Director to Director: Halle Berry and Spike Lee, in conversation
Thirty years ago, Spike Lee famously cast Halle Berry in her first movie role. Ahead of the release of her directorial debut, Bruised, the longtime friends caught up on old times and new gigs in a globe-crossing chat with EW,
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you two remember how you met? I would guess it was sometime during the casting process for Jungle Fever.
SPIKE LEE: I think you came in what, five, six times?
HALLE BERRY: It was many.
LEE: It was more than once. And you were just too fine in my mind to be a two-dollar crack ho. [But] I heard somebody told you, "You got to dress like the role," and you did, and the rest is history.
BERRY: Yes. And I knew that I had to do that, because I knew I was fighting that model-turned-actor stigma, and that I would be perceived just on my physicality. So when they say, "What was your breakthrough?" I say, "It was Spike, because he was the first person that really allowed me to be seen other than for my physical self." To be in a Spike Lee movie, at the time that was huge. But to also play a character that was so opposite of what anybody thought I was — you gave me that chance.
LEE: One of my most memorable scenes in all the films I've done was that Taj Mahal scene with Stevie Wonder's epic song "Living for the City." You're following [Wesley Snipes'] character, who's trying to find his brother, Gator [Samuel L. Jackson].
BERRY: I had never seen a crack den or anything like that, so I had to actually go get in that environment to understand what that was.
LEE: People told me that scene, it gave them nightmares. That's how hellish it was. But we did not want to glamorize that s---, which was destroying Black and brown communities. We're still dealing with the devastation of crack. That was our pandemic, you might say.
BERRY: Well, that's what's always been important about you for me — that that's what you've always done with your art. And I'm not saying some-thing that the world doesn't know. You always had something very strong to say, and you would unabashedly say it.
LEE: Halle, you know me and you go way back. So I'm not going to be telling you no bulls---. You know? We got a history. So when you said, "Spike, I directed this film, and I want you to see the early cut." It was an honor.... And when I saw it, I was like, "Oh. This is hot." You're playing a boxer, and I heard that you got a broken rib or something. But you persevered like, "What's up?" Just did your thing. And I'm looking forward to seeing the final cut, but just the early one you gave me, I was blown away.
BERRY: Oh, Spike. Well, you were the first person I called. And you know why? Because I knew that out of anybody I could show it to, that you would want me to win. And you would shoot me straight. And there's something you told me that I went back and fixed. You said a lot of nice things, but then you said, "But let me tell you what you need to do. You need to get rid of those cheesy heartbeat sounds." You said, "Trust your performances. Get rid of all that cheesy s---." [Laughs]
LEE: Well, that might have been a little too harsh. I'm a professor at NYU, so I try to be blunt, but I don't want to destroy anybody's confidence. Give criticism with love. So I really try to be constructive. L-O-V-E, not H-A-T-E, you know?
BERRY: And you gave me that. You filled me up. Everything that you said I took to real heart, and I went back to the editing room.
LEE: Now, so are you just acting in this new film [the sci-fi adventure tale Mothership]?
BERRY: Yes, and I got to tell you it's a relief in a way, just to show up and do one job. I doubt I'll ever act and direct again. I mean, this had to happen this way. I get that.
LEE: First time directing, acting, and you're leading a film, too.
BERRY: Yeah. And it was a huge role, having to fight and train and do all the things that I had to do just as an actor. There were so many things that I had to work against and deal with on the daily. I'm glad I did it, but I'll never do it again.
LEE: Hold up, hold up, hold up. Let's not use the word never right now. Okay?
LEE: Here's the thing, though, Halle. You were built for it. Can I repeat that? You were built for this. So don't use the word never.
BERRY: You're right. I should have learned that by now. But put it this way: I'm looking forward to the time when I get to be behind the camera and not acting.
Will we ever get to see you two reunite on screen?
BERRY: Oh, I'm dying to do that. Spike just has to find a role and ask me, and I'm there.
LEE: Listen, you're still in Boston? You got to come to Martha's Vineyard. I've had a house there 20 years. And Black folks, we're all up in there.
BERRY: I know! People have been telling me that. But the problem is on my weekends I have fight rehearsals.
LEE: Fight rehearsal? You're fighting again?
BERRY: Yes, it's my new thing, Spike. Haven't you heard? I'm now an action hero. [Laughs]
LEE: Alright, sis. I'm sending love from Helsinki, Finland, where it's still broad daylight at 10:35 p.m. Oh, one last thing: Do not become a fan of any team in Boston — Celtics, Patriots, Bruins. You're not one of those people. And don't wear a Yankee hat!
BERRY: [Laughs] Okay, Spike. I'm staying neutral in Boston.
LEE: I hope to see you soon. You know I'll always love you.
BERRY: Aw, thanks. You know I love you, forever and ever and ever.
To read more on Halle Berry, order the September issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands beginning Aug. 20. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
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