The Oscar-winning actress is now one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, but she struggled to land good roles in the beginning of her career because studio bosses thought she was too pretty to carry a leading role in a film.
“I came from the world of beauty pageants and modelling and right away when people heard that, I got discounted as an actor,” the 50-year-old tells W magazine. “So, I had the job of trying to eliminate that part of my persona.
And I took on roles early on that really didn’t rely on my physical self at all, and that was a good way to sort of get some credibility within my industry.”
Berry’s earliest serious roles was in director Spike Lee’s classic 1991 film Jungle Fever, in which she played a drug addict named Vivian. Lee initially wanted to cast her as Wesley Snipes’ elegant wife, but she pushed hard to play the “crack ho”.
“I read that part fine enough, but then I said to Spike, ‘You know, I really am eyeing this crack ho role, can you please let me audition for that?'” she recalls. “And he said, ‘No, no I don’t see you as the crack ho’. I said, ‘I am the crack ho. Really, deep down I’m the crack ho!'”
“And I said, ‘Let me go in the bathroom, wash all this makeup off; you will see the crack ho,'” she adds. “So, he let me do that and I came back out and I got to read the crack ho, and I got the part of the crack ho. And it was an amazing way to start my career, playing a crack ho and be directed by Spike Lee. It was major for me.”
But Halle’s fight for serious roles didn’t end there – she also had to battle to land her role in producer Lee Daniels’ 2001 film Monster’s Ball, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress, revealing he was “disgusted” by the thought of her playing the desperate wife of an executed prisoner.
“He thought, ‘There’s no way’,” she recalls, “and my argument to him was, ‘Just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean that they are spared adversity. Adversity does not discriminate’.
“I thought, ‘My looks haven’t spared me one hardship or one hurt moment or one painful situation. So please, you know, give me a shot at this’. I said, ‘I often think it’s more interesting when you see someone that looks a certain way struggle in ways that you wouldn’t think they would be struggling with’.”
Daniels and his director Marc Forster agreed and Halle admits Monster’s Ball “sort of changed the course of my career in so many ways”