When Naomie Harris was first asked to audition for a role in the James Bond franchise, she “went along for a laugh”.
Spotted by Sam Mendes while sharing the stage with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein, she was approached by the Bond director to try out for Skyfall.
“I never thought I’d get it,” Harris tells the new edition of Radio Times. “Bond girls have always been in their 20s, so I thought I was too old and I didn’t think I had the right… assets!”
At that point Harris, now 39, didn’t know she was auditioning to play Miss Moneypenny – M’s loyal secretary previously portrayed by Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss and most recently Samantha Bond. When she was told on the third audition, she was sworn to secrecy, not even confiding in her agent. “I told my mother, but no one else!”
She won the part, first appearing in 2012’s Skyfall aiming a large rifle at two men, one of them Daniel Craig’s James Bond, atop a speeding train. But in Spectre the action sequences are gone, replaced by a desk job at MI5 where Harris says Moneypenny becomes 007’s friend and confidant.
“She’s the only person Bond can trust. In Spectre, Bond is on a mission but we don’t know who’s sanctioned it. He may have gone rogue. Everyone thinks he has lost his mind because of M dying. Moneypenny is the only one he can confide in about the true nature of his mission and she helps him.”
Harris – who has also appeared in TV adaptations of White Teeth and Small Island, as well as Pirates of the Caribbean – credits the Bond films with putting her in a different league when it comes to the roles available to her.
“It’s changed my career. I just finished filming another spy film Our Kind of Traitor [a John le Carré adaptation] opposite Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis. I wouldn’t have got that role if I hadn’t done Bond. Financiers look at you differently because you appeal to a much wider demographic. It’s all about numbers.”
Does she agree that there are more interesting roles for black actors in the United States than there are in Britain, based on the success of the likes of Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Oyelowo?
“If you want a film career, you have to go to the US but I think that’s the case whatever ethnicity you are. Look at Tom Hardy and Emily Blunt. But if you want a career in TV or on the stage, you can definitely have that in this country. There is so much more colour-blind casting in the theatre these days.”
Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times, available in shops and on the newsstand from Tuesday 20th October