In 1989, Berry moved to New York City to pursue her acting ambitions. During her early time there she ran out of money and had to live briefly in a homeless shelter. Later in 1989, her situation improved and she was cast in the role of model Emily Franklin in the short-lived ABC television series Living Dolls, which was shot in New York and was a spin-off of the hit series Who’s the Boss?. During the taping of Living Dolls, she lapsed into a coma and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. After the cancellation of Living Dolls, she moved to Los Angeles. She went on to have a recurring role on the long-running primetime serial Knots Landing.
Her film debut was in a small role for Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991), in which she played Vivian, a drug addict. That same year, Berry had her first co-starring role in Strictly Business. In 1992, Berry portrayed a career woman who falls for Eddie Murphy in the romantic comedy Boomerang. The following year, she caught the public’s attention as a headstrong biracial slave in the TV adaptation of Queen: The Story of an American Family, based on the book by Alex Haley. Berry was in the live-action Flintstones movie playing the part of “Sharon Stone”, a sultry secretary who seduced Fred Flintstone.
Berry tackled a more serious role, playing a former drug addict struggling to regain custody of her son in Losing Isaiah (1995), starring opposite Jessica Lange. She portrayed Sandra Beecher in Race the Sun (1996), which was based on a true story, shot in Australia, and co-starred alongside Kurt Russell in Executive Decision. Beginning in 1996, she was a Revlon spokeswoman for seven years and renewed her contract in 2004.
She starred alongside Natalie Deselle Reid in the 1997 comedy film, B*A*P*S. In 1998, Berry received praise for her role in Bulworth as an intelligent woman raised by activists who gives a politician (Warren Beatty) a new lease on life. The same year, she played the singer Zola Taylor, one of the three wives of pop singer Frankie Lymon, in the biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love. In the 1999 HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, she portrayed the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, and it was to Berry a heart-felt project that she introduced, co-produced and fought intensely for it to come through. Berry’s performance was recognized with several awards, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
Berry portrayed the mutant superhero Storm in the film adaptation of the comic book series X-Men (2000) and its sequels, X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). In 2001, Berry appeared in the film Swordfish, which featured her first topless scene. At first, she refused to be filmed topless in a sunbathing scene, but she changed her mind when Warner Brothers raised her fee substantially. The brief flash of her breasts added $500,000 to her fee. Berry considered these stories to be rumors and was quick to deny them. After turning down numerous roles that required nudity, she said she decided to make Swordfish because her then-husband, Eric Benét, supported her and encouraged her to take risks.
She appeared as Leticia Musgrove, the troubled wife of an executed murderer (Sean Combs), in the 2001 feature film Monster’s Ball. Her performance was awarded the National Board of Review and the Screen Actors Guild best-actress prizes; in an interesting coincidence she became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress (earlier in her career she portrayed Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American to be nominated for Best Actress, and who was born at the same hospital as Berry, in Cleveland, Ohio). The NAACP issued the statement: “Congratulations to Halle Berry and Denzel Washington for giving us hope and making us proud. If this is a sign that Hollywood is finally ready to give opportunity and judge performance based on skill and not on skin color then it is a good thing.” Her role also generated controversy. Berry’s graphic nude love scene with a racist character played by co-star Billy Bob Thornton was the subject of much media chatter and discussion among African-Americans. Many in the African-American community were critical of Berry for taking the part. Berry responded: “I don’t really see a reason to ever go that far again. That was a unique movie. That scene was special and pivotal and needed to be there, and it would be a really special script that would require something like that again.”
Berry asked for a higher fee for Revlon advertisements after winning the Academy Award. Ron Perelman, the cosmetics firm’s chief, congratulated her, saying how happy he was that she modeled for his company. She replied, “Of course, you’ll have to pay me more.” Perelman stalked off in a rage. Her win at the Academy Awards led to two famous “Oscar moments.” In accepting her award, she gave an acceptance speech honoring previous black actresses who had never had the opportunity. She said, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This is for every nameless, faceless woman of colour who now has a chance tonight because this door has been opened.” One year later, as she presented the Best Actor award, winner Adrien Brody ran on stage and, instead of giving her the standard peck on the cheek, planted a long kiss on Berry.
