‘Skyfall’ Interview: Naomie Harris on Creating a Modern Bond Girl

Forget just playing a Bond girl on the big screen. After extensive training in shooting, combat fighting and stunt driving, all Naomie Harris has to do, apparently, is go online and fill out an MI6 agent application.

In Skyfall, Harris stars as Eve, the MI6 agent who’s involved in the mid-mission slip-up that lets an enemy make off with a hard drive containing the identities of embedded agents. With James Bond (Daniel Craig) in sub-par form, Eve steps up to assist him in any way she can – whether it’s backing him up with a gun in hand or ensuring he’s clean-shaven for his next mission.

Even though she broke into the spotlight playing the no-nonsense Selena in 28 Days Later, action isn’t really Harris’ thing. However, thanks to extensive training and guidance from director Sam Mendes and Bond franchise producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, she hit the set of “Skyfall” feeling prepared, relaxed and part of the Bond family.

Check out what Harris had to say about her meeting with a former MI6 agent, making Eve a standout Bond girl, giving 007 a quick-shave and more:

Screen Rant: Do you remember your first experience with James Bond films?

Naomie Harris: “I don’t really remember the first time because being British, I grew up with the them. As a kid, I remember them always being on TV, but I think the first time I actually went to see a Bond movie was with Pierce [Brosnan]. But the first movie that really resonated with me and I was like, ‘wow,’ was Casino Royale for me, because it was the first time I saw a vulnerable Bond and I could really empathize with that. I was like, ‘Wow, he could actually really get hurt,’ and, ‘He could actually really fall in love.’ Before then they’d kind of been like cartoon characters where nothing could really hurt them. It was great, but there was nothing really at stake and suddenly with Daniel’s character I felt like there was something at stake.”

 

And how about applying that to a Bond girl? Typically we just get the standard traits – sexy, glamorous, sophisticated, eye candy – but inSkyfall there are many levels involved. Is there any one past Bond girl you think opened the doors to making these women fully-realized characters?

“I think it wasn’t so much looking in the past and seeing other Bond girls; it was more Sam, Barbara and Michael and what they said to me at the audition. They were like, ‘We want you to take this character in a modern direction. That’s why we’re casting you and we’re giving you the scope to do that,’ which was really liberating.”

What about when you first got the script? How do you take a role like that from script to screen and make it your own?

“It’s a lot of imagining basically. A lot of creating a backstory for the character and imagining what life would be like if you were an MI6 agent. But what really helped me was Sam had me with a former MI6 agent and I got to interview him about his life, which was so cool. And he said at the end of the interview, ‘You know, you would make a brilliant agent.’ And he said, ‘You are exactly the kind of person that we would recruit.’ And I was like, ‘Me? Really?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, because no one would suspect that you’re an agent and also you have an ability, which makes people talk much more than they should,’ and I was like, ‘Wow! That’s really cool!’ And so for me that sparked something in my mind because I was like, I could have left university and instead of going to drama school, I could have joined up with MI6 and what would have happened? So Eve is a creation of that kind of thought process.”

NaomieHarris2And now you’ve got all the physical and gun training, so you really can join up if you want!

“I really can! I can ring them up. You can apply online now I discovered!”

Did you leave that meeting walking down the street feeling like, I can do anything now?

“Yeah, I really did actually. [Laughs]”

And how about all that training? I know when I drive, I’ve gotta focus on the road, but you’ve got the road, choreography …

“… the train! Yeah, it was a lot of preparation. I was like two months preparing for the role. I was like five days a week, two hours a day working with a trainer, and she was taking me to do yoga and running, circuit training. And then I was three days a week on the gun range, learning to fire Walther PPKs and machine guns. I was doing stunt driving once a week – and then once a week I was with the stunt guy doing combat training as well. So for two months, it was an intense schedule.”

It’s like secret agent school!

“Yeah! It probably is!”

How about working with Sam? It’s one thing to get all of that training, but did Sam have you do anything on set to help bring it all out within the character?

“The thing about Sam is his philosophy, which I think is like most directors: you cast well and then you allow your actors the freedom to have fun with the role and to make it their own. And so that’s really a liberating feeling working with him. In the beginning, the first thing he did before rehearsals was sit us down with John Logan, one of the writers, and he was like, ‘If there’s anything you want to change script-wise or anything you want to add or extra journey for the character, just go for it. We’ll do it.’ You really felt that kind of freedom and then he also, on set, creates this really intimate environment and he makes sure that there aren’t too many people on set. You just feel really relaxed and calm, and it’s a really collaborative experience, which is such a nice feeling

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Did you throw any ideas out when he asked if you wanted to change anything?

“Not at all. I can’t really think of anything because, for me, I’m not a writer, you know? I’m an actress, so I see the script as my bible and I like to work within the confines of that and create off that. But I’m not gonna to tell a writer, ‘Yeah, she should do this.’ That’s not where my mind is at.”

And how about Barbara and Michael? As longtime Bond producers, did they have any advice for you?

