Halle Berry Opens Up About New Role

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In her latest film "Frankie and Alice," actress Halle Berry plays a '70s era go-go dancer with multiple personality disorder — one of which is a child and the other bigoted southern belle. The actress discusses the role and her career.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

It's been nearly 20 years since we saw Halle Berry in her first major movie -Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever." The former beauty queen was hardly recognizable as a stumbling crack addict. Halle Berry never shies away from the not-so-pretty parts of life in her acting.

In her latest film, "Frankie and Alice," she plays a go-go dancer with multiple personalities - at one moment, a child; at the next, a bigoted Southern belle. She says it's based on a true story.

Ms. HALLE BERRY (Actress): I was ignited by the idea of this woman and intrigued and horrified at the same time, and I thought, wow, how does a black woman, a physically black woman, live with an alter personality that thinks she's white and Southern and a racist, like, how does that happen and then how does one live with the turmoil of that.

CORNISH: In this movie, when your central character, when she makes, I guess, the switch, for lack of a better word, it's almost in perceptible how you do that. And I wanted to know if you met the woman behind the Frankie character, or what kind of research you did to come up with this kind of characterization.

Ms. BERRY: I did meet the real Frankie and Alice, but I didn't meet her until after the process was over. We talked to her, and our writers interviewed her, but the real Frankie didn't remember much as the movie will suggest. So my research was more reading books on the subject. And I actually met a doctor that was willing to answer all of my questions, and he actually allowed me to see hours and hours of real tape of real patients in the therapeutic process going through all of their multiples and struggling with bringing them all together and...

CORNISH: Right. Because in the movie that happens to you as well. There's a scene where she's being videotaped, and you actually sort of cycle through...

Ms. BERRY: Right.

CORNISH: ...into one of these personalities.

(Soundbite of movie, "Frankie and Alice")

Mr. STELLAN SKARSGARD (Actor): (as Dr. Oz) Let's help you, Frankie. Where are you? Can you tell me where you are?

Ms. BERRY: (as Frankie Murdoch) I can't let you (unintelligible) me. (unintelligible), you knit me together. Your hands have (unintelligible) where you then turn and destroy me.

Mr. SKARSGARD: (as Dr. Oz) Who wants to destroy you, Alice?

Ms. BERRY: When they're seeing this for the first time, it's such a traumatic experience when they're taped like that, and they're put through the paces to bring all the characters out. And the way you get all the characters out is you force the host personality to relieve the trauma that actually caused the brain to fracture like it does.

And when they're put through that process and when they have to go back to that time when that horrific event happened, the body sort of goes into like an exorcism because all of the characters come out, and they're fighting to be heard.

They're fighting to explain. They're fighting to take over the body, and it becomes like watching an exorcism.

(Soundbite of movie, "Frankie and Alice")

Ms. BERRY: (as Frankie Murdoch) (Unintelligible) keep crying.

Unidentified Man: (as character) Yeah.

Ms. BERRY: (as Frankie Murdoch): Crying.

Ms. BERRY: And so we desperately wanted to put that element of the recovery of the disorder in our movie.

CORNISH: It took 10 years to get this film made, and you were the producer here. I mean, you had a bigger role in this film than just starring in it. What was that like for you? And how has producing changed your approach to your career?

Ms. BERRY: Well I realized - you know, I produced "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" as well, so I have known now for a while that producing is something that I would have to do. Being a woman in the industry and then a woman of color, the great parts that I think I want to play are not out there for me.

You know, we still have a long way to go on this journey of finding total equality for women of color in the industry. So I have accepted that fact, and it's something that I know that I just have to do.

CORNISH: What has that meant for you? I mean, can you walk into a room and say, you know, Halle Berry, what's up? Like, let's just green light this thing and get it moving, or is it about (unintelligible)

Ms. BERRY: Obviously not. That's why it took me 10 years. Do you know how many rooms I walked in and say, he, I'm here. I've got this great movie. Want to do it? Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. So, obviously not, and that's a crude reality that, you know, I've had to face.

Even after winning an Academy Award, I somehow thought, okay, now I'm going to have an easier time making my Frankie movie. No. That still wasn't the case.

CORNISH: You mentioned winning the Oscar for best actress and that was for "Monster's Ball," and that was almost a decade ago." And it was the same year that, of course, Denzel Washington won his award for best actor.

But I want to play a clip of the speech you gave that night, a very moving speech.

(Soundbite of Ms. Halle Berry's speech at Academy Awards)

Ms. BERRY: This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox.

And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.

CORNISH: Halle Berry, how are you feeling now? You know, 10 years later, do you feel that that what's happened?

Ms. BERRY: I do feel like that. We've had Jennifer Hudson. We've had Monique. We've had Jamie Foxx. We've had Forest Whitaker go on to win Academy Awards since then. So I do think that night was very inspiring for people of color, and there has been significant change.

But real evolution, I think people have to remember, is slow. If it's real and if it's meant to stay and not be a, you know, one time wonder, it's going to take time. And I think things are changing.

CORNISH: You've earned a Golden Globe nomination for this role in "Frankie and Alice," and a great deal of it, without giving away too much of the pot, rest on the relationship between mother's and daughters.

And now that you're a mother, how did that affect your thinking in making a film like this, or, I guess, affect your career?

Ms. BERRY: You know, mother and daughter relationships are always very complicated. The relationship with this mother and daughter, I think, was something that inspired me and I learned a lot from, and it's a real testament to the love of a mother.

And being a mother myself, there's nothing I wouldn't do for my daughter, whether it be legal or illegal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: She's only like, what, three right now, so that can't - hopefully you won't have to test that.

Ms. BERRY: No. But I can tell you, as sure as I'm sitting in this chair, if she killed somebody, I would help her bury the body.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERRY: And I would try very hard to protect her in any way that I could, and I think that's just an instinct of a mother. And that's probably wrong and people will probably - you'll probably get mail that Halle Berry said she (unintelligible) and she blah, blah, blah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERRY: But I don't care. That's my daughter, and I would take a bullet for her. I'd go to jail. I'd end my life. I'd do whatever it took to protect that little girl. I don't care what she did, and that's what I said and I said it.

CORNISH: Is that also, I assume you're thinking about this now maybe, your old relationship with your mother?

Ms. BERRY: I hope my mother would do that for me. I don't know if she'd bury a body for me, but I hope she would protect me and she has in my lifetime, so yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

CORNISH: That's actress Halle Berry. She stars in "Frankie and Alice" which opens this month and will be in wide release early next year. She spoke to us from our studious in NPR West.

Halle Berry, thank you so much.

Ms. BERRY: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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