Watching Naomie Harris sip herbal tea in the restaurant of Midtown Manhattan’s 1 Hotel, a spot she chose for its eco-friendliness, it is hard to imagine her portraying the gritty reality of a crack addict onscreen in Barry Jenkins’s coming-of-age drama Moonlight. Her skin is glowing, her posture is perfect, and her Burberry coat is neatly folded beside her. “I don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or even drink coffee, so I had to do a hell of a lot of research to get this character right,” says the 40-year-old actress, who made headlines for being the first black woman to play iconic Bond character Eve Moneypenny in Skyfall.
Critics say Harris’s sensitive portrayal of the character could earn her a best supporting actress nod. “I wanted to show that there’s a loving heart underneath her addiction,” she says. “I hope I’ve presented her in such a way that she won’t be dismissed because of her problems.”
If Harris seems particularly empathetic, it may have something to do with the time she spent with Will Smith, her co-star in this month’s drama Collateral Beauty. “His energy is so contagious. Because we were shooting this movie on the streets of New York, crowds of 80 to 100 bystanders would form out of nowhere,” she explains. “Will shook their hands, played with their kids, and posed for selfies. He told me, ‘You have to be kind because you never know what somebody else is going through in their day.’’’
When it comes to style, the actress is equally mindful about the choices she makes. “Beauty comes from being comfortable, yet we end up crippling ourselves in high heels,” says Harris, who recently recruited her best friend, former jewelry designer Nola Singer, to be her stylist. “She often chooses looks based on the locale we’re in. In Paris, she’ll find something from a cool new French label. In London, where I’m from, I like to wear Burberry because I want to support Christopher Bailey.” Another Brit she adores? Her Collateral Beauty co-star Helen Mirren. “It’s rare to see women her age owning their sexuality,” she laughs. “She even has a hidden tattoo.”