AT THEN MOSTLY WHITE BEDFORD HIGH IN BEDFORD, OHIO, A suburb of Cleveland, Halle Berry was president of the class of 1985 as well as student council president, editor of the school paper and a cheerleader. But when she was elected prom queen, rumors were spread that she had stuffed the ballot box. “I fell like I was accepted there until it came to being the prom queen,” says Berry, the daughter of a white mother and a black father. “It took me a long time to gel over that.”
In a kind of poetic justice, Berry, 24, was able to conjure up those hard feelings seven years later and use them creatively for her title role in the in miseries Queen (CBS. Feb. 14, 16, 18), based on the late Alex Haley’s account of the life of his paternal grandmother, a racially mixed slave. “I’ve deal I with some of the problems that Queen faced, on a different scale,” says Berry.
The three-month shoot, most of which took place in the soggy heat of a Charleston, S.C., summer, was unfortunately punctuated by a painful fall from a horse, which bruised Berry’s tailbone and shut production down for 10 days. Still, “to be a part of the final chapter of Alex Haley’s Roots was very special,” says Berry. “There aren’t many roles where a character gels raped, becomes a mother, goes crazy and ages from her teens to her late 50s.”
It certainly filled in the blanks in Berry’s promising résumé, which includes parts as an exotic dancer in The Last Boy Seout, a crack addict in Jungle Fever and Eddie Murphy’s girlfriend in last summer’s Boomerang. “I don’t think she has any limitations,” says Queen director John Erman.
And yet the role Berry is savoring most is her seven-week-old run as a newly wed. In the wee first minutes of the new year, in a small ceremony in their woodsy Atlanta house, she married baseball star David Justice, 26, right fielder with the Atlanta Braves, whom she met only a year ago. “People say, ‘Oh, you’re too young, and you have this great career,’ ” says Berry. “But when you find that someone special, what’s too young?
“I tell Halle, ‘I thank God every day for giving you to me,’ ” says Justice, who was named rookie of the year his first season and played in the World Series the next two. Berry first spotted him on MTV last February, participating in a celebrity baseball game. “I just thought he was so gorgeous,” she says. By coincidence, during a phone interview a few weeks later, a writer who was acquainted with Justice asked if Halle would sign a picture of herself for David, already a fan. “I signed the autograph, and I put my phone number on it!” says Berry.
That unmistakable pitch of woo by a confirmed baseball nonfan led to a four-hour phone call. “We found how much we have in common,” says Justice. It turns out that both wore raised by their mothers (both sets of parents split up when the kids were 4) and that both moms happen to be nurses—Justice’s mother, Nettie, in Cincinnati, and Berry’s mother, Judy, in a psychiatric ward in a VA hospital in Cleveland. “When we finally met face-to-face, it was love at first sight for me,” says Justice.
“He seemed like the prince on the white horse with this gorgeous big smile and his massive shoulders,” says Berry. Before she got to know him, she feared he might be a “jock-type guy in love with his looks.” But, she says, “I found out that he had just had an eight-year relationship and that he skipped two grades in junior high and was real smart.”
In Justice, Berry also discovered a mature kind of love. “My previous boyfriends were never friends, like David is,” she says. “In the past I was attracted to jealous, dominating guys. One guy was abusive and hit me in the eardrum, and I lost 80 percent of my hearing in that ear.” (She says she has not regained it.) With Justice, says Berry, “there are no secrets. From the beginning we decided to tell each other everything, even if it was painful.” The relationship is a revelation for Halle. “I didn’t think I’d find somebody who had the same values and was brought up the same way as I was,” she says.
Berry has mostly pleasant memories of her childhood in the Cleveland suburb of Oakwood village, where she and her sister, Heidi, now 28, grew up. “Back in the ’60s, with my mom being white and having two black kids, it could not have been easy,” says Berry. “But my mother was very big on having a good self-image. I thought of myself as being special and different. Still, some of the kids made me feel I had to choose to hang with the black kids or the white kids, and that was hard.”
Her beauty, of course, was never in dispute. When Halle was 17, a boyfriend entered her in the Miss Teen Ohio pageant, which she proceeded to win—initiating a cavalcade of pageant appearances. “I spent a lot of time with a crown on my head,” says Berry, who hit a pinnacle in 1986 as first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant. Dismissing the notion that pageants exploit women, she says, “You’re exploited if you allow yourself to be. Only good things came out of my pageant days”—namely, a modeling career and a role on the short-lived 1989 ABC sitcom Living Dolls.
Now, having just filmed two movies, Berry has jumped feetfirst into domesticity. She is redecorating the three-level, six-bedroom house where she has lived with Justice for four months now. “I like things simple, so it won’t be overfurnished,” says Berry, who owns a Mercedes but prefers the Explorer pickup she shares with her new husband. She plans to keep a tolerant household too. “David can throw his dirty socks on the floor, leave the toilet seal up and leave the cap off the toothpaste,” she says.
Since they have decided to put off having a family for a few years, the only thing missing in this blissful scenario is a cook. “His mom spoiled him and gave him breakfast in bed every day growing up,” says Berry. “But he does love home-cooked meals, and I need to work on that. I grew upon Hamburger Helper.”
Justice has a better idea. “I want to go to cooking school,” he says. “I’ll be the gourmet cook of the family.” Gourmet or not, Berry is counting on Justice for a different kind of sustenance. “I’m not always going to be the hot young star,” she says, “and having a stable force like David in my life really helps.”
DAVID HUTCHINGS in Charleston and New York City and ANDREW ABRAHAMS in Los Angeles