UB Film Spotlight: The Story Behind “Frankie & Alice” – In Theaters Now

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From Lionsgate, Codeblack Films and the executive producers of “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” and “Lackawanna Blues” comes a mind-bending drama starring Academy Award® winner and Golden Globe® nominee Halle Berry (The Call, Monster’s Ball). Frankie & Alice is inspired by the remarkable true story of an African American go-go dancer “Frankie” with dissociative identity disorder (DID) who struggles to remain her true self while fighting against two very unique alter egos: a seven-year-old child named “Genius” and a Southern white racist woman named “Alice.” In order to stop the multiple voices in her head, Frankie (Halle Berry) works together with a psychotherapist (Stellan Skarsgård) to uncover and overcome the mystery of the inner ghosts that haunt her.

Always at the forefront of women’s issues, Halle Berry, Academy Award®-winning actress turned film producer, produces and stars in Frankie & Alice, a must-see, award-worthy psychological drama inspired by a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder in early 1970s Los Angeles.

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When Halle Berry first learned about the true story of one woman’s struggle with DID, the
actress and producer knew this was a film she wanted to make. “It affected me in a profound
way. I identified with being a child of a mixed race family and I related to the character.” Berry
saw Frankie, the young African-American woman with an alter personality that was an angry
white racist, as a microcosm of the many issues affecting people of mixed race. “It’s an issue
that’s been swirling around me my entire life. She was fascinating to me and seemed like a
character that I could breathe life into because I have a fundamental understanding of the chaos
of her situation.”

A highly sought after project in Hollywood, the rights to the story slipped in and out of Berry’s
hands half a dozen times over a decade long period before principal photography on FRANKIE
& ALICE began in October 2008. In fact, production had been slated to commence more than a
year earlier, but Berry became pregnant and, uncertain how she’d feel as a new mother, she was
not prepared at the time to commit to a future project. But several months after her daughter was
born, Berry was ready to make the film.

She says: “It’s been a long journey for me and I’ve been relentless. I didn’t want to let go, even
though, at times it seemed like I should. I kept in the game and I kept fighting and believing that
this was an important story to tell.”

Berry’s manager and producing partner, Vincent Cirrincione, says, “FRANKIE & ALICE is a
dream project for Halle and me. And Zaidi is the reason it happened.”

Cirrincione is referring to fellow producer and principal of Access Motion Pictures, Hassain
Zaidi, who is familiarly called “Zaidi.”

The producers first met on the set of Gothika. Zaidi and Simon DeKaric, his partner at Access,
told Cirrincione, “we’d love to do a project with Halle.”

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Cirrincione smiles, “everyone who’s in show business wants to make a movie with Halle Berry.
But this time it actually happened!” Cirrincione points out that in the current climate, “It’s hard
to get a period piece with a female lead made. But Zaidi never gave up. It’s out of a storybook.”

For his part, Zaidi loved the project’s pitch. “It’s such a ride, and Halle’s probably the only
actress in Hollywood that could play this role. Her performance is amazing. Halle was meant to
play this character.”

While searching for the right director, Berry and Cirrincione came across Tipping the Velvet, a
BBC mini-series directed by Geoffrey Sax. “We couldn’t stop watching,” says Berry. “It was
amazing.”

Sax flew to Los Angeles to meet the producers and Berry was struck by his passion for the
character. She admits to having had some concerns that, as an English man, he might not have
an understanding of Los Angeles in the seventies and the plight of Black people at that time.
“But he understood the times and the situation fundamentally and he was very educated. Having
been an actor himself, he also has a good way with actors, so he understands the words to use to
get them to respond. He knows how to speak to them.”

Sax fell in love with the project. “Straight away I knew it had the potential of being a
spectacular piece. It’s very performance-driven, with a fascinating central character, and the fact
that Halle Berry was attached made me want to do it.”

Halle Berry stars as Frankie Murdoch, a woman struggling with dissociative identity disorder
(DID) who has three distinct personalities.

While she lives and works in the exotic, edgy world of a go-go club in 1973 Los Angeles,
Frankie seems quite together when we first meet her. “She is a survivor,” says Berry, “She’s not
a victim by any means. But she hasn’t quite realized the dream for herself. She’s smart and
manages to be the kingpin of her environment. At the club, she’s learned to make the most
money, and she’s the one the other girls want to be around and be like.”

But Frankie can’t make the pieces of her life connect and she knows that something is terribly
wrong. There are moments she can’t explain and lapses of time she can’t remember.

