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Interview: Halle Berry, Morris Chestnut Answer ‘The Call’

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CHICAGO – Halle Berry has had a career of diverse and award-winning roles, and takes on another provocative character in the new movie, “The Call.” Her co-star in the film is Morris Chestnut, a versatile lead and character actor with films as varied as “Boyz n the Hood’ and “The Best Man.” They both honor the acting craft.

“The Call” is a tense and symbolic thriller, about a kidnapping in Los Angeles. Halle Berry portrays Jordan, a 911 operator who gets too involved in the crime, and takes it personally. Morris Chestnut portrays Paul, who is Jordan’s boyfriend and a veteran police officer who gets mixed into the case as well. Together they work to bring that kidnapper to some kind of justice.

Halle Berry
Halle Berry in Chicago, Promoting ‘The Call’
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Halle Berry will not be pinned down when it comes to the characters she has portrayed in her career. From those character to lead roles, femme fatales to African-American pioneers, Berry has approached each with depth and clarity. This culminated in 2001, when she portrayed Leticia in “Monster’s Ball.” This performance garnered for her the first Best Actress Oscar awarded to a woman of color. There was a memorable moment during her tearful acceptance speech, as Berry acknowledged her gratitude toward all the actresses in that realm who had come before her.

Morris Chestnut is a memorably handsome actor, but has also shown his range in many different performances. He has thoughtfully mixed his career in film and television with image parts, lead roles and character acting, resulting in a blend of diversified experiences through the years.

HollywoodChicago.com was privileged to sit down with Halle Berry and Morris Chestnut to talk about their new film “The Call,” and also to go over their Hollywood adventures, both positive and challenging.

HollywoodChicago.com: Ms. Berry, when you land a script you really care about, like ‘The Call,’ what is the first step you use for finding the character? How do you personally first develop that character after initially absorbing it from the script’s page?

Halle Berry: The first thing I do is figure out what work needs to be done, what is the investigative work? For this one, it was easy, I had to go to a call center. I had to see what that looked like, meet the people and observe them. I listened to actual calls, even took a few of them in their training program. I wanted to act like one of them and see what I could learn from that process.

HollywoodChicago.com: Mr. Chestnut, you have had roles in so many different types of TV shows and movies. What is different in your performance mindset about the level of authority you need to to play protectors – like a fire fighter as in ‘Ladder 49’ or a street cop as in ‘The Call’?

Morris Chestnut: This one was interesting, because I played a veteran cop and my partner in the film was more of a newbie. It definitely takes a different level of authority, a different mindset. We did a ride-along with a couple of police officers, and it was intriguing to watch the dynamic between a veteran cop and a rookie cop.

There was one traffic incident in which these guys were arguing over what happened with their cars. The veteran cop knew what to do – he told one guy to stand at a certain place, and the other guy to stand opposite – and told the rookie to watch both of them. So the rookie is trying to absorb everything, and the veteran knows instinctively how to deal with an incident. It’s a perspective on seeing how that dynamic works.

HollywoodChicago.com: Ms. Berry, ‘The Call’ is a highly symbolic film regarding attitudes toward women, both in dealing with their attacks in society and their eventual empowerment. Which element of your own empowerment did you bring to the character to embody that symbolism?

Berry: Personally, what I share with Jordan [Berry’s character] is that I have an ability, in whatever difficult situation I’m facing, to be able to rise above it. I’ve luckily been able to find my way through it, and come out the other side – better than I was, stronger than I was and still completely intact. And out of that, accomplish something that was amazing, even if it’s only amazing to me. I think Jordan does the same thing.

Chestnut: I’m glad you mentioned that, because that is one of the things that I really enjoy about Halle’s performance in this movie. The character is so vulnerable, in a weakened state in which anyone could break. But she finds the strength to push through that, and battle the evil. It’s very empowering for women. I really admired how she embraced it.

