THE CALL, the latest work from director Brad Anderson, is a much better film than you think it is. For one, it feature Halle Berry during some of her best pure acting, since she spends nearly all of the film in one location--behind a counsel at a 911 call center, taking calls, gathering and typing in information, playing psychiatrist to the scared person on the other end of the phone, trying to calm them down while still collecting information essential to saving their lives. Until the final sequence, the film almost feels like a play, with Balle at one end and a kidnapped young woman (Abigail Breslin) at the other end, in a trunk with a cell phone. The whole experience is wonderfully invigorating as a movie
Berry is well aware that she has something of a sketchy career path and she's willing to talk about it to a degree, but after seeing her really prove her acting metal in works like the HBO film INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIGE, BULWORTH, MONSTER'S BALL, GOTHIKA, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, and especially in last year's CLOUD ATLAS, which I wished we could have talked about more. At the time we did this interview, Berry wasn't officially allowed to say what I'm pretty sure she knew for certain, which was that she would be returning to the Marvel Universe as Storm in Bryan Singer's X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, in which the last of the original three X-MEN movies will somehow come together with the younger X-members of FIRST CLASS.
Joining Berry to discuss THE CALL is her character's love interest, a police officer played by Morris Chestnut, who burst onto the scene in BOYZ N THE HOOD and continued in such films as THE LAST BOY SCOUT (which also starred Berry), THE INKWELL, THE BROTHERS, LADDER 49, THE GAME PLAN, THINK LIKE A MAN, the revival of the television series "V" as well as "American Horror Story," and in one of the year's biggest hits so far IDENTITY THIEF.
One of his best early works was the ensemble piece THE BEST MAN from 1999, and it seems that the entire cast is reunited soon to make the sequel THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY, featuring Terrance Howard, Harold Perrineau, Taye Diggs, Sanna Lathan, Regina Hall, and Nia Long. And let's not forgot that Chestnut will also appear in KICK-ASS 2 as Sgt. Marcus Williams, a police officer and Mindy Macready's (aka Hit-Girl) new legal guardian now that her father is dead (Omari Hardwick played the character in the original KICK-ASS). Who's protecting who in that scenario?
Anyway, please enjoy my interview with Halle Berry (just a couple days after her Oscar appearance introducing Shirley Bassey's show-stopping performance) and Morris Chestnut…
Capone: Hi, it’s great to meet you.
Morris Chestnut: How are you doing?
Capone: It’s nice to meet you.
Halle Berry: It’s nice to meet you, too. Thanks.
Capone: First of all, the thing I really loved about this film was that for at least the first ninety percent of it, you could almost stage it as a play, because it’s really just you at a desk and then this girl in the trunk, and you could have that at two ends of the stage. The simplicity of it is very effective. Was that something that was always there in the screenplay?
HB: No, it was written like that. It was always like that. It’s funny you say a play, because I said yesterday I felt like I was doing a play and I’ve never really done a play. I shot like 25 pages all at once, because from the time I sat down and picked up Abbey’s call until the killer found the phone, we shot that all in one take. And all of the things that got interjected, we just took out of the script, so it was just our conversation with each other, and it was like shooting a play. That was really important, to keep the level of adrenaline up and to keep the highs and lows very consistent for both sides, and we really did that whole thing like a little play. It was fun.
Capone: There’s nothing that builds up emotion like immediacy and not ruining the flow of what’s going on. When you were on the phone, when you had the headphones one, were you hearing Abigail?
HB: Yeah, we both came in for each other. When she was in the trunk, I came in and I was sitting in a room next door, and she did the same for me, so that we could…and I feel so bad for Morris…
MC: No, no, no you don’t. [Laughs]
HB: [Abigail and I] came in for each other. Sometimes you just have a reader who is just flatly reading the lines, and it’s like “Oh god,” but we were there for each other. Why I feel sorry for Morris is because he had to have the whole conversation with me, and I wasn't there. And they didn't tell me! I would have been there.
MC: No, no. I didn't want her to because she was working hard. I knew she was working hard. The thing to think about is when you make a movie, it’s a collaborative effort, so a lot of times actors are so self important, but I realized what the crux of the movie was. It was the relationship between her and Abigail. So to have her come on a day off to do some stuff for me, which could have easily done without her there and have someone reading was easiest.
Capone: It would have disappointed me to hear if you and Abigail weren’t talking to each other for real in those scenes.
HB: No, we really were.
Capone: I’m a huge Brad Anderson fan--of his TV work and the movies that he has done--and I love the way that he takes genre films and turns them upside down and looks at them in different ways. Tell me about working with him and what you dug about his approach to this material. I’ve never seen it done quite this way, like a serial killer film done from this perspective.
