Halle Berry doesn’t get enough credit. Whether it’s the multiple injuries sustained while filming camp masterpiece Catwoman, breaking her arm on the set of Gothika, or narrowly avoiding death for Die Another Day, the actor has long displayed a total dedication to her craft with the scars to prove it. She’s a fearless physical performer who, time and again, puts her body on the line.
That’s especially true of her latest feature, Bruised, which finds the Oscar winner stepping behind the camera to direct for the first time, and stepping into the role of Jackie Justice, a disgraced UFC fighter struggling to make ends meet. Given the intense physical demands of the sport, the project required that Berry undergo years of intense training, but it also meant she’d have to push herself harder than ever before as an artist.
With Bruised now streaming on Netflix, Berry took some time to chat with The A.V. Club about her risk-taking career. The actor reflects on how her fascination with gymnastics and boxing at a young age fueled a particularly athletic career, discusses the directors that have inspired her, and shares some advice for future filmmakers.
The A.V. Club: Where do you see your life intersect with Jackie Justice’s? What is it about her that made you not only want to step into the role, but also direct it?
Halle Berry: I have a deep, deep love of the fight game, of boxers, of MMA. I was in love with boxing as a little girl—Muhammad Ali, [Joe] Frazier, [George] Foreman, all the greats. I was going to marry Bobby Czyz when I was 10-years old, [laughs.] So I’ve always been a fan of the game.
And, also, I really understand really the fighting spirit. You know, I think many people do, but being a woman of color, trying to make my way in an industry that had no real place for me—especially 30 years ago when I started—I really understand what it is to fight to be seen, to be heard, to be relentless in your pursuit, to love something so much and have to do it like you need the air to breathe. And that’s the fundamentals of what the fight game is—at least every fighter I spoke to, they have this general feeling of having to do this, and having this thing be more important than anything else. And they’re fighting for power. They’re fighting to get out of poverty. They’re fighting to change their life in a very fundamental way. And that’s how I felt as I’ve navigated my way through my my career in Hollywood.
AVC: Bruised is another example of how you’re a very visceral performer, willing to put your whole self into a role. You’ve done a lot of your own stunt work over the years, but even in comedies, in dramas, you’ve brought such physicality to your work. Where does that instinct come from? Was it innate in you, or something you committed yourself to as you grew into your career?
HB: I think I’ve always been that way. You know, when I was a kid, I was also a gymnast, I went to the Junior Olympics. I thought I was going to be a Simone Biles—you know, a woman of color winning all these gold medals. [Laughs.] That was my dream as a little girl. So, I’ve always been pretty athletic, I’ve loved using my body in that way. So, when I got a chance to start doing that in my career as an actor, I just eat that up. It’s just something very natural for me to do.
AVC: Even revisiting one of your earliest lead roles, B.A.P.S., it’s obvious how committed you are. There’s a such a fearlessness there—especially in the scene where the water is spurting out of the bidet.
HB: [Laughs.] I think that’s what acting is. We’re putting ourselves out there every time, and there’s a healthy amount of fear. If any actor or director or any artist tells you they’re not afraid every time they put themselves out there, they’re just lying—because it’s just not true. There’s a healthy amount of fear and it’s good to have that fear! That means you deeply care. And, if you’re afraid, that means you’re pushing yourself to do something new. You’re daring yourself to go in unchartered territory.
And that’s what we do, as artists. And that’s what we should do, which is continue to do as much as we possibly can, and not get comfortable and rest on our laurels. I’ve never wanted to be the person that played the same role over and over. I’ve always wanted to do something new. And, whether it turns out the way I planned or not isn’t always the point. The point is to just do, to try, to take risks, to be brave.
And that toilet scene was just so silly! But even then, you have to take the part very seriously, and just give yourself over in certain situations. That’s the fun of it!
AVC: Despite all of your past action and stunt work, a project like Bruised probably still required a special training regimen. How did you prepare yourself to play an MMA fighter?
HB: My god, I probably started training two-and-a-half—you could argue three years ago if you think of my John Wick training as part of it. When I started John Wick [Chapter 3—Parabellum], I was already preparing for this movie. And I trained with the same exact team from John Wick over to this, so the training started early, and I started slowly.
There were so many disciplines to learn. I had done capoeira before, for Catwoman. I had done boxing before. But I had to learn, like, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, Taekwondo, Judo, so many other disciplines that I just knew nothing about that I had to kind of immerse myself in. And you just can’t get into that kind of shape and understand the fundamentals of those martial arts overnight. You have to really put in some time, and train these moves over and over and over. And that just took time. So it was a long training process preparing.
