Interview By: Stephen Snart
In the summer of 2002, London native Naomie Harris made a lasting impression on American audiences with her supporting role as the tough-as-nails Selena in the surprise zombie-hit 28 Days Later. It’s four years later and once again Harris is making her mark on the summer movie season. With roles in two of July’s hottest releases (Miami Vice and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Harris is sure to be noticed by an enormous amount of moviegoers this summer.
In the Pirates sequel, she plays Tia Dalma, a mysterious witch doctor who possesses a secret about Jack Sparrow’s past. In this second part of the swashbuckling trilogy, her role is somewhat limited but she dominates the precious minutes of screen time that she has. More importantly, the film sets the stage for her to play a substantial role in the concluding chapter of the series. “Pirates 2 is an introduction to my character. She’s fully developed in Pirates 3 and she goes on a journey with all the characters. So I got to go to Dominica and the Bahamas,” she adds with excitement.
In addition to the amazing on-location shooting that she got to take part in, Harris also had an elaborate set designed specifically for her character. “It was all filmed in L.A. on the Disney Lot.” While Harris loved the experience of being in exotic locales, she never found anything to grumble about being on the studio lot as well. “I loved the set. I thought they did an absolutely fantastic job. It really added to a sense of my character and where she was coming from being able to be in an amazing set like that. You can’t even really see the extent of how beautiful it is when it’s on screen.”
Fans of her work in well-received British fare like 28 Days Later or Tristram Shandy: A Cock
However, Harris concedes that the Bronx accent she had to learn for Miami Vice was a different story. She had to struggle endlessly the perfect the nuances of the regionalized dialect. The accent isn’t the only thing separating her characters in the two July films. “[They're] miles apart. In Pirates, it’s a much larger than life character whereas in Miami Vice it’s very real and gritty. And also, in Miami Vice, she’s a conventionally attractive kind of character whereas in Pirates it’s much more about her being unconventionally attractive. Which I actually prefer. There’s something liberating about not having to worry about make-up and how you look.”
One thing the two projects do have in common is the incredible star wattage of her co-stars. However, Harris did not find working with people of their fame and stature any different from actors of lower celebrity status. “I’ve never worked with anyone with a huge ego. I have to say that, I think, this industry doesn’t really allow people to haveâ€¦ I mean it encourages them in terms of the way people are pamperedâ€¦ but ultimately, on set, you can’t have a big ego because you’ve got to be
That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t still star-struck from time to time. “You feel more pressure initially because it is intimidating when you hear that you’re going to be working with Johnny Depp or Colin Farrell or Jamie Foxx. These are huge stars that I grew up admiring so knowing that I’m going to have to meet them on set is hugely intimidating. But ultimately when you get down to working with someone in the room, it’s exactly the same as doing a low-budget movie or doing a theater job because it’s all about the interaction of two actors. All that star stuff has to be left outside of the room because otherwise I couldn’t do my job.” Hopefully Harris will continue to have such pleasant experiences with the countless high-profile celebrities she will be working with in the future.