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But the actress credits her mom—who raised the girls solo after Jerome left the family when Halle was 4—with instilling an inner strength.

She’s strong but very vulnerable at the same time.” Berry capitalizes on those contradictions to glide between just-for-fun roles and art-house Oscar bait. “She’s now in that exalted level of American female actors who can command anything she wants.” More often than not, what she wants is free time to spend with her husband, R&B singer Eric Benét, 36, and his 11-year-old daughter India, whom she adopted after marrying Benét in ’01.

“My mom always said, ‘Beauty is what you do.’ ” One thing she wasn’t able to do was reconcile with her father—who she says abused her mother—before his death.

(He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.) Long estranged from him, she spent years blaming her father’s abuse and absence for her own problems with men.

During the past year, Berry and Benét have had to repeatedly confront talk of trouble.

Although Benét previously has admitted to “mistakes,” Berry says the union is solid: “He has brought me a lot of joy.” Still, she acknowledges, “all marriages are challenging. This is too much work.’ But I have a partner who is willing to do the hard work.