When Frankie is arrested and finds herself facing possible jail time, her only alternative is to check herself into a mental institution. She decides on the hospital and there she begins an extraordinary journey of discovery with Dr. Oz, the brilliant psychiatrist who is at first reluctant to treat her.

A research scientist with rusty doctor patient skills, Dr. Oz soon realizes that Frankie presents an
extraordinary case. He discovers three distinct personalities: “Frankie,” the main or host
personality; “Alice,” a white racist from the Deep South; and “Genius,” an adolescent with an
astonishing IQ.

Oz believes his patient presents DID and, even though his medical colleagues are skeptical, Oz
persists in working with Frankie. With Oz’s help, Frankie finds the courage to face a repressed,
past trauma so devastating and deeply buried that it has caused aspects of herself to split apart
into separate personalities.

Berry describes Alice as being “in the most pain of all of the ‘alters.’ ” She is suffering in a way
that the others aren’t because she’s suffering with her identity and the understanding of who she
is. She is trapped in a body she doesn’t want to be in and she masks that pain with a selfrighteous,
holier-than-thou, I am better than you attitude, but it is born out of pain and sadness.

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“Genius, the third ‘alter,’ is a child and helper that wants to see Frankie do well and be taken care
of,” says Berry. “All of the alters are really facets of Frankie that have just split off due to
trauma. Genius is the intellectual side of Frankie that has manifested in the form of her child
self.”

In the multiple roles of Frankie and her alter personalities, Academy Award®-winning actress
Halle Berry delivers a breathtaking tour-de-force performance. Most of the scenes in which
Frankie transforms into Alice or Genius were filmed continuously, with little or no cutting.
Director Geoffrey Sax says he was careful not to do anything different with the camera for
different personalities because, “I firmly believed that right from the start, we shouldn’t help the
performance with the camera in any way. Everything should happen in real time so that when
Frankie changes into Alice or into Genius, we don’t suddenly go in a low angle and bring in
thunder and lightning and spooky lighting. It’s all done in performance, and hopefully, we’ll get
something that’s pure performance.”

“Because it does happen in such an ordinary way,” he adds, commenting on the observations he
made while researching DID before filming began. Berry shared some of her research with the
director, including a program which showed a number of people with the disorder. “The first
thing that struck me was that it looked like they were acting,” says Sax, “but you realize very
quickly they are not acting.”

Having spent a decade trying to develop the project, Berry did a great deal of research into DID.
But she admits that her preparation for the extraordinary role was not all that out of the ordinary.
She says, “The preparation for this was unlike any other in a couple of ways, but very much like
every other role in that you take a script and a character and you break it down and create a life
for the character, a history.” Berry keeps a journal about each character she plays, creating their
life and their world, down to the smallest detail. The difference for FRANKIE & ALICE was,
“I had to do that three times to come up with three distinctly different characters.” “I had to be
able to transform seamlessly from one to the other. The challenge was how to do that without
making it cartoonish and how to keep it real and honest.” To do that, she watched hours of tape
of people suffering from DID. “What I found out is that slipping from one personality to the
other is really not as theatrical as one might think. It happens matter-of-factly, and there’s
nothing silly or over the top about it. It’s just very simple the way they ease in and out of
personalities. With this movie, I hope to bring that kind of reality to it and make the switch as
simple as I’ve seen it in real life.”

Sax concurs, adding that, “In order to dramatize the transition, we had to find a way to make it
believable. In real life, they just switch very quickly. They’ll suddenly be one person and then
they’ll be straight into someone else. There’s no big body language.”

As they set to work together, Sax was pleased to discover that they had the same ideas on how
the story should go, and he notes, “Halle is incredibly focused. This is a project she’d been
wanting to do for a number of years and her research was meticulous, as was her preparation.
So, the actual day-to-day shooting was made a lot easier because she was so prepared. She knew
the character beats and the way the story goes exactly and so it was quite an experience.”

Casting the pivotal role of Dr. Oz, the psychiatrist determined to help Frankie, was admittedly a
challenge and Berry couldn’t have been more delighted when she learned that Stellan Skarsgård
would co-star. “I think I burst into tears, I was so happy,” she says. “Stellan is an amazing actor
and I couldn’t have hoped for a better actor or one more committed.”

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Swedish actor Skarsgård has starred in an array of Hollywood and European motion pictures,
most recently opposite Meryl Streep in the smash hit musical Mamma Mia!, Skarsgård has been
honored with major prizes at film festivals around the world and his many movies include:
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The
Hunt For Red October, Breaking the Waves, Amistad, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and
Good Will Hunting.

For his part, Skarsgård loved the script: “It’s very well written and very playable. All of the
characters, even the smaller roles, had a life of their own and there were lots of possibilities for
actors to do stuff between the lines.”

