Holy cow, Halle!

Berry finds another role she can sink claws into
Dayton, Ohio - Halle Berry faced down an ominous ghost in the supernatural thriller "Gothika."

Midway through a recent interview, she was forced to contend with a dead telephone line. Thankfully, Berry's heroics extend beyond the silver screen.

"They're doing work on my house, on my phone, and I didn't know it, and my phone just died," she said, laughing, as she resumed the conversation about 10 minutes later. "I don't have cell phone reception at my house, either, so I had to get in my car and drive around down to the bottom of the hill. So I'm very sorry."

So much for any notion of the Oscar-winning Ohio native as a Hollywood diva.

Berry, the first black woman to win the Academy Award for best actress, has become one of Hollywood's top stars since making her 1991 film debut as a crack addict in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever."

Her diverse range of roles also has included the mutant superhero Storm in the "X-Men" series, the enigmatic "Bond Girl" Jinx in "Die Another Day" and an unstable widow in "Monster's Ball," for which she won the Oscar.

But winning an Academy Award doesn't mean that Berry is now limiting herself to serious dramas.

This summer, she will be seen as the sexy title character in the big-screen comic-book adaptation "Catwoman."

"I would never put myself up on that pedestal," Berry said from Los Angeles. "Never, ever, ever. I want to keep doing just what I did that got me that Oscar, and that was trying new things and taking chances."

She accepted the part of psychiatrist Dr. Miranda Grey in "Gothika," which was released March 23 on DVD, because she loves scary movies but had never worked in the genre.

The demanding role often required Berry to act alone, "by myself, in my head," she said. "Sometimes without the use of words, without the use of other actors. Visual-effects things that I had to imagine. That was yet a new challenge for me."

Berry also could relate to the role because her mother Judith is a retired psychiatric nurse in Cleveland.

"I know the inner workings of a mental institution very, very well through my mom, through visiting her place (of work) as a kid. It's part of who I am, that world. I understand it, so that's why this film probably attracted me, too."

Cleveland in the summer
The soft-spoken actress returns home to Cleveland two or three times a year to visit her mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephews.

"I usually come in the summer and spring months," she said, preferring sunny California to Ohio's winters.

Berry represented the state of Ohio in 1985, when she won the Miss Teen All-American Pageant. A year later, she was first runner-up in the Miss USA Pageant, which launched her modeling career and led to her first weekly television series, 1989's "Living Dolls."

Berry will play an action-figure, as opposed to a doll, in "Catwoman."

Losing Patience
She portrays Patience Philips, a shy, sensitive artist who is transformed into a woman with the strength, speed, agility and ultra-keen senses of a cat.

The reported $100 million film, which pounces into theaters July 30, is based on the DC Comics character, but it's not set in the "Batman" universe of Gotham City.

"It's very much based in reality," Berry said.

Berry's feline fatale retains some of the qualities of her film and television predecessors, who include Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt.

"She's still that iconic character that is about the alter-ego of womanhood, which is kind of the same," she said. "The look is somewhat different."

Berry sports a belly-baring leather suit, which she called "probably the most sexy costume of all of them."

She enjoyed that aspect of the character, saying that it's OK for a woman to be in touch with her sexuality.

"That doesn't define us if we decide to express it or use that part of who we are when we need to," she said. "That's not really a bad thing as long as that's not all we're relying on. And I've had to learn that in my life here in the last four or five years. That really is OK.

"And that's one of the great things about being a woman," she added. "We have that card to play. It's not a negative. It depends how you use it if it becomes a negative or not."

A full character
Berry is the first woman to portray two different comic-book characters, from competing comics publishers, on film. The difference is that "X-Men" and its sequel were ensemble films and "Catwoman" is a solo piece, giving her more to sink her teeth into.

"It was a full character I got to create here. Her emotional life, her life when she's not Catwoman, when she is Catwoman. It was a lot to play, and I really like that part of this one," she said.

Berry plays her roles to the hilt, sometimes at great cost to herself. She was briefly hospitalized in January after being hit in the head by a swinging light during a stunt action sequence for "Catwoman." Last year, she broke her arm while filming a scene for "Gothika."

"I think when you work really hard and you approach your work with somewhat reckless abandon - you know, if you really throw yourself into it - things are bound to happen," she said.

"And I certainly don't want to become someone who's so cautious that I'm afraid to do some of my own stunt work, because that's the joy of it for me. I get to do things that I would never otherwise get to do had I not been making this movie."

Berry also throws herself fully into promoting her films, even if it means dashing out the door and down the hill.

From the April 7, 2004 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Cox News Service - DAVE LARSEN