(The Root) — Being cast in a James Bond flick as a Bond girl in the franchise's 50th year might be the ultimate thrill for some women. That holds true for Naomie Harris, but for her, the coolest thing about starring in Skyfall opposite Daniel Craig's 007 was handling the hardware.
Dressed in a formfitting black dress with 6-inch heels, Harris, 36, confessed that firing guns has been added to her "favorites" list. "I had never really worked with guns before or fired one on the set," Harris, who plays MI6 field agent Eve Moneypenny, told The Root. "I've discovered I have a little taste for guns. I was always such a pacifist, but I really enjoyed it."
Except for the part when 007 and the crook du jour were duking it out on top of a moving train and she misfired, sending Bond free-falling to his near death. "I thought I'd never live it down," she said with a grin. "I wasn't really happy about that bit!"
The film, which opens Friday, is energized by the typical Bond glamour and mystery. It's loaded with captivating action sequences; backdrops in far-flung locales such as Istanbul, Shanghai and Macau; and plot twists around 007's globetrotting pursuit of an assassin-cyberthief. (There's also been plenty of prerelease buzz about a homoerotic scene with Craig's Bond and Silva, a seductively flashy villain played by Javier Bardem.)
But the 23rd installment in this franchise delves more into Bond's formative years than its predecessors did, which lends welcome layers of complexity to his character. "That's one of the things I really like about the film," said Harris, a London native. "It is a departure from the past but really just a slight variation on the theme. It stays true to the franchise."
Although Harris is not new to the action-adventure genre, having appeared in 28 Days Later, Pirates of the Caribbean and Miami Vice, she's never had to work this hard physically. To prepare for the role, Harris worked out two hours a day, five days a week, for two months. She also spent three days a week at the gun range and one day a week working with the stunt team. Even though director Sam Mendes told Harris that there would be a lot of action, initially she didn't realize just how much there was.
"It was hard work because I'm actually incredibly unfit," she said. "When we started, I couldn't run around the block — seriously. Now I can do a 2.5-kilometer, and that, for me, is amazing. All the action stuff really brought me outside of my comfort zone."
The physicality of the role speaks to the evolution of Moneypenny, who essentially was just a secretary in the previous Bond films. More important, perhaps, she's always been a white character.
"To cast the character of Eve, they auditioned all different races," Harris said. "I know that they did want someone with an ethnic background, but it didn't matter whether they were black or [Asian] or whatever. I'm really proud of the choices that [the producers] made. They are really progressive choices that are reflective of society today."
Harris will next be seen in the Nelson Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom, opposite Idris Elba. She describes it as a beautiful and complex story. "Playing Winnie Mandela was such a gift," she said. "She's got so many layers, and that's such a joy to play as an actor."
Miki Turner is an award-winning photojournalist in Los Angeles.