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Saving the world with Bond may be just the start for Berry

November 25, 2002|Bill Desowitz | Special to The Times

OK, it may not win her a second Oscar, but Halle Berry wants everyone to know she did some homework on her first post-Academy Award role: playing opposite James Bond as his true opposite number, the secret agent Jinx.

With struggling MGM hoping for a hit in "Die Another Day," Berry has been enlisted, along with star Pierce Brosnan and director Lee Tamahori, to help bring the 40-year-old "Bond" franchise into the era of "XXX" and "The Matrix."

As research, Berry revisited "Dr. No," the first Bond film, which she watched as a child on TV, because her entrance in the new movie, coming out of the water wearing an orange Honey Rider-style bikini, paid homage to actress Ursula Andress. It's one of several winks and nods to Bond-mania in the film, including the "Thunderball" jet packs, the "Goldfinger" laser and the diamond-studded satellite/super laser from "Diamonds Are Forever."

As she does for every role, Berry said she also developed her own personal back story for Jinx, though she won't divulge the details. "It's my own life for her, my own personal tools for the job. I mean, I even wrote it down. You'll never, ever know it, but that affects the way you talk, the way you walk, where you're really from. And understanding what your character really wants."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 10 inches; 369 words Type of Material: Correction
Movie title -- A Monday Calendar story about Halle Berry and her role in the new James Bond movie had the incorrect title "Once Were Strangers" for a film directed by Lee Tamahori. The title is "Once Were Warriors."

Berry actually took the role of Jinx before her star turn in the 2001 film "Monster's Ball" landed her the best actress Oscar -- the first ever for an African American woman.

"When the offer came in, it was take it or leave it, which was the first time that's happened in my career," Berry said. "I had to say yes. I found her to be my kind of Bond girl -- smart, tough, physical, mysterious and independent."

Although she wasn't used to shooting a work in progress (typical for a Bond film, in which scripts routinely are retooled on the set), Berry said she found the experience stimulating. "Actors offered ideas and came up with lines -- everybody was always percolating. The 'Yo mama' line was spur of the moment and I didn't think it was going to stay in the movie, but I was glad to bring a part of myself to it."

There already are plans to spin off Jinx into her own movie franchise. "Die Another Day" screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade currently are developing a treatment. "If she could stay the character I've come to know and love, and would evolve even further

Bond co-producer Michael Wilson said he is open to the idea as well. "For somebody to win an Academy Award for a dramatic piece and then to do this with the same enthusiasm, and not feel it is a step down, is wonderful. And if she has a back story for Jinx all worked out, well, I'd like to hear about it."

MGM, the smallest of the seven major studios, could use another franchise a la Bond, whose brand-name identification virtually guarantees that the films become hits in country after country.

And MGM could use a few hits. From late last year through this summer, the struggling Santa Monica-based studio saw a string of high-profile, big-budget films stumble out of the starting gate, including "Windtalkers," "Rollerball" and two Bruce Willis vehicles, "Hart's War" and "Bandits." One recent bright spot: Its warmhearted urban comedy "Barbershop" premiered in first place at the box office with $21 million in September.

With "Die Another Day," the studio is counting on Berry's role as Bond's new love interest to appeal to female audiences as well as to men (who'll also get their quota of high-octane action sequences and state-of-the-art gadgetry).

Over drinks recently at the Hotel Bel-Air, Brosnan said, "Halle has a maturity, sexuality and sensuality that makes men and women feel so at ease." Now in his fourth outing as Bond, Brosnan said "Die Another Day" is a step into the new era.

"To see Lee pull [producers] Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [Wilson] into the 21st century, to get them to use CGI [computer-generated imagery] and get them to put Bond in tougher situations is so satisfying," he said.

For his part, Tamahori, who's known for Ken Loach-like realistic pictures in his native New Zealand ("Once Were Strangers") and David Fincher-like thrillers in America ("Along Came a Spider"), said making a Bond film was a fan's fantasy. "This film is made very much with great reverence for the old Bond movies," Tamahori said.

As for Halle's Jinx, she was Tamahori's version of Modesty Blaise, the cultish comic strip spy. "I said to Halle, 'No matter what you think, this character has got to be as kick-ass as Bond.' If you look carefully at the love scene, she actually takes him to bed and leaves him in the morning. And she's on top and she's got a knife in her hand during the lovemaking scene. Pierce and Halle loved that."

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