In the centuries-spanning ''Cloud Atlas,'' the actress plays half a dozen roles — and is unrecognizable in at least two of them. Berry walked us through how it felt to jump from a '70s reporter to an Asian male doctor ... and beyond.

Maori Slave 1849

”That’s one of the characters that I think looks a lot like me. You can still see me in there,” Berry says. While playing this tattoo-covered woman on a tobacco plantation, Berry experienced ”some spiritual feeling, when I was all dressed up like that, sitting in a very passive way and feeling very unempowered. It harkened me back to a time in my own ancestry, I’m sure, and where I come from. My great-great-grandmother was a slave. There was some eerie connection I had to this character.”

Jocasta Ayrs 1936

To play a German Jewish woman who’s unhappily married to a British composer, Berry wore a prosthetic over her ”little pug nose that looks like I ran into a wall,” she says. The actress also wore colored contact lenses, a blond wig, and transformative makeup. ”We spent hours trying to get the skin lightened to look real. White Caucasian skin is not easy to create. I did feel transformed: The nose, the eyes, and hair, and wearing the period clothes changed the way I stood, the energy that I walked in the room with.”

Luisa Rey 1973

”I love the ’70s — just the clothes alone. The hair had to be that right kind of shag. It didn’t look too trendy because she isn’t a fashion plate. She is a hardcore journalist,” Berry says of Rey, who uncovers corporate corruption at a nuclear power plant. She adds that she and the filmmakers ”were realizing that she was probably a feminist and just coming to terms with that. It’s the character that most looked like me. There were no prosthetics or skin lightening. It was just a wig, just a character I had to create.”

Indian Woman at a Party 2012

Though this one is on screen only ”for a flash” and has no dialogue, Berry did two days of hair and makeup testing. And, she says, ”I had a fake nose on for that character as well. Every time you put on a sari, there’s a regalness to them. I held myself a certain way. I had to fold my arms a certain way. I had to create a whole backstory of who that woman was — a modern woman wearing a sari. The same amount of thought went into that little pop of a character as for Luisa Rey and Meronym.”

Ovid 2144

”I went to sleep, I woke up, and I was this gnarly-looking Asian old man,” says Berry, joking about playing a male doctor in futuristic Korea. ”I don’t know if you really see the teeth in the movie. They were just horrific. When I put the teeth in, that’s what made me go, ‘Okay.’ I’m such a stickler about my teeth. The thought of losing them or having them look as disgusting as Dr. Ovid’s look made me feel sick, so all that was just fun.”

Meronym 2346

”Every costume had to deal with my foot being broken,” says Berry, who injured herself in Spain during production. Meronym, an emissary from an advanced race of humans visiting a post-apocalyptic planet Earth, ”was quite physical — climbing mountains, running, and fighting. Some of it had to be curtailed. Those wires on my face, those were fun things to stick on every day. It represented a superior form of communication: We actually talk to each other by pushing little buttons on our face.”

Cloud Atlas
  • Movie
  • 164 minutes