TORONTO–Halle Berry, who famously became the first African-American woman to win an Academy Award for best actress, can relate to presidential candidate Barack Obama. Leaders of the black community have said that the fact that he grew up in a white neighbourhood with a white mother and had limited contact with his African father makes it difficult for him to relate to black Americans. Berry, who has a similar background, says she suffered the same criticism after she won the Oscar.
"I think it's utterly insane," she tells the Georgia Straight in a Toronto hotel room. "After I won the Oscar there were people in the black community who said, 'She is not the first African-American to win the best-actress award because she is half-white.' I think that is what Barack is dealing with now. He won't be 'the first black to become president' [to such people] because he is not fully black. I think that's BS, because Barack and I both walk in the skin of a black person. When we walk down the street no one says, 'They aren't black, they are half-white.' We have faced every injustice and discrimination because of the colour of our skin. The fact that one of our parents is not black has not influenced our black experience in one way, ever. So I think it's insane for them to say that about him because he is very much a black man, as I am a black woman, and that is who I identify with and I think he feels the same."
Berry is in Toronto to promote Perfect Stranger, which opens on Friday (April 13). In the film she plays a reporter named Rowena who runs into a childhood friend who tells her that she has been receiving e-mail threats from a married ad executive (Bruce Willis) with whom she had an affair. When the woman is murdered, Rowena goes undercover to find evidence against the executive. She takes a job as a temp named Catherine Pogue and flirts with the man so he will let her into his life and allow her access to his e-mails.
Berry says that playing a character who has more than one identity can be difficult, given that movies are shot out of sequence. "Playing a character that is playing a character posed many challenges for me, and I was scared of it. The tough part was keeping the characters straight in my mind. 'Catherine Pogue' was the hardest for me because I had to act well enough that the Bruce Willis character would believe that she could seduce him, but to not act well enough that the audience forgot that she was acting in her job as a reporter. That was hard for me to find."
She says she didn't balk at playing an inquiring reporter, despite the fact that she has been followed by tabloid journalists for much of her career. However, she says that the role did remind her of why she had dropped out of a journalism class in university.
"I didn't feel uncomfortable about the role because it was someone else's skin," she says. "It wasn't Halle Berry's skin. If it were me doing it, I would feel very uncomfortable. I wanted to be a journalist, but I couldn't do it. I remember an assignment when I was in first year at college where my professor sent me out to ask people five different questions. I didn't have it in me to be that invasive, so I thought 'This isn't for me' and I quickly changed my mind. As for the intrusion on one's life, there not much we [movie stars] can do about it but learn to get along with them [tabloids] and have some level of journalists' acceptance because they have their rights and I guess we have none. I stay home a lot because of it. I am in more than I would like to be because some days I just can't face it or I don't want to be followed or I don't want anyone to know what I am doing."
Life would probably be easier if she moved out of Los Angeles. After making several movies in Vancouver, she says that we shouldn't be surprised if she decides to move north. "I need a house there," she says. "Things We Lost in the Fire [an upcoming release] was the fifth movie I've done in Vancouver. I am really thinking of buying a place. And when I am not there renting it out to other actors that come because they are all going there so much, I would probably want to be in Yaletown. I have never stayed there, but I always head there when I am running. So if I bought a place in Vancouver it would be either in Yaletown or very close to it."