Halle Berry’s fight for the director’s chair

Halle Berry in Los Angeles, on August 25, 2021. (Adrienne Raquel / The New York Times)

Halle Berry, in one way or another, has struggled her entire life. Whether it’s for a role in a coveted movie, for victims of domestic violence like her, or for speaking out against the perception that her physical beauty has freed her from fighting; she has always seen herself as the one to lose. And now, in her first film as a director, she was also included in the cast.

In “Bruised” (which opens in US theaters on November 17 before being seen on Netflix a week later), Berry stars as Jackie Justice, a mixed martial arts fighter who has been humiliated and is desperate to return to the ring. . This is the most physically demanding role she has ever played: now, at 55 years old, she had to train for four to six hours to learn boxing, muay thai, judo and jiujitsu, in addition to refreshing the capoeira practice she learned for “Catwoman ”.

Then she would spend the rest of the day doing the director’s job: scouting locations in Newark, NJ; developing a script that originally centered on a white Catholic Irish woman in her twenties; choreographing complicated battle scenes and collaborating with his multi-generational cast of actors. For a filmmaker making her debut, that combination in itself is a feat.

Yet with Justice, Berry plays one of her most complex characters: In addition to being a mixed martial arts champion, Jackie is a middle-aged black mother who struggles to care for her 6-year-old son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr. ), after abandoning it as a baby.

“I understood who this Jackie Justice character is and where he came from,” Berry said in a video call in which she was sitting in the backyard of her Los Angeles home. And after waiting six months for Blake Lively (to whom he was originally offered the role) to decide if he wanted it – in the end he decided not to – Berry sought to do that role with all his might.

“I loved it because fighting is something I know a lot about personally and in my career. I know what it’s like to fight and to be ignored, ”Berry said. “I understand the trauma of life that makes you want to fight, need it, and have to.”

Not only did he win that round, but it also appears Netflix was in his corner, paying more than $ 20 million for the movie, according to reports from the transaction.

Halle Berry in Los Angeles, Aug. 25, 2021. (Adrienne Raquel / The New York Times)

Halle Berry in Los Angeles, on August 25, 2021. (Adrienne Raquel / The New York Times)

Of course, what sets Jackie apart is that she is a true fighter. And for Berry, that fact, linked to the maternal motivation of her character, made her have more nuances and be more novel. The actress had started the conversation worried about having sent her two children to school and now explained that Jackie “does the unthinkable, which is to leave her son without a compelling reason, but emotionally, she cannot stay and be a mother” .

That act followed Justice into the ring, and even caused her to lose a title match when she asked to be released from the fighting cage. As Berry explained, Jackie had been so scarred “that fear and guilt knocked her out in her next fight and she couldn’t continue. He couldn’t face it. She was no longer the fighter that she used to be. “

To prepare for the role, Berry didn’t just watch matches (she’s a lifelong boxing fan), but also asked female boxers why they chose the sport.

“Now this is not always the case in all cases, but my research taught me that men and women often fight for very different reasons,” Berry said. “Many times men struggle as a career to take care of their family, to be the breadwinner of the family, to get out of poverty. And women often struggle to regain their voice ”.

And he added: “As many of them suffered some kind of abuse in childhood, the struggle became their only way to regain a sense of themselves and their power and security in the world.”

There are two scenes that stand out where Berry was not only referencing his previous films, but it was clear that he was analyzing the traditional male gaze. At the beginning of the film, an argument between Jackie and her partner and manager, Desi (Adan Canto), triggers a sex scene, and its intensity and roughness reminded me of a moment from “The Past Condemns Us” when her character, Leticia Musgrove , and Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) develop an equally desperate and violent kind of connection. In “Bruised,” that scene is not just climactic, but is abruptly interrupted by the longer plot in which Jackie’s son returns.

Later, we realize that the meeting between Jackie and Desi is also there to serve as a contrast to the more loving exchange between Jackie and her new coach, Bobbi “Buddhakan” Berroa (Sheila Atim). Berry not only directs the camera to get closer and show the caresses between women for longer, but the passion is cathartic and truly healing for both.

To embody Jackie’s metamorphosis, Berry completely transformed. Her eyes are puffy most of the time, her lips bleed, and she wears baggy pants and braids without any hint of glamor.

When I told Berry that her character’s appearance reminded me of Brad Pitt’s disfigured face at the end of “Fight Club,” she disagreed, and then I realized that perhaps my gaze was distorted by preconceptions about her and her career. In other words, she wanted to play Jackie because she saw fragments of herself – past and present – in this woman’s story and her struggle to have more.

“This is another battle that I have fought all my life: the one that because I see myself in a certain way I have not experienced any hardship. I have experienced a lot of pain and loss throughout my life. I have suffered abuse, ”he recalled, referring to, among other things, the physical violence in his relationships that he has spoken about in the past. “I get very frustrated when people think that because I look a certain way I haven’t had any of those real life experiences, because I assure you there are.”

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Halle Berry’s fight for the director’s chair