Halle Berry‘s timeless beauty has helped made her one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood, but her appearance—and the heritage it came from—didn’t always make things easy for the Kidnap star.
Sitting down for The Jess Cagle Interview with PEOPLE’s editor-in-chief to talk about her latest film, Kidnap, an action-packed thriller about a mother’s mission to save a child snatched before her eyes, the Oscar winner, 50, opened up about what it was like growing up biracial in an all-white school.
Although she and her sister spent their earliest years in Cleveland’s inner city, her mother moved them out to the suburbs after observing the conditions in the schools. “She was so horrified by what she saw at the school, the violence, and all of a sudden it hit her … So, she moved us out of that neighborhood … and while we got taken out of imminent danger, we also got taken out of what was normal for us, and now all of a sudden, we were in an all-white school with all-white kids, like 3 out of 2500 students,” Berry explains.
The X-Men actress says she was bullied “because of the color of my skin.”
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“Because my mother was white and my father was black… we got called Oreos and names, and kids just didn’t understand, so we were different. We were the brunt of a lot of jokes. So, I think my need to please and my desire to achieve was because I was constantly trying to prove that I was as good as the other white students. I felt very ‘less than,’ and I thought, ‘If I can beat them at everything, then I can be as good as them.’”
Watch the full episode of The Jess Cagle Interview with Halle Berry on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network starting Aug. 9! Download the PEN app on your favorite device or go to PEOPLE.com/PEN.
And succeed she did. The young Berry ended up an honor student, cheerleader, in addition to being “editor of the newspaper, class president, the mascot” before becoming the star she is today.
Kidnap is in theaters now.