Upper body shot of Berry dressed in brown and gold evening gown and holding an autograph pen.
Berry in Hamburg in 2004
As Bond girl Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson in the 2002 blockbuster Die Another Day, Berry recreated a scene from Dr. No, emerging from the surf to be greeted by James Bond as Ursula Andress had 40 years earlier. Lindy Hemming, costume designer on Die Another Day, had insisted that Berry wear a bikini and knife as an homage. Berry has said of the scene: “It’s splashy”, “exciting”, “sexy”, “provocative” and “it will keep me still out there after winning an Oscar.”The bikini scene was shot in Cadiz; the location was reportedly cold and windy, and footage has been released of Berry wrapped in thick towels in between takes to avoid catching a chill. According to an ITV news poll, Jinx was voted the fourth toughest girl on screen of all time. Berry was hurt during filming when debris from a smoke grenade flew into her eye. It was removed in a 30-minute operation. After Berry won the Academy Award, rewrites were commissioned to give her more screentime for X2.
She starred in the psychological thriller Gothika opposite Robert Downey, Jr. in November 2003, during which she broke her arm in a scene with Downey, who twisted her arm too hard. Production was halted for eight weeks. It was a moderate hit at the United States box office, taking in $60 million; it earned another $80 million abroad. Berry appeared in the nu metal band Limp Bizkit’s music video for Behind Blue Eyes for the motion picture soundtrack for the film. The same year, she was named #1 in FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World poll.
Berry received $12.5 million for the title role in the film Catwoman, a $100 million movie; it grossed $17 million on its first weekend. She was awarded a “worst actress” Razzie award in 2005 for this role. She appeared at the ceremony to accept the award in person (making her the third person, and second actor, to ever do so) with a sense of humor, considering it an experience of the “rock bottom” in order to be “at the top”. Holding the Academy Award in one hand and the Razzie in the other she said, “I never in my life thought that I would be here, winning a Razzie. It’s not like I ever aspired to be here, but thank you. When I was a kid, my mother told me that if you could not be a good loser, then there’s no way you could be a good winner.” The Fund for Animals praised Berry’s compassion towards cats and for squelching rumors that she was keeping a Bengal tiger from the sets of Catwoman as a “pet.”
Berry at the 70th Golden Globe Awards
Her next film appearance was in the Oprah Winfrey-produced ABC TV movie Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005), an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, in which Berry portrayed Janie Crawford, a free-spirited woman whose unconventional sexual mores upset her 1920s contemporaries in a small community. She was nominated for an Emmy for this TV film. Meanwhile, she voiced the character of Cappy, one of the many mechanical beings in the animated feature Robots (2005).
Berry is involved in production of films and television. She served as executive producer on Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999, and Lackawanna Blues in 2005. Berry both produced and starred in the thriller Perfect Stranger with Bruce Willis and in Things We Lost in the Fire with Benicio del Toro, the first film in which she worked with a female director, Danish Susanne Bier, a new feeling of “thinking the same way”, which she appreciated. Berry then starred in the film Frankie and Alice, in which she plays Frankie Murdoch, a young multiracial American women with dissociative identity disorder struggling against her alter personality to retain her true self. She was awarded the African-American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.
Berry is one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood, earning $10 million per film. In July 2007, she topped In Touch magazine’s list of the world’s most fabulous 40-something celebrities. On April 3, 2007, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the Kodak Theatre at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to the film industry. As of 2011, Berry’s worldwide box office gross has been more than 2.7 billion US$. In 2011, she appeared in New Year’s Eve. She played one of the leads in the film Cloud Atlas, which was released in October 2012.Berry has served for many years as the face of Revlon cosmetics and as the face of Versace. The Coty Inc. fragrance company signed Berry to market her debut fragrance in March 2008. Berry was delighted, saying that she had created her own fragrances at home by mixing scents.