As a critically acclaimed actress in film, television, and theatre, Naomie Harris is making more of a name for herself with each of her successive, luminous performances. Last year, she starred as Bond girl ‘Eve’ opposite Daniel Craig in the 007 feature Skyfall.
She also appeared in Danny Boyle's production of Frankenstein at The National Theater in London alongside Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. In the The First Grader, she played 'Jane,' a first-grade teacher in Kenya who fought for the right of an 84 year-old man to be educated.
The London-born actress enjoyed her first major breakthrough performance in 2002 in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, and she went on to receive further critical acclaim for her role as Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
Here, she talks about her latest outing as ‘Winnie Mandela’ opposite Idris Elba in Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom.
Kam Williams: Hi Naomie, I’m honored to have another opportunity to speak with you.
Naomie Harris: Oh, no, my pleasure, Kam.
KW: What did you know about Winnie Mandela when you accepted the role?
NH: I actually had no idea who Winnie Mandela was. Obviously, I knew she was Nelson Mandela’s wife, but I thought the role was basically going to revolve around her supporting him. I had no idea that she was a political activist in her own right, and that she was integral to the anti-Apartheid movement.
KW: What is your vision of her?
NH: I found her to be the most complex character I’ve ever played. She’s almost seven different characters in one. She’s done some controversial things that are very difficult to justify. She’s also a woman of immense compassion. And she’s a person of the people. In South Africa, she’s known as Mother Africa, and is loved and admired by many for having helped hundreds of thousands of people. So, she’s complex, and very hard to define in a brief space of time.
KW: Did you spend any time with Winnie’s daughters Zenani and Zindzi Mandela in preparation for the film?
NH: Yes, I had an opportunity to go out to dinner with both Zenani and Zindzi.
KW: Did you actually shoot on location in the prisons in Jo'burg, Robben Island and Pretoria?
NH: No. However, we did shoot in South Africa, in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and in the actual courthouse where the trial took place. So, there are some historical moments which were filmed on location in the same places where they originally happened.
KW: What do you want audiences to remember most about the movie?
NH: In terms of Winnie, it’s not my place to judge her and some of the actions that she’s taken. What I wanted to do was show with as much compassion as possible a comprehensive and detailed portrayal of how she started out in life, why she made the choices she made, and who she ultimately became. I hope to bring some understanding to the woman.
KW: Did you have any reservations about playing Winnie? Many actresses might have declined the role given her tarnished image.
NH: No, it’s not like I always want to play saints. The sinners are actually much more interesting to play, because they’re more complex. And as an actor, that’s what you’re always looking for, complexity and layers.
KW: Was it a blessing or a bane to be cast as a Bond girl?
NH: Definitely a blessing. Definitely! I’m very proud of my role as Eve, and really enjoyed the experience. And it’s been a great boost for my career. So, 100 percent a blessing.
To see a trailer for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tyo-XeVcan4