Halle Berry :: Weightless and Pregnant in 'Extant'

by Fred Topel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 11, 2014

Halle Berry stars as an astronaut who gets impregnated in space, and returns home to a robot child. What sounds like it could be the plot of a summer blockbuster movie is actually the new TV series Extant. Oscar winning movie star Berry comes to television in the science fiction drama executive produced by Steven Spielberg.

This summer also brought Berry back to her blockbuster role as the mutant Storm, who controls the weather, in "Days of Future Past." There may be a bigger connection between "Extant" and "X-Men" than you think.

"Luckily, because I had been Storm, I was used to flying" Berry said. "So I've had a lot of wirework and a lot of experience that way. So putting on that harness and those wires just seemed like something that I was used to doing. I did actually take a real zero G flight so I have really experienced being weightless and understanding what that is. So that sense memory certainly helps me be able to when I have those wires on, to assimilate being in a weightless environment."

Being weightless

"Extant" begins when Molly Woods (Berry) returns home from her 13-month solo mission in space. Her pregnancy is shocking not only because she was, you know, in space for a year, but prior to the mission she was unable to conceive. Flashbacks to her mission show Berry floating around the space station (via wire removal and visual effects). Her zero G flight taught her it is a very different experience than flying as a superhero.

"The first time I felt the sense of weightlessness I was surprised that it took very little energy for me to move," she said. "You just kind of lift off the ground. And what also surprised me was that when you go upside down, because there's no gravity you have no sense of being upside down. You feel exactly the same when you are upside down as when you are right side up and you start to lose sense of what is upside down and right side up. It was a very freeing experience. I can really understand why astronauts love to go up there and love to live in that medium and experience. It's as close to being a bird and having that kind of freedom I think one can ever get."

There was also an unglamorous side to zero gravity as well. "I also have to say by 15 times going up and down and going through that I did, you know, vomit. My body was done dealing. But it wasn't as bad as this one guy who started to vomit after the first up and down. He had to go on this plane for an hour and a half as we kept plummeting up and down and going in and out of the zero G. He was strapped to his seat in the back of the plane and just hurled the entire time, and was like five shades of purple when we landed."

Something unknown

A mother of two in real life, Berry had just given birth to her second child before filming "Extant." It was good timing for her to portray yet another pregnancy.

"First of all, I love being pregnant," she said. "I'm the happiest when I have been pregnant in my life, truly. So to be pregnant again on a show right after giving birth didn't scare me at all. I know how to be pregnant and I thought I'm going to ace that part of this for sure.

Except Molly's pregnancy is something unknown. Our first reaction might be that whatever caused this pregnancy can't be good, and Molly will have to deal with those doubts.

"It won't be the entire element of our show but there is a period that we're going to go through where it will have elements of 'Rosemary's Baby' because she's having it with something that is unknown. It is for us to decide throughout the series what this entity is, what it wants, will it stay here, is it really her baby, is it just an offspring, what is it really. These are questions that we are asking."

Robotic children

Then there's Molly's other child who is definitely not human. Her husband John (Goran Visnjic) is a robotics engineer who designed an android child, Ethan, played by Pierce Gagnon. With this plot meme, 'Extant' explores the debate over creating robotic children.

"I think I struggle with that and my character, Molly, struggles with that, which is why I so related to Molly when I first read the story," Berry said. "Having two children who are so very human helps me get in touch with my humanity on a daily basis, I struggle with if a robot would evoke the same kinds of feelings from me. Would I really be able to love a machine? Those are the questions I ask myself and Molly is asking herself in this show."

Berry recalled a typical parenting episode that would illustrate the difference between her real life children and "Extant's" Ethan. "My kids do things daily. Like my daughter just had a nightmare. She was dreaming and in the middle of the night she came into my bed on Mother's Day, and this is what I don't think a robot would do. First of all, I'm not sure if a robot can dream for real. So she comes into my bed and she wakes up in the middle of the night and she's saying, 'Mommy, no. Mommy, no, no.' And I tap on her and I say, 'Honey, what is it? I think you are having a nightmare.' And she never opens her eyes and she said, 'Mommy, there's two cupcakes. There's a purple one and a pink one and you are eating the pink one and you know I want it. Mommy no, no.' And in that moment I realized she was having a nightmare that was so important to her, but I was relieved because it was about cupcakes. I'm not so sure a robot would do that. That is one of the gems, one of the jewels of what motherhood is really all about."

What makes us human

Government agencies ask John to enable his creations with a kill switch, so they can be shut down should they get out of hand. John maintains that if you create a human life, you do not reserve the right to murder him when you don't like his behavior. Such debates will provide a subtext for "Extant" this summer.

"I don't think there's one thing that makes us human and I think that's what this series all about," Berry said. "As we are portraying these characters and telling this story, we ponder, what makes us human? That's a good question. And one of the questions that the series poses is can this robot become human, can we teach it to become human? Can we teach it to love? Can we give it free will? Will it act as human beings act over time?

"And we, as humans, can we love that that is not real, that is sort of fabricated? These are all the questions that we are asking. What intrigued me about this series is to try to discover the answer to that. Can we teach someone to be human? Hopefully by the time we finish this series, we might have a better answer. We might be able to intelligently talk about it, but I think that's what is exciting all of us right now. We are discovering. We are asking ourselves those questions. What is that, exactly, and can it be taught?"

Related to her character

Motherhood, be it supernatural, mechanical or otherwise, was the first of many components that made "Extant" the next project for Berry. "There were so many elements that drew me to it but probably the first one was being a mother. This was a character when I first read it that was so relatable to me. I felt like it was just in my DNA. I had a knowingness about this character. I had a fundamental understanding.

"While I'm not an astronaut or scientist - far, far from it - I still had an understanding about the human quality of this woman and her struggle to not only find time for herself, which is what she loves to do, our Molly goes into space for a year, but also to be a good mother. That's the struggle I have struggled with since my kids were born. So that drew me to her. She's also strong. She's complicated. I'm complicated. But she has a will to survive, to win. She's good at her heart. And I love playing strong, complicated characters who refuse to be victimized and that's what our Molly is."

Extant airs Wednesday nights on CBS.