Maria Berry was born on the 14th of August, 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio.
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 returned after four
years directing violence towards both Judith and Heidi. He did not
stay long and throughout her adult life Halle would have no contact
with him. Her dad has died of a heart attack in Cleveland, Ohio,
before the pair had the chance to end their feud. Halle never forgave
alcoholic Jerome for beating her mum Judith and sister Heidi in
drunken rages and walking out on the family.
Halle attended a nearly all white school where she
was subjected to racial abuse. To divert her attention away from
this she threw herself into school activities. She was in the Honour
Society, a cheerleader, class president, and an editor on the school
newspaper. She was also Prom Queen but, having won outright, was
accused of voting irregularities and forced to share her title with
a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP).
In 1983 Halle won Miss Ohio. She went on to win Miss Teen All-American,
Miss Ohio and in 1986 was first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant.
She was the first African American to represent the U.S. in the
Miss World competition in London.
Halle attended Cleveland's 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
Halle's acting career began with a role on the short-lived television
sitcom "Living Dolls". During filming she collapsed on set and was
later diagnosed with diabetes.
Halle's first big screen break came later that year when she was
cast as Samuel L. Jackson’s drug addicted girlfriend in Spike Lee’s
"Jungle Fever". During this time she had she had a brief fling with
the film's star, Wesley Snipes.
Still looking for television work where she could find it, in 1991
Halle did a year-long run on the CBS prime time drama "Knot’s Landing".
Next, again alongside Samuel L. Jackson, she played the love interest
in Strictly Business, playing a cool club promoter who spurns the
advances of a dull black stockbroker.
More substantial supporting roles followed, including that of a
stripper in the action-thriller "The Last Boy Scout", starring Bruce
Willis. This success lead to Halle as the woman who finally wins
Eddie Murphy’s heart in the romantic comedy "Boomerang".
In 1993 Halle married Atlanta Braves right fielder David Justice
to whom she'd proposed after just six months. Just three years later
they divorced amidst vicious acrimony.
After her divorce 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.
Halle then took the lead in the TV miniseries Queen by Roots-writer
Alex Haley. 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. The show was a
Halle played a journalist trying uncover corruption in the foster
system by tracking down a crook, played by Patrick Swayze, on the
run with his two kids who've broken out of a foster-shelter where
they've been abused. The movie was disappointing, but it showed
how Halle was keen to deal with serious subject matter. 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.
After taking a break from serious roles by playing sexy secretary
Sharon Stone in The Flintstones, Halle then moved back to serious
subject matter. Halle's next role was a no-holds-barred performance
as a rehabilitated crack addict seeking to regain custody of her
son in "Losing Isaiah". The story was set in the midst of a bitter
custody battle with adoptive parents, played by Jessica Lange and
Probably due to the pressures of her divorce and the constant hounding
of the press, Halle's career spiralled downwards for a couple of
years. She was the Queen of Sheba in a TV remake of the Yul Brynner/Gina
Lollobrigida classic. Then there was an unimportant part in the
Kurt Russell/Steven Seagal film Executive Decision, about terrorists
seizing an aircraft. Next there was The Rich Man's Wife, a poor
noir thriller where she played an unhappy spouse who tells stranger
Clive Owen she wishes her husband were dead. When he soon is, she
begins to fear that she's set something terrible in motion. Worse
still was BAPs where she played one of two desperately tacky Southern
waitresses who, hoping to launch their own restaurant-come-hairdressers,
seek their fortune in LA where Berry winds up trying to kid millionaire
Martin Landau that she's his former lover's grand-daughter. Meanwhile,
Landau's butler teaches her and her friend how to be ladies.
Eventually, once her divorce was finalised, things began to change.
First came mini-series The Wedding, another racially motivated movie
asking whether Berry's character should marry a white jazz musician
or do the proper thing and wed a black man.
In Bulworth, Warren Beatty played a suicidal senator who organises
a hit on himself and decides to spend his last hours telling the
truth to the people. Down in South Central, he meets street-smart
Berry who thinks his honesty is another political con-job, but gradually
comes to fall for his bizarre integrity, as does the rest of the
nation. Although the film was awful, Berry's performance put her
back into the minds of the Hollywood influential. She reinforced
that position with two further projects.