“That’s interesting actually. They never really gave me much in the way of advice, but they were incredibly warm and generous. They are amazing in terms of Barbara giving me her number and just saying, ‘Call me anytime, night or day,’ and anytime you text and say, ‘I’m thinking about this and I’m worried about …,’ you get a message straight away, and this woman is doing stuff on Broadway and then doing stuff in the West End in London, and filming this. She has such a busy schedule and she still finds time to do things like this. It’s quite extraordinary, so she’s amazing. And Michael is exactly the same! They’re really warm, and take you out to dinner loads, and make you feel really part of the family.”

How about working with Daniel? At the press conference you mentioned never having worked with him before that first scene you shot, right?

“Well, no. We did meet up with the writer together, but when you’re rehearsing, you don’t do it properly, so it’s kind of that first moment when the cameras start rolling, that’s when you know when you’ve got the chemistry or not, and whether it’s gonna work. And I’m just so lucky that it did because as I said, we didn’t have a screen test together, so they just took a risk.”

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And, of course, that chemistry really comes in handy during your more intimate moments. You don’t have those typical, quick, Bond-gets-the-girl sex scenes, but that shaving scene is pretty sensual! How was it shooting that?

“It was great because so much of the movie was this action stuff, which is outside of my comfort zone. It’s not what I’m used to, so it was nice to get back to something that I’m actually really comfortable [with]. It was great to do a scene where it was just me and Daniel, and it was really intimate, and it was just about character and being playful. I really enjoyed it.”

Are you really shaving him? I feel like that might be an insurance risk holding a blade to an actor’s face. [Laugh]

“[Laughs] Yeah, it would be too much of an insurance risk, unfortunately. I learned how to do it! I worked with a barber, I did my foam on the balloon and I didn’t pop any of my balloons, so I could do it!”

[Laughs] You do all of this combat, gun and stunt driving training, and then you’ve got to learn to shave a balloon.

“Yeah! I learn it all! I’ve got some great skills now for life.”

So how does it feel being part of this franchise during the 50th anniversary and when we know we’re heading towards film 25? Do you feel the pressure?

“No, not really at all because people are just loving this movie. They really are absolutely loving it. People are saying it’s the best Bond ever! And so because of that, no, I don’t feel the pressure. I just feel so incredibly proud to be part of it and I’m really so happy that it’s done so well as well, because I know how much passion, commitment and love has gone into it, and from people that I care a lot about like Sam, like Barbra, like Michael as well as the actors. I’m just really happy that it’s doing so well and I don’t feel the pressure at all now. The pressure was before.”

And how about your future with the franchise? Looking ahead towards anything?

“I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see!”

Toronto: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris Honored With THR’s Inaugural Breakthrough in Film Awards

Idris Elba, Naomie HarrisThe pair are earning buzz for their roles in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” in which Elba portrays the South African leader and Harris his wife Winnie.

TORONTO — With the setting sun blazing against the Toronto skyline, The Hollywood Reporter launched its inaugural Breakthrough in Film Awards, presented by Bulgari, atop the Thompson Hotel by honoring actors Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

The pair star in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – Elba portrays the South African leader; Harris his wife Winnie — and, in the words of THR executive editor Matthew Belloni, definitely “made a breakthrough impression” with their much-talked-about performances.

PHOTOS: THR Honors ‘Mandela’ Stars Idris Elba, Naomie Harris at Swanky Toronto Fete

Stephane Gerschel, Naomie Harris Stephane Gerschel, Matthew Belloni, Naomie Harris, Idris Elba, Elisabetta Marra Naomie Harris, Idris Elba Naomie Harris Naomie Harris Stephane Gerschel, Naomie Harris

Belloni said THR created the Breakthrough in Film award to celebrate talent making a strong impression at the festival. “Toronto is a place to discover films and great performances, so it makes sense to give the award here,” he added.

For his part, Elba said it was an honor to be representing Mandelaat the festival.

“I love TIFF, and I’m so proud to unveil Mandela here,” Elba said during THR‘s inaugural event, sponsored by Bulgari, City National Bank and Ontario Media Development Corp.

For Harris, the THR celebration brought her full circle as she said it was three years ago during the Toronto Film Festival that she got the role. Earlier in the day, she said, she received a standing ovation for her work in the movie.

“So it means so much to be here,” said the actress, who only two days earlier celebrated a birthday. Coincidentally, Elba also celebrated his birthday the same day.

About 200 guests dined on lamb sliders and mango-encrusted chicken bites and vegetarian empanadas. Oscar contenders were a popular topic among those in attendance, and among those doing the talking, while sipping cocktails were Dallas Buyers Club exec producer Cassian Elwes, Sony Pictures Classics’Tom Bernard, Nu Image/Millennium Films’ Avi Lerner and Mark Gill, Mad Men creatorMatthew Weiner, Entertainment One’s Darren Throop, actor Tom Felton and Mandalay Pictures’ Matthew Rhodes and Robin Bronk of the Creative Coalition.

Among those films receiving Oscar buzz during the fest is Fox Searchlight’s 12 Years a Slave. DuringTHR‘s inaugural event, Searchlight president Nancy Utley said the film’s reception has been gratifying.

“The awards conversation is nice, and it’s especially critical for a challenging movie like this,” she said. “I sincerely hope we can get to that point in the season.”