Studious Kitten Halle Berry in USA Today

"Seated demurely on a sofa in a posh suite at L'Ermitage Hotel, Berry appears her usual gorgeous self, though perhaps more soft-spoken and less carefree. She declines to give a preview of her Catwoman purr, just as she resists offering an update on the st
Solo Berry just keeps purring along
By William Keck, Special for USA TODAY

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — A new love has found Halle Berry, and he's showering the 37-year-old Oscar winner with all the unconditional warmth and devotion she'd hoped for in marriage.

Halle Berry in a scene from Gothika. The actress says her kitty, Fig Newton, is giving her plenty of inspiration for her Catwoman role.
By Attila Dory, Warner Bros.

Officially separated since Oct. 1 from her second husband, R&B singer Eric Benet, Berry has fallen for one of the young male co-stars on the set of Catwoman, her high-kicking Batman spinoff now filming in Vancouver, British Columbia, for release in 2004. This time, Berry has given her heart to a rescued shelter cat named Fig Newton, one of 60 homeless felines being used in the film.

"I'm watching how he walks around and listening to how he purrs and how he plays and when he gets angry," Berry says of her "muse."

"He comes up with some good sounds he makes all night long that I'm definitely going to use."

Seated demurely on a sofa in a posh suite at L'Ermitage Hotel, Berry appears her usual gorgeous self, though perhaps more soft-spoken and less carefree.

She declines to give a preview of her Catwoman purr, just as she resists offering an update on the status of her marriage.

"It's all so personal and new and fresh," she explains.

All things considered, Berry says she's doing well, thanks in part to routine visits from Benet's 12-year-old daughter, India, whom she adopted, and regular therapy sessions, which come in handy now that she's playing a psychiatrist accused of murdering her husband in the supernatural thriller Gothika. It's due in theaters Nov. 21.

Chief among her priorities has been assisting her daughter through a difficult time of transition. "She's fine," Berry says. "Lots of kids deal with this. I was a product of a marriage that was less than perfect. She's resilient."

As is Berry, who has been a proponent of therapy all her life. As a child, her parents worked in hospitals: her father, Jerome, as an attendant, and her mother, Judith, as a nurse in the psychiatric ward of Cleveland's Veterans Administration Hospital. Although her father left the family home when she was 4, she has many memories from her mother's 35 years of employment.

Judith also routinely took young Halle to a therapist to help her deal with the absence of her father and the difficulties she experienced as a result of her biracial parentage. (Her father is black; her mother is white.)

"I had heavy issues I had to deal with," Berry says. "Kids are cruel. They called us Oreo cookies. It was hard to fit in. ... Therapy really helped me then, and I still have a good (therapist) now."

While shooting Gothika, Berry routinely sought her mother's advice on the technicalities of institutionalization. As a result, Berry had a scene in which her character is slapped by her psychiatrist (played by Robert Downey Jr.) cut from the film. "She helped bring some honesty to a story that is so far-fetched in some ways," Berry says.

"Far-fetched" is not a term Berry would necessarily apply to the supernatural elements of the film, in which ghostly visitors appear to both guide and terrorize her character. "I believe," she says of the supernatural. Unexplainable sounds and touches she experienced over a three-month period while filming her Golden Globe and Emmy-winning performance in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge opened her mind to the unknown. And years ago, Berry visited a medium who told her that she was surrounded by an unusual amount of angels and spirits guiding her through life.

"Apparently, they know I need more help than others," she jokes.

There have been times in Berry's life when she has felt on the brink of insanity. "Many times," she clarifies. "Sometimes heavy things; sometimes silly moments in life when you think, 'OK, I've got to be losing it.' I swear that I've lost my memory ... you know, I've had too much aspartame, because I swear I just cannot remember things like I used to — dates and details."

Memory loss played a significant role in Berry's life in February 2000 when she crashed her Chevy Blazer into another car on Sunset Boulevard and sped away from the scene. Berry says a severe head injury left her unable to recall details of the incident.

Although she has largely put the accident behind her (after paying $13,500 in fines and completing 200 hours of community service), the past came back to haunt her in Gothika, in which her character, Dr. Miranda Grey, wakes up in an institution for the criminally insane with no recollection of her husband's murder.

"When I read the script, I thought, 'Oh God, this could happen.' It kind of happened to me. ... I do know you can do something and not remember it. So that part of Miranda I totally related to and then feeling responsible for something that you have no memory of doing."

The Montreal shoot was difficult for Berry — as demanding, she says, as her Oscar-winning performance in Monster's Ball. She appears in most of the film with matted hair and no makeup; she broke her arm during an emotionally charged scene with Downey.

"I saw her psyching herself into a hell space that was so brave for her to go there," Downey says. "It was exhausting just to watch."

As for future projects, the Bond spinoff based on her Jinx character is still in development, despite reports that MGM has pulled the plug. She calls the script "wonderful." After Catwoman, she'll shoot a TV movie for Oprah Winfrey adapted from Their Eyes Were Watching God, followed by a role as a rape survivor in the low-budget, character-driven October Squall. And she hasn't ruled out a third turn as Storm in X-Men 3.

"I don't want to let Oscar make me feel like I can't still enjoy all the things I loved doing before that night," she says.

As Berry grows closer to her 40th birthday, she hopes pregnancy will be another project she'll soon take on.

"I would love that, but if I don't, I am so fulfilled with being (India's) mother. That maternal thing I was having about five years ago to be a mother and mother a child has been so filled. So if I don't, I won't feel like I missed out. I've evolved to a woman who can feel happy no matter what life has thrown my way."

Sadly, her blossoming love with Fig Newton may be in jeopardy. Fearing the kitty will not be welcomed by Polly and Willy, the two "spoiled and jealous" Maltese dogs awaiting her in L.A., Berry is considering finding him a new home once Catwoman wraps. She also will make a decision on her own living arrangements.

But for now, Fig Newton is the best medicine for
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