AVC: Since you were also at the helm of this film, as the director, did it feel like you pushed yourself harder than you normally would, in terms of training?
HB: I was out of my comfort zone from the very beginning. Just the way I trained and what I was doing—I didn’t need anybody to push me. I was pushing myself. And, you know, as the director, that’s exactly what I would do if I were directing someone else as Jackie Justice. I would be pushing her that hard. I would say, “No breaks for you. Go train four hours a day every day, only Sunday off, go get recovery, eat right, get good rest.” Like, I would be on that person. And those are all the things that I told myself. I was relentless with myself.
AVC: And, of course, Bruised is your first feature film as a director. Do you remember when you had the earliest inklings that you might want to direct?
HB: That’s really hard to pinpoint, but I would say somewhere maybe a decade into my career? After I had a good ten years under my belt, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to someday direct a movie and tell a story from my point of view?” But I quickly abandoned the thought because, you know, Black women just weren’t doing that. I mean, this is before I even won my Oscar—that hadn’t even happened yet. We still hadn’t broken down that door. It just didn’t feel like a realistic dream, you know? So I didn’t work towards it, actually.
But, as I sit here now, based on all the things that have happened with Time’s Up and #MeToo and women sort of emerging, speaking their truths, standing up for themselves, standing in their power—I’ve realized that we actually can do whatever it is we want to do, and we’re not taking no for an answer anymore. We’re banding together and we’re fighting together. It does feel like new times, new territory.
AVC: Are there specific directors—whether they’re directors you’ve worked with or now—that have particularly inspired you?
HB: Many of them are directors I’ve worked with. I was really inspired by Susanne Bier, a Danish director that I really loved working with. And I learned a lot from, of course, Spike Lee—that was my first film director. I learned a lot from Spike. Mainly about having the courage to tell a story from your unique point of view. And, you know, Spike has always done that—he’s always stood solidly in his opinion, whether you like it or not, that’s what he does. So I learned that early on. David O. Russell is someone else whose work I’ve admired, and I do work at the Ghetto Film School with him. I’m proud to say these are some of my mentors.
AVC: I’ve read that you had the opportunity to show Spike Lee an early cut of Bruised! How did that go?
HB: Surprisingly, he called me up and he was like, “Holy shit! You’re a filmmaker!” He was very complimentary, and it kind of blew me away that he was so in support of the movie. And I just remember him saying how proud he was, and that meant the world to me. Because he and Warren Beatty were the first director-actor types that I dared to show the movie to.
AVC: You recently spoke with Entertainment Weekly about how you see Bruised as the start of the next phase of your career. Both in terms of acting and directing, what are some of the major takeaways from this experience that you hope to apply to your work moving forward?
HB: This experience has made me realize that I absolutely can tell stories, that I am a storyteller, that I had the wherewithal to actually get this done. And I say that because—as I said—a decade in[to my career], I didn’t think this was possible. I now know this is possible.
And, making this movie, it was done very independently. So there wasn’t a big budget, and what I had to work with and what I had to do with what I had, it proved that I could be resourceful. I know, if I get to do it again, it’ll never be as hard as this. That’s the good news.
I know that this is one facet of my career, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing a character for the love of the role and not have to direct. And I also know, hopefully, I can direct again, and not act in it, but just, you know, be a director and give others opportunities to create characters and tell stories.
AVC: If you do continue directing, what kinds of stories do you hope to bring to the screen?
HB: Something different. You know, I’m always looking for something different. Probably something so far off from this that it would be probably very shocking. As I’m looking—and I have some ideas—but it has to be something that I viscerally love, and that I feel like I understand. And I learned that, in this process, the director has to hold the vision for an entire group of people. So that person has to be the keeper of it, and has to understand it better than anybody, right? So it would be something I understand, and something that I absolutely love because it takes a lot of time and attention to detail. It would have to be something really meaningful to me.
I would say that, if you have a story in your heart, do it. Tell it. One other thing I learned from my experience: It’s not really a mystery, you know? I think we sometimes see a finished product and we think, “Wow, that must have been really hard!” And the truth is: Yeah, they are really hard! But we can do it.
I think sometimes many people talk themselves out of something because they think, “Well, I didn’t go to film school,” or, “I didn’t have the training,” or whatever. But all of those things aren’t necessary. If you are creative and you have a desire to tell a story, if you love a story, do it. Tell it. If you have tenacity, if you are relentless in your pursuit, if you have to raise money—go do it! You know, energize yourself to put the pieces together because you can. And I’m not trying to trivialize it, but it really is that simple. It really is. You have to put your mind to it, and then do it. Just do it.
Bruised is now playing in select theaters, and is available to stream on Netflix.