Halle Berry's 2002 Oscar win wasn't everything that she imagined it would be. The 54-year-old actress covers the latest issue of Varietyand opens up about why she considers the aftermath of that award to be one of her "biggest heartbreaks."
Berry became the first Black woman to win a Best Actress Oscar when she took home the statuette for Monster's Ball, an honor that surprised her at the time.
"The only thing I remember is somehow I was up on the stage, and I remember [presenter] Russell [Crowe] whispering in my ear, 'Breathe, mate. Breathe,'" she recalls. "Then I remember I turned around and saw all the faces and started talking."
In her speech, Berry spoke about breaking down barriers and alluded to a new era that would allow more Black women to succeed in the future.
"The morning after, I thought, 'Wow, I was chosen to open a door,'" she remembers. "I question, 'Was that an important moment, or was it just an important moment for me?' I wanted to believe it was so much bigger than me. It felt so much bigger than me, mainly because I knew others should have been there before me and they weren’t."
Despite her hopes, no other Black women have won the award since Berry.
"I thought Cynthia [Erivo, the star of Harriet] was going to do it last year. I thought Ruth [Negga, nominated for 2016’s Loving] had a really good shot at it too," Berry says. "I thought there were women that rightfully, arguably, could have, should have. I hoped they would have, but why it hasn’t gone that way, I don’t have the answer."
The prestigious award also didn't do what Berry hoped it would for her career.
"I think it’s largely because there was no place for someone like me. I thought, 'Oh, all these great scripts are going to come my way; these great directors are going to be banging on my door.' It didn’t happen," she says. "It actually got a little harder. They call it the Oscar curse. You’re expected to turn in award-worthy performances."
"Just because I won an award doesn’t mean that, magically, the next day, there was a place for me," Berry adds.
I was just continuing to forge a way out of no way."
Continue she did, making the surprise choice to take on the role of Catwoman in the 2004 film of the same name.
"I thought, 'This is a great chance for a woman of color to be a superhero. Why wouldn’t I try this?'" Berry says, before revealing that the story itself never felt "quite right."
"I remember having that argument: 'Why can’t Catwoman save the world like Batman and Superman do? Why is she just saving women from a face cream that cracks their face off?'" Berry says of the film's plot. "But I was just the actor for hire. I wasn’t the director. I had very little say over that."
Berry went on to remedy that feeling of not having a say by starring and making her directorial debut with Bruised, which is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival later this month.
While the film was initially in the hands of director Nick Cassavetes with Blake Lively signed on to star, Berry felt "tortured" by that fact and couldn't let her hopes of getting involved in the movie go.
"I’ve been thinking of how I can reimagine it for someone like me, a Black woman in middle age -- not starting life -- who’s looking for a last chance, not another chance. I’m stuck on it," she says of her thoughts at the time.
Eventually, the film became available and Berry signed on to star. After meeting with directors who didn't share her vision, though, she decided to ask for the job herself.
"I thought, 'They’re going to think I’m high.' They’re going to think, 'Halle has lost her mind,'" she admits.
Instead, though, Berry was hired for the job, a position she reveled in.
"It’s not just being a dancing bear. I can project what I want to say," she explains. "As an actor, I always show up and do my part, and I can only do what I can do. Being the director, I have a part in the totality of every department. I get to have a voice. That was different, and I really loved that."
Her dedication to directing was matched only by her onscreen performance, even after breaking ribs while filming an intense scene.
"I didn’t want to stop because I had prepared for so long. We had rehearsed; we were ready. So my mind, my director’s mind, was just [saying,] 'Keep going,'" she says of working through the pain of her injury. "And I compartmentalized that, and I just kept going, 'I’m not going to stop. I’ve come too far. I’m going to act as if this isn’t hurting. I’m going to will myself through it.' And so we did."