From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
The name is almost too sweet, too perfect for an actress. But it's real, and it's rolling off Tinseltown tongues after three eye-catching roles in a row. Berry, 23, was a crackhead in Jungle Fever, a stripper in The Last Boy Scout and a low-cut dress in Strictly Business. Her payoff: a choice part in Eddie Murphy's Boomerang, out in July, and the lead in Alex Haley's Queen, CBS's now-filming Roots sequel. Says Boomerang producer Warrington Hudlin: "Halle radiates—she appears to be lit from inside."

"My mom was big on self-image," says Berry, raised in Cleveland by her mother after Dad left when Halle was 4. "I wasn't looked to as a beauty—Vicky Kunkle was the class bombshell." But Berry became a "pageant person" (titles include Miss USA runner-up). "Pageants exploitative? Baloney. I learned to be a good winner—and a good loser. Which helps my acting; every day I face rejection." Not lately. Yet Berry knows "you can lose a part if your butt's too big or your hair's too curly. But you become miserable if all you do is worry about your looks. I'm a little hippy now, and that's fine with me."