In Variety‘s Up Next, we asked four Oscar winners to pick the one person who represents the future of Hollywood.
This year, Halle Berry fulfills a career dream of stepping into the director’s chair with “Bruised,” where she stars as Jackie Justice, an MMA fighter looking for one last big match. Berry knows what it’s like to be counted out. It’s been 20 years since she became the first — and still only — Black woman to win the lead actress Oscar (for “Monster’s Ball”).
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In that time, Berry has spoken about the need for systemic change in Hollywood. While she’s been encouraged by some things, she knows there’s a long way to go. When she looks at the actors coming up, Berry chooses Zendaya — the star of HBO’s “Euphoria” and movies such as “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Malcolm & Marie” and “Dune” — as “Up Next” in the industry. “She’s going to write, direct and go further than I did in less time,” Berry predicts. And the 25-year-old former Disney star is thrilled that Berry knows her work.
What does it feel like to be looked upon as the pinnacle of success as a Black woman in the movie business?
HALLE BERRY: It’s an honor, because when I started, I was hard-pressed to find role models that I could look up to, or someone who had paved a way. When I think of the conversations I had with Diahann Carroll when she was still here, hearing about her struggles and realizing the career she should have been able to have but she wasn’t able to have. Or Dorothy Dandridge. It feels good to have continued their legacies and to carry the ball as far as I’ve been able to carry it. I’m hopeful that the younger generations, the ones coming behind me, will be able to take the ball that I leave them and carry it even farther.
How did you approach your role of Jackie Justice in “Bruised”?
The fact that I was the director, I could build this character by myself. Normally, when I build a character, I include the director and try to encompass their vision. I had to answer all of these questions for myself as an actor and as a director because I was in charge of telling a story. It took me on a two-and-a-half-year journey, talking to fighters and people that came from broken homes — domestic and sexual abuse.
Your character explores two different romantic relationships. One involves a man and domestic abuse, and the other involves her exploring her bisexuality.
I wanted to find the authenticity in these moments. The way Jackie and Desi [played by Adan Canto] love, they’re both fighters, and sometimes that’s what it looks like when you’re in a dysfunctional relationship. It gets messy, convoluted, confusing, but there was love there at the end of the day. I feel like he loved her. He just didn’t know how. That love scene with Buddhakan [Sheila Atim] was a moment where we realized that what Jackie needed more than anything, as the air to breathe, was just to be loved. It didn’t define her as bisexual or lesbian. She just went to where the love was.
Would you like to direct again?
I do want to direct again. I now know that it will be something that I absolutely love. It will have to be something [where] I would tell my agents, “If I don’t do this film, I’m going to die.”
Who would you pick as “Up Next” in Hollywood?
Zendaya. She’s wildly talented, young and already has an Emmy. The youngest ever in a dramatic series.
What roles of hers have you liked?
I’ve loved her in “Malcolm & Marie.” It was so innovative. The honesty and simplicity of that work said to me the sky’s the limit for her — and she’s brave, not afraid to take chances, authentic and wildly beautiful. But she’s not afraid not to be beautiful. I see her as an actress who will fight to be greater than her beauty. She’s not relying on it. She’s working hard as an actor, and she will take risks. I think she will surprise us along the way. And I can’t wait to see all the ways that she will surprise us and defy her beauty with her talent.
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How does it feel to know that Halle Berry chose you as the future of Hollywood?
ZENDAYA: Incredibly honored, She’s always been so lovely and so supportive. Whenever I’ve run into her, she’s always taken the time to stop and talk to me — and share love and words of encouragement. It means the world to me.
Halle thinks you’ll be directing one day as she did with “Bruised.” Is that true?
I sure hope so. I spend a lot of time in “Euphoria.” I was able to do the same with “Spider-Man” and be around as many sets as possible. When I’m not in scenes, I’m pretty much on set every day, just watching behind the monitors, learning and asking questions. We have such an incredible crew on the show.
I’m trying to learn to make the things that I want to make because I have many ideas and many plans. Being a director, when I open that door, I think that’ll allow me to tell the stories that I feel aren’t as often told or I haven’t seen enough of, and I can be a part of bringing it to life and making something beautiful.
What’s next for you?
I’m literally in my final days of wrapping “Euphoria,” and this has been a challenging season. It’s been a long season with everyone. The cast and crew have put so much into it, so we are exhausted, but we are almost at the finish line. Then I’ll start the promo tour for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which I think will be a nice change of pace. I think so many people are just going to have so much fun going to see it, and it’s going to bring a lot of joy. Then I’ll have a little bit of time in between then, kind of figure out what else I want to do before “Dune” starts up, which I’m excited about. Hopefully, I’ll get to do some fighting. That’s what I’ve been excited to do. The first one, I was like, I want to do fight choreography. I want to kick some ass. I’m ready! You know, give me a Crysknife. Let’s get in there.
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