First came Why Do Fools Fall In Love. Berry played one of three
women claiming to be the widow of singer Frankie Lymon and battling
for his estate.
Then, in 1999, executively produced by Berry herself, there was
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge was the first black actress
to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar - for Carmen Jones. The
film followed her from her early days on the club circuit, through
her screen career, her affair with Otto Preminger, her troubles
with racists (in one hotel they emptied the pool and scrubbed it
after she put her foot in it), and on to her sad death from an overdose.
Berry's performance was terrific and earned her both an Emmy and
a Golden Globe.
In August of 1999, Halle became secretly engaged to Eric Benét,
a jazz musician. The engagement was announced in December of that
year. Halle introduced Benét as her "husband" at the public unveiling
of her official Web site, Hallewood, in February 2001, while the
couple actually wed two weeks before at an undisclosed tropical
location. Unfortunately the relationship would quickly turn sour
due to Benet's adultery. Berry tried to keep their marriage together
by taking Benet to counselling, but it was all to no avail. They
separated in October 2003 and she filed for divorce.
The new millennium brought big movies. First, as Storm, a mutant
super-heroine capable of controlling the weather, in the massive
hit X-Men. Then came Swordfish, with John Travolta and her X-Men
co-star Hugh Jackman. Her role as Ginger, being used to seduce/recruit
ex-con Jackman, was very stylish, though audience polls suggested
that everyone's favourite moment was when Halle went topless.
Not everything in the new millennium was rosy though. In February
2000, while driving on Sunset Boulevard, Halle ran a red light in
her rented Chevrolet Blazer and collided with another vehicle. The
woman in the other vehicle, Hetha Raythatha suffered a broken wrist
in the collision. Halle took off for hospital where she received
20 stitches for a head wound and only reported the accident later.
Despite claiming she was disorientated by the injury to her head,
she was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and got three
years probation, a $13,500 fine and 200 hours community service.
She'll also have to pay whatever compensation is demanded after
the inevitable civil action.
Now a major star, her next film was Monster's Ball where she played
the widow of an executed criminal, played by Sean 'P. Diddy' Coombs.
A struggling waitress with a kid to support, she's lonely and desperate
and seeks solace in the arms of Billy Bob Thornton who, as it turns
out, is one of the wardens who put her husband to death. For her
role, Berry was nominated for an Oscar, which she won.
She next won the part of Jinx in the 20th James Bond instalment,
Die Another Day and became the only Oscar winner to play a Bond
the Bond film she played Storm again, in X-Men 2. It was another
massive success, smashing the $200 million barrier.
Another hit followed immediately with Gothika, with Berry headlining.
Here she was Miranda Grey, a prison psychiatrist who suffers a car
crash and wakes up in the prison, accused of murdering her husband
and unable to remember a thing. Trapped in this Dickensian establishment,
where Robert Downey Jr was a fellow pschiatrist and Penelope Cruz
a former patient and now an inmate, she must struggle for her freedom
and her sanity. During an on-screen struggle with Downey she broke
her arm which halted production for 8 weeks.
After presenting the Best Actor award at the 2003 Oscars ceremony
came Catwoman, Berry playing the lead. It was another tough shoot,
with failed stunts sending Berry to hospital yet again, and it did
not test well, re-shoots being required just a month before release.
Halle moved on to Their Eyes Were Watching God, a TV movie produced
by Oprah Winfrey and based on the novel by Zora Neale Hurston. This
saw her as the free-spirited Janie Crawford, a young woman going
through several marriages from the 1920s and challenging the conservative
views of those around her.
Halle also lent her voice to the animated Robots, playing a similar
role to her Ginger in Swordfish. This time she was a cyber-seducer,
sent by evil Mel Brooks to stop Ewan McGregor from changing the
world for the better.
Berry is currently in negotiations regarding playing Storm again
in the up-comming X-Men 3 movie. She has also reportedly been signed
to play the lead in the as yet untitled movie about the ancient
Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
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