TSL Q&A: Naomie Harris

The real challenge in writing, talking – hell, even whispering – anything about Skyfall is not to give a thing away.

And trust – real deal Bond fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Neither would Naomie Harris, the beautiful, brilliant and butt-kicking British Bond girl who holds her own next to Daniel Craig. Harris, 36, is only the third black Bond girl – though considering that she does most of her own stunts, we should call her a Bond Woman.

The Shadow League spoke with Harris about the 50th anniversary of Bond films, Skyfall and what she did for therapy after shooting this bad boy.

The Shadow League: It’s hard to talk about this film and keep everything under wraps … but it really pays homage to every Bond movie ever made.

Naomi Harris: People are saying this is the best Bond film. Ever. I am certain that they are going to absolutely love it and I think it’s going to create a lot more Bond fans. From the script what they really tried to do was bring back all the classic, old elements of Bond. So you’ve got the gadgets back, you’ve got the wry sense of humor back, you’ve got the Aston Martin back. But they’ve also really modernized it, as well, and made it relevant today. I think that is the secret to the success of Bond: constantly re-inventing itself and managing to stay relevant at the same time.

Talk to me about being British and getting the phone call that you would be cast in what is one of the most iconic film series of all time.

It was one of those "pinch yourself" moments; I never ever saw myself being in a Bond movie. I grew up watching these movies and loving them; but I just never thought it was a possibility for me. So it was amazing when I got the call — I was over the moon. I’m still coming to terms with it, and still think it’s unbelievable, really.

There hasn’t been a parade, necessarily, about it, but it is still significant to note that you are a black woman and you’re a Bond woman. We haven’t seen one since Halle Berry and before her, Grace Jones …

Yeah, I think I’m really pleased that there hasn’t been a big thing made of the fact that I’m black and a Bond woman in this movie because I feel like it’s a sign of the times. Why not have a black Bond woman? What does it matter, and why did it have to be a big issue? But there is an extra sense of pride for me because obviously I’m part of an even smaller group of women, which is Grace Jones, Halle Berry and myself having played Bond women, and it does give me a sense of huge pride and also I’m really proud to be representing black women on screen. I hope that, in my character depiction, I’ve given women – not just black women, but women in general – a woman that they can look up to, admire and hopefully want to be.

Are you a very athletic person? What did you do to get into shape for this role?

I’m actually not athletic at all! I actually hate exercising, so I had to do a lot of get ready for this role. I was with a personal trainer five days a week, two hours a day and she really kicked my butt and got me into gear. And then three days a week I was on the gun range and learning to fire PPKs. I was also doing stunt driving and then I was also doing combat training with the stunt people, so it was, like, lots of work that went into this. At the end, I thought it was all a bit too much and I wasn’t gonna be able to cope with it because I haven’t done anything this physical before! But about three weeks into it, I started to love it and really enjoy it.

Does that mean that you did most of your own stunt work in the film?

I did as much as they would let me! There’s lots of stuff that the insurance companies of course wouldn’t allow me to do. But [director] Sam [Mendes] really wanted me to do as much as possible, because he said that’s the way you make it look real.

I’ve seen those stunts – and you were incredible. You really put your life out there on the line …

Yes! It was massively scary. It’s very different from regular acting. And that was one of the things I learned from this whole experience, because with regular acting you can mess up and make a mistake and no one really minds. They just go, ‘OK, we’ll go again.’ But if you mess up with stunts, it’s like half an hour to reset the train or, like, scenery that’s fallen down…it’s, like, two hours to reset. You have to be a lot more precise, so it’s a lot more pressured way of working.

We’ve seen you in projects before, but this film is your coming out. Does it feel that way to you too?

Yeah, definitely, definitely. Because in Pirates of the Caribbean, I was very much hidden behind make-up and hair and so I wasn’t recognizable, whereas this is much more recognizably kind of me. It’s already made a huge difference with a lot more interest in my career, a lot more offers. Yeah, I definitely feel like it’s taken my career to a whole new level.

After you do a Bond film, what feels natural for you to do next?

Two days after finishing filming Bond, I went off to South Africa and I played Willie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, so that for me is a perfect compliment because I come from a very indie background. That’s what I like to do – kind of mix up doing big blockbusters with little indie films. So I think it’s a perfect compliment for Bond, because people who don’t know my work will hopefully recognize my versatility that I have as an actress.

I’m guessing that was therapeutic after doing something like a James Bond film too, right?

Yeah, it was very, very different. It was a completely different way of working, completely different role and I think the biggest challenge of my life, in terms of performing.

How do you measure success? What happens in your career that makes you say, ‘that’s a check off my list …’?

For me, it’s being in a position where you can make choices, you know? So, like, doing Bond means there are more offers. You’re in a position … you’re empowered much more and that’s ultimately what you want as a performer. It can feel like a very disempowering profession because if you’re not working, you’re kind of just sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring and there’s nothing you can really do to make things happen. So I think every performer is looking and striving to gain more power in this profession and that’s what I really say is being successful…as well as being really good at your craft and respected for what you do; doing a good job, basically.

What’s next for you?

Next is a break! I did Bond then I had two days off and then I went to play Winnie Mandela, which finished about a month ago, and now I’m on a worldwide tour with Bond. It’s just been a full-on year and I just want to go and sit somewhere on a beach for a couple of weeks and just chill out before making any decisions about what comes next.

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