When I first heard about it, it really upset me," says Halle Berry, recalling her most painful tabloid baptism, anointed with unholy water, the stain of printer's ink. A now-bankrupt Chicago dentist she once dated had peddled his stories - stories about him and about her and about them - claiming they made love on a beach, on a boat, in his dentist chair. "That was the worst thing you can do - making up lies about sexual encounters that got very explicit, very low down and dirty. It was just the lowest of low."
Halle is curled up on the sofa in the living room of the exquisite new L.A. home she shares with her husband, Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice, recalling the day her manager called and read her the story that provoked the kind of widespread disgust that rarely unites Hollywood anymore.
"I was worried," she confesses, "but not for myself. My concern was David. I thought, 'What is he going to think? How is this going to affect him?'"
She needn't have worried, as she found out the moment she heard her husband's voice. "David called me in Africa where I was shooting Solomon and Sheba and I will never forget it," she says. "He said, 'Baby, don't even worry. This guy can't touch you.' He was so supportive, so loving. He didn't question me about it. He didn't say is this or that true? All that mattered was that I was okay. He said, 'Halle, this man is really sad. I don't want you worrying.' From that day on, it never bothered me."
In fact, Halle seems today neither harmed nor hardened by the whole ugly ordeal, not the dentist's lurid allegations nor the lawsuit he filed against her - and lost - claiming she owed him $80,000.
Though her legal fees exceeded $50,000, Halle refused to settle the suit, which the court dismissed in October saying the dentist did not prove any of his claims that any money he may have given the actress when they dated was, in fact, a loan. "I work hard for my money and I can't think of a better way to spend it than to protect my character," says Halle adamantly, refusing to settle for less, refusing to settle out of court.
Today, with the legal nightmare behind her, the 26-year-old actress is getting some much-needed rest. After months of exhaustive moviemaking, months during which she teetered on the verge of giving in to some very intense emotions which she had to excavate in order to portray the role, she is happy to have some time to relax and cool out.
As she prepares for a whirlwind publicity tour for her upcoming films - Solomon and Sheba for Showtime and Losing Isaiah for Paramount - Halle says she and David are enjoying precious time together, splitting their days between their home in Atlanta ("That's where we're spending Christmas") and their home in L.A. ("We're flying back New Year's so we can spend our anniversary driving up the coast - Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco").
It will be a much-needed holiday. To say that the filming of either movie was tough on Halle would be an understatement. Losing Isaiah was particularly hard on her because she identified with her character's desolation, a soul once lost in crack addiction now trying to find herself again in the fight to win back the baby she abandoned.
"To evoke the kind of emotion I needed for this part, I had to dig up my own pain and relive the things that have hurt me so deeply in my life," she recalls. "That was a very vulnerable place to be. There were days I felt like I was right on the edge of sanity and insanity."
To be sure, Halle's life contains enough anguish for any actress to draw on as motivation - her abandonment as a child by her father ("He was an alcoholic who abused my mother"); her confusion over her racial identity ("When you're an interracial child, children can be cruel"); years of mentally and physically abusive relationships with men she let use her because she was so desperate to be loved ("I had to hit rock bottom before I stopped it. …