Moneypenny, aka Naomie Harris, is back in James Bond’s latest adventure Spectre in October, so how is the North Londoner dealing with the growing spotlight?
Naomie Harris sheepishly shrugs and casts her gaze downward, offering a crooked smirk. Pondering her formative adolescence in Finsbury Park, her structured poise and assured elegance crumples slightly. She smiles. ‘Quiet, a little shy and introverted,’ Naomie remarks. ‘And a bit of a minger, if I’m honest! Though I still feel like that, sometimes even now.’
Seriously, I ask the striking actress. ‘I don’t know why I always felt like a minger. I think I wasn’t the most popular of kids with guys when I was growing up. I was always very shy.’ Perhaps a little playground intimidation was the culprit? ‘That’s what a mum says. And actually, that is what my mum said,’ she playfully coos. ‘I was always very shy, so acting has helped my confidence. But I still have those moments, those days where I feel like a minger. And then I think, ‘You’re a Bond Woman, how could you be a minger!’”
Bond Woman. Cambridge scholar. Bafta nominated actor. Red carpet ‘dahling’. Despite her titles and strengths, the 38-year-old is ardently modest. It’s my third encounter with the star, who got her break in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and followed up with a thoughtful performance in an adaptation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
In the time since our first meeting, she’s dazzled at the National Theatre in a lauded run of Frankenstein alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and entertained whispers of Oscar for a powerful representation of Winnie Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom.
And then, of course, came Skyfall, the UK’s highest earning film and a smouldering, gun-toting turn as Agent Fields, soon revealed as the iconic Moneypenny, which she’ll reprise in forthcoming Bond instalment Spectre.
All this and Naomie – styled in a monochrome D&G ensemble, her sleek locks in a tight pony – remains the same. Warm and genial. Lacking preposterous designs and notions. She still lives in Finsbury Park, a couple doors down from her mum’s house. The borough suits her nature.
‘I find nobody says hello, or looks you in the eye in parts of London, which I don’t like. But Finsbury Park is different,’ she insists. ‘There’s a cordiality there and it’s down to its history as a working class area. While it’s definitely more mixed now and becoming more trendy, it’s so much friendlier than if you go to your Kensingtons, your Chelseas, your St Johns Wood. They’re a bit more, “everyone else to themselves”. Same with Central London as well. People in Finsbury, they acknowledge you and hold the door.’ Naomie grins and taps her nails on the table in front. ‘Or maybe it’s just me.’
Expectedly, little is known of the latest Bond. Shot on location in Rome, Mexico City and standard symbols of London iconography near Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, the Sam Mendes helmed blockbuster will dig further into 007’s past as he attempts to investigate darkly deeds orchestrated by the shady organisation Spectre and its boss, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
Wary of revealing too much, Naomie carefully chooses her words. ‘There’s certainly more exploration into Bond’s past. And I think we’ll learn more about his relationship with Moneypenny and just how important that bond is to him. He trusts very few, if any, people and I think he has an understanding with Moneypenny. He feels calm around her and she has the ability to listen to him, without wanting anything. It’s a fascinating connection.’
Earlier, the actress is careful to refer to herself as a Bond woman, not a Bond girl. Where is the difference? ‘Moneypenny was never considered, historically, as one of the Bond girls, she doesn’t really fit in that bracket, as it were. But she’s still very much part of his existence, plays a large role. She’s present, she’s one of the few constants in his life and that makes her different.’
Does Naomie appreciate her special role in the Bond universe? ‘It’s a huge privilege and I appreciate the fact that Moneypenny comes back, I really appreciate that aspect of it. It makes me feel more embedded in the Bond family.’
The ensuing physicality of role however, she far from relishes. ‘I’m the world’s most unfit person,’ Naomie laughs. ‘When I got the call for Spectre, I was terrified because I think, “Oh my god, more stunt training. More training…aahhhh”. Though I do love the guns, which is really weird because I’m the biggest pacifist. It’s very strange to like playing with guns but it’s a lot of fun. The kick back, the adrenalin, I loved it.’
Resulting fame from the enduring franchise seems to have left little mark on her day to day existence. She’s kindly grateful. ‘After Skyfall, people were naturally saying, “your life is REALLY going to change now”… And nothing. Still go off and on the Tubes, no one recognises me, which is great because I’ve always wanted that; to have my career and play these interesting roles and then nothing from the other side. Who really wants to be bothered when going to get your pint of milk in the morning, out in your pyjamas? No one wants that. So it’s really nice I get to keep that, best of both worlds.’
Words: Stephen Milton
Spectre is in cinemas on 26 October