Halle Berry has faced off with mutants in several X-Men movies and she’s gone toe-to-toe with assassins in films such as John Wick 3 but nothing could prepare her for the physicality involved with portraying a mixed martial artist.
In her new filmed Bruised, which was released in theaters on Nov. 17 before its debut on Netflix on Nov. 24, Berry plays a down-on-her-luck former UFC competitor, whose life has fallen apart in the aftermath of a disastrous fight that essentially ended her career. Faced with long odds when offered the chance to make a comeback, Berry’s character has to get herself back into shape, which meant the Oscar winner also had to go through a real training camp in order to convince the audience that she really was a fighter.
“It is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my professional career,” Berry told MMA Fighting. “I think it’s second only to child birth. I had to push myself further than I’d ever pushed myself. All those disciplines are at play so I had to learn bits of all of it.
“You can’t just all of a sudden look like you’re a real fighter. You really have to take the time and just put in the work and let your body sort of transform to look that way. I had to get some of these techniques in my body so that when shoot day came, I wasn’t still struggling with it. I had these things solidly in my body.”
The process to make Bruised took several years after Berry was first handed a script that centered around a young, Irish-Catholic fighter with actress Blake Lively attached to star in the film.
Immediately after reading the story, Berry felt connected to the movie, particularly because she’s been a hardcore fight fan her entire life including numerous appearances at UFC events over the past few years.
When Lively had to pass on the film, Berry got the shot she wanted but that also meant she had to rework the script and that made the movie even more personal to her.
“This film is so inextricably connected to my heart,” Berry said. “It’s surrounding a sport that I love so much, especially the women of the sport that I love so much. The story of a fighter is something that I’ve always connected to. I love a good fight movie starting with the original Rocky and Million Dollar Baby and The Wrestler and everyone in between.
“It’s something that resonated very deeply with me and when I read the script, no it wasn’t written for someone like me but the producers gave me an opportunity to re-imagine it into a world that I did understand. To characters that felt true to me. Characters that I felt like I knew, that I had intel on. So I set it in a world that I knew, around a sport that I loved. It didn’t get better than that for me.”
Not only did Berry sign on to star in the film but she eventually decided to step behind the camera as a director for the first time in her legendary career.
Once she took responsibility for essentially every facet of making this movie work, Berry knew there was no cutting corners when it came to the authenticity needed for a film centered around the world of mixed martial arts.
So when it came time to find a co-star who would face her in a fight as well as help show her the ropes, Berry only had one name in mind — UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.
“My process was if I’m trying to portray a real fighter, I had to choose someone that would be in my weight class,” Berry explained. “If I were really fighting, I would be a flyweight. I would be a natural flyweight. So it did seem a little far-fetched when I realized I would be a flyweight, to ask the reigning champion to take time out of her busy schedule and training to come make a movie so I didn’t know if she would say yes.
“But I thought, this means so much to me, all she can do is say no but I have to try. To my surprise, when I reached out to her she said yes, let me read it and she very quickly got back to me and she said yes. That’s when I started pinching myself and realized holy sh*t Valentina said [yes] and she made all the difference.”
According to Shevchenko, when she got the call that Berry was interested in putting her in a new film that she’d be directing, the six-time defending 125-pound champion didn’t hesitate to accept.
In fact, Shevchenko revealed that filming Bruised alongside Berry was the first and only time she’s ever asked the UFC to delay one of her fights.
“Who would say no if Halle Berry is calling you? It’s not a question!” Shevchenko said. “At that moment, we were in Australia. We were in Australia and it was our travel that we do all the time and I got the offer to have my fight, to fight for the title in Australia and it was the only one time I said give me a little bit more time.
“Because I knew it’s kind of like it will be in the same time when I have to prepare for the movie and I will have to prepare for the fight. It was the only time when I asked the UFC to have a different date for me.”
Once she arrived for shooting, Shevchenko not only prepared for her own film debut but she helped Berry learn the sport in a way that would make their fight look and feel as real as possible.
“The most amazing [thing] was the dedication that I saw Halle had,” Shevchenko said. “We trained like two months, every single day for five hours, 7 [a.m.] to 1 [p.m.] and you know, the training was very similar to what I do for my training camp. Because when I train, my training mood, my fight mood, it’s just work and have the concentration on what I do with the technique. This is what we were doing for two months.
“I was like OK, this is completely different. Halle was completely different because she was so dedicated, so ready to do no matter what she has to do, to make everything look perfect.”
As they were training together, Berry refused to do anything at half speed, which resulted in her making one very particular request — and Shevchenko admittedly struggled to grant her wish at first.
“Her main idea for the fight scenes, it has to be real,” Schevchenko said. “It has to be a real fight. As real as possible. Sometimes she was in the training, she was like ‘Valentina, you have to hit me harder’ and I’m like ‘Halle, I’m not sure’ and she said ‘you have to hit me, I have to feel that.’ I was like OK, I’ll do my best.”
If she was going to make a fight movie, Berry was going to get into a fight and that meant taking punches and kicks from Shevchenko at full speed from time to time. On those days, Berry definitely lived up to the title of her film but it all paid off with the final product.
“You do have to know, I am a masochist,” Berry said with a laugh. “Learn that about me cause when I would say ‘Valentina, come on, give it to me! Give it to me!’ Because I never fought before, I wanted to get some feeling of what that would really feel like. I needed that. I was feeding off that.”
From learning how to fight to directing for the first time, Berry really did undergo a trial by fire in order to make Bruised but she wouldn’t take anything back now that the film is finished.
“There were many days where I thought oh God, this is harder than me,” Berry said. “Because it was really hard. But, when I surrounded myself with Valentina Shevchenko and all the other actors that were brilliant in their own way and I had a crew that was there for me every step of the way, when those days got hard and they did. There were a lot of tears and Valentina would see it. I would come to training and I would be distraught. I’d be crying about something gone wrong, I lost half my budget, I had to cut out days of the script. I was in constant angst but at the end of the day, I’m really glad I faced it.
“I’m really glad I did it. It let me know, I can do it again and I don’t think it will ever be as hard again. So that’s the good news!”