Halle meets her match
Job as Berry's double a godsend for cancer momAug 22, 2010 12:00 AM | By BIÉNNE HUISMAN
Local beauty Elise Fernandez hopes to pay for her mastectomy from her earnings as the body double for Hollywood siren Halle Berry.
'She went on and on about my dimples. She was like, "Look! You've got two dimples on each side"'
Fernandez, who grew up in Heathfield, Cape Town, worked as Berry's body double on the film set of Dark Tide just four days after having had surgery to remove a lump from her right breast.
It had been the petite single mother's first job in months, because cancer treatment had kept her off her feet.
"I got the voice-mail message on my phone as I woke up after coming out of the hospital theatre. It meant that I would have only four days to recover, but I was desperate for the money," she said.
The 37-year-old aspiring documentary filmmaker and part-time singer has worked in the movie business for 10 years. Her ordeal started when she was diagnosed with cancer in June 2008.
Fernandez's tale of tears and courage was punctuated with smiles in an interview this week.
She flashed deep dimples in her cheeks as she spoke of how her sons, Keano, 16, and Salem, 12, loved her latest job.
"Keano was like, 'Wow, mom, that's so cool! I always said you look like her.'
"My sons are very proud. They're very protective too," she said. Their father abandoned the family when Salem was six months old.
Berry was also struck by Fernandez's amazing dimples.
Said Fernandez: "I had finished a scene and went to the make-up trailer to have my wig taken off, and there was Halle Berry. She was having her wig taken off, too. She turned around and said, 'Oh my God, you're my body double. Hi, I'm Halle'.
''So I greeted her. She asked me about my day, what I had filmed. And then she went on and on about my dimples. She was like, 'Look! You've got two dimples on each side'. And she wanted to know if they run in the family, whether my mom had them too and so on," she said.
While filming the movie, which is produced by local outfit Film Afrika, Berry braved the shark-infested waters off Cape Town's coast. She portrays a diving instructor plagued by her estranged ex-husband, played by French actor Olivier Martinez.
Film Afrika spokesman Joy Sapieka said: "This is the most physically daring shoot Berry has ever signed on for and the gripping action scenes place her in touching distance of the sharks." Scenes for the film were shot at locations around Gansbaai and Hout Bay this week.
Berry's underwater stunt double was local free-diving expert Hanli Prinsloo, while Fernandez stood in for most of the driving scenes.
This week Fernandez was filmed driving a Land Rover on Chapman's Peak pass . Tourists gawked at the 1.65m body double, thinking she was Berry.
Fernandez said the Hollywood star did not hesitate to lend her support to Journey of Hope, a local charity for cancer survivors.
"Halle supports women's health. She was genuinely interested in my journey and wanted to know how long I had been suffering from breast cancer," said Fernandez.
She recalled how it all started. "I was lying in the bath one day, doing a self test, when I felt a lump in my breast.
"I didn't think much of it as I had small breasts and always thought it was mostly women with big breasts who were prone to cancer. But after a couple of months I started feeling tired, my energy levels were dropping."
After Fernandez had been misdiagnosed three times, a biopsy confirmed the lump was malignant.
"I couldn't tell my sons for a whole week. It was hard because I didn't want to break down in front of them. So one day I sat them down and said, 'I have breast cancer'. Keano started crying first, then Salem. I told them God was in control of our lives."
After Fernandez underwent chemotherapy for six months and radiation for five weeks, another lump was discovered and removed.
"Initially, the cancer freaked me out, and losing my breasts, but then finances became the big issue. I didn't really have time to focus on the cancer in my body," she said.
Fernandez has a silicone implant on her left side and wears a prosthetic breast in her bra on the right. "I was quite self-conscious on the film set right after the operation. But luckily I got to wear a hoodie that was zipped up, so I was safe."
The plucky beauty has been supported by family and friends, and her boyfriend, Brandon Florus.
"He loves me without breasts, he loves my scars. After my breasts were removed, I thought, who would want me? How would it be to make love? I'm still a little self-conscious but he reassures me all the time."
Her uncle, retired fisherman Ronald Fernandez, said: "Elise is very strong and goes out of her way to accomplish things."