Putting her trials and tribulations behind her, Halle Berry has finally achieved a balance in her life and tells John Hiscock that her greatest role now is that of a single mother.
Halle Berry revels in her starring role - as mum
Halle Berry has a radiant smile that somehow makes the room we are sitting in seem lighter and brighter. She smiles frequently and her disposition is so sunny and infectious it is impossible not to feel happy to be with her.
At last, after a series of setbacks and heartaches, she is delighted to report that things are finally going her way. She has a new boyfriend, was nominated for a Golden Globe for her recent performance in the film Frankie & Alice and - by far the biggest ray of sunshine in her life - she is revelling in her role as a doting mother.
"I've wanted this for so long and I feel happier than I've ever felt before in my entire life," she beams, talking of her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Nahla. "I'm happy and fulfilled and I'm in a really good space in my life. I've survived many highs and many lows and I think I have it all in perspective now - never get too high and never get too low, and you can manage it."
Nahla is from her four-year relationship with the Canadian model Gabriel Aubry, which ended last April, although Aubry, 10 years her junior at age 34, still sees his daughter regularly. "We're Nahla's parents and we both just want what is best for her," says Berry.
It used to be easy to feel sorry for Berry. Yes, she is famous, has won an Oscar and enjoys all the trappings that go with Hollywood stardom. And yet it seemed that whenever she was obliged to submit to interviews to promote a new film she was forced instead to answer or dodge questions about the latest disaster in her private life.
She struggled with diabetes, the breakup of a marriage, the split from the latest boyfriend, a mugging, tangles with the law over hit-and-run driving - always something new and unpleasant for her interrogators to dig up.
But now, sitting in an office in West Hollywood, she is eager and happy to forget the despair of the past and talk animatedly of the massive upturn in her life and the joys of motherhood.
"Children shift your priorities and now I have a greater purpose for being here," she says. "I love making movies but I would give it all up to go and be with my daughter somewhere if I had to because she's the center and love of my life. She's made me a better person because everything I do and say, everything I want and don't want, I think about her first: 'Will this be best for her?'
"She's awakened this sense of play in me that I think as an adult we lose, and when you have children you get to see things all over again. So I've never laughed as hard, I've never done more silly things, and I go to great lengths to make her laugh. It's just ridiculous sometimes but she's awakened that childlike side of me which only children can do."
At the moment her personal time is being spent with her current partner of choice, the 44-year-old French actor Olivier Martinez, whom she met in August when they co-starred in the action thriller Dark Tide.
"I am just a girl who met a boy; a girl who liked a boy; a boy liked the girl and then that's what happened," she says, laughing. "That's it."
The survivor of a string of unhappy relationships, she is realistic enough to know that like her previous love affairs, this one may not last.
"I always stay hopeful, even when I go through my down periods; I know that's what life is. It's about ups and downs and learning pains and growing and happiness and sadness and that's all part of it. It makes me alive and the good thing is that I don't feel like I've become jaded. I still want to be in love. I still love it when I see people who have been married for 20 years and I think, 'Wow, it is possible.'"
Wearing a grey, body-hugging Dolce&Gabbana dress with black Gucci shoes, and with her hair cropped short, the actress appears far younger than her years. Somehow she manages to convey the impression of being a somewhat naïve, eager-to-please young hopeful, which combines intriguingly with her experience and know-how that comes with being a Hollywood veteran.
She has had a tougher road to the top than most of her peers, having spent much of her career battling to push over racial barriers and lay claim to roles that were not originally written for a black actress.
"I have always struggled to try and make people accept me for a part that wasn't written for someone like me," she says, without rancour. "Not many good parts are written for black women at all and that's been a struggle for me my entire career. I've finally realised that I'm going to have to start making things happen for myself if that's what I want to do."
With that in mind, she and her producing partner, who is also her manager, set about bringing what she calls her "passion project" to the screen. They bought the rights to the story of a woman struggling with a multiple personality disorder who is torn between who she is and a racist alter-personality that preys on her mind and takes over her emotions.
In between acting work, dealing with problems in her private life, and pregnancy, Halle spent 10 years creating a script and trying to raise money.
The result is Frankie and Alice, a true-life psychological drama set in the 1970s that allows her to give full rein to her acting talents.
