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There are few places Halle Berry feels more at peace than outside. Particularly when she’s at home in her own garden.
One recent social media post showed just how at ease she is enjoying fresh air. In it, she’s seated on a brick ledge, surrounded by lush greens, holding a glass of red wine and flashin’ some thigh in a mesh minidress. The caption: “giving a f*ck didn’t go with this outfit.” Yes, that is Halle’s version of being totally at peace with herself and the world.
Make no mistake, though: Halle absolutely gives a f*ck—she’s just selective. There’s only one opinion that matters: her own. “I know who I am, I know why I do what I do, and I know I’ve always been about self-preservation,” she says. At 55 years old, Halle is a dedicated mom (to daughter Nahla and son Maceo) who cares deeply about her health and continues to pour her mind, body, and soul into her work. Her latest turn, as a disgraced MMA fighter in Bruised, which also marks her directorial debut, is no exception.
The character was originally written for a 25-year-old white woman, but Halle convinced Bruised producer Basil Iwanyk that it could be reimagined for her. “I felt it was more powerful for a middle-aged woman of color to have a last chance,” she says. “The stakes were higher.” Additionally, Halle wanted to buck the somewhat old-school narrative that acting careers for women halt in a certain age range. “When I first started acting, aging was like the most horrifying thing you could think of,” she says. “Life was over at 35 or 40. Then you had to wait until you got super old, when you could play the grandma. This town is unforgiving. It’s changing, though.”
Halle, who was the first—and remains the only—Black woman to win the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards (in 2002, for Monster’s Ball), is among those inspiring progress in Hollywood. Once she landed the part in Bruised (in theaters 11/17; hits Netflix on 11/24), Halle was asked by Iwanyk to find a director to help bring her vision for the film to life—but she came up short. She knew what she had to do. “When I realized I couldn’t find a director who saw this story like I saw it, I had a moment of reckoning,” she says. “I finally realized that at this point in my life, I was ready,” she says of taking the reins behind the camera. “I had to take control. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to work harder than I’ve ever worked.’ ”
This meant not only challenging herself behind the scenes but training intensely, learning five versions of mixed martial arts—Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, Muay Thai, tae kwon do, and kickboxing—and upping her weight-training regimen by lifting heavier than usual. She even broke two ribs while filming fight scenes with UFC champion and costar Valentina Shevchenko. Broken bones are common during MMA bouts, but not so much during stunt shoots with A-listers. Still, Halle kept filming. “I’m at my best when I have to work hard and when I’m facing challenges,” says the actress, who describes working on Bruised as “totally empowering. To be the age I am and push my body to its limits reminded me that age is just a number. We can control how we define ourselves, and I’ve never been healthier and felt stronger. This movie helped me realize that.”
To stay strong in everyday life when she’s not on a regimented fighting schedule, Halle exercises six days a week (she rests on Sunday), often with longtime trainer Peter Lee Thomas, doing sets of weighted lunges, stairs with weights, squats, and plyometrics (a blend of cardio and strength training), which includes jumps with weighted balls, sprawls, and Turkish get-ups. To target her core, Halle does situps and crunches while hanging upside down. No big deal! “Only something severe even puts a dent in my abs,” she says. “I’ve had two children, so the skin is just looser there. So, I have to fill that area with muscle.”
Since sticking to a set workout routine isn’t really Halle’s thing, she does a daily body assessment to determine which exercises to do. If her back feels sore, for instance, she’ll focus on stretching, Pilates, or yoga. While getting in some daily movement is Halle’s MO, she admits that when she’s tired, she must dig for the motivation to sweat. “It’s not easy,” she says. “But I always remind myself why I’m doing it. Since I had [kids] a little later in life, I want to be here for them. I want to live as long as I can and see my grandbabies.”
For Halle, a healthy lifestyle also means eating well. Diagnosed with diabetes when she was 19 years old, she sticks to a low-carb, meat-based diet and is well versed in what foods she needs to feel her best. When she wakes up, she has a mix of Bulletproof coffee, almond milk, ghee, protein powder, and collagen. Then, around 2 p.m., she’ll eat a lamb chop or rib eye paired with brussels sprouts, green beans, spinach, beets, or homemade cauliflower rice. For dinner she’s likely eating a salad with protein, and since she’s a fan of intermittent fasting, she won’t eat after 6 p.m. Halle also added acupuncture to her self-care mix, as it helped her concentrate and feel grounded during lockdown and aided in regulating her “out-of-whack hormones,” which she thinks are a result of perimenopause.
Implementing therapeutic practices in her routine isn’t new for Halle. When she was 10 years old, her mom, who was a nurse in the psych ward of a VA hospital at the time, encouraged her to see a therapist to process her relationship with her alcoholic father. “My father walked out when I was 3, then he came back when I was 10,” says Halle, who was raised in Ohio. “After he left that year, he left our family in such a way that we were all damaged and broken and bruised, if you will. My mom had the forethought to realize I needed therapy.” Nowadays, Halle sees a therapist only on occasion. Her meditation practice, in which she retreats to a quiet space in her yard (“I’d rather be out than in any day,” she says) to center herself, quiet her thoughts, and listen to her higher consciousness, has become the key to keeping her mind right and staying connected to herself.
