You want the naked truth? Halle Berry insists that she was not paid $500,000 to go topless in Swordfish (2001). Cupping her breasts, which she displays in the film, she says, "Totally not true. I would sell these babies for way more money."
She says this hot Hollywood rumor has "amused me for the last few weeks. I don't know where it came from. Nobody is owning up to it. But it has made for great publicity for the movie."
Then again, even a clothed Halle would be pretty good as a photo op. She walks into a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in Los Angeles wearing a teeny tiny white leather mini skirt, big red belt, black silk blouse and fushia sunglasses.
Doing a little twirl like a fashion model, she says,"It's not like I'm going to the market." She actually stopped to do this interview on the way to the MTV Movie Awards.
In the high tech heist film, Swordfish, Berry is a mystery woman whose affections are swayed by both John Travolta and Hugh Jackman. In one scene, she has their eyes popping when she lowers a newspaper and she's wearing nada. "I did the scene because it showed you that the character was in control of her sexuality and very comfortable with herself," Berry says. "The challenge for me was to pull it off and not just sit there naked and looking scared to death like I initially felt."
It was Travolta who helped her feel better. "I walked on the set, looked at her and said, 'What a body!' At that point, everybody cracked up and it was fine," he says. Berry adds, "I don't think nudity is ever necessary. I think you can make every single movie and never show anything and it's fine. I think it's a choice you make, and it was a bold choice on my part. But it was written in the script and when I was offered the part, I was told, 'That's who this girl is and it's not negotiable to be taken out."
Should men be expected to expose more in movies then, since women are always invited to?
Berry laughs and says, "I think some men have made bold choices, and they have, and I think more men, in the coming years, with this new generation, will. You watch."
Berry says she enjoyed the sexuality of the character. "I've never really explored that part of myself on screen before. For so many years, I said, 'No, no, no.' A lot of it was not being comfortable with myself, being afraid and wondering what people would think," she admits. "Finally, after the last couple of years of my life, I sort of shed myself of all of those worries and I feel really, really good about myself."
All the acclaim she got for 'Dorothy Dandridge' helped her psyche. "I finally got some critical acceptance. I had this monkey on my back for so many years to prove that I was more than a model and that I could really act. So, with that, yes it freed me up to really try some of the things that I really always wanted to do. I guess I had this burning desire to prove something first."
Berry is proving herself in big budget movies like the upcoming x Men 2, The (2003) which starts filming next year. She also logs time at home with new husband Eric Benet. "I'm really settled in my life now. He's so supportive of who I am and where I am trying to go as an actress and a black woman."
Yes, he's seen her ''show it all'' in Swordfish (2001). "My husband said, 'God, you look really beautiful.' He likes me to take chances. He's very much into letting me fly." And she is also an inspiration for Benet who is working on an new album. "He says I'm his inspiration for about six songs on it," says Berry, smiling shyly. "Yes, his new album has got a lot of love songs on it."
Since the film deals with computers and hi-tech gadgetry, what type of research did you have to do to prepare for your role in Swordfish (2001)?
I just kept going to the gym. (laughs) Because my character, Ginger had all this computer dialogue. I couldn't take enough classes or do enough preparation to really understand what the 'hydra-worm' or all that other stuff means. Not that I really care to, either. So, a lot of that was just studying the script and just finding what I wanted to do with Ginger, she was written as a classic femme fatale, sort of hard-edged, and I didn't think really likable at first. So my challenge was just to make a sexy girl, who is a femme fatale, to make her human and make her as likable as I possibly could.
Did you enjoy the sexuality of the character?
Yeah, I did, because I've never really explored that part of myself on screen before. For so many years, I said, 'No, no, no,' and a lot of it was not being comfortable with myself, being afraid and wondering what people would think. Finally, after the last couple of years of my life, I sort of shed myself of all of those worries and I feel really, really good about It.
Since you come from a bi-racial background, how did you like the color-blind aspect of the movie? The fact that your character is of ethnic origin is never even brought up in the film.
