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  • Interview: Actress Naomie Harris of 'August'

    Mon, 14 Jul 2008 15:46:50

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    In August, Naomie Harris stars as Sarrah, the intelligent, winsome love interest of Josh Hartnett's shark-like businessman, Tom. While in the boardroom Tom is just as shrewd and greed-driven as his contemporaries, his demeanor takes on a decidedly softer cast around Sarrah. She contributes to revealing his more precious qualities, and Harris' convincing charm allows for this change in his disposition. You may recognize Harris from her supporting turns in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and 28 Days Later, but as an actress whose career is burgeoning as we speak, she is intent on balancing larger studio projects with smaller, character-driven independent features. Here, she discusses portraying an honest, flawed romantic relationship onscreen, and where she hopes her acting pursuits will take her in the future.

    What drew you to August?

    I was asked, which was very nice, by Josh, which was lovely. It was one reason why I thought, “Wow, [what] a real honor to be asked by a fellow actor whose work [I] admire.” Also what drew me to it, really, was, in most films relationships are portrayed as two strangers who don’t know much about each other coming together, and then they work out whether or not they can be together. In this story, it’s done in a different way which I really liked. It’s about two people who know each other, who’ve been on a journey with each other and know each other’s faults and are already in love with each other. Then they come back together after a time apart and work out whether or not it can work. That’s a different take on relationships that I hadn’t seen very much in film, so that’s why I thought that would be something really interesting to portray.

    The romantic back story between Sarrah and Tom is a little ambiguous. How did you fill in the gaps provided what you were given in the script to form a total character?

    We spent about a week rehearsing with each other and hashing it out. I find it much more fun when you aren’t given the whole story because it allows you to let your own imagination come to the fore and start playing with different ideas about how the relationship works. Often Josh and I hashed out some ideas around the table for about a week and came up with an idea that worked for us.

    I heard that the shooting schedule was fairly fast-paced. Given the compact schedule, how did you develop a level of intimacy between your character and Josh’s?

    It’s just one of those things that either works or doesn’t. Sometimes you watch films and you see two actors and you don’t believe that they’re in love, you know? Other times, you totally buy it. It’s just a matter of having chemistry on screen or not. Thankfully I think that—I hope, because I haven’t seen the movie—it works and that you do buy our relationship. I think a big part of that is Josh, who is a very open, really generous and supportive actor, and makes it very easy to go on a journey with him.

    Sarrah seems hyper-aware of herself and the person that she loves. Why does she have such a sense of loyalty toward Tom despite being completely cognizant of all his fatal flaws and shortcomings?

    She really is totally in love and she hasn’t found anybody else who does it for her in the same way that he does. It’s also really difficult when you see someone’s flaws but you also see their potential good. There’s so much there that’s wonderful about Josh’s character. It’s almost like you want to take one side of the person and not the other, but the other person comes along anyway for the journey. She has to go through this whole thing. Even though she knows in the beginning it’s really not going to work, she has to go through the experiment of trying it out, otherwise she’ll walk away wondering, “What if?” That’s worse, almost, to live with, than being burnt.

    She's intelligent and perceptive and that's what attracts him to her.

    Among all of these strong, entrepreneurial male characters, [Sarrah] is a very headstrong female character. She’s doesn’t play second-fiddle to Tom at all. Did that draw you to the character as well?

    Yeah, definitely. I’m always attracted to strong women and I’m always going on about wanting to portray strong women and wanting more strong women in films. I think that’s something I really do admire about Sarrah. She is impressed by everything the Tom character has achieved, but likewise, she values what she does as well and knows that that is hugely important as well, and that it doesn’t rank his work as more important just because he’s making more money than her. She’s very intelligent and very perceptive and very much her own woman, and that’s what attracts him to her. He can have many women, but he can’t have a strong woman like her.

    The time setting of this film is absolutely central to the story. What significance do you, personally, think it holds for the characters?

    I think it’s less relevant for Sarrah and more relevant for Tom’s character. The turmoil that the world is going through and is on the brink of experiencing when this film is set is representative of the turmoil and disruption that he goes through and his whole world shattering. Sarrah is on a very different journey—a much more grounded, centered, less hectic journey. It’s less important for her than it is for his character.

    You’ve had the chance to work with an amazing roster of artists. Do you have a wish list of people that you might want to work with?

    I’m really lucky, actually, because there were two directors who I really wanted to work with, and both of them I’m working with on my next two projects that are happening later in the year or at the beginning of next year. I feel really, really fulfilled, although I would love to work with Roman Polanski as the third person.

    Do you make a conscious choice to go back and forth between larger projects like Pirates of the Caribbean and something that’s a bit more modest, like August?

    Yeah, I do. I say I make a decision, but I choose scripts that interest me, and not all studio films and not all indie films interest me. I mix and match between the two. I like to do that because I feel it’s important not just to support the big Hollywood blockbuster type movies, but the indies as well, and European films as well. They all have a message, they all have a place, they all entertain different audiences, and I feel like it’s very important for me to keep my foot in all of those different camps.

    —Heidi Atwal

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    Tags: Naomie Harris, Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott

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