HB: Well first, Morris and I keep saying we read the script and we thought it was a fast-paced thriller. We were both interested, but I think we both had a similar experience. We saw the movie for the first time, and it was better than I thought it was going to turn out. I was watching it like a moviegoer, because I didn’t see the things that Morris did out in the field or that Abigail did in the trunk. I didn’t actually see that stuff. So when I got to see all that they did in the helicopters and them running in the house and her in the trunk, I was watching it like a moviegoer who was seeing it for the first time, and I was thoroughly engaged and I felt where he put the camera, how he chose to shoot the movie, how he told the story, the pace of it, I was like “Wow, he did a really good job.”
MC: Yeah, it was above and beyond. I thought it was going to be a good movie, but it’s above and beyond what I thought it was going to be. A lot of times when you read a script, the director has this vision of what he wants it to be, and sometimes it works and most of the time it probably really doesn’t.
HB: And we take the heat for it. [Laughs] They get other jobs….
Capone: Really? Everybody doesn't distribute the heat equally?
MC: No, that’s not how it works. Nope.
HB: The director’s not out promoting it. He’s not attaching himself to it the way we do. If it fails, they think “Halle Berry was in a terrible movie” or “Morris Chestnut was in a terrible movie.”
MC: Exactly. If you were just an average moviegoer, most of them will never even know who Brad Anderson is. They're going to know that “Halle Berry was in that movie,” and they either loved it or they hated it.
HB: “It sucks,” like it’s somehow my fault.
Capone: In Brad’s defense, I talked to him for his last movie, so I would have blamed him if I didn’t like it.
MC: Brad did a great job.
Capone: Talk a little about the prep that you did for this. You had to have spent some time in at least observing one of those 911 call centers. The way you physically move around that equipment, typing and pushing buttons, it’s like you have to do it almost without thinking. You have to do it instinctually. What do you remember about being exposed to that environment for the first time?
HB: It’s funny you noticed that, because that was one of my biggest challenges, how to move like I saw them do.
Capone: They don't even look down half the time.
HB: That’s how they did it, and I would practice that at home. I would set up one computer here and then I have another computer and I would have my iPad over here, and I would just start reciting things, trying to remember what I was saying, but still also doing something else. That’s one of the ways in my process of trying to get that casual ease of stuff, because that’s what I saw them do. They were always busy writing something, looking at something, checking a map, sending a message to the police.
They also, when they are sending messages to the police, they're also talking to other people like other 911 operators. They are sending messages to certain different units within 911 too. So they have so much going on in their head while trying to stay connected to the person on the phone and keeping them doing what they need to do. It’s a really special kind of person. They have lots of training, they're a kind of people that I’ve never met before. When you're with them, you see that there’s something in common in all of them that’s hard to put your finger on, but they are really special people.
Capone: I’ve got to imagine they have to be someone who can handle that level of stress day after day. I’ve got to imagine that there are certain tests they have to take to make sure their brains can handle that.
HB: The tests are so intense that only like 20 percent of the people actually graduate from their 911 training and make it.
Capone: It’s like air-traffic controllers where your brain has to work a certain way. What about you? I read somewhere that you did a ride along?
MC: Yes, we did.
Capone: Had you ever done that before?
MC: No, I had never done a ride along before.
Capone: What was that like?
MC: It was very interesting. It was an eye-opening experience, because obviously just driving around L.A., I see police officers, and you never know exactly what people are thinking when they see you, because some people have a lot of animosity towards you, and some people are just happy to see you, “Thanks for coming to the rescue.” So it was interesting just to see from inside a patrol car the different faces and when you drive by how people look at you. To me, it was…I wouldn’t say frightening, but it’s a little nerve-wracking not being used to that, because being in that car and driving around South Central we went to a few sketchy neighborhoods and so yeah, it can be kind of crazy.
Capone: Was that a little strange, having BOYZ N THE HOOD be your first big movie. You were on the other end of those looks.
MC: [laughs] Right, well the funny thing is, I was born in South Central and I was raised there for a little while in my life. So I know the areas to go to, and we were actually, and the ride along, we went through ha couple of areas to where I would normally not go, and so it was just a little scary, but you’re right.
Capone: I want to talk about the relationship between the two of you in the film. Aside from the personal relationship, Morris, you were her eyes, ears, hands, and feet out in the real world. You only have maybe two quick scenes together in the movie, but you’re almost like one unit in a way. How was it acting with your other half without ever really seeing them?
HB: To me, what helped was when I first met her. When you do a movie like this, you never know what to expect. I’ve worked with people who are just starting out, and they have the biggest egos like they’ve been successful for 30 years, and then I’ve worked with people who have arrived, and they let you know that they’ve arrived. So you just never really know what to expect when you work with someone, but when I first met Halle,, she was just so sweet and I felt she was a genuinely good person and it just really helped with the connection. We met for those first two scenes and then we had to do the stuff on the phone, so that’s what I was recalling when she wasn’t there, the things that I felt about her when I first met her.
Capone: Yeah, what about you? With that job you have to be part psychiatrist, part detective.
HB: Part all of it.
