Berry claws into summer box office

Friday, July 23, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- There's a new love in Halle Berry's life, and yes, it's one of those Hollywood romances between co-stars. The two met on the set of her latest movie, "Catwoman."

Berry describes her new guy as plump and pliable, with a bushy mane of orange hair. She calls him Play-doh.

The funny thing is, Berry never cared much for Play-doh's species before she met him.

"I used to be a dog person. I had dogs my whole life. And in making this movie, I learned to really respect and love cats from the research and work I did with them," Berry told The Associated Press in an interview to promote "Catwoman," adapted from the DC Comics character that originated in the "Batman" series.

That research involved taking home one of the roughly 60 cats the producers rescued from shelters to use in the movie, a long-haired feline seated to Berry's left in a "Catwoman" scene with co-star Frances Conroy and a living room full of other cats.

Berry figured it was a temporary fling, a relationship of professional convenience. She would keep the tabby around only long enough to help hone her own feline mystique and capture the cat's movements and demeanor.

"I studied him very much thinking, I'm going to study him and give him back, but I fell so in love in like, one week, that I'm now a cat person," Berry said. "I couldn't imagine my life without him. ...

"I always thought they were majestic and beautiful and sexy and sleek. Mysterious. But I've always lived with people who had allergies to cats, so I never could entertain the idea of getting one, because I would have been living alone. And now that I do live alone, it's a great time to get a cat."

Berry, who turns 36 next month, split last fall from singer Eric Benet, her husband of three years. Of her pending divorce, Berry said, "It's in the process," declining to say more.

Steady work has been a solace for Berry, who was lifted to Hollywood's A-list with her best-actress Academy Award for 2001's somber drama "Monster's Ball."

Last year, she reprised her role as superhero Storm in the blockbuster sequel "X2: X-Men United" and starred in the horror tale "Gothika," a modest box-office success. Those roles followed Berry's kick-butt turn as an American agent in the 2002 James Bond adventure "Die Another Day."

Berry just filmed the TV movie "Their Eyes Were Watching God," a drama based on the novel by Zora Neale Hurston. And she provides one of the voices for next year's animated sci-fi comedy "Robots," from the director of "Ice Age."

This fall, Berry hopes to film another heavyweight drama, "October Squall," about a woman who chooses to raise a child resulting from her rape, though she's "torn between how she feels about this kid who reminds her of the worst day of her life and the man she loathes," Berry said.

The actress said she is determined to maintain a broad mix of roles, including a romantic comedy she's developing called "Nappily Ever After," about a woman who finds she must redefine herself among acquaintances after cutting her long hair into a tight afro.

"How many Oscar winners just fall off into obscurity? It's like they get the Oscar curse, and I was determined not to have the Oscar curse hit me," Berry said. "Winning the Academy Award was just the beginning for me, for my career and all the fun and meaningful and deep and lighthearted things I want to play."

A former beauty queen, Berry worked as a model before breaking into acting with roles on TV's "Knots Landing" and in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" in 1991. Her later films included "The Flintstones," "Losing Isaiah" and "Bulworth.

The title role in 1999's TV movie "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" earned Berry an Emmy.

Berry said "Catwoman" was her most physically challenging role. Playing in the "X-Men" ensemble and in a supporting role to Pierce Brosnan in the Bond flick provided good training before taking on her own action lead, she said.

Catwoman was played by Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar in the 1960s TV series "Batman," by Lee Meriwether in the 1966 feature-film that show spawned, and by Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton's 1992 sequel "Batman Returns."

Growing up, Berry had been a fan of the TV show, but she tried to put previous takes on Catwoman out of her mind.

"I knew what sort of iconic character this was, but I also felt like so many different women had incarnated her through the years that I felt there was room for another version," Berry said. "Each woman brought her strengths to it to make it her own, and I thought, well, that'll be what I have to try to do, to see how I can somehow make it my own."

Purists will grouse over changes the movie makes to Catwoman. In the comic books, she grew up in an orphanage and used her natural acrobatic talents to become queen of the thieves in Batman's Gotham City. Though she sometimes did the right thing, the comic-book Catwoman usually was cast as a villain.

The new movie casts Berry as a mousy artist at a cosmetics conglomerate who gains super agility and strength courtesy of some devilry worked by an ancient Egyptian cat. Torn between doing good and giving into her lusty feline desires, Berry's Catwoman ends up behaving heroically as she seeks revenge against her corrupt bosses.

"But if there's a sequel," Berry said, "I would bet my life on it that you'd see Catwoman walking a little more on the darker side."

Berry said she hopes "Catwoman" succeeds financially so she can do at least one sequel. She said she does not know if she will be back for a third "X-Men" movie, and a proposed spinoff for her Bond character is looking less likely.

Harsh early reaction to the movie indicates critics will be coming at "Catwoman" with claws out. Yet good or bad, the movie has drawing cards that could lift it to box-office success despite bad reviews.

There's Berry's star power, and the legions of comic-book fans who will show up to see how the filmmakers adapted another of their icons from page to screen. A sizable chunk of the male audience also may turn out just to see the gorgeous Berry prowling in her skimpy leather cat suit.

"That's an awesome thing," Berry said, adding that the suit is just part of the show. "It's a visual spectacle. It's a summer, popcorny, fun-ride movie. Nothing more, nothing less. I believe it delivers that. It's a great ride, it's fun, it's tongue-in-cheek.

"And it's perfect for kids. The suit is the sexiest thing about the whole movie. There's not too much violence, there's no blood, there's no sex, there's no harsh language. We made sure of all of that when we were shooting to make this accessible to 9-year-olds and 29-year-olds."

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