Morris Chestnut
Morris Chestnut in Chicago, on the Red Carpet for ‘The Call’
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: So Mr. Chestnut, the city of Los Angeles serves as a character in the film. As a person who was born in California, and is familiar with the culture of L.A., what personality of the city was best captured, in your opinion, in ‘The Call’?

Chestnut: I’ve seen ‘Michael’ [the villain in the film] a few times, but I didn’t have to deal with him like in the movie. [laughs] Los Angeles is a car city, and I like to observe people in their cars. So one of the great images in the movie is when Michael is driving down the highway, after abducting someone and having evil intentions for them, and he’s just cruising down the street all regular. I thought, wow, that is definitely L.A, and it captured that for me.

Berry: If I’m in L.A., and somebody cuts me off or does something on the road, I don’t say anything. I might want to flip them off, but I never know the mindset of that person, and anything might happen. That is very unique to Los Angeles. In L.A., you can do whatever you want, I don’t have anything to say. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: You’ve both played significant roles as African American pioneers – Ms. Berry as Dorothy Dandridge and Mr. Chestnut as the title character in ‘The Ernest Green Story’ as one of the Little Rock [Arkansas] Nine. What has embodying those type of characters taught you about your own relationship with the struggle for equality in the past, and how did it allow you to think about those times in your own lives where you were treated unfairly because of just who you are?

Berry: For Dorothy, I wanted to play her because I felt this kindred spirit. She started something that she couldn’t finish, and I desperately hoped that I could take that ball and cross the goal line, finish the journey. I feel like I’ve done that, and I’m proud of it. If that is all I do, I feel I did the one thing I wanted to do. I think it has positively impacted women of color, and was inspirational. If you can use your craft to do something like that, that means something socially, that is when art becomes meaningful in a much deeper way.

Chestnut: With me, I think back to when I was 18 years old. My neighborhood was very ethnically diverse. But if you were a young black male driving a car that was beat up, they suspected you of something. If I took my Mom’s car out, which was a fancier car, they suspected me of something. So I was always suspected of something, just when I drove.

I did the film ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ which was a ‘hood’ movie, and that provoked a lot of thought in the images that people aren’t used to seeing. Being a part of that movie, it opened eyes to what was going on in South Central Los Angeles. And then I did a film like ‘The Best Man,’ with a lot of progressive black people doing well and having a good time in their lives. Just looking at those two films, in the sense of perpetuating images, and provoking thought about those images, it can sometimes change points of views. There was a progression in those genres and images, and I just feel good to be a part of that.

HollywoodChicago.com: You seem like a risk taker. Ms. Berry, when it comes to evolving your career. What do you think was the riskiest role you’ve taken in your career, and how did that risk take you to the next level as far as an actor and your standing in the industry?

Berry: Without a doubt, ‘Monster’s Ball’ was the riskiest, and it took me to the height of my career. I accomplished history with that role. It was proof to me that if something feels risky or scary, then I’m like a moth to a flame, I go right to it. Sometimes it works well. and sometimes it doesn’t, ala ‘Catwoman.’ People think, well why did I do that? But again, that was a risk, and sometimes it doesn’t pay off. But I’ve learned that you can’t win big, unless you risk big. That is the only way to win at it.

HollywoodChicago.com: Did you see any of your Catwoman in Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of her when you saw ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?

Berry: I see all the other ‘Catwomen’ in that character. I’m still the best. [laughs] At least in my daughter’s mind.

HollywoodChicago.com: Mr. Chestnut, what was different for you when you moved from the first phase of your character parts career to more leading man roles in ‘The Best Man’ and ‘The Brothers.’ Do you feel more of a responsibility as a actor when carrying a film versus supporting it?

Chestnut: I do and I did. It’s an interesting dynamic when you’re in the film industry and you just want a role you can sink your teeth into. Once I started doing lead roles there was a greater sense of responsibility. Now, instead of just trying to get into a movie and get a job, I’m going to be at the forefront of this film, so what messages will be involved? Definitely there is more of a responsibility.

HollywoodChicago.com: Ms. Berry, you had to make that transition as well, didn’t you?

