The Oscar winner recalls building the courage to change Bruised from a story about a white woman into one she could star in and direct herself.

By Joey Nolfi
September 11, 2020 at 08:01 PM EDT
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Halle Berry delivered a knockout power move to her upcoming directorial debut before ever setting foot on the set.

The Oscar-winning actress and producer told audiences during a virtual conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival that when the script for Bruised — about a disgraced MMA fighter named Jackie Justice embroiled in a bitter custody battle for her son while sizing up an intimidating fight with an old foe in the ring — originally came to her three years ago, "it was written for a 25-year-old Irish Catholic girl," and that initially dashed her hopes for playing the part.

"I knew as written it could not be me, but what I loved about the story is it was classic fight film," she said. "I loved the fractured brokenness of this character, and I love to see a film that's about redemption. I want to see the human spirit soar, I want to see someone rise above obstacles and still be standing at the end of the day."

Berry applied that sentiment to her own trajectory, and set out to "convince the producers, who had the rights to the movie, [that they] should let me reimagine it for a middle-aged Black woman." She claimed producers agreed to let her shape the story to fit her vision, which meant rearranging the story and characters while also leading the search for a director to helm the project.

Bruised
Credit: Courtesy of TIFF

"I spoke to accomplished directors, first-time directors, female directors, men... the gamut," Berry remembered, though she didn't feel a solid connection to any of the candidates. It was a conversation with her friend, producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, that prompted her to flex her own directorial muscle to lift the project into being.

"I said to her, 'No one understands what's in my head, and she said, 'Why don't you do it?'" Berry remembered. "I slept on it overnight and I woke up thinking 'Yes, I can.' I knew I'd worked harder than I ever worked in my entire life on a character, and the last thing I wanted was for all of that work to be for naught and mistakenly fall into the hands of a visionary who didn't see it quite the way I saw it."

Still, Berry admitted she was "scared s---less" about directing a movie for the first time, but those fears ended up easing her anxiety in the end: "Fear and worry are healthy," she said. "If you're not having some sense of worry, I don't think you really care about doing your best."

Ultimately, Berry's hard work paid off, as the film — which premieres Saturday at TIFF — was recently purchased for global distribution by Netflix, though a concrete release date has yet to be announced.

Follow EW for the latest news, reviews, and more from the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.

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