A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. To read my review of “Cloud Atlas,” click here.
Halle Berry and Tom Hanks play multiple parts in sweeping “Cloud Atlas”
The Oscar-winning actors top-line the ensemble cast, who all took on gender- and race-bending roles in the big-screen adaptation of David Mitchell’s celebrated book, which consists of six interconnected stories that span centuries and continents.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Halle Berry never imagined she would portray a Jewish-German trophy wife, a Maori plantation slave or a male Korean doctor from the future, much less play all three roles — plus three more — in a single film.
That was the challenge and the fun the Oscar winner took on when she joined the gender- and race-bending ensemble of the Wachowski siblings’ (“The Matrix”) and Tom Tykwer’s (“The International”) visionary movie “Cloud Atlas,” a sweeping big-screen adaptation of David Mitchell’s acclaimed 2004 novel.
“It was so much fun. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun on a movie,” Berry said in a recent interview at the venerable Beverly Hilton Hotel.
“There was one day my daughter came up when I was dressed as Dr. Ovid, and she loved coming to see all the different characters and she liked most of them. But this day, I just said, ‘You’re gonna come see Mommy’s new character,’ so she walked up and she saw this old man, she was a little frightened of him. … When I said, ‘Hi, honey,’ I mean, her wheels came off. She took off running in the other direction.”
“She’s never been the same. She’s started smoking since then. A 4-year-old kid smoking cigarettes,” deadpanned Tom Hanks, laughing along with his “Cloud Atlas” co-star.
Like the book, “Cloud Atlas” consists of six different interconnected stories that span centuries and continents, so Berry, 46, also plays an emissary on a mysterious mission in post-apocalyptic Hawaii in 2346, takes the lead role in a 1970s storyline as an intrepid journalist unearthing an energy corporation’s cover-up in San Francisco and makes a cameo as a party guest at a 2012 soiree for the London literati.
“I loved every second of it. And if it had not been for a movie like this that required each person to play all of these characters to fulfill kind of the theme of the movie, I would’ve never. Nobody would have ever picked me to play a Jewish-German woman or an Asian man. I mean, ever. So there was a knowingness when this was all happening that this was pretty special and as artists like we should soak in every moment,” said Berry, who looked unmistakably feminine in slinky black pants and a gracefully draped maroon top.
Although his transformations weren’t as visually dramatic, Hanks, 56, plays an unscrupulous doctor on a South Pacific expedition in 1849, a greedy manager of a seedy Scottish hotel in 1936, a scientist who becomes a whistleblower at the behest of Berry’s reporter in 1973, a Scottish gangster-turned-memoirist who commits murder in the midst of that present-day London party, an actor in a long-lost film surreptitiously viewed in Neo Seoul in 2144 and a troubled goatherd living in primitive village who crosses paths with Berry’s technologically advanced explorer in the 24th century.
“You recognize me. You can tell it’s me every time when I show up,” Hanks said. “I can say that as Dermot Hoggins (the gangster), there’s probably almost 100 extras in that, and before we did anything, I was just in the crowd and nobody pieced together that I was the guy who was gonna do something. So that was fun. … I like it like that it turns out (Oscar winner Jim) Broadbent was one guy just playing a goofy fiddle in the middle of Old Seoul or something like that.”
“Take the word ‘fun’ and infuse it with as much importance and delight as possible,” Hanks added. “‘Cause like, quite frankly, eating pizza’s fun, but doing this I think for everybody, this was part of being in the greatest repertory theater company imaginable.” And everybody was gentle, everybody was kind and decent. And the process, though involved and sometimes very physically taxing, could not have been, I’d say, more rewarding for us as actors.”
Considered one of the most expensive indie films ever made, the trio of directors
struggled for years to secure the financing for the epic movie, which they took a divide-and-conquer approach to filming in 2011 in Germany, Spain and Scotland. Top-lining the international cast that also includes Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and Hugo Weaving, Hanks and Berry were able to help the project along by throwing their support behind it early.
“I think both of us were in the position where we said, ‘We’re in. Does that help you? You know, I’ll do it,’” Hanks said. “And that was 2 ½, maybe three years before we got around to actually saying, ‘OK, we got the money.’ … I’d get calls from them about every six months saying, ‘We’re plugging away, we’re almost there.’ I’d say, ‘Well, standing by. Let me know.’
“We knew that it was gonna be a Hail Mary pass in some degrees ‘cause it’s not a sequel. It’s a one-off. It’s not a tentpole. It’s not a franchise. They should’ve called it ‘Cloud Atlas 2’ and everybody would have loved it,” Hanks added. “But God bless ‘em. You guys know as much as I do that three years ago is now the ancient history phase of the motion picture business. When ‘Inception’ came out and it was a movie that everybody went and saw five or six or seven times, it was still dismissed as a one-off at the end of the day. You could probably talk to marketing people or financial experts in the business who say, ‘Well, the problem with “Inception” is that there’s no reason to make another one.’ Now, that’s the antithesis of what art should be. But nonetheless that’s where we are.”
For the two-time Oscar winner, the final film has proven well worth the wait.
“I’ve seen the movie three times now and I’m always finding these new versions of the way they connected everybody to everybody else, in small ways, of details like what books they’re reading and what things they’re creating, but also then just the struggles that they’re going through. At one point, I realized this is all about the battle of essentially being free, the whole essence of freedom,” Hanks said.
“I’m not saying that that was on the forefront of what we were doing every day; every day we were trying to figure out, well, ‘Is this a real moment? Does this make sense?’ But … the geniuses who were our bosses, they knew that. So they were sort of slowly shepherding to it and they kept adding these little dollops of another version of what that connection is. And I just think it’s freaking extraordinary.”