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How Bruised’s Halle Berry found herself in the director’s chair

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Berry was not the first choice, or even the seventh, but her bold proposal won her the chance to helm her passion project

Special Screening Of Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” - Arrivals
Halle Berry attends a screening of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

When Halle Berry first read Bruised, Blake Lively was attached to star and Nick Cassavetes was set to direct. All the same, Berry felt an immediate kinship with the character of Jackie Justice, a disgraced MMA fighter looking for her comeback. Although the character was originally written for a young white woman, when the role became available six months later, Berry jumped at the chance to get involved.

Berry told Variety that those six months had her feeling “tortured,” because “I’ve been thinking of how I can reimagine it for someone like me, a Black woman in middle age — not starting life — who’s looking for a last chance, not another chance. I’m stuck on it.”

Thunder Road, the production company with whom Berry had made John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, was eager to work with her again. Berry met with screenwriter Michelle Rosenfarb and together they began to rewrite Jackie as Berry envisioned the fighter. As the rewrite progressed, Berry’s vision for the film deepened, and it was the actress who met with directors, trying to find the right fit.

Berry met with director after director, seven in total, but none understood the film as she did. Ultimately, it was Berry’s producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas who pointed out the obvious. “I just said, ‘This is nuts. You’re waiting for someone to tell you the things you know. You understand the evolution of redemption. Why the f— aren’t you standing in your own truth?’”

While Berry had already successfully pitched herself—and a massive rewrite—to Thunder Road, proposing they hire her as a director felt like a much bigger stretch. “I thought, ‘They’re going to think I’m high,’ They’re going to think, ‘Halle has lost her mind.’”

Instead, Berry found herself in the director’s chair and in front of the camera—a tough task for any film, but especially one as physical as Bruised. Thanks to John Wick, Berry had already spent three years training in MMA, so her preparations leading up to Bruised were building on an already solid foundation.

Berry’s affinity for MMA has seen her become a frequent presence at UFC events, and she also participated in a charity fundraiser with Dana White for the All In Challenge.

While shooting a scene with her friend and training partner Valentina Shevchenko, Berry took one of the champion’s knees to her chest—fracturing two ribs. Berry, who had broken three ribs on the set of John Wick, knew exactly what had happened. A diabetic, Berry is susceptible to fractures.

“I didn’t want to stop because I had prepared for so long,” Berry told Variety. “We had rehearsed; we were ready. So my mind, my director’s mind, was just — keep going. And I compartmentalized that, and I just kept going: ‘I’m not going to stop. I’ve come too far. I’m going to act as if this isn’t hurting. I’m going to will myself through it.’ And so we did.”

At the time, executive producer Brian Pitt stated, “Halle got slightly injured in the fight. She’s tired. She needed a break.” Like a true director, Berry shot back on IG with, “It’s par for the course when you do your own stunts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just know I’m far from tired. I’m wide awake...and just getting started!”

As far as the influx of women directors in Hollywood is concerned, Berry is optimistic. “I’m more encouraged that as women, we are feeling confident enough to tell our stories. And there is a place for us to tell our stories. For so long, our experiences have been told narratively through the guise of men.”

Bruised will make its theatrical debut September 12th at the Toronto International Film Festival.