struck me as being very well written and I was anxious to get involved. This is a great role and we’re seeing more and more important roles being written for women now on TV. Over the last several years people have also recognised that some of the best work in Hollywood is being done on TV. There used be this stigma against actors doing series work and then not being able to do films. That’s no longer the case and I’m very proud to be working with some great people.”
CBS is promoting the series as a major television summer blockbuster event, and Berry’s presence is a major coup for the network which also made her a producer of the series as part of her undisclosed seven-figure contract. Goran Visnjic plays her scientist husband John Watts while Brad Beyer (Royal Pains) and Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep’s actress daughter) round out the cast.
Berry lives in Los Angeles with her husband, French actor Olivier Martinez, 48, and their two children, daughter Nahla, six, from her previous relationship with Canadian model Gabriel Aubrey, and baby son Maceo.
Berry and Martinez have both expressed a desire to move to Paris but that plan has been blocked by Nahla’s father Aubrey following a bitter custody dispute. Last month Berry was ordered to pay $16,000 a month in child support payments to Aubrey until their daughter turns 19 or finishes high school.
Q: Halle, before we talk about Extant, how do you feel about being a new mother again?
BERRY: It’s been such a beautiful time. I feel blessed. I never expected to have another baby at this point in my life, and so it’s been such a gift for us. Nahla loves playing with Maceo. She feels like it’s one of her dolls that has come alive and so she gets so excited to be able to feed him, help change his diapers, and play with him. It’s a joy for me to watch how she has bonded with him.
Q: Now that you’ve started work on Extant, did you choose to bring both of your children to the set?
BERRY: Yes. I didn’t really have a choice because I’ve been nursing Maceo and I believe very strongly in breastfeeding. I find that it’s the quickest way to get rid of the extra weight you put while you’re pregnant and it’s also very healthy for your child. Nahla also comes and joins me on the set after she finishes school and she just loves that time with me and the baby. She looks forward to seeing her little baby brother and she likes the idea of helping me look after him. It feels much more relaxing to me when I have my family around me. But I’m very well looked after on the set and I’ve really enjoyed working on the show.
Q: Was it the concept of the series as much as your character Molly that made you want to be part of the show?
BERRY: I felt that I could relate to the character deeply and that she was a very interesting woman who has an important job and is pushing herself to be successful and also wants to have a happy home life. She has a strong sense of her role as a mother and that was probably the single most important aspect to Molly that resonated with me.
She’s a strong, complicated, and determined woman. I like to think of myself in those terms. I’ve been a fighter all my life and I wanted to play this woman who is facing this new struggle in her life.
Q: Was it tough at first to get used to working on a TV series?
BERRY: The pace is much, much faster. You don’t have anywhere near as much time between scenes and set-ups as you do in film so basically you’re just shooting the whole day. I’m also working as a producer on the series so I’m also involved in a lot of decisions that discussions apart from my acting job. The only time I really get to relax during the day is at lunch break or when I have to go breastfeed my baby. It’s a lot to take on but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. The fact that it was being shot in Los Angeles also made it much easier for me to commit to it.
Q: How did you handle all the scenes in space (where she is lifted by cables in the air to simulate weightlessness)?
BERRY: I was ready for that because I had already done a lot of wire work while playing Storm (in the X-Men films). While preparing for my scenes in Extant, I went to NASA and they took me on a zero gravity flight where I got to experience the sense of weightlessness for the first time. It’s hard to describe the feeling.
You suddenly find yourself floating and you feel this extraordinary sense of freedom and you’re able to change your position almost without any effort. I felt like a bird. The only bad part is that after going up and down 15 times or so you feel like vomiting and I did. It was too much motion for me! (Laughs)
Q: One of the most intriguing aspects of Extant is how Molly will deal with the Rosemary’s Baby aspect to her pregnancy?
BERRY: There is a period (of the series) that we’re going to go through, where it will have elements of Rosemary’s Baby because she’s having this entity with something that is unknown. It is for us to decide, throughout the series, what this entity is, what it wants, will it stay here, is it really her baby, is it just an offspring, and what is it really. These are questions that we are asking.
Q: Your image is that of an actress who always seems to be playing very serious women facing very difficult situations as you’ve done in films like Monster’s Ball or Things We Lost in the Fire or last year’s The Call? But you seem much more lighthearted in person?
BERRY: (Laughs) I’ve played so many dark or serious characters in my career that it’s hard for people to separate me from them. I’d rather people think of me as Jinx in Die Another Day because she has a sense of fun that I also have when it comes to looking at the world. I’ve had my struggles in life but I’m not a tortured soul like some of my screen roles. This is actually one of the lightest times in my life and I feel that so many good things have been happening to me of late. It’s just that as an actor you’re attracted to the heavy and serious stuff because that’s where the great drama tends to be found. But I would jump at the chance to do a good comedy but I know that I’m not going to be the first person that comes to mind!
Q: How has your experience as a mother changed you?
BERRY: I think I’m pretty much the same person I’ve been for most of my life. I feel I’ve grown a lot and discovered a lot of things about myself and about life during that time. But my spirit is the same. My children have fulfilled a need in me, though. I have strong instincts as a mother and I’ve experienced so much pure joy looking after them and feeling that I have a beautiful family around me that I can share my life with. It’s the best kind of feeling.
Q: You took a break from acting to focus on raising your first 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’re still spoken of as one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. Do you feel a certain pride in that at this stage in your life?
BERRY: It’s very flattering. I’m grateful that I have good genes and that I’m not getting wrinkly. But I’ve also always eaten very well and taken care of my body. As a diabetic, I’m very aware of everything I eat and so I’ve never had the luxury to eat a lot of junk food. So in an odd way I’ve been able to turn my illness into a positive force for living a very healthy life.
Q: Your husband is French and you’ve spoken many times about wanting to move to Paris one day. Is that still a dream of yours?
BERRY: Yes. We love our time in Paris and one day I’m sure that I’ll be living there. Maybe when Nahla turns 18 and she goes off to college. The one thing about France which has always appealed to me is that they have laws protecting your privacy and I think your children should be off-limits to the paparazzi. In France you have that protection.
Q: How do you see your life evolving now?
BERRY: I’m enjoying every moment of this time in my life. I have a wonderful family, I’m doing interesting work, and I feel that my children make my life more beautiful every day.
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