NEW YORK””In X-Men: The Last Stand, which is currently playing in Vancouver, American mutants are told there is a cure for what ails them. Extremists, led by the zealous Magneto (Ian McKellen), believe that humans want them to give up their powers because they feel that mutants are a superior race. And they believe that those who want to be “cured” are as offensive as humans.
Halle Berry, the Oscar-winning actor who has played Storm””a mutant with the power to change the weather””in all three films in the X-Men series, says the film is about freedom of choice. “It hits home with me being a person of colour,” she says in a New York hotel's interview room. “I have resolved it for myself and I know I wouldn't do it, but I know that if a cure for being this skin colour was devised and someone else wanted to take it I would not be opposed to them doing that. I have a nephew who has Down syndrome, and I think that I would not want him to change because he has brought a lot of joy to my family. We have all learned to appreciate who we are even more and celebrate who he is. But if he wanted to change who he is, because he has to live with it, then he should have that right.”
There is one thing that Berry would change about herself if given the chance. She was 19 years old when she was told that she was diabetic. She says that she didn't handle it well. “I just heard 'You have a disease,' and I equated that with 'You are going to die.' I was very afraid when I was told that. I was suddenly put on all of these units of insulin and I had to take shots forever and I didn't really know what it all meant to my life and my future. In the first few years, I had a lot of trouble because I didn't understand it and I wasn't that educated about it. I felt that if I didn't educate myself about it, it would go away, which is what a lot of people do when they are told they have a disease. I thought 'If I don't deal with this, it doesn't exist.' But then I got really sick, so I thought 'Okay, I had better log on and understand this because if I don't I will be gone.'
“Once I did that and learned how to manage it and realized that diet really is important and taking your medication on time really is important, I got more healthy than I had been before I was diagnosed. I am a much healthier person today than I was at 19. But if someone said, 'Would you take a cure?' I would, because I don't think anyone should live with health impairments. I would do that right across the board and cure everyone who has this disease.”
When Berry started shooting the second film in the series, X2, in Vancouver in 2002, her story line was thin. Although she was on set in Vancouver for several months, her character was barely in the film. In the spring of that year, she won an Academy Award for Monster's Ball and it was rumoured that she wanted to move on from the series. She says that she never considered leaving X-Men behind, but she did make a strong pitch for her character to make a greater contribution to the saving of the world.
“My gripe wasn't for screen time or 'I have to be in the film more.' It was more like, 'If I am going to be in it for five minutes, at least let me have five good minutes where Storm says something or where she has a point of view. Let me fly with the cape that I have been wearing for two movies and not just in the [X-Men's] plane. Let me be more in line with the comic-book character. But those changes weren't really implemented before [director] Brett Ratner came along. He said, 'I promise you that Storm will have a point of view this time and you will feel that she is contributing more to the X-Men.' So that is how it happened. I would never have not done it, but I kept asking for more. Being the director and in control, he made my requests happen and made things change so that Storm could have a voice.”
Although some might question the career move of continuing in a series based on a comic book after winning an Oscar, Berry says that the movie has helped her career. She says that its success has meant people who are fans might be motivated now to see her in the kind of smaller roles that have netted her critical acclaim in the past, such as her Oscar-winning Monster's Ball role and her Emmy-winning turn in the title role of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
“It has increased my fan base in a way that never seemed possible before,” she says. “There are so many fans of this franchise, young and old, black and white, Asian, Mexican, Indian... The fan base is unreal, and my hope is that some of those fans follow me to the other things I do. And to have stunts and to work with special effects and to be part of a comic book is something that has been a wonderful addition to my career.”
That career probably peaked when Berry became the first woman of African-American descent to win the best-actress Oscar. She says that she was happiest when she was making her acceptance speech. By the time she had made it backstage, she had begun to question whether or not she would be able to live up to the pressure, a pressure that has led to the Oscar being called “the kiss of death” for its ability to actually hurt careers as much as it has helped them.
“The moment after I walked off the stage with that award an enormous amount of pressure and fear came over me. One minute later I thought 'Now what? How do I live up to this thing that means so much?' And I suffered for about two weeks after that, saying to myself, 'What movie should I take? What do I do now? This is too much pressure.' But I eventually woke up and said to myself, 'You didn't get this award with all that pressure on your head and worrying about what people thought, so continue that way. Forget you have this Oscar. Put it on a shelf somewhere and continue your career the way it was before this came into your life.' That is how I have approached it. I have said to myself, 'If a great small movie comes into your life, take it. And if a great action movie comes along, take it. If a movie comes along that might pay you a lot of money and sounds like fun, take it.'
“I have to make a living, so I told myself, 'Just don't approach your career as being an Oscar winner,' because I think that attitude, more than any other, leads to the 'death kiss' that people talk about. You have more people thinking that your work is good, but it is a myth that it sets your career on fire because many people win it and then they fall off into obscurity. I don't know why that happens, but it might be that people think they have to do only Oscar-worthy films. The truth is, there are very few of those roles and there are a lot of people vying for them. If you get one in a lifetime, you have to be happy with that and then go on with your life.”