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She plays Leticia in Monsterís Ball, and the only way to play this flawed single mother, from the son-beating scene to the raw sex Ė was to let herself succumb to the character, Halle Berry tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

Always a beauty, Halle Berry can now add Serious Actress to her credits, following the Academy Award for her intense performance in the low-budget drama, Monsterís Ball. With her portrayal of Leticia, a desperate, single black mother living in the rural South who becomes involved with a white man, played by Billy Bob Thornton, Berry has left audiences around the world with a whole new impression of who she is and what she is capable of.†

When the part was being cast, every African American actress in Hollywood went after it but Berry was not even considered because she was deemed Ďtoo good-lookingí. But after reading the script, the former beauty queen and Golden Globe-winning star of The Dorothy Dandridge Story and the recent Swordfish, knew it was a part she desperately wanted to play. Having convinced the director, she was left to convince the audience and her rave reviews and Oscar nod would seem to indicate that she pulled it off with perfection.

There is a unique and interesting relationship between your character, the mother, and her son in this film. How did you relate to your character and her relationship with her boy? Did you use any experiences of your own from your childhood?
One of my problems, when I first read this script, was thinking about what kind of woman would be able to abuse her child like this and have any redeeming qualities? Thatís how I felt when I read it so thereís nothing that directly relates to my own life in those characters. But what I do relate to is my mother being a single mother. My mother is English and she had these two little black kids and she knew that we had to work harder and be better to try and overcome the racism that exists in this country. She tried to afford us every opportunity to excel so if I took anything from my real life, I probably tried to instill that in Leticia. Her beating him came out of love because she wanted him to be better but as a black little kid he couldnít be that overweight. She wanted him to not only look the part but be the part and be successful and have a better life than she had. So thatís probably the only piece that I took from my real life.

How is the African-American community going to embrace this film and your character?
I saw her with a lot of redeeming qualities. Once I got into the mind of this woman and through playing her, I realized what her redeeming qualities were, as well as her strengths. I think she is a character that the black community will embrace because Ö is she imperfect? Yes. We all are. We all have imperfect things about us and so the best we can do is live our life coming from the situation that weíre born into. I think at the end of the day, she is a survivor and she is strong and I think she chooses a better way of life. She chooses to end the cycle that she was on. There may be people who will find her not redeeming but I found her redeeming because even when she beat her son, I realized it was really out of love; she didnít know how to encourage him any other way. She probably wasnít given that as a child herself, so I thought she did the best she could given everything that was being thrown at her. The anger she was living with because of the death of her husband. She probably thought that was very unfair. She was left alone to raise this kid with no real skills, no real education. Those things werenít afforded to her so I thought she did the best she could and to me that is an admirable quality.

What was it like to work with Sean Combs, aka Puffy Daddy, who played your husband in the film?
I knew Sean before. Iíve known him for many, many years, back in the days when he was working as an assistant on one of my movies called Strictly Business. I was really happy and really proud to see that on this film he could come down and leave his Puffy persona and be a part of this project in a real human way. He didnít bring all the fanfare that usually follows Puffy but came down really wanting to learn and wanting to be the best he could and worked really hard to really fit in. He really felt like a thespian. He didnít feel like the Sean Puffy Combs that we read and see so much about and I thought he did a wonderful job.

Can you talk about the sex scene in the film which has become one of the most talked-about scene because it is so raw and graphic.
The first thing I had to really become comfortable doing was submitting to that moment. On paper it really read like what you saw and that was frightening at first because I wondered how I would ever be uninhibited enough to pull that off. I was very cerebral at first. Once I decided to succumb to the character and really service her and not think about what I would be looking like, and once I didnít care about that it became really easy because I left all those inhibitions at the door. I thought I would just do it in a way that expressed she needed that (sex) like she needed the air to breathe and I thought if I could just capture that desperation and that need and not care what I look like, I thought I would be able to do the scene justice because it was written very raw and very animalistic and very painful, at the same time very beautiful and satisfying, so thatís the way I approached it.

You and Billy Bob have different approaches to acting. How did that work on the set?
Right before every scene we had together, he would start making jokes and laughing and I think thatís his own nervous energy. Even before the death scenes he would start in with these bizarre stories, cracking jokes, and I would have to walk away and go in a closet and shut the door and just stay in my head. Thatís his way. But as soon as you say ďactionĒ heís right there like he wasnít joking five minutes before. It was fascinating to watch. Itís amazing. But I think it also helped Sean Combs a lot because I think that relaxed Sean. So some people it helped and other people, like me, I would have to liked to go into a closet or lock him in one!

Published March 28, 2002

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