Capone: Were you at all hesitant to transform that role into a more hands-on role by the end of the film. Was there an instinct to keep it pure or was it, “Maybe let’s get a little down and dirty here.”
HB: When I first read it, I thought that’s the one thing that didn’t quite ring true for me. I thought “Oh, she leaves the center? She would never do that.” I really had to wrap my brain around being able to justify doing that and then I realized I could do that, but I had to earn the right to do that. Part of earning that right was I had to create a relationship with Abby that was real enough and connected enough to make the audience believe that she would do what they just don’t do, and that’s go involve herself in police business. And she knows better, because her father was a cop, her boyfriend is a cop. She knows that’s not her lane, so if I could along with Abby create a relationship that felt real, then I think the audience would believe the unbelievable, actually. That was my challenge.
Capone: And it doesn’t play out quite the way you think it’s going to. Let me ask you about that actor, Michael Eklund, because he is the freakiest guy I’ve ever seen. I recognized him from when he was on one of the episodes of "Fringe" that Brad directed. But you get to have some scenes with him. Was it hard looking at him? He is a bizarre, freaky-looking dude. I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but tell me about him.
HB: I don’t want to tell you how wonderful I think he is, because I don’t want you to get off what he is supposed to be in this movie, so I’m not going there. But I’m going to tell you what, he was in it when he came to work. He’s an actor--and I don’t think he will mind me saying this, because he said it to me--he’s straight-up method. So when he was on the set, he was that dude. I used to talk to Morris between takes, and he'd give me love and relationship advice. [laughs] We would talk about other stuff, but Michael was always in character and always that dude and hyping up and revving up and doing one creepy thing after the next just in the corner in the downtime, he was doing creepy shit. He was always in character.
Capone: I’m glad to hear that, actually.
MC: Which is great though, because it’s very difficult. People don’t realize how difficult it is to act. So even if someone put a camera on you and told you to “be yourself.” That’s still going to be very difficult for you, because you’ve got lighting and everything. So even if he’s very close to his character or he’s a lot different than his character, he did a phenomenal job in that movie.
HB: Yeah, amazing.
Capone: But I watched him and I thought “There’s some people that play serial killers, and then there’s this guy." [Everyone laughs] He just sells it.
MC: Well, he did a great job.
HB: He's not a serial killer.
Capone: I would look in his basement; I’m just saying. I’ve got to ask you really quick about a couple of things you guys have got coming up. Halle, there has been a lot of discussion about the new X MEN film and whether you’re going to be a part of it. Has anything changed in the last couple of weeks regarding that, or is that still up in the air?
HB: No, I’m going to do it.
Capone: You are going to do it?
HB: I’m pretty sure. I’m 99.9 percent sure I’m going to do it.
Capone: All right. I know Bryan Singer has said he loves working with you, and I can’t imagine you not being a part of it, because that’s such a great character, and it would be really sad if you weren’t in it.
HB: Thank you. Yeah, I love Storm and what she represents.
Capone: As someone who grew up reading X-Men comics in that era, that’s a great story that they could do incredible things with.
HB: And the comics people love her; she’s one of the beloved X-Men. I’m really happy to play her.
Capone: Well that’s good news. And then Morris, you’re in KICK-ASS 2. Who do you play in that?
MC: I play Chloe’s guardian. Nic Cage died in the original, so I take over, and I play her guardian in the movie.
Capone: Are you a police officer in that too?
MC: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, an undercover police officer in that. I’m a detective in that movie.
Capone: Is it sort of difficult to guard Hit Girl? Is she guarding you?
MC: It is, because she can kick my ass. She’s a badass. It’s basically a struggle with her, and she wants to break out and she’s maturing as a young lady and she wants to do her own thing, and her father is gone. So there’s this really strong emotional struggle with that aspect of the movie.
Capone: Then you’re also getting ready to shoot a sequel to THE BEST MAN. I can’t believe that you managed to pull that whole cast back together. I looked at the list of names, and I’m like, “Oh, they are all back.”
MC: You did your homework. Yeah, we're all back and we are all very excited.
Capone: When does that shoot?
MC: We start in April. The first of April is when we start.
Capone: Who’s idea was that? It’s been a while.
MC: It has. Actually the director, Malcolm Lee, has been trying to pull it together for a while, but it just wasn’t the right time. We actually all went to dinner about two years ago to see if everyone wanted to do it again, and we did, but the studio really wasn’t ready to move forward. They had to do their research. So they did their research and then they had us do a read through at the studio, and they said, “Okay, we’ll do it.”
Capone: That’s really cool. Halle, the last thing I want to say is that I could have easily spent this whole interview talking about CLOUD ATLAS, because I loved that movie. I loved what you did in it. I was going to ask you if you saw the Watchowskis while you were in town, assuming they're in town.
HB: I haven’t seen them; I don't think they're here. We are here very briefly doing this, but that was an amazing experience. That’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime movie projects. To play all of those characters and watch everybody else play all of those characters every day. That was a lot of fun.