Personal detailsName: Halle Berry
Born: 14 August 1968 (Age: 46)
Where: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Height: 5' 7"
Awards: 1 Oscar, 1 Emmy, 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
We just can't help it, can we? We all have an innate suspicion of models who become actors. We immediately feel that, otherwise talentless, they've been cast on their looks alone, that they have no real right to inhabit our screens. Whenever someone tries it, the jeers begin and those terrible four words are uttered: Cindy, Crawford, Fair and Game. Yet Halle Berry, a former model and, worse still, a Beauty Pageant winner, has risen above all that. Through a combination of the usual luck and, above all, hard work and persistence, she's made herself into a fine actress, an Emmy winner and the most welcome Oscar winner in recent years. And it has not been easy...
Halle Maria Berry was born on the 14th of August, 1968 (though some insist it was 1966), in Cleveland, Ohio. She was named after the town's Halle Building, which originally housed the Halle Brothers department store but is now an office block (it's also used in the Drew Carey Show). Her father, Jerome, an African American and a hospital attendant by trade, left when she was just four, so she and her elder sister Heidi were raised by their Caucasian, Liverpool-born mother, Judith, herself a nurse in a psychiatric ward. Jerome would return after four years but the violence he directed towards Judith and Heidi meant that he did not stay for long. Throughout her adult life, Halle Would have no contact with him at all, still being estranged when Jerome died in 2003.
Halle's first few years were spent in a black neighbourhood of Cleveland. Here her fair complexion made her stand out, but not as much as she did when her mother moved them out of the inner-city to a mainly white suburb. Now, a little older and in this conservative milieu, her "difference" was not so readily tolerated. "I'm black," she said later. "I realised very early in my life that I wasn't going to be this mulatto stuck in the middle, not knowing if I'm black or white".
To overcome these racial difficulties, Halle threw herself into school activities at Bedford High and tried to make friends. She did well. She was in the Honour Society, a cheerleader, class president, and an editor on the school newspaper. And, naturally, she was Prom Queen. At least, she was joint Prom Queen. Having won outright, she was accused of voting irregularities and (guess what?) forced to share her title with a WASP.
Elsewhere, she was a clear winner. Her looks drew her towards beauty contests and, by 1983, she was Miss Teen Ohio. From here she became Miss Teen All-American, and Miss Ohio, then was runner-up in the Miss USA contest, a placing that saw her entered into the Miss World competition - she was the first African-American to do so. She didn't win, but she did make enough money from modelling to return to Cleveland and enrol at the Cuyahoga Community College where she studied broadcast journalism.
She didn't complete the course. Instead, having decided to act, she financed herself by more modelling and studied acting in Chicago, before moving on to Manhattan in search of work. And it was quick coming. Before long she was playing Emily Franklin, one of four young girls hoping to make it as models in the comedy series Living Dolls, a spin-off from Who's The Boss. It was coincidental and telling that Emily was the one who wanted to use modelling to finance her medical studies.
Sadly, the show lasted only three months, but Halle had come to the attention of radical black director Spike Lee, then casting for his latest movie, Jungle Fever. Halle was hired to play a crack addict (no doubt to illustrate how even the beautiful can be destroyed by drugs). She accompanied the police on visits to real-life crack houses and refused to wash for days before shooting began, to get that authentic feel. She's long been known for living her roles, both on and off camera, and takes an interest in the whole filming process. Lee allowed her to view the dailies and witness the editing. And she was impressive, so impressive that - despite the pong - she had a brief fling with the film's star, Wesley Snipes who, in the movie, played a married man who takes on several taboos by having an affair with white-girl Annabella Sciorra. Also featuring was Samuel L. Jackson, who'd be a regular co-star of Berry's.
Halle was also looking for TV work where she could find it and, in 1991, scored a part as Debbie Porter in the Dallas spin-off Knot's Landing, which had featured such luminaries as Alec Baldwin, Kirsty Swanson and even Ava Gardner. But film roles took precedence and next, again alongside Jackson, she played the love interest in the buddy-comedy Strictly Business. Here she was a cool club promoter who spurns the advances of a dull black stockbroker. He then turns to a dude in the mail-room to help him learn to be more impressive. A kind of My Fair Nigga - know what I'm sayin'? Halle's part did not come without a struggle. She was discarded by the original director for not being black enough, then was re-instated when the director himself was replaced.
Next came a hot role in a great movie. In The Last Boy Scout, she played the exotic girlfriend of Damon Wayans, a footballer who, aided by Bruce Willis, is drawn into a dangerous struggle with corporate gangsters. For research this time, Halle danced for real in a Hollywood strip club, and put in an excellent, if short, performance.
Her admirable work so far - not bad for a mere model, eh? - saw her cast in Eddie Murphy's next vehicle, Boomerang. Here Murphy played an arrogant, womanising ad exec who's traumatised when he, in turn, is treated like a piece of meat by his new boss, Robin Givens. Wholly undermined, he's helped out by "nice girl" Halle. Not only did she impress audiences but also co-star Chris Rock, who later had her appear in his rap spoof CB4.
Things were really looking up, career-wise, and in her love-life, too. Halle has had an extraordinarily bad time in relationships. She's lost some of the hearing in one ear due to physical abuse, and another fellow she dumped became something of a stalker, plaguing her for years afterwards and even sending her dead snakes in the post. In January 1993, this looked to be changing when she married Atlanta Braves right fielder David Justice (now of the Yankees), to whom she'd proposed after just six months. They became a pin-up couple, with magazines cooing over their relationship. Sadly, it did not last. They divorced amidst vicious acrimony in 1996. Halle threw herself into work, on screen and for charities. She toiled for the National Breast Cancer Coalition and visited US troops in Sarajevo, later being given an award by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations.
Determined not to be viewed as mere eye candy, Halle now took the lead in the TV miniseries Queen by Roots-writer Alex Haley. Here she played the title role in the true story of Haley's own grandmother, as she struggled on the tobacco plantations in the days immediately prior to the end of slavery. Fathered by a white slave master, Queen struggles to understand her own identity and to find love in a harsh world. Co-starring Ann-Margret, Martin Sheen and Danny Glover, the show was an epic and a great success.
After this came Father Hood, where Patrick Swayze played a crook on the run with his two kids who've broken out of a foster-shelter where they've been abused. Halle played a journalist trying to track them down and thus uncover the corruption in the foster system. The movie was disappointing, but it showed once again how Halle was keen to deal with serious subject matter. And this was the case too with The Program, about the awful pressures placed on college football-players. The film became notorious for one scene where a boy, unable to take any more, calmly lies down before onrushing traffic. There were several copy-cat fatalities, so Disney pulled the movie and removed the offending scene.
Having taken a far lighter role as sexy secretary Sharon Stone in The Flintstones, Halle then moved on to even heavier material than The Program. In Losing Isaiah, she was once again a crack addict, this time dumping her own baby in a dustbin. A few years later, now cleaned up, she finds that her child is alive and has been fostered by social worker Jessica Lange. A court battle ensues, with Berry aided by lawyer Samuel Jackson.