Halle Berry revealed in a new interview that she was often “discounted as an actor” when she was starting out in Hollywood because she was simply too beautiful.
“I came from the world of beauty pageants and modeling and right away when people heard that, I got discounted as an actor,” Berry, 50, tells W magazine. “So, I had the job of trying to eliminate that part of my persona. And I took on roles early on that really didn’t rely on my physical self at all, and that was a good way to sort of get some credibility within my industry.”
Berry reveals she had to convince director Spike Lee to give her the role of drug-addicted Vivian in 1991’s Jungle Fever by first taking off all her makeup in the bathroom. Lee initially wanted to cast her in the more refined role of Wesley Snipes’ wife.
“I read that part fine enough, but then I said to Spike, ‘You know, I really am eyeing this crack ho role, can you please let me audition for that?'” she recalls. “And he said, ‘No, no I don’t see you as the crack ho.’ I said, ‘I am the crack ho. Really, deep down I’m the crack ho!'”
“And I said, ‘Let me go in the bathroom, wash all this makeup off; you will see the crack ho,'” she continues. “So, he let me do that and I came back out and I got to read the crack ho, and I got the part of the crack ho. And it was an amazing way to start my career, playing a crack ho and be directed by Spike Lee. It was major for me.”
Berry’s fight for more complex roles didn’t stop there. A decade later, Berry says she also had to convince producer Lee Daniels to let her audition for the lead role in 2001’s Monster’s Ball — which she ended up winning a Best Actress Oscar for in 2002.
“He was actually disgusted by the thought,” Berry says about Daniels’ feelings on her reading for the role of Leticia. “He thought, ‘There’s no way,’ and my argument to him was, just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean that they are spared adversity. Adversity does not discriminate. I thought, ‘My looks haven’t spared me one hardship or one hurt moment or one painful situation. So please, you know, give me a shot at this.’ I said, ‘I often think it’s more interesting when you see someone that looks a certain way struggle in ways that you wouldn’t think they would be struggling with.'”
“He ultimately gave me a chance and that sort of changed the course of my career in so many ways,” she concludes.