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“We didn’t have a lot, so initially I saw dollar signs,” she says. In ’91 she scored her first film role in Spike Lee’s , despite rejection along the way.

“But then I felt really empowered after winning.” After competing for Miss USA in ’86, she eventually moved to L. “You hear, ‘No, you’re black, and we don’t want to go black,’ ” she says. You know you’re going to be black until the day you die.” The “too pretty thing,” as she calls it, “got to be old too. ’ ” One of those trials landed Berry in the news in ’00, when she pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges after leaving the scene of a car accident. One boyfriend hit her so hard she lost 80 percent of her hearing in one ear, and she went through a bitter ’97 divorce from former baseball pro David Justice after three years of marriage.

“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, , says, “Her talent is equal to her beauty.

(India’s biological mother, Tami Stauff, died in a ’93 car accident.) “India has been a great addition to my life, because I no longer just focus on me,” Berry says.

I got that wrong, but next time I’ll get it right.’ ” She says she tries to avoid too much self-criticism. I’ve come to terms with that.” Motherhood, though, has added a new dimension to her sense of self.“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.” Later that night, Brody explained his impulsive move.“If you ever have an excuse to do something like that, that was it,” he declared. One year after her historic Best Actress win for her gritty portrayal of a struggling waitress in , 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.