British actress, Naomie Harris, 40, is simply the perfect actress to take the role of Paula, a drug-addicted mother to a shy, gay son (played at different ages/stages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) in the indie film Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins and written by Tarell McCraney.
Moonlight scored the highest per-screen average of 2016, debuting to a sizzling $414,740 hitting only four New York and Los Angeles theaters on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. According to media reports, the film’s per-screen average of $103,685 is one of the strongest of the decade and typically is credited to only A-list filmmakers. Oscars, here comes breakout film of the year Moonlight, Jenkins, cast and crew with their hands out, reaching for that golden statue.
Harris shot her parts in just three days while on a press tour for Spectre. Read what she has to say about this sure-to-be cult classic.
How did you become a part of this project?
Producer Jeremy Kleiner approached my agent asked me to become part of the whole thing. I was absolutely moved by the script. It’s one of the best things I read. I did my due diligence and looked up Barry’s work and saw his first film, Medicine for Melancholy. I literally think it is one of the best movies I’ve ever watched. I felt Moonlight would be an amazing project.
Did you have any hesitation about portraying a Black mother addicted to drugs?
Yes, I had real reservations. I was very hesitant in the beginning. I was in this real quandary because I loved the script. I loved the director. He seemed like a good filmmaker. I wanted to work with him. I have always said I wanted to portray positive images of women.
My agents were very clever and told me to speak to the director first and hear his vision. When I spoke with Barry, he said he didn’t want me to play a stereotype or a negative image of a Black woman. Ultimately, “it’s an amalgamation of my [Barry] story and the writer Tarell McCraney.” He goes on to ask, “How am I going to tell my story without including the journey of our mothers?”
He asked me to play his mother. I knew he had a vested interest in ensuring the representation of his mother didn’t portray a stereotype and wasn’t reduced to a one-dimensional portrayal but showed her full complexity and her full humanity.
What was it like working with director Barry Jenkins?
It was fantastic because he’s so experimental. You’d do a scene and he’d congratulate you and then tell you to redo it camera or he’ll add an extra line or an extra vignette into a scene. Because he’s so experimental, you feel as though you can be experimental as well. I feel it is when you can produce your best work when you feel free and can play and just have fun with it.
Did any of your training or past characters inform your character for this film?
I think having played Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom helped me to trust myself more in the process of finding a character. When I got the role to play Winnie, I was terrified thinking, ‘How can I play a living icon? How can I research? This is a very different process for me.’
I really worked and honed a process that works for me to find the character. I was able to trust that with Paula. I had the exact same fear wondering how I would go from me, Ms. T total to a crack addict. I’m from London as well and there is a big cultural difference. You learn to hone your craft over the years and for everyone it is a different process. What makes a script and a character come to life is completely different for everyone.
Moonlight opened in Atlanta on Oct. 28, 2016, and is set to open in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 4, 2016.