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Of course Halle Berry got a standing ovation at the Nov. 6 SAG Nominating Committee screening of Frankie & Alice, a biopic about a 1973 black stripper who sometimes thinks she’s a white racist and a little girl. What actor doesn’t like a multiple-personality-disorder role thanks to the Oscar it got Joanne Woodward, Sally Field’s Sybil Emmy and Toni Collette’s Emmy and Golden Globe for Showtime’s Diablo Cody-penned United States of Tara? “It’s a great way for actors to show range,” says Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert. “Plus, Oscars love disabilities, right?” EW’s Dave Karger puts Berry on his top 10 contenders list for best actress, though he doubts any can beat Annette Bening or Natalie Portman.
Asked at Saturday’s PGA screening about her Oscar potential, Berry said: “No, I don’t think about it. We’re just so happy that it’ll be seeing the light of day we’re not thinking too far beyond that.” But Freestyle Releasing is. One Way Out’s Tom Ortenberg, the magician who helped pull Oscars out of the hat for Berry’s Monster’s Ball and Crash, has unleashed Frankie & Alice‘s last-minute Oscar marketing barrage (10,000 screeners, screenings for practically any film group with an acroynm, L.A.’s Nov. 30 red-carpet premiere, TV, radio, print, online and outdoor ads for the Dec. 10 qualifying opening in one L.A. theater).
“Very few can tackle this subject matter,” says Collette’s Tara boss, DreamWorks TV co-head Justin Falvey. “Halle is obviously an Academy Award-winning actress.” But Dissociative Identity Disorder, as it’s now called, is as tricky to market as it is for an actor to play. Mass audiences believed in Woodward’s three-faced Eve in 1957 and Fields’ 1976 Sibyl, and denounced medical skeptics. “Back in 1973, multiple-personality disorder was not believed to be a real disorder, a real disease,” Berry said at the PGA screening, “but now they do believe it is.”
Some do — DID is in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — but some think it’s about as believable as a James Frey memoir. In Newsweek’s “Unmasking Sybil,” one of Sibyl’s shrinks says she may have got the false notion she had multiple personalities by reading The Three Faces of Eve. “People can act like they have more than one personality,” says psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who demolished the repressed-memory fad and testified in the case of memory-troubled Scooter Libby (depicted in Doug Liman’s Oscar hopeful Fair Game). “Many believe it is created by therapist influence.” Loftus has been involved in many cases where patients have sued therapists for creating a fake “disorder.” Movies have influence, too. Falvey notes that after Sibyl, multiple-personality diagnoses went from 25 to 40,000 in North America.
“I didn’t see the real Frankie,” said Berry, “but I saw countless videotapes of other [DID] people.” The healed Frankie “got all her alters together” and lives today in California, added Berry. “She won’t ever come forward.”
Berry’s Oscar may depend on whether Frankie is perceived as a beautiful mind, a troubled soul with a bogus illness, or a scammer. United States of Tara cleverly manages to appeal to DID believers and also skeptics, with characters who don’t buy Tara’s act, like her sister, mother and new psychology prof Eddie Izzard.
Berry’s three-faced role could be too 1970s-credulous to score an Oscar nom, or it could be the ideal character for 2010. Ordinary women have alters, too these days, Falvey notes. “Working mom, nurturing mom, every woman out there is trying to balance everything.” The internet alters identities right and left, and not knowing who’s really who is crucial to Oscar hopefuls as disparate as Catfish and Inception. “The idea of split selves is a rich one at a time of fractured attention spans,” says Gilbert. Maybe it’s an idea that could enrich Halle Berry by one brass doll. Or maybe that’s crazy talk.
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