“To do your best work with anyone, I think you need to feel safe and comfortable.” – Naomie Harris
Every year there seems to be at least one independent movie that was on virtually no one’s radar that suddenly becomes a sensation. This year that movie is Moonlight, a drama about an African American man at three stages in his life (child, teenager, and young adult) who struggles with his upbringing, sexuality, and his mother’s mistreatment and her struggles with addiction. The mother, Paula, is played by Naomie Harris, who is best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean and the James Bond series. Though she’s obviously better known for blockbusters, Harris agreed to playing the role with the only free time she had available in her schedule. She spoke to Vulture about the positives and negatives of working under such conditions.
Harris wanted to do the role so badly that she agreed to do all of her scenes in three days during the middle of the press tour for Spectre. Though she has acted in movies that cost millions of dollars to make and were seen by hundreds of millions of people, Harris confesses that the challenge left her more restless than usual, saying of the night before her three-day shoot started, “You always have butterflies, and I did not sleep well that night,” later adding, “It was particularly tough for me on my first day. The first scene that we shot was from the second stage, so Paula is in her worst throes of addiction at that time — she’s really far gone, so it’s really out there. I had to go to set, say ‘Hi’ to everyone and meet them for the first time, and then go to this really dark place. That was very intimidating.”
After her marathon first day on set, Harris says that while she felt spent she also felt proud, saying, “I was definitely exhausted, but it was a privilege to be part of this amazing project. As much as I had resistance about playing Paula initially, once I discovered her and got underneath her skin, it was a joy to play her. I felt so comfortable because I’d done so much research beforehand. I watched interviews with crack addicts, and I had the privilege of sitting down with a lady who was in the throes of her addiction, and she shared her experience with me. All of that really allowed me to get to set and hit the ground running.”
Though Harris plays a neglectful mother, she doesn’t believe in going full method and treating her co-stars harshly. She notes that being comfortable is what leads to great performances, noting, “To do your best work with anyone, I think you need to feel safe and comfortable. In between scenes, I wasn’t distancing myself from them — I was sitting and talking with them and, in the little bit of time I had with them, trying to build that rapport.”