That's what was really exciting and that made me get over the nudity really quickly. Because I saw this as an opportunity to take a black woman to another place where we haven't gone before. So, for reasons like that, it's very important, because that's been my struggle to be just a woman in a movie and not let the fact that I'm black hinder me from getting parts that only my white counterparts are able to play. So this was a big step in that direction that I'm trying to go in.
Is Hollywood less color-blind now?
Less? I think it's less, but I think it's still struggling to believe that that's OK. But the more there's these little steps like this, eventually I think they will realize that it is OK and that we can just be people, and that color doesn't really have to matter all the time. In some stories it does matter, but there are so many stories where it doesn't.
You've worked with Hugh Jackman two times now. How was it the second time?
It was a whole lot better, because this time, we really got to work together. In X-Men (2000), we saw each other in the cafeteria. We really didn't have scenes together. So this was a lot better, this time.
You mentioned that the techno-babble of the film eluded you, but you do have your own website?
Yes, I do.
What does it mean to be able to communicate directly with your fans?
For instance, you were able to tell your fans - through your website - that you were married to Eric Benet before anyone else knew.
What does it mean to have that direct communication with your fans instead of having to go through us all the time?
The press has always been pretty kind to me, so that's not a bad thing. But it's nice to have an outlet to have a voice that's uncut and unedited, and I can say what I want to say in its entirety and not have part of my statements edited off and make things appear one way that it's not. So it's a really good release for me. And I try not to use it as a preaching tool. I try not to use it to uplift myself to the nth degree, but I like to go on there when I have important things to say.
Like, I got to go on my website and talk about, 'No, I didn't get a half-a-million dollars to show my boobs. That's not true. ' I made it very simple, but I got to say my peace. And that feels really, really good.
How did Eric propose?
What do you like to do in the summer when you are not acting?
What do I like to do in the summer? Usually just spend time with my family. I like to rollerblade a lot, swim, play tennis and a lot of athletic things like that.
Do you travel at all?
I travel so much with my work that when I have off time, that's usually the last thing that I want to do. I want to stay somewhere, feel rooted and some sort of normalcy and regularity to my life.
It sounds like you are embarking on a Phase Two of your career or of your personal life.
I'm on Phase Five now. That's what it feels like. (laughs)
Is this maybe the happiest time of your life?
Yeah, absolutely the happiest, the most comfortable time.
Great, but I haven't seen it. But I know it's a small, small part, but I know it was fun for him. And I support him in whatever he wants to do, just like he does me.
Do you want to have children?
When you said that this is the happiest time in your life, it almost feels like you never expected to have a really happy time or a happy private life with your marriage. Are your surprised your life is turning out as well as it is?
Yeah, I think I got sort of preconditioned that maybe it just wasn't for me. But it feels really good to know that it was just maybe some bad choices that took part in my life. And I've learned a lot of things about myself and it feels good.
Did it have a lot to do with changing yourself or finding the right guy?
I think it is both. I had to change in order to know what the right guy looked like. (laughs) So I think it is a little bit of both.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned recently?
Just to be true to myself, which is why I did this movie. I figured that everybody was going to freak out and go, 'Why did you do that? And my answer is, 'That I can. ' And that feels really good to feel comfortable enough to say that.
Did doing Dorothy Dandridge give you more confidence?
Absolutely. And I can relax now in my life and I think that's what comes through. That's what shows. I'm just comfortable. And if I don't make another movie or win another award, I feel very validated and that I've made a contribution that I can feel very proud of. So I don't have that desire anymore. And I think maybe more things will come my way, because I'm sort of relaxed in life and I've loosened up a little bit.
Did you have to buy a bookcase for all your awards?
No. (laughs) I didn't get that many. "
You seem very free in your attitude today.
I feel free-er now, because I am so comfortable in my life - to go after all those things that maybe I was afraid of before. I can now take the kind of risks like with this movie and with some of the other projects I have coming up. I think I used to be afraid of that. And now, because I am so comfortable in my personal life and with the awards that Dorothy Dandridge brought, I'm feeling even more inspired to try some things that used to scare me in the past.