Berry: Yes, when you’re a lead in a film, the responsibility falls on you. When the film fails, you take the heat, but if you win big, you win big. That’s the game.

HollywoodChicago.com: You’ve also combined being a consummate actress with being a major sex symbol…

Berry: I have not tried to do that. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: Okay, well, how does processing what others have determined as the sex symbol side of yourself, combine and balance with your development as an actor, especially as a character actor?

Berry: I started off just trying to use all that I have. My body is the instrument for work, I try to use it in all capacities. Sometimes when the role requires walking out of the sea in a bikini in a Bond movie, if I can do it, I will use that part of it. If I want to be in ‘Jungle Fever,’ I can also mess up my hair, not shower for two days and be a crackhead. I’m okay looking like that on screen as well. I’ve always tried to use everything I have, because that’s all I have. I don’t want to limit myself or be ashamed of what I have to offer. I know who I really am, and that’s what I use to play different characters and do my job. I’ve gotten more versatility out of that, and got to do different things.

HollywoodChicago.com: You seemed perplexed about the outside assessment of you as a sex symbol…

Berry: I’m not so much perplexed, because I am me and I know who I really am, and I know I’m much more than that sex symbol thing.

Halle Berry
Morris Chestnut (Paul) and Halle Berry (Jordan) in ‘The Call’
Photo credit: TriStar Pictures

HollywoodChicago.com: Do you find it belittling for women?

Berry: No, I just know I’m much more than that, and every chance I get I try to project the other side. My daughter told me the other day I was really beautiful, and then she said ‘but you are going to get old and ugly.’ [laughs] So, I’m working on the inside, so when the old and ugly comes along, I’m still standing.

Chestnut: I actually look at that completely different. I don’t think that the general audience has paid attention to what Halle has accomplished. If you look at the men who are considered sex symbols, for example Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, they never have won an Academy Award. Then you have Halle, who is the ultimate sex symbol for everyone all over the world, and yet she has that ultimate honor for her craft as well. For me, it’s understated as to what she has done.

Berry: Oh Morris, I love you so much.

Chestnut: I believe that, it is the truth.

HollywoodChicago.com: Well, you’ve been judged as the ‘hunk’ character in what you do…

Chestnut: That’s why I’m always thinking about this. And I don’t have a Academy Award, nor have I been nominated. And if you look at the history of female Hollywood sex symbols, they haven’t won it either. When you think about it, it’s really an incredible accomplishment.

Berry: I’m just going to take you around with me wherever I go. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: Okay, Mr. Chestnut, in that same category, what type of role would you like to tackle before your career is over, that casting agents don’t necessarily send your way?

Chestnut: To me, it’s always about the script. If someone were to come to me – let’s say eight years ago – and said I have a concept in which a pimp wants to be a rapper. I would have said no, that doesn’t sound good. And then Terrence Howard is nominated for Best Actor in ‘Hustle & Flow.’ So I don’t say there is one particular role that I wouldn’t play or not, it really depends on the script. You can hear the most outrageous concepts, but until you read the script, it doesn’t matter. I’ve heard concepts that are phenomenal, but then I get the script and I can’t get past the first ten pages.

Specifically, I’d probably like to do more action roles. But what’s for me, is for me. I’ve had opportunities that didn’t work out, and so I’m just going to keep it moving.

HollywoodChicago.com: Final question for you, Ms. Berry. Since the Oscars were just was over the weekend, what was your own personal favorite moment about that night, that went beyond what we saw on that stage?

Berry: The next day when I woke up, it was the feeling that I accomplished something that will have people remember your name. When I’m long gone, when my daughter is long gone, the legacy of that moment lives on. It didn’t hit me until that next day…in whatever I do, that can’t be taken away from me.

“The Call” opens everywhere on March 15th. Featuring Halle Berry, Morris Chestnut, Abigail Breslin and Michael Imperioli. Written by Richard D’Olidio, directed by Brad Anderson. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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