Since her Oscar win for “Monster’s Ball,” Halle Berry hasn’t exactly taken the heavy drama route. Instead, her career has been marked by ass-kicking women with names like Jinx, Storm and Patience Phillips, otherwise known as Catwoman. In the process, Berry has shown she has the stuff to be an action heroine and a box office draw, with movies like “Die Another Day” ($432 mil worldwide) and “X-Men 2” ($406 mil).
While the upcoming “Catwoman,” directed by Pitof, the French f/x man (“Messenger: Joan of Arc”) turned helmer (“Vidocq”), has plenty of thrills and chills, the story of Ms. Phillips, whose work for a nefarious cosmetics company gives her catlike powers of resurrection, stealth and agility, has deeper psychological dimensions that play to Berry’s serious side. It also gave her major opportunities for self-discovery, she says.
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Before October’s shooting, this year’s ShoWest female star of the year spent grueling time getting in shape with her trainer. She did gymnastics, stunt and fight training, a dance movement called Capoeira based on animal nuances, cat movement, mannerisms and psychology.
“There is still a fair amount of action heroine in this movie — that was a given,” she says. But preparing for it “wasn’t just about getting the body in shape and putting on the costume. It turned out to be a really good acting job that needed to happen.”
Producer Denise Di Novi says Catwoman is much more than a garden-variety action figure. “Catwoman isn’t really an action hero, that’s kind of what’s really great about the movie. Even in the comic she’s not a superhero, she’s an antihero.
“The part really is complex. Halle is really playing three characters with three distinct looks, three sets of wigs and wardrobe. There is a lot going on about female identity and empowerment, wondering if someone will love you if they know you have a dark side.”
Berry says the process was a collaborative one, as the creative principals began to hammer out motivations for her character.
“Because it was a whole movie devoted to this comicbook character, we tried to bring some gravity to it, give her a real emotional life, give her reasons to have inhabited this persona, why she had to become Catwoman in order to survive,” she says.
“She had a lot more depth by the time Pitof got involved. Pitof loves women and isn’t afraid of a woman being strong and powerful; (co-star) Benjamin Bratt is the same way. And with Denise, who is such a girl’s girl and is for women’s empowerment, everybody is all for this woman rising up. By the time we put our heads together, she became a character that was pretty significant and very complicated.”
And for Berry, the process became one of self-discovery. “For me,” she says, “it was a perfect time to play a character that was in search of and in need of feeling and finding her own sense of power and self and realizing that she really is OK in the world just the way she is.”