Halle Berry’s new film, “Kidnap”—about a mother’s quest to save her son after he is abducted—channels the ferocity of a mama bear protecting her cub.
Indeed, the Academy Award-winning actress read the script and immediately identified with her character’s maternal instincts. As a mother of two (daughter Nahla, 9, and 3-year-old son Maceo) the Hollywood star is keenly aware how the world can intrude upon the innocence of children.
“It was so relatable to me,” Berry, 50, told NBC News during a phone call from Los Angeles. “This was something I felt I had to do.”
Berry plays a suburban mom named Karla, who’s raising her six-year-old solo while dealing with issues involving her ex. A fun outing to the park devolves into a nightmare after Karla briefly leaves her son unattended and he suddenly disappears.
A few frantic minutes later, she realizes that he’s been snatched. Her pursuit of the kidnappers takes audiences on a frenetic, high-speed chase across New Orleans (where the film was shot on location) and its urban highways, rural back roads and waterways.
Along the way, Karla’s heroism emerges as she mentally and physically pushes herself to the limit to rescue her child.
“Channeling the emotions was easy because I’m a mom,” said Berry, known for roles in big budget blockbusters like “X-Men,” to the indie flick “Monster’s Ball,” which earned the star a history-making Oscar.
“The hard part was calibrating my performance so that it made sense. For most of the movie, I didn’t have a co-star, so I was talking to myself. That posed lots of challenges.”
“Kidnap” is purely entertainment, yet the plot is underscored by the critical issue of missing children.
The role dovetails with Berry’s advocacy on behalf of women and families. She is a longtime global ambassador for Revlon, championing breast cancer research and other causes that impact women. At the Jenesse Center, Inc., a domestic violence intervention haven in L.A., she’s provided hands-on volunteerism and financial support.
A few years ago, Berry pushed California lawmakers to enact legislation that would toughen penalties for paparazzi who harassed the offspring of public figures. The bill was signed into law in 2013.
“Kidnap” joins a diverse body of work the actress has honed for nearly three decades.
“I think as you grow and evolve, different things speak to you,” said Berry, who serves as one of the film’s producers.
This isn’t the first time the A-lister— who helms 606 Films with Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas—has utilized her talents as a filmmaker.
To wit, she’s served as executive producer of the 2014 television series “Extant,” and HBO’s “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” --a portrayal which garnered the thespian an Emmy, Golden Globe and NAACP Image awards.
Producing, she shared, provides the chance to “go beyond being a dancing bear” and have real input into stories.
She enjoyed fleshing out her character and working alongside the small cast, which features actress Chris McGinn (“Orange Is the New Black”) Lew Temple (“The Walking Dead”) and child actor, Sage Correa (Tempting Fate).
Lead producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (whose blockbusters include the “Transformers” franchise) brought on Spanish filmmaker Luis Prieto to direct the script, penned by Knate Lee.
He described seeing his first screenplay come to life with Berry in the lead role as a thrilling experience.
“She tries to get help, but there’s no time. She pursues the kidnappers but she can’t keep up, so she has to hatch a series of plans to outsmart them,” said Lee in the film’s production notes. “We’re with her every second, from the messy, clumsy beginning attempts all the way to the end. At some point, we realize that this woman has gone from an average mother to a total badass.”
Some national advocates for missing children expressed hope that “Kidnap” will help shine a spotlight on the reality of America’s missing children.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center received more than 465,000 reports of missing children in 2016— and those were just the cases officially reported to law enforcement.
"A missing child is every parents' worst nightmare,” said Natalie Wilson, co-founder with Derrica Wilson of The Black and Missing Foundation (BAMFI). “Clearly much more needs to be done.”
The Maryland-based nonprofit, founded in 2008, works to bring awareness to missing persons of color. Wilson said African-Americans and other persons of color represent close to 40 percent of all those missing across the U.S.
“Children of color tend not to receive the attention, coverage and law enforcement resources as other missing person cases,” said Wilson, who indicated that BAMFI’s efforts have helped locate more than 200 people.
“Whatever the age, we must continue to talk to our children and do everything we can to educate them and keep them from harm,” she said. “We must continue to fight for our children."
Congress is addressing this issue. In May, the House of Representatives passed the Improving Support for Missing and Exploited Children Act (H.R. 1808) by a voice vote.
Introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), the bill updates the Missing Children’s Assistance Act to strengthen national efforts to recover and protect missing and exploited children.
“The threats to children from human trafficking and online predators are real,” Rep. Courtney said in a statement. “Passage of this bipartisan bill in the House is an important achievement that shows Washington can rise above partisan politics to protect our most vulnerable population.”
The bipartisan legislation will encourage and increase public awareness of new and innovative ways to recover and protect missing and exploited children. For instance, it seeks to protect the growing number of children who go missing from state care and those who are victims of sex trafficking. It aims to improve assistance in identifying and locating abductors, criminal offenders, and missing children; and prevent children from becoming the victims of exploitation online. It also calls for more transparency surrounding recovery and prevention efforts.
Companion legislation was recently introduced in the Senate.
Berry believes the potent themes underlying the film's non-stop action will help its message resonate with all kinds of people.
“It’s about the triumph of the human spirit and how far each of us will go to save the ones we love. I think this movie will make you proud to be a mom and a woman.”