Naomie Harris: What getting an OBE means to me

Naomie HarrisImage copyright
PA

Image caption

Harris is receiving an OBE for services to drama

Oscar-nominated actress Naomie Harris says her being awarded an OBE sends out “a very powerful statement” to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The 40-year-old Moonlight star, who will receive the award at Buckingham Palace later, was raised by a single parent in a north London council flat.

“As a black actress from the background I came from… I think it’s incredibly important,” she told the BBC.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have my work recognised in this way.”

Harris, who is up for a best supporting actress Oscar for playing a drug-addicted mother in Moonlight, was previously seen as Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

She is also known for playing Miss Moneypenny in the last two James Bond films.

  • Naomie Harris on New Year honours list
  • Oscars 2017: Supporting actress nominees
  • Could Moonlight cause an Oscars upset?

Film-maker Danny Boyle, who directed Harris in 28 Days Later and his stage version of Frankenstein, turned down a knighthood when he was offered one in 2012.

Yet Harris says she never contemplated spurning the OBE she was awarded in the New Year Honours list.

Image copyright
David Fisher/Rex/Shutterstock

Image caption

The actress says she has not had “any conversation” with Danny Boyle about her honour

“I know some people turn down honours for their own reasons,” said the actress. “But I was not going to turn down an OBE.

“I’m always interested in spreading positive images and being a positive role model as much as I can.

“I know as a black actress in this industry from the kind of background I came from, growing up in a council flat in Finsbury Park and starting my life out on benefits with a single parent… to have achieved something like an OBE is a powerful statement which is inspiring to a lot of young people.

“I think it’s incredibly important and I’m incredibly proud to receive it.”

Born in 1976, Harris was raised by her mother Carmen, a former EastEnders scriptwriter who now works as a faith healer.

Harris has no relationship with her father, who left her mother when she became pregnant at the age of 19.

Image copyright
A24

Image caption

Moonlight sees Harris play a crack-addicted mother at three different life stages

It’s been quite a year already for Harris, whose performance in Moonlight has seen her nominated for a whole heap of honours.

The Golden Globe and the Bafta may have gone elsewhere, but there’s still an outside chance she could win an Oscar on Sunday for her role in Barry Jenkins’ indie drama about a young black gay man growing up in Miami.

To do so, though, she will have to beat bookies’ favourite Viola Davis, whose performance in Fences has pipped hers in most of the awards ceremonies to date.

Then again, there’s always a chance of an upset – as shown at the Baftas, when Lion’s Dev Patel beat Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali to the supporting actor award.

Image copyright
AP

Image caption

Both Harris and Mahershala Ali are up for Oscars for their work in the film

An Oscar would be a remarkable conclusion to Harris’ involvement in the film, given she shot her role in just three days and originally turned it down.

She told The One Show last week: “I’ve always wanted to portray positive images of black women and playing an addict didn’t really fall into that.”

Last month Harris was honoured at the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards for a performance that also saw her in contention for a Screen Actors Guild prize.

As far as she is concerned though, the honours, nominations and critical acclaim she and her colleagues have achieved have already done their job.

Image copyright
AP/AFP/EPA

Image caption

Harris at the Golden Globes, the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Bafta Film Awards

“Moonlight is about communities and characters that have been generally ignored in film, largely because people said they weren’t profitable,” says the actress.

“I hope people will look at the success of the film and realise there is an audience out there that is hungry to see these movies.”

Our allotted interview slot is almost up. But there is just time for the obligatory James Bond question.

Does Harris – who played Moneypenny opposite Daniel Craig’s 007 in Skylight and Spectre – know when the next film will start shooting, or whether Craig will return?

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Harris has appeared opposite Daniel Craig in two Bond films to date

“I genuinely know nothing,” says the actress with practised ease. “The reality is everybody’s waiting on Daniel.

“He’s the only person who knows what’s going to happen. I think everyone’s just waiting for him to make a decision.”

One decision Naomie had to make herself on the day of our interview was whether to indulge in a piece of shortbread from a nearby plate of cookies.

In the end she opted out of the sugary treat. Were she to win an Oscar on Sunday though… well, that would really take the biscuit.

Moonlight is out on general release. The Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on 26 February.


Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email

Facebook

Get the Facebook Likebox Slider Pro for WordPress