Things We Lost In The Fire: Halle Berry and Susanne Bier Interview
We rubbed shoulders with the mesmerising Halle Berry, along with influential Danish director Susanne Bier, to talk about new drama Things We Lost In The Fire. Berry plays recent widow Audrey Burke, whose family is fatefully brought together by her late husband's troubled best friend (Benicio Del Toro). As he gradually turns his life around, he simultaneously helps the family to look towards the future rather than struggle to let go of the past. Find out why Halle would happily walk into a crack den rather then be on the set of X-Men and what it was like working alongside one of the coolest men in Hollywood, Mr Benicio Del Toro…
LOVEFiLM: Halle, I gather you really had to fight to get this role, is that unusual?
Halle Berry: Actors always fight for good parts. There are so few good roles that are written for women each year and when one is written like this, every actress in town wants it, we all covert the role. I threw my hat in the ring about a year and a half before Susanne even read the script, and I made it known to the studio I was desperate for this part. They said 'stand in line' and told me it will be up to the director to have the final say - which is pretty common.
LF: Susan, what was it about Halle that made her stand out amongst the crowd?
Susanne Bier: When I met Halle for the first time I could not imagine anybody else [in the role]. The part of Audrey Burke involves a woman that closes down after shock; I was extremely concerned that the actress needed to play her would not accommodate the inbuilt coldness that this character could portray. She is coping with grief and does that in a very together way. Anytime she is close to showing any type of emotion, she feels she is going to breakdown and therefore she feels she needs to protect her kids. Meeting Halle, there was this very strong, very passionate and very warm actress who understood that grieving and wasn't just being cold.
LF: Halle, how do you portray a person who is going through such emotional turmoil? And how difficult is it to then switch off?
HB: I didn't feel emotionally drained at all. Sometimes it's much more draining to work on a movie like X Men where I have very little to say, and very little to do. I'd spend my whole day struggling to figure out what I can do and say and how to make that meaningful, because there's very little on a page when you work on a movie like that. We'd do a lot of green screen work and a lot of stunts. That can be a bit tedious. A movie like this is food for the soul, even though some of the scenes appear to be tough viewing. It was just a really cathartic experience for me as an actress to go to work every day and live this other life in this other skin. I've never dealt with grief, so I had nothing to draw on, but what you discover as an actor is that you don't have to have lived every situation in order to bring it to life.
LF: Susanne, as this was your first Hollywood feature, did you find you got the artistic license you needed?
SB: Yes definitely. I don't feel in any way I made compromises. DreamWorks were supportive and Sam Mendes was a great use of support and encouragement. I mean you never know when you read a script how the movie is going to turn out. I know what I want, what's interesting and what's intriguing in it; but I don't really know how the movie should be in the end. That's the fun of it and I think this movie contains that organic process right until the end.
LF: Halle, Benicio Del Toro is a natural comedian, how did you keep a straight face?
HB: Well, it's not like he was doing stand up! It wasn't that hard. You know the beauty of Benicio and the beauty of life is getting through hard times with comedic moments. I think comedy is a necessary emotion or a necessary part of healing and grieving and getting through those dark times. It's in our nature and helps us deal with the unthinkable. Comedy was infused throughout the movie in subtle and sometimes grander ways. No situation is utterly dour the entire time. We manage, as people, to find things funny and that helps us deal [with them].
LF: Were you impressed by Susanne's choice to edit the film in a different manner to Allan Loeb's screenplay?
HB: Susanne did something really amazing that uplifted the film. The film was written by Allan Loeb in a very linear way. You see the idyllic life of a family followed by a little bit of conflict because they've been in a marriage for 10 years. Then one day he goes to the ice cream shop and doesn't come back. When Susanne went to edit she decided to change the whole structure of the movie to make it non linear. I think that really lifted the movie and took it [away] from being a TV movie, which it was dangerously close to being; but In the hands of Susanne, a Danish director with different sensibilities [it didn't]. I think everyone expected that of Susanne as it's her signature style.
LF: What were the advantages of working from a script which allowed you to react to it in your own way?
HB: The advantages are that you can have a sense of freedom and bring your own ideas to the table and play them out. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. It was never in the script that Jerry should almost try to kiss Audrey but it was on all of our minds; especially Susanne's. There was so much sexual tension going on as we were watching the scenes play out. It seemed like there might be a moment where the line would get really grey so we played around with that and saw how far that would go. In one take I remember thinking if we kiss we kiss but it never happened because in character it was just organically wrong so it never got that far. It got as far as I think it was right to get, but that's an example of being able to play with things that weren't in the script.
LF: There are some pretty grimy aspects to the film - did you have to go down a real life crack alley to do those scenes?
HB: I think it was. I remember them telling us it's been swept for needles and we had to get shots.
LF: Like tetanus?
HB: Yeah Tetanus and something else. We were in real crack-ville.
SB: I mean it was done with antiseptic but when you looked round the corner there were rats. It was a little gloomy and scary.
LF: Was there a moment where you wishing you were back to the green-screen of X-Men?
SB: We told Halle she would have to wear closed shoes in case she stepped on a needle.
HB: Yeah I was really into my flip flops at that moment. That was hard for me to take!
LF: Halle, the shower scene with Benicio. Pretty steamy stuff?
HB: I had in a shower scene with Benicio? Wow (laughs) I was thinking I missed that one…I hate to burst your bubble but I didn't see much.
SB: But the crew had a good day of shooting when Halle was in a bikini.
LF: Did Benicio demand a closed set?
SB: I don't think he gave a shit!
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