Halle Berry delights in her multi-racial roles in ‘Cloud Atlas’

The movie unfolds as a menagerie of intersecting storylines from the past, present, and future worlds of human existence. It attempts to dispel preconceptions associated with age, race, class, and gender by casting the actors in all roles, and challenging assumptions about identity. In many cases, the disenfranchised of society prove the most heroic, and by contrast to historical paradigm, in the post-apocalyptic future, it is Berry – a black herculean-type woman – who serves the dominant and advanced civilization. Each character becomes either the positive or negative catalyst for its re-embodied soul.

In real life, Berry acknowledges she believes in reincarnation, and says she feels this film allowed her to step beyond the bounds and limits by which she generally is constrained.

“I love the totality of all the characters,” Berry explains. “To be an old native in the 1800s, and then go to be, you know, this extra-terrestrial kind of like being from another planet that came down to help this other group of people. I felt like it was such a diverse group of people that I got asked to play.”

The complexity and number of roles required every actor in the film to spend three days with the make-up crew prior to production to get the looks accurate and believable. The results are remarkable, as in many cases, the usually recognizable cast of A-listers, including Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Keith David, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Broadbent, often slip by unnoticed in their new casings. It was a choice made by the filmmaking team – Tykwer along with The Matrix director siblings, Andy and Lana Wachowski – to interpret the idea of one vision, and respect for all identities. It was also a big incentive for such high-caliber talent to join the project.

Admits Berry, the film was a “no money job,” merely the chance to be a part of an “innovative” production.

“This is so poignant for an actor, someone like me, to sort of be able to shed my skin, and do something, you know, I would never have been able to do if it weren’t for this kind of people,” she notes.

And incidentally, there was a moment when Berry feared she might get cast out of the project after breaking several bones in her foot two days into shooting.

“I sat there in my bed, foot up in the air; I got a call saying Tom and Andy and Lana want to come talk to you,” she remembers. “I thought they were going to give me my walking papers, and say you know, ‘We love you, but too many people are involved, too many schedules have been made for too many years, and you know, we’re bringing in Angela Bassett.”

Fortunately for the star, that wasn’t the case, and, as she describes it, the whole team rallied to make it work and keep her on board. Similarly, Berry considers the film a collaborative effort, an anomaly ensemble piece where every actor takes on parts, major to minor, all embracing the unified sentiment of the theme.

She adds, “I felt like I’m doing something that’s unique, and that I’ll never have a chance to do again.”

Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @courtgarcia