"Bringing this story to the screen has been a challenging yet very satisfying experience," she says contentedly. "It's hard to get movies made today, especially little movies like this that are about a slice of someone's life. It's a great responsibility when you portray another person and not having this affliction myself it was really hard to understand what it must be like, but I watched hours and hours of tape of real patients and I read four or five really dense medical books on the subject and tried to understand how and why it happens."
Berry is the daughter of a blonde, blue-eyed English psychiatric nurse from Liverpool and a black American serviceman. She grew up in Cleveland in the US state of Ohio amid an atmosphere of racial prejudice and intolerance, and recalls being called a zebra, an Oreo cookie, a half-caste and worse.
"Being half black and half white I understand how racism rears its ugly head on both sides," she says. "My mother's white English family disowned her when she married my black father and his family disowned him when he married my white mother, so I understand how both sides have their racism issues that they battle with."
Her father left home when she was four years old and she and her older sister were raised by her mother.
"She was a single mom and she didn't have any money and she did what she had to do. I jokingly tell her she got it all wrong because she didn't breast-feed and I tell her she should have read more books and she hits me with, 'Well, you seem to have turned out OK, so how wrong did I get it?' So then I just have to shut up and say OK." She laughs.
There was a time when Berry had little to laugh about.
A teenage beauty queen, she was diagnosed as diabetic when she was 19 and took insulin until a decade ago when, by changing her diet and exercise programme, she weaned herself off the drug, although she still has to check her blood sugar level daily. She survived an unhappy marriage to the baseball player David Justice, after which she says she contemplated suicide, and a series of disastrous relationships - one former boyfriend sued her for US$80,000 (Dh293,840) and another hit her so hard that she became partially deaf.
She was attacked and mugged in an underground parking garage in 1995, and in 2000 she was fined and sentenced to community service for a hit-and-run accident after running a red light. Berry said she had no memory of being in an accident, and her doctors said she had sustained a head injury. A subsequent civil case against her was settled out of court.
Her second marriage, to the musician Eric Benet, ended in 2003 after two years because he could not control his roving eye. Only days after winning her Oscar for Monster's Ball, she discovered her husband was a sex addict and he entered rehab for treatment.
"After that great high of winning the Oscar I hit one of the greatest lows I've ever experienced," she says. "I plummeted right back into the depths of the valley."
For a while she continued to care for Benet's daughter, India, but she is now out of her life.
To add to her litany of woes, while filming the horror movie Gothika she sustained a broken arm while grappling with Robert Downey Jr. during a particularly emotional scene.
Like her private life, Halle Berry's career has been a series of highs and lows, which include winning the Oscar and then winning a Razzie award as worst actress in the disastrous Catwoman.
"I just wanted to go in a different direction," she says. "Sometimes those things work, sometimes they don't."
Her first acting roles were in television series until in 1991 she convinced Spike Lee she could handle the demands of portraying a crack addict in his Jungle Fever. She became romantically involved with Lee and when that relationship ended she dated Wesley Snipes and then another actor, Shemar Moore.
She appeared in a number of films with varying success until 1999, when she won Golden Globe and Emmy awards for portraying Dorothy Dandridge - the singer-actress who broke through racial barriers by becoming the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar - in the HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which Berry also produced.
Then came the first of the three X-Men movies, the thriller Swordfish in which she appeared topless for the first time in her career, and her Oscar-winning performance as a struggling waitress coping with a husband on death row and an overweight child in Monster's Ball. She was Jinx, the James Bond girl in Die Another Day, and her most recent role was three years ago in Things We Lost in the Fire.
She has Dark Tide awaiting release and several other projects in the offing, but always the realist, she takes nothing for granted.
"I know this career of mine has a lifespan and it could be over soon or I could work until I'm 90," she says. " I don't know what will happen but I'm prepared to accept the harsh realities of what happens to women when they age in this business. That's the reality of it and I can't change it."
Frankie and Alice is due to be released in the UAE soon. Dark Tide is awaiting a UAE release date.
For more stories from M magazine, visit www.thenational.ae/m
The Berry file
BORN August 14, 1966, Cleveland, Ohio
SCHOOLING Bedford High School, Cleveland
FAMILY Father Jerome, hospital attendant; mother Judith, psychiatric nurse; sister Heidi
FIRST AWARD Miss Teen Ohio
FIRST JOB Fashion model
LISTENING TO Maxwell, Robin Thicke
READING Books on parenting
CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT Daughter Nahla
SECRET PLEASURE Parties with 1970s music
WORST MOMENT Considered suicide after divorce from David Justice