Halle Berry Used Swordfish As A Chance To Explore Sexuality On Screen

Dominic Sena's computer hacker thriller "Swordfish" was not particularly well-received when it was released in June of 2001, and currently holds a mere 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Indeed, the film's villain, a pageboy-cut-sporting John Travolta, was even nominated for a Razzie Award for his performance. The film was about a hip young hacker named Stanley (Hugh Jackman), on the outs with his wife and recovering from alcoholism, who is forcibly recruited by a supercriminal named Gabriel Shear (Travolta) to hack into the government and steal billions worth of slush fund money. Gabriel's ultimate plot is massively complicated, and he may actually be usurping another man's identity to commit even more horrendous crimes (beyond his hair and awful, thin-line goatee). Halle Berry plays fellow hacker Ginger, who is actually an undercover DEA agent, and who requires Stanley's help in apprehending Gabriel. Ginger is a classic femme fatale, and spends a great deal of "Swordfish" seducing Stanley.

"Swordfish" is unnecessarily convoluted, and, like many of the best (and worst) hacker movies, felt dated the instant it was released. The film was also criticized for its lasciviousness, as it was announced well in advance that Berry would appear topless in the film. The scene in question is perhaps one of the more gratuitous in the history of on-screen nudity, as Berry, reading a book while sunbathing, merely tilts it down when the camera is on her. 

Berry, however, knew that the scene was gratuitous, and was fine with it. In interviews at the time, Berry said that she was previously uncomfortable with nude scenes but was determined to face her anxiety by doing something as blunt as possible. In an interview with Cinema.com, Berry countered rumors, however, that she was paid extra for her nude scene. 

It's always gratuitous

The rumor at the time was that Berry was paid $2 million to appear in "Swordfish," but only agreed to do the notorious nude scene if she got paid an additional $500,000. Berry was insulted by the rumors, saying playfully that "I would sell these babies for way more money."

Berry's views on onscreen nudity in feature films was, at the time, pragmatic. A camera can be placed anywhere, she feels, making all nude scenes an active — and often gratuitous — choice. Countering some actors' sentiments, she felt that disrobing is never "necessary for the scene." And, so long as that was true, actors and filmmakers ought to have fun with it. Provided everyone is comfortable and cognizant and communicative of what is being done with a nude scene, there's no reason not to throw one in for prurient reasons. Berry said: 

"I don't think nudity is ever necessary. I think you can make every single movie and never show anything and it's fine. I think it's a choice you make, and it was a bold choice on my part. But it was written in the script and when I was offered the part, I was told, 'That's who this girl is and it's not negotiable to be taken out.'"

Berry looked at the role of Ginger as an actor would, delving into the character and figuring out what kind of person she is. Ginger was written as being flirty, outwardly sexual, and kind of devious. Audiences may be familiar with Ginger as a broad, fictional character type, but it was Berry's job to give Ginger humanity, to make a character that was believable and, importantly, likable. It was the first time Berry played a character with that kind of sexuality. 

Computer lingo

Berry admitted that the computer-related lingo for "Swordfish" was largely incomprehensible. The actress did do some research, but ultimately had to let it go and trust the screenwriter, focusing instead on forming the character. She said:

"[M]y character, Ginger had all this computer dialogue. I couldn't take enough classes or do enough preparation to really understand what the 'hydra-worm' or all that other stuff means. Not that I really care to, either. So, a lot of that was just studying the script and just finding what I wanted to do with Ginger. She was written as a classic femme fatale, sort of hard-edged, and I didn't think really likable at first. So my challenge was just to make a sexy girl, who is a femme fatale, to make her human and make her as likable as I possibly could."

Berry admits that playing a "sexy girl" character was even freeing. By "Swordfish," she had become more comfortable playing that sort of a role, and jumped in with both feet:

"Yeah, I did, because I've never really explored that part of myself on screen before. For so many years, I said, 'No, no, no,' and a lot of it was not being comfortable with myself, being afraid and wondering what people would think. Finally, after the last couple of years of my life, I sort of shed myself of all of those worries and I feel really, really good about It."

The scene may have been wholly gratuitous and unimportant to the movie, but it was, it seems, important for Berry and for her confidence. Sometimes, it seems, movies are meant to indulge audiences' baser wants for sex and violence. In that regard — and perhaps only in that regard — "Swordfish" succeeds.