Monster's Ball

The marching orders from Lions Gate were clear and came even before the movie started shooting: MONSTER'S BALL was to be the movie that won Halle Berry the Academy Award® and, as it turned out, it was.

The film shot in the springtime in the rural areas outside New Orleans. The first day I visited set was shortly after torrential rains had caused the Mississippi to flood its banks, which were very close to where the crew was completing a driving shot. The flood had deposited a number of giant carp into a series of waist-deep irrigation canals, and as the scorching sun evaporated the remaining water the stranded carp thrashed violently about, drowning. For some reason this caused a member of the crew to wade into a canal. He caught the tail end of a carp with his bare hands, yanked it out of the ditch and bashed its head against a rock until the thing was dead. No one asked him why he did this, but he spent the rest of the day wearing the stinky black-brown evidence of his crime.

I am rarely star-struck, but I was very much so the first time I met Halle Berry. The folks at Lions Gate wanted to start working on a poster, so I asked her to look at a couple of binders of unit art and do some preliminary kills. The stills photographer had done great work: the photos depicted a Halle Berry we'd never seen before, a working-class single mother whose life is falling apart. To the degree that Halle Berry can look like hell, she was nearly unrecognizable here. But after paging through every contact sheet in both binders, she looked at me and said, "They're fine, use whatever you want."

At that moment I realized Halle knew exactly what she was doing, recognizing that this role might be a history-making one, that rare occasion when it was OK, and even a very smart thing, for the most glamorous actress in the world to look stressed. MONSTER'S BALL, I thought to myself, just might have a shot.