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Halle Berry is Out of this World

Emmy Magazine Preview: In her first starring series role, Halle Berry soars as an astronaut whose cryptic encounter in space has very real consequences back home. CBS’s Extant offers the unearthly beauty a chance to reflect on what really matters in life and what she has yet to learn.

Mark Morrison
  • Halle Berry

“I’m 48, and it’s about damn time that I feel really grown up,” Halle Berry is saying.

“I feel totally in control of what I’m doing, and I don’t feel like I need to make everybody happy anymore. I’m very comfortable being exactly who I am, what I am, with all of my good and not so good, and all of my strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to expose that and be that, because that’s what makes me human.”

It’s an early Monday in Los Angeles, and the actress has clearly had her morning coffee. But her words are not part of some caffeinated diva rant or Hollywood mumbo-jumbo. That’s not Halle Berry’s style.

She is wide awake in the truest sense and speaks her mind quietly, thoughtfully, openly.

Her oh-so-mortal observations coincide aptly with her latest role — as the star of Extant, the 13-episode sci-fi series airing this summer on CBS.

Berry plays an astronaut who returns home from a year-long solo space mission to find she’s inexplicably pregnant. “I’m allowing myself to be really human in this show,” the actress says, “because that’s where I’m at in life.”

The series opens in the not-too-distant future as Molly Woods is readjusting to life in her contemporary lakefront house with her scientist husband, John (ER’s Goran Visnjic), and their android son, Ethan (9 year old scene stealer, Pierce Gagnon).

The couple was unable to have a child, so John created one as close to human as possible. But how human is he? Does he feel love? Or, as Molly starts to wonder, is he merely programmed to display something that resembles emotions? 

The story raises complicated questions that resonate with the actress, who has had to reckon with her own well-publicized highs and lows, including 2 previous marriages; the birth of her daughter, Nahla, now 6; and the toll on her personal life from excessive paparazzi attention.

(She led the charge in California for new anti-harrassment legislation that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last fall, penalizing paparazzi for photographing the children of celebrities without permission.)

Last year Berry married French actor Olivier Martinez and in October gave birth to their son, Maceo, only months before production started on Extant.

Unlike Gravity — the film that left Sandra Bullock alone in space but brought her an Oscar nomination — Extant spends a lot of time on Earth.

And the appeal of the story by Mickey Fisher, the series’ creator–executive producer, is that it flashes back and forth between Molly’s domestic life and her mysterious space voyage.

Like the Spike Jonze drama Her, another movie from last year, Extant creates a future world that is not overly futuristic, never allowing the gadgetry to upstage the emotional core.

Says Berry, who is also a co-executive producer of the series: “We have all the sci-fi [elements] of this world, which is 30 years in the future, but the story is rooted in real character development and real dimensions that audiences can connect to.”

Indeed, one of the most resonant moments in the first episode comes not from special effects or things that go bump in the spaceship, but from a husband-wife conversation in the middle of a sleepless night.

When John wonders what might have happened had he never met Molly, she leans in knowingly and says, “We always end up where we’re supposed to.”

These words hold special meaning for the actress. “I’ve always kind of been an open book about my life,” she says. “I haven’t tried to keep any secrets about what has gone right and wrong in my life. And I’ve come to understand that everything does happen for a reason."

We do end up exactly where we’re supposed to be, says Berry, even if we don’t understand it at the time. 

“I really do understand now that it’s all part of my evolution as a woman, as a person,” she continues. “And they’re all lessons I can learn from. The terrible things that seem to happen are just lessons — therefore, there is no good and bad; there is just only what is.

"And it’s how we deal with these things that really matters. What do we get from it? How do we grow? How do we move on? How do we stand up after we fall? And when we’re on top, how do we handle the height of joy and the height of accomplishment? How we handle that is equally important.”

Berry first heard about Extant from her producing partner, Elaine Thomas Goldsmith, who told her Mickey Fisher’s script had one of the best women’s roles she’d ever read — but it was for television. The actress wasn’t looking for a TV role, but once she read the script, she was won over. 

Fisher had written the pilot script on spec in 2012 as a way to break into television. 

Originally, the story involved an astronaut aboard a space station who starts to encounter people from his past. It wasn’t written for a woman because Fisher first saw it as a 1-person play — for himself.

But once he came upon the idea of writing it for a female astronaut who encounters a lost love in space and returns home pregnant, he knew he had something that could be told over the course of many episodes on television...

Get the full story here in Emmy magazine issue no. 2014-06.