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June 2006
Pirates of the Caribbean: Interview with Noamie Harris

Pirates of the Caribbean: Interview with Noamie Harris
Harris speaks about her character, working with Johnny Depp, and filming in warm climate.
By Wilson Morales
July 3, 2006

Though she’s been acting professionally since the age of nine, Naomie Harris’s breakthrough performance didn’t come until years later when Danny Boyle directed her in the cult classic box-office hit, “28 Days Later”, where she fought against the living dead. Harris then went on to do a light-hearted film filmed in the Bahamas with Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek and Don Cheadle called “After the Sunset”. Staying in warm climate has done wonders for Harris as her next few films are set in Miami and The Bahamas. First up, is the sequel, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” in which the witch doctor Tia Dalma who knows Captain from the past, and later this summer she will be playing the detective Trudy in the film screen version of “Miami Vice”. Harris will appear the third film of Pirates as well. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Harris spoke about her character, working with Johnny Depp, and filming in warm climate.

Can you talk about playing Tia Dalma?

Naomie Harris: Well, it was incredibly liberating playing her because she’s a character who’s so mysterious and has so many different layers to her. What I also loved about playing her is that she is beautiful but in a very unconventional way and it was really nice not having to worry about the way I look and actually playing someone who is more earthy and real underneath all the makeup. There was something really liberating about that. I was able to explore different aspects of what it means to be beautiful other than the typical one which is based on physicality.

How would describe your character?

NH: She is a soothsayer fortune teller. She’s a mystic. She is a witch doctor. She’s a very mysterious character who’s able to see into people’s heart and mind. She’s also very touched with the elements; a very powerful character who’s able to call upon the elements to do her bidding as well. She’s someone you never quite know what her true intentions are; and more is actually revealed in Pirates 3 because Pirates 2 is more kind of an introduction to the character and then her true desires and aims are revealed in Pirates 3 where she actually goes on a journey with the rest of the characters.

What was the makeup process like?

NH: The makeup process was actually really easy. It only took twenty minutes and that was great because you normally end up spending hours in makeup. Although it looks heavy on-screen, the makeup is really light and it was sort of black and smudged lips and black tribal markings and the other elements were the false teeth, which made my teeth look busted and the red eyes and the gold wig.

Do you believe in voodoo?

NH: I do. I didn’t grow up in Jamaica but I used to go there every year. My family are Jamaican. I went to school in Jamaica for 6 months and I know that it’s very prevalent at least in voodoo and it’s power. I grew up being aware of the power of voodoo, so yes, I do believe that people have their powers but I rather not explore that all.

Do you have any real tattoos on your body?

NH: No.

How was working with Johnny?

NH: He was great. He’s so down to earth and real and such a nice gentle soul and it’s fantastic working opposite someone who is so willing to push himself to different levels of exploring his craft that it makes you challenge yourself just working opposite him.

Do you know if there was a romance between Tia and Captain Jack?

NH: Yes, but that’s kind of the backstory; that they probably were in the past.

How different was shooting this film in Bahamas after doing “After The Sunset” with Pierce Brosnan?

NH: For “After The Sunset”, I filmed on Nassau, Paradise Island and for Pirates I shot in Freeport and they are hugely different because Nassau is like a city and there’s so much going on there with activity and nightlife and Freeport is much quieter and much more intimate and much more village like and the main form of income for the island is tourism so it’s hugely dominated by the tourists and by the tourist trade; so it’s a completely different field to Nassau. I was a little disappointed because I made a lot of friends in Nassau and I thought I would be reunited with all of them but unfortunately it was on a different island, which is about an hour away.

Have you started to shoot the third Pirates film?

NH: I start shooting the third one in August.

What have you learned from working with Gore Verbinsky that’s different from other directors you have worked with in the past?

NH: It’s very specific to each role, but I’ve really admired the way that Gore gives the actors the freedom to really explore and develop and go to whatever level you want to with the character because in Pirates are genuinely larger than life and so he gives you the freedom as an actor to really come up with a character from scratch and really make it huge and then if he needs to, he’ll ask you to bring it down, but that’s really liberating working with Gore, the space he gives actors.

Can you talk about playing the role of Trudy in “Miami Vice”?

NH: Playing Trudy was a main challenge and in getting the Bronx accent. Thankfully when you are working with a director like Michael Mann, who is so winning to give actors whatever they need and it’s really great because he said “you gotta learn this Bronx accent, so let me fly you into the Bronx and you can sit in the Bronx for a couple of days and interview people”; and that’s what I did. Then I met this amazing girl, Joya, and she was fantastic. She was like, “if you really want to know what it’s like living and growing up in the Bronx, then I’ll take you around”. She would show me different areas and we would shopping and hang out and she wanted me to talk in a Bronx accent the whole time. She was really strict with me. She became like my voice coach and I flew back to Miami and I told Michael about her and he said to bring her in cause she sounds fantastic. That is what happened. She ended up being flown over and working on the movie.

Had you any of the episodes from the TV series to get a sense of what her character is like?

NH: Yes. I hadn’t really grown up watching the series, but obviously when I realized that I got the role and even before I started shooting for it, I did go and see as many episodes as I could.

How was working with Elizabeth Rodriguez as Gina?

NH: I love Elizabeth. She is great. She waslike my buddy. We really spent a lot of time together. She really helped me get through the movie because she was the other woman that I could rely on and confide in. She’s great.

And working with Colin (Farrell) and Jamie (Foxx) as Crockett and Tubbs?

NH: They’re amazing and really fantastic actors and at the top of their game, which is great because they challenge you to get better at your craft. It was great working with Jamie cause he has such a sense of humor and always tries to keep things light and funny and he has a great ability to be able to really humorous and playful off-camera and as soon as the camera comes back on, he can be incredibly intense and serious. It was a real lesson as to how to approach acting; that it’s possible to combine work and play at the same time even when you are doing something serious.

Do you think you had more to do on-screen than Olivia Williams did in any episode from the TV series?

NH: I don’t so because I think what happens on the episodes as far as I can see was that with each episode a different character will be focused on each week and it will be explored, so you got to see much more of their history. Whereas in the movie is kind of like one episode, one story which is explored as a whole movie, but it’s really focusing on the guys’ story.

So far, you’ve done 2 Pirates, 1 Sunset, and 1 Miami. At this point, you must hate love being in warm climate?

NH: I’ve actually turned off all the A/C in the room because I love it hot. That’s my only problem in living in England; that it’s cold for so much of the year.

Although you’ve been working for quite a long time, American audiences didn’t hear of you until “28 Days Later” came out and since then, you’ve gotten some fabulous roles. Did you think your career would blossom in this way and so quickly?

NH: To be honest, “28 Days” just opened so many doors and it was loved by so many people and particularily it was the kind of film that film directors respected, so it managed to open so many doors when I got to Los Angeles because so many directors would say, “Oh my gosh, I saw that movie. I really liked that movie and I want to see you for X movie. That is how I manage to get my foot in the door. I will always be indepbted to Danny Boyle for that.

Was there any particular scene in Pirates 2 that you enjoyed doing?

NH: All of them really. I just loved playing Tia Dalma. She’s such a playful, sensual, powerful character that I found her real fun to play and also playing a character that’s larger than life. I’ve never done that before and that has a bit sense of humor as well.

What other roles would you like to do?

NH: Well, I wrote a dissertation when I was at university on black people in 18th century Britain, so I really would like to do a period drama which explores that part of history because that part hasn’t really been dealt with and there are a lot of prominent black figures in British society during that period. I would like to bring that to the big screen.

Why should we go see “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”?

NH: You should go and see it because it’s even better than the first.





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