Recently, however, Halle has felt the need to sit down with a therapist to talk about her kids. “I have two different daddies [exes Gabriel Aubry and Olivier Martinez], and I see [my kids] half the time,” she says. “That’s a lot to manage. So, I have to go sometimes to talk to people to help me figure out, ‘How do I make the best decisions for my children? How do I help them deal with this life that we—my dads and I—have given them?’ I feel guilty a lot. You think, God, I should’ve done better. But at the same time, I’m reminded that we always have to take care of ourselves first, because I can’t be a good mother for my children if I’m not fundamentally happy and feeling good about myself.”
Clearly in a state of bliss these days when it comes to love, Halle is quick to gush over her man, musician Van Hunt, whom she confirmed she was dating in September 2020. Looking ahead, she says she’s enthused about “my life with my new love. I wish I had met him sooner so I could have loved him longer. I just feel fulfilled. I feel happy in my life romantically, as a mother, as an artist. I’m a much better mother in this circumstance than I would have been had I stayed in a romantic relationship that didn’t serve me and didn’t make me feel the way I need to feel as a woman.”
Similarly, she’s encouraging her kids to be strong-willed. “Use your voice. You have a right to be heard. You are loved and accepted just as you are. Only you define who you are,” Halle often tells Nahla. “I’m trying to teach them to march to the beat of their own drum,” she adds. “Be true to themselves, and not be followers, but be leaders and innovators.”
Halle hopes to also hand off that message to the next wave of Black creatives in Hollywood. “All I can do is hopefully inspire and pass the ball to those coming behind me,” says Halle, who shouts out Regina King, Viola Davis, Lena Waithe, and Zendaya as fellow sisters of color killing the game. “The greatest compliment I ever get is when someone says, ‘Because you did something, it inspired me to do something else.’ That makes my heart burst.”
Determined to strike a balance with her career, motherhood, romance, and inner peace, Halle continues to reach new heights in her reign as icon, yet she’s contemplative about what she’s achieved so far: “We may not be able to have everything all the time, but we can have all things that matter throughout this life.” What matters most to her now is living by her own rules and making a difference by being unapologetically herself.
Bonded for Life
Some might be surprised to discover that Halle’s Bruised costar is a for-real UFC fighter…and not just any fighter. Valentina Shevchenko (@bulletvalentina) is the current UFC women’s flyweight champion. A mixed martial artist, former Muay Thai fighter, and bona fide badass (note: we truly don’t use that word lightly), Valentina gave Halle a crash course in more than jabs and punches when she joined Bruised. The pair sat down with WH editor-in-chief Liz Plosser, in California, to talk fighting, friendship, and why they will always be connected.
➤ WH: Halle, how did you choose Valentina for this role? What drew you to her initially?
HALLE: I knew I had to have a real fighter as my opponent. Having another actor who didn’t know the sport inside and out would make my job harder. It had to be a UFC fighter, and to make it real, it had to be someone in my real body weight—I’m a one-twenty-fiver, so a flyweight. Who’s a better flyweight person to fight in the UFC than the champion? I was a little intimidated at first because I thought, Will the champion be in my movie? I asked her, and luckily for us, she agreed to do it.
Watch Halle and Valentina share their most embarrassing moments:
➤ WH: You obviously had a dream team helping prepare you physically for this film, but was Valentina also involved in teaching you?
HALLE: When Valentina came into the picture and we started training together, it all came to fruition. I realized this is why I needed a real fighter—because when I stepped into the cage with her to train, it was so different than with a stuntwoman. When you start doing maneuvers with a real fighter, all of it suddenly clicks. And she could say, “No, no, no, don’t do it like this.” I realized halfway through that I’m learning from the champ. There’s no greater crash course.
➤ WH: Valentina, what was it like seeing Halle evolve while you two were working together?
VALENTINA: What I noticed the most was her endurance. We started training at 7 a.m. and went until 1 p.m. I know fighters who train nonstop every time, and you can tell a lot about a fighter by how they take a training process—if they need to rest, or go do something else. Halle never stops, five entire hours! I was even tired. Then she was like, “Let’s go! Let’s do it again!”
HALLE: One of the biggest compliments I got in the whole process was when we were shooting scenes and the referee who called Valentina’s fights in real life said, “That last take, I thought I was watching a real Valentina fight!” And for me, that was the moment that all this training, all this work, having a real fighter, paid off. Everybody warned me at first that a real fighter is going to kill you. She’s going to demolish you. I was like, “Well, then let’s go.” To her credit, she didn’t. She learned how to pull her punches. And she did the movie fighting as well as any stuntwoman, and she’d never done it a day in her life.
➤ WH: The bond between the two of you on-screen is palpable. Is there any parallel with how your relationship evolved off-screen?
VALENTINA: Fighting each other hard, like very hard, and trying to give a lot of what we have, makes you closer to the person. By the end, you have nothing but respect. If you are both going through it and doing your best…it makes you so close to each other.
HALLE: I feel like we’ve been through a fire together. There was a lot of pressure on me to get my part right. But when you have a partner pulling for you, and you’re both scared but want this so badly, you have a closeness. I will love her forever.
Photographed by Cliff Watts; Fashion director: Kristen Saladino; Hair: Sara Seward (Halle), Sophia Porter using Bumble and Bumble (Valentina). Makeup: Jorge Monroy (Halle), Tay Rivera (Valentina). Manicure: Shigeko Taylor for Star Touch (Valentina). Prop styling: Wooden Ladder. Production: Crawford & Co Productions.
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