What other projects do you have coming out?
I have a movie coming out, actually I'm filming it right now with Billy Bob Thornton called 'Monster's Ball' for Lion's Gate. It's a very small, art movie. It's very different than this. It's gritty and it deals with racism, just the differences in people, in black and white, in love, in death, the death penalty and suicide - it's very heavy.
You're working with Puff Daddy in that aren't you?
How's that going?
I haven't worked with him yet. He's going to do a small part in it.
Does he act in it?
Yeah, he plays my husband who is executed in maybe the first ten minutes of the movie. He's on death row and he gets killed.
Is Billy Bob Thornton the executioner and you fall in love with him?
Absolutely, that's it exactly.
Essence Magazine had its Hollywood issue a couple of months ago and they said you give great face, great glamour and that you are setting the trends. You've also dealt with some tough moments in life. Did you ever imagine you would become a role model for other women?
At this moment, when you said that, it feels very overwhelming to think that's what's happening. But I do know, especially for the black community, I know that growing up, I always knew I needed someone to look up to. And it was hard to find those images, those public images. So I know how important that is. I have little black boys and girls always coming up to me how important that it and that I give them inspiration, so that feels good, but at the same time, I have learned I have to live my life for me. I can't half-step everything I do, wondering how will every ten year old in Harlem feel about it. I can't worry about that. I have to still live my life for me, but also know that as I go, other people are maybe being inspired by that.
Do you like dressing up and putting on the fun clothes or are you more of a jeans and t-shirt gal?
I like dress-up. I love fashion, hair and make-up. I love all that.
You are always dressed so elegantly and uniquely. Do you have any plans to start your own clothing line?
Umm. .. I don't know. I'm still trying to crack this other nut, and they just won't seem to let me crack it. (laughs) So, maybe in life, I might find the time to try something like that.
Dorothy Dandridge is the perfect story that white America didn't know much about. What did the success you had in telling that story say to other people to pick up the ball or perhaps encourage you to tell more of those stories?
Well, I think people that didn't know about Dorothy Dandridge, when they realize the struggle of her life, I think they have much more respect for her and for what minorities, especially African-Americans, deal with in that industry.
I think that it was a big eye-opener for a lot of people. And I think by me doing it, I think it says, 'If little ole me can have a dream like that seven years ago, that I want to make this movie and have it so well received, do so many great things for me, personally, and to know I made that happen for myself,' that's pretty much saying you do whatever you want to do.
Because so many people thought I was nuts, didn't want to help me, and thought, 'Who wants to know about her? or Who is she?' So it just says it one can make that dream come true means we can do whatever we want to do. It's not about making a movie, we can do whatever we want to do. It can be as simple as, 'I want to lose a 100 pounds. ' It inspires people to believe that whatever they set their mind to do, they can do it.
Was it harder to overcome being a black woman in Hollywood or a beautiful woman?
I think just being a woman in Hollywood is something to overcome. But being black, sure, that's. .. And with looks, I've pretty much learned that I can let that hinder me if I want to, I can use that as an excuse if I want to or I can go out and fight for, which I've always had to do, different kinds of roles where I get to play crackheads or do more character roles that don't just rely on the looks. And Swordfish (2001) is the first time, really, I kind of totally relied on that, because that's who this character is. That's what she uses to get her way. That's the first time that I've done that.
Is it a bold move?
Absolutely, a bold move.
What kind of advice did you give Eric for Glitter (2001)? What did you tell him?
We just worked on the scenes a little bit. I was his partner, and I read the lines with him.
Who and what inspires you?
My family. I have a husband and a daughter. That's good inspiration to work and make money for college and all those things. I just want to do great things now, whatever they are. I don't want to worry and think 'What will this say about my career? How will this help me get to this next level?' I really feel inspired that I can just do projects now that I just want to do, and play characters that I want to play and not worry about the limitations that I put on myself in the past. And it feels really good. Really, really good.