Skyfall’s most satisfying surprise arguably arrives just moments before the end credits roll. We discover the hard-charging field operative portrayed by Naomie Harris is, in fact, Eve Moneypenny. That is, M’s quip-loving secretary character — portrayed by such actresses as Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss, and Samantha Bond over the years — whose primary function in the long-running spy franchise has been to shuffle top-secret documents across her desk and flirt with 007 upon his arrival in the office.
In Spectre (Nov. 6), Harris returns to the role in a crucial capacity: she must help 007’s rogue efforts to infiltrate the furtive terrorist syndicate SPECTRE against the wishes of her Secret Intelligence Services overseers. EW caught up with the Cambridge-educated British actress in London to talk about the rise of the “Bond woman” and her character’s growth from one sequel to the next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do we find Miss Moneypenny doing in this film and how has she evolved? Presumably she’s not back behind a desk.
NAOMIE HARRIS: She’s put in a difficult position of being loyal to Bond or loyal to MI6. That shows just how much Bond trusts her. He doesn’t go to anyone else. She’s the first person he confides in. Everybody else thinks he’s on some rogue mission and that he’s lost his mind. But he tells her what the true mission is about. He asks for her help. It shows he respects her and what she does. They do have this special relationship, which is great to see evolve — from flirting around the desk into something more substantial.
Who can you trust more than the person who shot you? So what’s it like to come back to the role?
Moneypenny’s developed. She was pretty young in Skyfall. She’s matured in Spectre. She’s experienced being in the field. Sometimes you take people’s lives. Sometimes you take the wrong people’s lives. She feels that may well be too much of a responsibility. So she chooses something different. There’s a centeredness you see with Moneypenny in Spectre that I like.
Do you think it’s fair to say there’s an implicit feminism in the last couple of Bond films? Prior to Skyfall, Moneypenny was an ornamental character. In this film, Lea Seydoux’s character Madeleine Swann refuses Bond’s help. Monica Bellucci describes herself as “Bond woman.” What’s going on?
That is what is so amazing about this franchise. It’s why it’s survived 50 plus years. It has to change with the times. You couldn’t have the old Bond Girls of the past. They just were arm candy a lot of the time. I don’t think modern women would buy that. It’s not who women are today. They want to see themselves represented faithfully onscreen.
What’s amazing about Spectre, actually, is that we don’t just see the strength of these women but their diversity as well. In terms of ethnicities, different parts of the world, ages, it’s a beautiful thing to see. I think women will love that. But for men, it makes a more exciting movie. Okay, here comes a beautiful woman. She’ll be easily conquered. There’s nothing to add to the plot. You want a challenge. Can he get this woman? What is up her sleeve? What’s her angle? That makes for a much more interesting movie.
Having a Moneypenny who is respected by Bond and is his equal and can parry witty remarks as well, that makes for a much more interesting movie. It’s important for these times. I don’t think an audience would accept anything less.
I’m going to grind you on plot points now. Moneypenny is Bond’s mole inside MI6. So are we to understand the movie can’t move forward without her blessing?
He’s able to go off and do this rogue mission only because he has her help.
Is it hard to keep secrets when everybody wants to know every twist in advance?
I found it really hard on Skyfall. People kept calling me “Bond Girl.” I was like, “Mmmmm! I’m not really…” I’m a truth freak. I can’t keep secrets in — I have to let them out. Also having to lie to people’s faces. They’d say, “So are you Moneypenny?” And I’d say, “No!”
A lot of character evolution in the series — both male and female — can be traced back to Daniel Craig. He seems pretty intense, though. What’s he like to work with?
He brought that sensitivity to the role, that depth. He’s this new man who brought that physicality and toughness to the role. But was also intellectual as well. You see that in Spectre. When I go to visit him in his flat, he’s surrounded by books. This is a man who’s incredibly intelligent and cultured with a huge breadth of knowledge, having that sensitivity as well. Daniel brought that. You see them in him and it’s been drawn out by [director Sam Mendes] as well.
I hate to ask you this before the movie comes out but will you be back for a third film as Moneypenny?
I hope they ask me back!
Longtime Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Brocolli told me they don’t plan movies into the future like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They take it one movie at a time.
I don’t want to say there’s a chaos, but there’s a fluidity that’s responsive to the moment. I think that’s another secret to their success that a lot of other people would find very intimidating to work like that. You don’t know what’s going to happen. They make decisions on the hoof. And it gives the project the energy that it has.