Magazine article Screen International

Naomie Harris: "I Had Reservations about Playing a Crack Addict"

Magazine article Screen International

Naomie Harris: "I Had Reservations about Playing a Crack Addict"

Article excerpt

While on the press tour for Spectre in 2015, Naomie Harris would forget all about portraying James Bond's calm associate Moneypenny, walk into her hotel room and just scream.

"People must have though I was crazy as I was trying to find Paula, jumping around the room and shouting," says the UK actress, whose performance in Barry Jenkins' celebrated Moonlight as the aforementioned crack-addict mother in 1980s Miami - released in the US in October by A24 - has thrust her into the awards conversation.

Harris signed on to the project in September 2015, after producer Jeremy Kleiner of Plan B Entertainment, which produced alongside A24, sent her the script. It was a key role, she was on a 12-week world tour promoting a 007 film and Jenkins was due to start shooting in October. A quick decision was needed.

"I had real reservations about playing a crack addict because I've always fought against playing any kind of stereotypical roles," Harris says. "I'm very careful about the reputation of women, and as a black woman in particular I want to represent progressive roles for women and black people in general. Then I spoke to Barry and he said, 'I don't want you to play a stereotype. What I'm asking you to play is basically my mum.' Because this is his story and the story of the writer Tarell [McCraney], and what happened to their mothers - it's a very similar journey - deeply connected with me."

The clock, however, was ticking. Whenever she could, Harris would retreat to whichever hotel she was staying in and get to work on Paula, the mother of the film's troubled young protagonist Chiron, whose development is charted in three parts. She held frequent late-night Skype sessions with Tim Monich, the renowned accent coach about whom she cannot say enough good things, and spent hours watching YouTube documentaries about crack addiction in the 1980s.

She also managed, of sorts, to interview an addict. "I would sit in the hotel room imagining I was being interviewed by someone. So I imagined the person was asking me, 'What was your dad like? What was your mum like? Where did you grow up?' and all these questions. Then I created a whole narrative around that and that helped me define the character's voice. …

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