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Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): How Halle Berry was transformed into six characters in 'Cloud Atlas'


Image Credit: Reiner Bajo

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Halle as Jocasta Ayrs

As Jocasta Ayrs, Berry went through the most time intensive transformation out of the six characters. Her “little pug nose,” Berry said, was replaced by a wider prosthetic one to look like a German-Jewish woman in the 1930s, and her light brown skin lightened to a honey shade. Getting the right color of Caucasian skin tone was especially hard. “There’s many levels of it, and hues of it, and undertones that have to be there, or it’s just flat,” said Berry, adding that makeup artist Parker “worked and worked, and we made four or five tests. It was like an eight-hour makeup because of the lightening of the skin. It had to be real.”

Berry, in the movie, does look utterly different, but believable as a white woman. “The nose went through several transformations, to the point that I wanted this to be so subtle, yet so elegant, and a European nose.” said Parker. “Then the wig was made to measure for her, specific with the color, kept very warm. Everything was there to help us believe she was European. Halle was also completely convincing with her accent.”

As for Jocasta’s sleek gowns – a black one sports revealing shoulder cutouts and a thin, black belt with gold accents – costume designer Gayraud drew inspiration from Swedish Marlene Dietrich lookalike Ingrid Thulin in 1969’s The Damned, plus iconic ‘30s German actresses such as Dietrich. “We wanted a long silhouette, very aristocratic, stylish, pure, without any extravaganza,” said Gayraud. “Our plan was to design an elegant character simply sophisticated with lovely accessories. I found in Paris original fabrics and we cut her dresses in.” The gowns, thankfully, easily covered Berry’s foot cast, said Gayraud.

Halle as journalist Luisa Rey

Berry, already a fan of ‘70s clothes and shoes, only wore a realistically wavy brown wig, and no prosthetics, to play the role of an investigative journalist uncovering corruption at a power plant. “I have a pair of jeans that came just under my boobs, which let me know I’m in another era, because that’s so not where we are today,” she said, laughing. “The shoes I had to wear were really vintage shoes that just made you feel different. You knew that somehow it was a different time.” Her turtlenecks also hover high around her neck.

Gayraud looked to ‘70s-era actresses Sally Field and Jane Fonda, and based Berry’s original costumes on vintage finds. “It’s a mix of corduroy suits, ethnic pieces, simply casual,” he said. Because of Berry’s broken foot, and all the pants Luisa Rey wears, he had to open up the sides of her trousers. “The big deal was the shoes,” said Gayraud. “She had very high hills [to climb] so the shoemaker made a special ‘trompe l’œil’ [an art-based optical illusion] platform” for wide shots and the original pair for close-up shots. “But at the end it’s incredible how Halle arrived to walk and made the illusion,” he said.

Halle as an Indian woman 

Even for a mere moment of a character such as Berry’s unnamed, silent red sari-wearing Indian woman in a segment set at a party in 2012, makeup tests were required, and an emotionally felt made-up backstory, said Berry. “If you haven’t thought about what it is you’re saying [through just your eyes], then you can betray that sense of feeling,” she said. As the woman, Berry sports a nose piercing and a long brown wig with long, eye-skimming bangs. The sari was improvised over a day in the film’s costume workshop, said Gayraud.

“This was very much a cameo role, a small part. She also did have somebody doing her makeup, Shawn Richards, and he was completely responsible for that,” said Parker. “The actors would say to the directors, ‘I want to be in this part of the film. Could you write me in?’ You had to think of these things off the cuff, in this instance. Suddenly, you’ll see Jim Broadbent as a hippie buying a book in a shop, which was enormous fun. Both Jeremy and I had to deal with these quick changes, which was a challenge, but a fun challenge.”

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