Halle Berry plays astronaut mum with robotic child

Halle Berry. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Halle Berry. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Halle Berry is often the first name mentioned when people talk about the supposed "curse" on Best Actress Oscar winners, which has it that once a woman has claimed Hollywood's biggest acting prize, her career will nosedive and her husband or boyfriend cheat on her.

The less superstitious-minded will note, of course, that the industry may simply be tougher on female performers.

But whatever the reason, Berry's professional reputation certainly took a tumble after she became the first and only black woman to win that honour, with the 2001 drama Monster's Ball.

After that triumph, she had a string of forgettable films or outright flops, from Catwoman (2004) to Cloud Atlas (2012).

The actress is now making a course correction of sorts: She appears in the Steven Spielberg-produced Extant, a science-fiction television drama that will air in Singapore in January.

Speaking to Life! and other press in Los Angeles, she explains why she decided to do the show, in which she plays Molly Woods, an astronaut who finds herself mysteriously pregnant upon returning from a 13-month solo space mission.

Woods also has to deal with the robot child her husband (played by Goran Visnjic) created and they adopt as their own.

"There are so many elements that drew me to it, but probably the first one was being a mother," says Berry, 48, who has a six-year-old daughter, Nahla, with model and ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry, and a one-year-old son, Maceo, with French actor husband Olivier Martinez.

"This was a character that was so relatable to me... While I'm not an astronaut or a scientist, I still had an understanding about the human quality of this woman and her struggle to not only find time for herself to do what she loves, which is to go into space, but also to be a good mother.

"That's the struggle I've had since my kids were born."

Referring to her Extant character, she adds: "She's also strong, she's complicated, but she has a will to survive, to win and she's good at heart. I love playing strong, complicated characters who refuse to be victimised."

Berry, who is also a Best Actress winner at the Emmys and Golden Globes for the 1999 television movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, has survived her share of personal woes - specifically, the break-up of her marriage to second husband Eric Benet, announced seven months after her Oscar win, and her 2010 split from and bitter custody battle with Aubry.

With those travails behind her, family is a top priority when she considers job offers. She says she accepted the role because of the concessions the studio made to her family responsibilities.

"The studio did this show in Los Angeles, so I didn't have to leave my family. I really want to be home and be a hands-on mum," says the actress.

Extant - which means "not extinct" - is a nod to the idea of survival that is explored through its alien- and artificial intelligence- themed plot. It recently ended its 13-episode run in the United States. The series received lukewarm reviews and it is not known if it has been renewed.

According to the show's writer-creator Mickey Fisher, it was borne "out of the desire to write somebody who is complex and interesting, and faced with an extraordinary situation".

He adds: "It ultimately became a story about this family and about what makes us human.

"Hopefully, it's something that a lot of us relate to today, with the fears and paranoia around technology, where we're headed in future and how we survive and retain what is the best of us."

Working under the auspices of Spielberg, the Oscar-winning powerhouse who directed Jaws (1975) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), was also a no-brainer for Berry, who found success as a Bond girl in Die Another Day (2002) and a superhero in the X-Men franchise (2000-2014).

"I mean, a name like that, you don't sneeze at. I knew the quality of his work and I knew he loves this genre."

Echoing the sentiments of the many movie stars who have made the leap to the small screen in recent years, she adds: "I feel like the best writing now is on television... What's important now, with the way the industry is evolving, is that we go where the good material is.

"If you are an artist, you just want to do good work that inspires you. And that's what this series and this character have done for me."

Extant airs on RTL CBS Entertainment HD (StarHub TV Channel 509, SingTel mio TV Channel 318) in January.