Doing television is tough

Actress Halle Berry finds filming science-fiction TV show Extant most challenging

Halle Berry and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in Extant 2.
Halle Berry and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in Extant 2.PHOTO: RTL CBS ENTERTAINMENT

Oscar winner Halle Berry has never had to work harder than when she was filming the Steven Spielberg- produced science-fiction television show Extant.

As a result, she has acquired a newfound respect for those who work in TV.

"It was an awakening last year. I thought, 'I'm going to go into TV and so I'm going to get to be at home with my family,'" says the former fashion model and beauty queen.

"But I hardly saw my family and never worked harder in my life. So hats off to everybody who does television because it's a grind."

And it was doubly difficult making Extant last year because in between takes, the 48-year-old also had to breastfeed Maceo, her infant son with French actor husband Olivier Martinez, 49.

This was on top of playing a mother on screen to two equally demanding children: the dangerous halfalien son whom her astronaut character conceived while on a space mission and the human-like robot boy she adopted and grew to love.

"I never worked as hard in my life as I did last year," says the star, who won an Oscar for the 2001 drama Monster's Ball (2001) and a Golden Globe and an Emmy for the TV film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999).

"My baby was three months old, so I was doing drive-by nursings every two hours. I would go into my trailer, nurse for 10 minutes and then off I'd go," she says at a press event in Los Angeles.

She admits she felt "in over my head with the amount of scenes we had to shoot in a day and the things I had to memorise" for the series, which is in its second season. The new season airs in Singapore on RTL CBS Entertainment (StarHub TV Channel 509, Singtel TV Channel 318) on Tuesday at 9.55pm.

Despite the back-breaking schedule, Berry, who has worked on big-budget action movies such as Die Another Day (2002) and the X-Men franchise (2000-2006), says she has found her transition to television series more fulfilling professionally because she is also an executive producer on Extant.

"If I had any fear with television, it was that the showrunners are god and you have to do exactly what they say and that there's no leeway in TV, it's much more rigid."

But the production team, which includes executive producer Spielberg and creator Mickey Fisher, are "very collaborative with all of us", she adds.

"And I think that works when you involve the people who you're expecting to perform and interpret your material. When you invite them into the party, we get more excited about it and we want to do better and work harder. It's smart."

Producing duties meant even more work, of course, "but the fun of that is I get to have a voice".

"As an artist, that makes me really happy. It's okay to just, you know, act and be an actor - I love that, too, and that's what I've done for 25 years. But I'm learning that it's nice to have some input in what you're doing. And I'm just lucky that I have people who take me seriously," she says.

As a performer, she found she could identify strongly with her character's relationship with her sons.

"Now that I have a son, I realise the specialness of our relationship," says Berry, who also has a seven-year-old daughter, Nahla, from her previous relationship with Canadian model Gabriel Aubry.

"I really do see a difference in that relationship from having a little girl. It's that special relationship that mothers and sons have."

And working on the show has made her reflect more on a subject most people do not think about every day: the possibility of alien life in the universe.

"When I was a little girl and looked up at the sky I thought, 'My gosh, there has to be something else out there.' And I do believe there's something else out there. I'm not so egotistical as to think that we're the only ones in this vast universe.

"This show makes you think about it on a daily basis. I hope I live long enough to find that answer. I don't know if I will, but maybe my kids will or their kids will."

  • Extant 2 airs in Singapore on RTL CBS Entertainment (StarHub TV Channel 509, Singtel TV Channel 318) on Tuesday at 9.55pm.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Doing television is tough'. Subscribe