Catwoman: Kitten with A Whip
The character is based on the comic book character of the same name but no origin is provided within the series. She is presented as an experienced professional cat-burglar when first introduced in the series.
Principal photography on Catwoman began in late September of 2003, but leading lady Halle Berry had begun preparing for the physically demanding role long before the cameras started rolling. “I knew this was going to be a huge undertaking for me,” says Berry, “and I actually started intensive fitness training with Harley Pasternak in June of 2003. I’ve always worked out and been in shape, but I needed to take it to a whole new level to meet the physical challenges of this character and create the kind of body that Catwoman ought to have.”
Berry’s grueling training schedule did not let up once filming began – the actress pushed herself right through the course of principal photography. “My fitness and nutrition regime was constant throughout pre-production and production,” says Berry, “but there were many other skills that I had to work on for the film, like whip training, fight training and movement.”
In the course of her exploits, Catwoman tests the theory that cats have nine lives by getting herself involved in some truly spectacular fights. “Halle did an unbelievable amount of fight work and stunts for this role,” praises Di Novi. “From the beginning she wanted to do as much of it herself as she could.”
Stunt coordinators Steve Davison and Jacob Rupp and fight coordinator Michael Gunther were responsible for teaching Berry choreography for the elaborate fight sequences and making sure she always landed on her feet. Davison calls the actress “one of the fastest learners” with whom he has ever worked. “Halle is just amazing, a total pro,” he says. “Her level of concentration, focus and determination is unlike any I’ve ever seen.”
Anne Fletcher, the film’s choreographer and physicality designer, oversaw Berry’s training in Capoeira (pronounced Cã-po-we-rã), a Brazilian martial art that combines traditional martial arts with dance and gymnastic movements. “It’s one of the most difficult disciplines to learn, but is one of the most beautiful holistic art forms in the world,” says Fletcher.
While Capoeira’s distinctive low-to-the-ground stances and high-in-the-air kicks, jumps and flips might come easy to a Catwoman, they were a challenge for Berry to take on. “Capoeira is probably the hardest thing on the planet to learn to do,” says the actress. “And I had to learn how to do everything in high heels!”
Berry was also charged with learning to properly wield a bullwhip, as the weapon is an inherent part of Catwoman’s lore. It comes in handy when she needs to disarm or dispatch her foes, and also acts as an accessory to her cat suit, whether hanging from her hip or dragging behind her like a long, leather tail.
The task of teaching Berry how to crack a whip like a pro fell to whip master and coach Alex Green. “Halle was one of my best students ever,” says Green. “She was a very quick study. She listened intently and practiced constantly and her hard work paid off. The whip became a true extension of her character.”
Green goes on to explain that the “crack” sound a whip makes is due to the fact that the tail on the whip is actually breaking the sound barrier. When a whip is cracked properly it travels at 950 miles per hour – 1,400 feet per second. “The speed and force of a whip crack is something you must be very respectful of,” says Green. “Halle recognized that immediately. She was never fearful, but always respectful.”
Green began Berry’s whip training with what he considers to be the easiest crack to learn, the vertical, or `circus’ crack. She then worked her way up to the forward crack, the horizontal crack, the reverse horizontal and some “other surprises” that Green does not want to give away.
“Of all my training, learning to crack the whip was the most fun,” says Berry, who was gifted by Green with a custom bullwhip all her own. “The whip is probably the most elusive tool you can play with, but it’s also the most sexy and the most fun. Once you get that first good crack, there’s nothing else like it!”
On top of preparing for her fight scenes and undergoing special training to become whipproficient, Berry also took on extensive dance and movement training to perfect her feline style. “A lot of the action that Halle does in the movie is based on actual cat movement,” comments Di Novi. “When you see cats leaping from eight stories or doing figure eights in mid-air, it’s almost supernatural, and re-creating that with a female human body was fantastic.”