He was also delighted to work with his co-star. “There are some actors in the world that are the
real McCoy. Everything they do is truthful and honest and you can read their personality and
thoughts in their faces. Halle is one of those actors and it’s a blessing working with an actress
like that because all you have to do is look at them and then answer to them you become much
better yourself.”

“Stellan is a delight to work with,” says Sax. “He’s a great Oz. We were looking for someone
who was vulnerable and complex and who also had a sense of humor and he’s fulfilled all those
roles. Like Halle, he’s incredibly focused and prepared.”

Skarsgård was equally delighted to work with Sax. “He’s got a very good ear for when a scene
works rhythmically and when it’s truthful and when there’s life in it. And he’s very patient. He
lets you do a scene over and over again until you feel comfortable in it and it starts to swing and
rock. He just waits you out, and every now and then he comes and says something small and it’s
usually exactly the word you need.”

Skarsgård describes his character, Dr. Oz as being clumsy, both with patients and people in
general. “Oz takes everything literally and doesn’t understand irony. He’s very cerebral and not
in touch with his own feelings. Frankie breaks him down to a certain extent, and as he opens her
up and helps her see who she is.” He hopes audiences will come away with a sense of two
people “coming off a little better at the end than they were in the beginning. There is some kind
of love relationship.”

In FRANKIE & ALICE, two people come together and drastically affect the course of each
other’s life. “When you meet Frankie and Oz, they’re both like the walking dead,” says Berry.
“They’re disconnected, unattached and looking for something they don’t have. They’re looking to
be alive and they come together and help each other. They actually develop a relationship that is
really profound because they both grow as a result. They both come alive as a result of meeting
each other. It’s not a love story, but it’s a human story.”

“And, because it’s a true story,” Berry continues, “I can tell you those two people were
connected. The real doctor died a few years ago, but he was connected to her until the day he
died. It was a bond that really meant a lot to both of them.”

Issues of race are central too. In the Deep South of the 1950s, Frankie grows up in the home of
the wealthy, white Prescott family where her mother is a servant. When young Frankie and the
Prescott’s teenage son, Pete, fall in love, they run away together because they know their
relationship will never be accepted. While they’re full of hope, tragedy strikes the young lovers
and Pete is killed in a car crash.

Two decades later, Frankie lives and works in Los Angeles. While some progress had been
made in race relations, in the early 1970s there were still miles to go. Director Geoffrey Sax
comments on how her race affected Frankie’s medical treatment: “The doctors would
automatically assume that because she’s a Black stripper from Watts, she’s going to be taking
drugs. That’s one of the suppositions, and it’s an erroneous one. Key to this story is that we have
a doctor who is very open-minded and thinks that there’s much more at stake.”

Halle Berry couldn’t be happier things have changed so much since then, pointing out that, “it’s
totally different today, we now have our first Black President.” In fact, to celebrate the historic event, Berry supplied champagne at lunch on November 5th, the day after the 2008 election, and
she and the cast and crew raised a glass to toast the election of Barack Obama.
When we first meet Frankie in the seventies, she’s a dancer in a Los Angeles go-go club.
Choreographer Kim Blank, who was nominated for an Emmy® Award when she previously
worked with Berry on TV’s “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” worked with Berry for some two
months to prepare Frankie’s signature go-go dance routine. Berry was determined to dance for
the entire length of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get it On,” which is nearly four minutes long,
and did so for every single take on the day the scene was filmed.

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“I wanted to do that dance all day long,” says Berry, and she did! She declined the production’s
offer to provide a dance double. “I thought it was really important to do that dance myself — it’s
the introduction to the character Frankie.” Berry says she worked hard to get the beats right and
“Make it sensual enough to have it be what stripping “go-go dancing” was in the seventies. It’s
very different than it is today.”

She admits, “It was a long day.” And she suffered some internal bruising on her legs from the
rigorous workout. But, she adds, “It was really rewarding to know that I did all that myself and
it will make a difference not to have to cut away because someone else is dancing.”
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, who had filmed Berry twice previously on the first and
second X-Men movies, admires the actress. “She plays three characters in one body, going very
deep and creating some very emotional portrayals. Playing all these characters is a brave journey
for an actress. But it’s been breathtaking and extraordinary to watch her transform so effortlessly
from one character to another.”

Sigel, who also operates the camera on his movies, recalls commenting on how she had lifted an
eyebrow in one take, to which Berry replied that she didn’t know she could do it. Sigel says,
“Halle literally can’t do it, unless she’s in the character of Alice. That’s how deep she went into
it.”

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