Halle Berry stars in new TV drama Extant

Golden girl: Halle Berry as Molly Woods in Extant and her “android” son.With the mesmerising manner of an old-school film star, Halle Berry seems the very personification of the dramatic migration of film actors, writers and directors to television, the new wave which has caused the so-called ‘‘golden age’’ of television.

And Berry, the star of a new ‘‘event’’ television drama, Extant, about a female astronaut, Molly Woods, who returns pregnant from a year-long solo space mission, comes to the point very quickly: ‘‘First and foremost it was story, story, story,’’ she tells The Guide. ‘‘This was one of the best things I have ever read.’’

‘‘Quite honestly, I have read lots of pilots, lots of films, and when I read this it just jumped out at me,’’ the star of Monster’s Ball and the X-Men franchise says. ‘‘I related to this character in a very profound way. I understood her. I thought I had the wherewithal to breathe some life into this character.’’

Berry says she loved the science fiction aspect of the story. And then there is the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg, who is an executive producer of the project.

But the conversation comes back to the inescapable point: if one of Hollywood’s most bankable film actresses has joined the great migration from big screen to small, is this the final nail in film’s coffin? Or merely proof that Kevin Spacey’s declared ‘‘golden age’’ is indeed that.

‘‘There are so many reasons why one has to start abandoning their concepts about film versus television,’’ Berry says. ‘‘It’s a grey world, it’s not longer black and white where you do one or the other. I think today, as artists, we go where the good work is, where the good characters are.

‘‘Nobody can dispute that television has some of the best writing you will read. The best filmmakers, producers, directors, are doing television, so it’s no mystery that actors would then follow.’’

In Extant, unanswered questions – such as a chunk of missing video log – and unexplained events suggest there is a conspiracy at work. But what? And why?

While the story is, in one sense, writ large from the science fiction playbook: space stations, unexplained encounters and the possibility of alien impregnation, it also taps a provocative vein of moral and ethical questions, in particular about women’s ownership of their bodies.

Berry says those ethical and moral themes were never far from her mind. ‘‘How did Molly get pregnant? Was it right, was it wrong? Now that it’s happened, what does it mean? Is she a mother? Is she not a mother? What rights does she have? What does she do about it, morally and ethically? Where does she stand? She’s having to ask herself those questions.’’

The series also stars Goran Visnjic as Molly’s husband, John Woods, and Pierce Gagnon as Ethan, their  ‘‘son’’ – an android child whose humanity, or the implied lack of it, is one of the show’s most potent story threads.

‘‘One of the questions that the series poses is can this robot become human? Can we teach it to love? Can we give it free will? Will it act as human beings act over time?’’ Berry says. ‘‘And we, as humans, can we love something that is not real, that is sort of fabricated?

‘‘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 asking ourselves those questions.’’

The series was created by writer Mickey Fisher who conceived it, he said, as an antidote to all of the poor writing he had given female characters over the years.

‘‘Like a lot of male writers, I short-changed a lot of my female characters over the years; out of a desire to write someone who is complex and interesting and faced with an extraordinary situation, I set out to write this,’’ he said.

Right off the bat, Berry says Molly is complicated. ‘‘That was the first thing,’’ she says. ‘‘[When I read the script I saw] she was a woman who was extremely complicated. Right away the woman who goes to space for a year by herself, she’s complicated, because that’s not what most people would ever think of doing or want to do. She was complicated and she was strong.’’

On Fisher’s point – that he had short-changed a lot of female characters – Berry agrees that great writing in film for women, and for women of colour in particular, is tough to find.

‘‘It’s been really hard throughout my career to find roles for me to play,’’ she says. ‘‘I think, give me an opportunity to give all that I think I am capable of doing, and many times I have had to, I like to say, make lemonade out of lemons, because you have to keep going.

‘‘The option of laying down and dying, or switching careers, never seemed possible. So I have done the best I could with all the limitations I have been faced with and I think I have done OK for myself.”

And she has an Emmy and a Golden Globe, for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, and an Oscar, for Monster’s Ball, to show for it.

‘‘But there has always been a shortage of good roles for women, and for women of colour there is even less there and we just have to keep trying to find a way out of no way, and stay a part of the industry that we love. And television now gives us another outlet to be able to do that.’’

Extant’s trailer, and the stunning space effects achieved on an ambitious television budget, have brought early comparisons to Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron’s stark film epic. Coupled with Spielberg’s name in the credits, it is easily labelled science fiction, but Berry points out that the high-tech elements of the story quickly give way to something far simpler.

‘‘It’s a human story about a family,’’ she says. ‘‘The fact that Molly goes to space and things happen up there, that’s part of it, but it’s more about when she comes back, what is she dealing with, what is the aftermath of that.

‘‘It’s really about this family and these people, and how they relate to one another, and how they solve this mystery. And what is love? What does being human mean? Can they live as a normal family with everything else happening around them?’’

Extant, Sunday, Ten, 9pm.

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