By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Fed up with paparazzi tormenting her young children, Oscar winning actress Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) successfully championed state legislation that increased the penalties substantially—both monetarily and with longer jail time—against cameramen and photographers that harass children of public figures in California, where she and her family live. Senate Bill 606, put forward by a state senator and signed into law in 2013 by Gov. Jerry Brown, bars aggressive photographers from annoying, tormenting, terrorizing and seriously alarming the children of famous people under penalty of a $10,000 fine and a minimum sentence of a year in jail, with substantially harsher consequences for repeat offenders.
“I tried to reason with the paparazzi and I called all of the magazines and tried to reason with them,” Berry recalls during an interview. “I started to fight with the paparazzi. I started to shout and get angry. I thought, ‘They’re going to see how much this is hurting me,’ but that didn’t help.”
“I felt like I was fresh out of options, and going to do the thing that everybody said was impossible was the only option I had,” she adds. “Losing wasn’t an option. I was going to keep going and going and talk to every legislator and lobbyist. I was going to talk to everybody I had to talk to until they heard me on this issue. I believe when you have a mother who’s out of options, **** gets done. You have to will it to happen. It was so worth it.”
Berry has now incorporated the name of that legislative victory (which was supported by other angry celebrity moms including Jennifer Garner) as the name of her production company, 606 Films. Together with acclaimed producer, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, the two Hollywood powerhouses are busy developing films and TV projects that largely depict women in strong, positive roles.
“To me, (606) stands for her strength, her resilience (and) her passion,” says Goldsmith-Thomas, whose credits include “Mona Lisa Smile” and “The Boy Next Door.” “It stands for her drive. It stands for ‘don’t tell me no because if I can’t go through, I’ll go around, and I’ll get it done.’”
Berry and Goldsmith-Thomas met 11 years ago on the crime thriller “Perfect Stranger,” in which the actress played a reporter who goes undercover to investigate the murder of a young woman. Goldsmith-Thomas produced it. They reconnected about five years ago to form their production company. They’re first collaboration to hit the big screen is “Kidnap,” a suspense action movie directed by Luis Prieto, involving a divorced mom who will stop at nothing to rescue her son from a pair of kidnappers that nab the boy at a park while she is standing only a few yards away. Reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s 1971 classic “Duel,” along with the vigilante parent franchise “Taken,” “Kidnap” is a non-stop action movie, which mostly involves a gripping car chase on the highways and byways of Louisiana. Berry’s Karla Dyson goes from frantic mother to take-no-prisoners Mama Bear vigilante to get her son back. With a small cast—the action never breaks from Berry—who initially is unable to communicate the abduction to law enforcement. Realizing she may never see her son alive again unless she continues her pursuit of the kidnappers, she continues her quest to catch them, putting her own life in peril to save her child. “Kidnap” opens in theaters Friday Aug. 4.
As her character is in distress throughout most of the film, the role was not an easy one for Berry, a divorcee with two children.
“I was actually grateful we shot it in only 21 days because to stay in that heightened state is just torture,” says the actress, appearing much more relaxed and calm than her onscreen character. “The longer it went on, the more tortured I felt inside. Every day that I had to put that on, to bring up those emotions, I had to be right there, and that’s tiring and draining. So, I was so grateful that we just (snaps her fingers quickly) shot it. When Luis (Prieto, the director) got the shot, we’d move on. Sometimes we’d do it in one take. If he thought it was great, we’d move on. I was grateful that he didn’t just wear out my emotions. He was respectful of that because the emotion was real for me a lot of the days.”
Goldsmith-Thomas, who was on location for the shoot, can attest to Berry’s commitment to the demanding role.
“A lot of it was just her alone, driving and reacting and calibrating her performance,” the veteran producer marvels. “It was brilliant to watch. She gave it her all, every single day. It was impressive but I also have been impressed with her before.”
The producer says what she found interesting was watching Berry form the character placing her specifically in that rural, backwoods setting.
“You really felt like the story is in Louisiana,” she notes of the flat, sometimes out of the way locations along the chase route. “I feel like Louisiana is a character. I feel like the minivan Halle drives is a character. And the cabin at the end. Every bit of it informed the makeup of this film.”
Berry’s Karla comes face to face with the kidnappers at various points in the film. While the male kidnapper, played by “The Walking Dead’s” Lew Temple, is fearsome, it’s his female accomplice (played character actress Chris McGinn) who turns out to be the more formidable foe, setting up a nail-biting finale.
The Cleveland-born actress admits she is drawn to intense roles that require her to tap into her emotions deep within.
“I love it,” she says with the laugh. “With this one, it was so visceral. When I read the script (by Knate Lee), I totally related to this character and this story as a mom. I just thought this would have to be the worst thing ever. It made me think deeply about what I’d do. What am I made of? How would I handle something like that? God forbid. So, it intrigued me and I felt like this would intrigue every parent. I felt like this would be something that would make them think. Because our girl (SPOILER ALERT) saves the day, I felt like it wouldn’t be too hard for people to watch. The beauty of it, for me, was how she triumphs. What does this average, everyday woman do to become a hero and how does the hero in her come alive? And I thought that would be an interesting journey to see a character go through.”
After three decades of playing drug addicts, abused women, femme fatales, comic book characters (“Batman”’s Catwoman and “X-Men’s” Storm) and heroic everywomen, Berry says she has learned how to leave the characters on the set after a day’s work.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy but after all these years in the business I think I’ve learned how to turn that switch on and off,” she says.
Filmed three years ago, “Kidnap” almost never saw the light of day, caught in the Relativity Media bankruptcy. Fortunately for the filmmakers, the action thriller was considered a hot property and soon Aviron Pictures stepped in to distribute and market the film.
“It was about the timing, and Aviron got it,” says Goldsmith-Thomas. “This is their premier release and I love the way they’re selling it. With all of the things, they just jumped in and made amazing spots. They’ve been great partners.”
Adds Berry, “We named our company 606 because of that bill and the power of a mother and a testament to being strong and determined and never giving up. It seems only fitting that our first production would be a movie like this—about a woman who’s strong and determined and never gives up and, in the end, wins. That’s what the signature of our company’s going to be. We want to empower women, women of color. We want to tell stories where women are not only heroes but also multi-dimensional and being seen as we really are—as we know ourselves to be—not as other people depict us but as women telling stories about women for women, from our point of view. It’s really important to us. That’s the kind of material we’re looking for.”
Berry and Goldsmith-Thomas have more projects in the works including producing a cable TV series and an adult thriller coproduction horrormeister Jason Blum’s production company.
Separately, the former Pierce Brosnan-era Bond girl co-stars with a different 007 actor, Daniel Craig, in “Kings,” a drama set during the Rodney King upheaval in Los Angeles, in which she plays the foster mom to 10 kids, while Craig plays her neighbor. She also joins the spy thriller “Kingsman” ensemble for the sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” (due in theaters Sept. 22) directed by Matthew Vaughn.
“When Matthew called me up and asked me if I wanted a part in (the sequel), I said, ‘Yes, I don’t care what it is, just sign me up,’” she recalls. “This movie takes it to the next level. It’s ‘Kingsman: 2.0.’ It’s even bigger and better and more fantastical. Matthew is just an amazing director. In this genre, I don’t think there is anyone better.”