Things We Lost In The Fire - Halle Berry interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
HALLE Berry talks about why she had to fight so hard for the part in Things We Lost In The Fire, how she researched grief and working with Danish director Susanne Bier and actor Benicio Del Toro.
She also talks about the film’s maxim “accept the good”, how she easily experienced maternal feelings towards her on-screen children and her own impending motherhood…
Q. First of all, congratulations on your impending motherhood. You must be very happy?
Halle Berry: Yes, it’s a very miraculous time of life.
Q. Things We Lost In The Fire is a really emotionally involving film. But I understand you had to fight hard to get the role?
Halle Berry: Well, I had to throw my hat in the ring. Many actresses wanted this part, and rightfully so, but I was one of the people to do so. There are so few good roles written for women each year and when one is written like this, every actress in town covets the role.
Q. What appealed to you most about the role?
Halle Berry: The subject of what Audrey was dealing with – loss. It scares me to death and so therefore like a moth to a flame I felt like I needed to learn about this and discover about this part of life. I loved all the characters. I felt they were really interested and complicated and very life-like.
Q. Did you do any research into grief?
Halle Berry: I did because I haven’t lost anybody in my life. I read a book by Joan Didion called The Year of Magical Thinking. She’d lost her husband and that was really informative. It laid the landscape for what grief was. I also talked to grief counsellors and to people who had actually lost people. I then realised that I had people all around me who had lost people, but I had just never taken the approach of picking their brains about it. I was only the support person in their life when it happened and now I was more of an investigative reporter asking them all the intricacies of what they emotionally felt.
Q. How did you find Susanne Bier’s directing style because she favours a very Dogme style approach, doesn’t she?
Halle Berry: I loved it. I read the script before Susanne was even offered the job as a director. When they said that they had hired her, I quickly saw her movies and then I knew for sure that I had to pursue this as passionately as I could because I love her style and the organic feeling to all of her movies. Susanne also did something really amazing. The film was written in a very linear way, where my husband started off in the movie and we saw the idyllic life, and then a little bit of conflict, and then one day he goes to the ice-cream shop and he didn’t come home.
But when Susanne went to edit it, she decided to change the whole structure of the movie and made it really non-linear. I think it really uplifted the whole movie and took it from being maybe just a TV movie – which it was dangerously close to being – and in the hands of this Danish director with different sensibilities, and how beautifully she shot it with the micro-camera, it really uplifted it and made it that art-house feeling movie that everyone was expecting from her.
Q. How did you enjoy working with co-star Benicio Del Toro, who is astonishing in the film?
Halle Berry: He’s very good and a really fine actor. Any time that you work with good people, everybody just becomes better.
Q. I read that he always tried to find the humour in a situation, and therefore was able to keep the set very light…
Halle Berry: That’s true. But I think the beauty of life, and the beauty of people going through a hard time, is that there are comedic moments. I think comedy is a necessary emotion, or a necessary part of grieving and getting through those dark times. It’s in our nature. It helps us deal with the unthinkable. I think the fact that comedy is infused throughout the movie in a variety of ways is I think really reflective of what life is all about. No situation is utterly dour the entire time. We do manage, as people, to find the funny.
Q. Was it a draining role to play given the nature of the emotion you were asked to portray?
Halle Berry: It really wasn’t. People often think that but sometimes it’s more draining to play a role like Storm in X-Men, when there’s not a lot of acting going on and you’re working against a green screen. It can sometimes be very boring work at times by the nature of what that process is. But this, every day was dealing with people, it was acting, it was a slice of life, it was communicating with one another all day long. It was food for the soul. So, it wasn’t as draining as one might think. Rather, it was actually inspiring to work that way.
Q. One of the most inspiring lines to emerge from the film is to “accept the good”. Is that something you’ve always tried to adopt in life?
Halle Berry: I think it’s a great message and we should remind ourselves of ways to accept the good because I think in our nature we’re negative people. Somebody can say 10 wonderful things and then one bad thing and I’ll be damned if we don’t highlight the negativity. I think it’s in our nature and it’s kind of sad really but it’s a good reminder that we should really try and focus more on the good. There is a lot of good out there.
Q. I imagine the casting of your children was very important but they project an authentic innocence, don’t they?
Halle Berry: Well, it’s credit to Allan Loeb, the writer. He wrote them as innocent children. Sometimes in the movies you see kids that speak like a 30-year-old and are so precocious that it’s hard to believe that they’re little children. But Allan wrote them as kids. They do, say, act and behave as children their age do.
Q. What was it like working with them? Was it difficult at times? Or did you develop the maternal instinct very quickly?
Halle Berry: Luckily for me I had that instantly. I realised that I had a really solid maternal instinct. When I got them it wasn’t long before I felt we had a connection that felt real and authentic. So being with them was really one of the highlights of my days. I would love it when I saw Alexis [Llewellyn] in the morning and she’d run up and give me a hug. The other beauty of these kids is that they’re not movie kids. Susanne picked kids that didn’t want to work 12-hour days; so they got tired, they got cranky, they didn’t want to work.
There was one scene where we’re all sitting around the table and Audrey is deep in her grieving and just wants a little peace and quiet. She just wants them to eat some food and to sit there and be still. But Micah [Berry], the little boy, kept laughing in the take and I, Halle, was getting frustrated because Audrey, my character, was trying to do this thing. All I could feel to do at that moment – because I was feeling very motherly towards them – was grab his face because I got fed up. That wasn’t scripted, that was just there in the moment because he wouldn’t stop messing up the scene [laughs]. It was moments like that that made me feel very much like a mother because that’s what a real mother would do: stop the nonsense and not feel guilty about it.
Q. Coming back to your own motherhood have you thought about how you’re going to juggle it with your career? Or will it be very much a learning curve?
Halle Berry: Absolutely. But where there’s a will there’s a way… women have done it for centuries, so I’m sure I’ll be able to do it and find a way to balance it all.
Q. Are there any work projects you’re excited about at the moment?
Halle Berry: Right now I’m just really excited about the biggest project of my life – and that’s motherhood.