Fresh off starring in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment, Naomie Harris is set to release her new film about childhood education in Kenya, called The First Grader. She speaks to Nick McGrath.
My mum believes in me almost more than I believe in myself. In moments of doubt I’ll say, “I think I’m going to go and study architecture,” and she’ll just laugh and say, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.”
Everybody struggles with being an oddball. It’s tough trying to fit in when you’re a kid; then you become an adult and you think, “I’m just going to be myself and either they accept it or they don’t.” But you know what? I like me, and that’s the most important thing.
I don’t know why I was bullied at school. My refuge was the Anna Scher theatre school in North London. It was a safe oasis in which you could vent and just be yourself, and that was so amazing. Everyone there was a bit of an oddball, and Anna provided this really unique non-judgemental environment in which we all thrived.
I’m glad I stuck at university. I wanted to act from a young age and I had no intention of following a different career path, but I knew I’d reap the benefits of higher education.
Socially I stuck out like a sore thumb at Cambridge and I came home most weekends as I found it hard to adjust, but I loved the challenge of my degree and graduated from Pembroke College in 1998.
As an actor you need to analyse your character’s formation, and my course in Social and Political Science examined society’s effects on the individual. Every day I still put into practice things I learnt there.
The First Grader
“Learning never ends until you’ve got soil in your ears,” was one of my favourite lines from The First Grader. I want to keep learning to be a generous person and to accept that we’re all in it together — that’s not always easy in a profession that’s so centred on you, with so many people catering to your needs.
Kenyan children aren’t like British children. They’ve got an immense respect for the power of education. In The First Grader I had to teach a class of 80 pupils aged from five to 21 and they simply didn’t misbehave. When you ask them to be quiet they are instantly silent.
Filming with kids in Africa taught me to appreciate today. Children walk for miles in old trainers full of holes to get to school and their only meal is lunch, but they play happily for hours with a stone in a playground. They appreciate the present, whereas so much of what we do in the West is focused on the future: tomorrow, when I get the new car; tomorrow, when I get the new job. I’m more grateful now for what I have — living for today is where true joy comes from.
Actors need steely determination. It’s a tough profession with plenty of knocks along the way. You have to be very determined and never take no for an answer.
The acting life is a nomadic one. You’re always going off for three or four months, and then you have to come back and pick up your relationships. Thankfully, my friends and family are very understanding. It’s the nature of the game, though every job has its up and downs.
It’s not OK to start your career thousands of pounds in debt. University was free when I went — my mum wouldn’t have been able to afford to send me. It worries me that young people are being saddled with £27,000 of debt before they’ve even done their first day’s study. As a society we should be encouraging people out of the debt-culture mindset, not promoting it.
Bond girl audition
Yes, I’ve auditioned for the next Bond movie. Obviously it would be fantastic to be involved and the films have moved with the times so I don’t think I’d be playing some vacuous femme fatale. Eva Green changed all that with her performance in Casino Royale. She was a strong, independent female and that’s the kind of character I’d love to play.
I want to live in the country. Maybe with a husband and kids if I’m lucky — who knows? Life will lead where it leads. If personal relationships develop, then great; if they don’t, then I just hope to be at peace with myself.