Actress Naomie Harris battled rage virus-infected psychos in 28 Days Later and faced off against scurvy-aceous seafaring rascals in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. So tackling mere spy-types in the new James Bond adventure Skyfall must have been a walk in the park, right? Au contraire! “Actually, I think it was the hardest of anything I’ve ever done,” says Harris who plays a field agent named Eve in the film. “Although I’ve done action stuff before I’ve never been called upon to do it for such a long period of time. I really got my butt kicked.”
Below, Harris talks more about her training for Skyfall — which opens here on Friday — her character, and the time she took a razor to Daniel Craig’s face.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us about the training you did for Skyfall.
NAOMIE HARRIS: I did two months of training before starting filming and then I was training throughout. So in total I was training for about 9 months, which is the longest amount of physical exertion I’ve done for anything. I was doing stunt-driving training, tactical driving. I was learning how to fire machine guns, Walter PPKs. Circuit training, running, and stunt fighting. And then my trainer would keep me limber by doing yoga.
So, were you in the best shape of your life by the end?
Absolutely. Believe it or not, I am totally unfit normally. I hate exercise so I don’t do anything. In the beginning I really hated it. I couldn’t find a way to enjoy exercise. I still never found found a way to enjoy exercise while I’m exercising. But I really grew to love the benefits — having a lot more energy and feeling a lot more alive and sleeping better and eating better. It was something I was paid to do but really it was a huge benefit to me. It kind of changed the way I live my life.
[The hardest thing] was working with the train. A big part of the stunt sequence in the opening of the movie involves a train and it’s going at 60 miles an hour and I had to ride an action vehicle alongside the train trying to shoot the baddie. It’s all train-involved, which meant a lot of noise and a lot of speed and trying to kind of act alongside that was really difficult and very trying.
One of the few things I gleaned about your character from the Skyfall trailer is that at some point she shaves James Bond.
[Laughs] Well, Eve is a field agent and she’s very ambitious and she’s out working alongside Bond. At the beginning we meet her on a mission in the field with Bond and her aim is to become as good a field agent as he is.
Our chief hair stylist, her father was actually a barber so he came in and gave me lessons. It’s really hard to learn how to shave. It took me several lessons. I did get to the point where I was able to use a real razor. But I didn’t subject Daniel to that.
The Craig face is worth more than a few quid these days.
Yeah, definitely worth more than a few quid, that’s for sure. [Laughs]
This is Daniel Craig’s third time playing James Bond. Did he give you any advice?
Actually, I never even asked him for any advice. I should have done. But I didn’t. I don’t know why. I never even thought of doing that. I just got a lot of encouragement and support. He was definitely there holding my hand throughout the whole thing, which was reassuring.
What was Sam Mendes like as a director?
I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved Sam. I had a great time working with him. He’s a real actors’ director, so it’s all about making you comfortable. Even though I have done lots of things like Pirates and Mimi Vice and so on before, this for me was hugely intimidating because it’s British, it’s something I grew up with. Everybody knows what it is and loves it and is passionate about it. So being part of something like that was really really intimidating. I didn’t realize until my first day just how intimidated I actually was. So it was great to have a director like Sam to hold your hand throughout the whole process and who also makes you realize that the most important thing is character and relationships and to forget about whole fanfare involved in it and just focus on that. He constantly reminds you about that and puts every thing in perspective.
He’s also one of the most jolly people I’ve ever met in my life. When I think of Sam I just always think of laughter because he was just always telling jokes and laughing. And that just rubs off on you as an actor and makes a huge difference to your experience while filming.
Skyfall has an incredible cast. Who were you most starstruck to be around?
All of them. It was the most intimidating point in my career when I had to go in for the read-through. Actors generally hate read-throughs anyway. But imagine a read-though where you come in and you’re sat next to Javier Bardem who is then sat next to Judi Dench who is then sat next to Ralph Fiennes — and, then, right across from me is Daniel Craig. I mean, that is the most intimidating thing you can possibly get. It was incredibly scary. It was almost nice to do that and get the read-through out of the way because then it’s done and you don’t feel so afraid to kind of venture into the movie.
But despite the fact that they’re hugely talented, and hugely successful, they were also and very welcoming and warm. I mean, Javier is just hilarious and so completely down to earth and loved to take the Mick out of himself so I didn’t really need to be so intimidated.
You’ve worked a couple of times with Danny Boyle, who oversaw the Bond-featuring opening ceremony at the Olympics. Did you know about 007’s encounter with the Queen ahead of the rest of us?
I didn’t know anything about the clip with the Queen. That was all kept so under wraps. There are so many secrets with Bond! It was a real shock when I saw that. It was extraordinary. I was like, “Wow, that is the best worldwide advert you can possibly get for Bond.” But it also just shows how much Bond is part of British culture. And there it is as part of the Olympics for Britain — and of course it would be.
You can see the trailer for Skyfall below.