New life from space

Halle Berry hasn’t been on the small screen since 1991, but di­rec­tor Steven Spiel­berg and her new sci- fi drama Ex­tant’s ex­plo­ration of mother­hood changed that, re­ports Neala John­son

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

HALLE Berry was eight- anda- half months preg­nant with her sec­ond child when the cre­ators of TV’s new sci- fi drama Ex­tant pitched the con­cept to the Os­car win­ner.

Berry would play Molly, an as­tro­naut who re­turns to Earth af­ter a 13- month solo mis­sion in space. Com­pli­cat­ing her home­com­ing is the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence “son” cre­ated by her sci­en­tist hus­band and Molly’s shock dis­cov­ery that she’s preg­nant with what must be, given those months with­out hu­man con­tact, an un­earthly be­ing.

“We’re sit­ting at her house and I’m pitch­ing all these ter­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble things that can hap­pen,” re­calls pro­ducer Greg Walker.

“And I’m look­ing down at her stomach and think­ing, ‘ Can she han­dle it?’ ”

He should have known Berry – who has fought through ev­ery­thing from de­pres­sion to cus­tody bat­tles – is tougher than that.

“I’m the hap­pi­est in my life when I have been preg­nant, truly,” says the 47- year- old, who is mar­ried to French ac­tor Olivier Martinez.

“So to be preg­nant again on a show right af­ter giv­ing birth didn’t scare me at all. I thought, ‘ I’m go­ing to ace that part of this, for sure’.”

That’s not to say Berry will spend all 13 episodes of Ex­tant preg­nant: Walker prom­ises “star­tling and strange things” will drive Molly down a cu­ri­ous path.

Says Berry: “It will have el­e­ments of Rose­mary’s Baby be­cause she’s hav­ing the child with some­thing un­known. What is this en­tity? Will it stay here? Is it re­ally her baby?”

Molly’s hus­band John is played by ER’s Go­ran Vis­njic, with Cam­ryn Man­heim (The Prac­tice, Per­son of In­ter­est) as her doc­tor. That ro­bot child, Ethan, will also pro­voke a lot of ques­tions.

“If you be­lieve love is what makes you hu­man, then will Ethan ever be able to re­ally love?” Berry asks.

“And would I re­ally be able to love a ma­chine?”

Be­tween fa­mous movie roles such as Storm in the X- Men fran­chise, an ex­e­cuted in­mate’s wife in Monster’s Ball and a Bond girl in Die An­other Day, Berry has made the odd TV movie. But the last time she was at­tached to a se­ries was Knots Land­ing in 1991 – well be­fore her ca­reer hit high gear.

While Ex­tant has been pitched as a “spe­cial event”, pro­duc­ers hope Berry will be back for sec­onds.

I was a big ET fan … When I heard Steven ( Spiel­berg) was in­volved, I was ex­cited be­cause that’s the sci- fi I like, it has a lot of heart

So, what tempted her to go smallscreen again? Steven Spiel­berg was one el­e­ment – he’s an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the show.

“I was a big ET fan,” Berry says. “When I heard Steven was in­volved, I was ex­cited be­cause that’s the sci- fi I like, it has a lot of heart.”

Yet it was Ex­tant’s ex­plo­ration of mother­hood that hooked her.

“This char­ac­ter was so re­lat­able to me, I felt like it was in my DNA. While I’m not an as­tro­naut or sci­en­tist – far, far from it – I still had an un­der­stand­ing of her strug­gle to find time for her­self and be a good mother. That’s what I have strug­gled with since my kids were born.

“I love play­ing strong, com­pli­cated char­ac­ters who refuse to be vic­timised and that’s what our Molly is.”

So, the mother­hood part was in­stinc­tive. The as­tro­naut part – filmed with enough style to give hit film Grav­ity a shake – took a bit more ef­fort.

“Luck­ily, be­cause I have been Storm, I was used to fly­ing,” Berry laughs.

“But I did take a zero- grav­ity flight so I could ex­pe­ri­ence weight­less­ness. I was sur­prised that it took very lit­tle en­ergy to move – you just lift off the ground. It was very free­ing. I can re­ally un­der­stand why as­tro­nauts love to go up there.

“But I have to say af­ter 15 times go­ing up and down I did … you know … vomit. But I wasn’t as bad as this one guy who started to vomit af­ter the first up- and- down! He just hurled the en­tire time. He was five shades of pur­ple by the time we landed.”

EX­TANT South­ern Cross, tonight, 9.30pm

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