Halle Berry

Halle Berry
Berry describes this cocoa Valentino as "really romantic."
Fitzroy Barret/Globe

04/01/2004 AT 01:50 PM EST

There are kisses and then there are kisses – rock-your-world, paperback-romance kisses that set hearts aflutter and make knees buckle under. Such was the case when surprise Best Actor winner Adrien Brody leapt onstage at this year's Oscars and embraced presenter Halle Berry for what seemed like forever. "He's a wet kisser," says Berry. "I didn't kiss back at all." Of course, "I didn't stop him either!" Later that night, Brody explained his impulsive move. "If you ever have an excuse to do something like that, that was it," he declared. "I took my shot."

Who can blame him? One year after her historic Best Actress win for her gritty portrayal of a struggling waitress in Monster's Ball, the star with the silk-pie skin and to-die-for body says she has "evolved into this woman that feels very confident in who she is." It shows. Berry, 36, a former catalog model and Miss USA first runner-up (Note to judges: Oops!), seems to get more gorgeous with every passing year. Slipping into a tight bodysuit as mutant weather girl Storm in X2: X-Men United, the new sequel to the '00 megahit, she even manages to make a white wig look sexy. ("It's bad enough I've got to wear white hair with my dark skin," she says. "But the style is more layered this time. I welcomed the softening change.")

Now is definitely prime time for Halle. "Boy, does she know how to work with what she has, and she's got a lot," says producer Joel Silver, who has worked with her on four films. Adds Pierce Brosnan, her leading man in last year's Bond offering, Die Another Day: "She's got the most gorgeous face that you just want to dive into, the most gorgeous body that you just want to embrace." And John Travolta, Berry's costar in the '01 thriller Swordfish, says, "Her talent is equal to her beauty. Halle is completely real, and you immediately want to support her survival. 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. Now in Montreal filming the horror flick Gothika with Robert Downey Jr., "she has cracked the ability to be taken seriously and not just as another pretty girl," says Lee Tamahori, who directed her in Die Another Day. "She's now in that exalted level of American female actors who can command anything she wants."

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