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
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