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28 DAYS LATER is an odd title for an odd but excellent movie. I've seen it twice in the theaters and will see it again soon when the "alternate ending" is released (more on that later).
At the July 2003 San Diego Comic Con I was able to finagle my way into interviewing Naomie Harris, the female lead of 28 DAYS LATER. The interview took place at a patio table outdoors at the convention center on a very gloomy day (she said the weather reminded her of London). Naomie apologized for having a cold and I made a comment about that being how the London flu would get started. She laughed and said, "It's not from London, I got it over here. It's you Americans who gave it to me." (Ah HA! So it WASN'T the monkeys! -Feo)
She was being interviewed by lots of people that day and I had to share my time with two other guys. I don't know about them but I did get really sick shortly after talking to her so I stand by my London flu comment.
Naomie just finished filming TRAUMA, a thriller starring Colin Firth (APARTMENT 0) and Mena Suvari. She's also in the live action version of "The Thunderbirds" with Bill Paxton (to be released in 2004) where she plays an American reporter. We couldn't get her to do the accent for us.
What follows are selected answers and comments from Naomie Harris.
On her reaction to reading the script and the audition process:
Normally when you read a script they're so visual, y'know that it's really difficult to get absorbed in it. It's one of those scripts that takes you on this complete emotional roller coaster, this complete journey, and so I thought if I'm feeling all these emotions when I'm just reading it and I can see everything and I can feel and I can sense it and I'm scared and what have you, then the audience is gonna love it. Which is true, that they have absolutely loved it. So I'm so pleased. But also it was, y'know, such a strong character for a woman, which is so rare as well, which was really exciting. Not just to be the love interest, y'know, there's so much more going on with Selena which is something.
"I want this part! And my agent said to me you haven't got a chance in hell of getting it I got the first audition and I went and did that and they were really nice and very complimentary and I thought it really went quite well and he's like, "Yeah, but they'll want a star, Naomie" and I got a second call back, okay. And then Danny (Danny Boyle, the director) called me at home and said, 'Naomie, I want you to come back and do this, this, this and this' and I was like, a director doesn't ring you at home and coach you for an audition unless he, like, really likes you. And then I went for my third, which was with Cillian (Cillian Murphy, the male lead), and I got it."
On the fact that she was only nine months out of drama school when she got the part:
"I couldn't believe it! And first of all I was so elated and after I was so terrified because I thought, oh my god I can't do this. Play co-lead in a Danny Boyle movie, straight out of drama school?"
On not being a big fan of horror movies:
"I'm not, actually. And it's really awful because I went on this radio program and it was all about horror movies and they were all talking about this horror movie and that horror movie and I was like, I don't know any of them. It was really embarrassing. But the scariest thing I've seen is Jaws."
On dealing with the gore and other uncomfortable aspects of the movie:
On her co-lead, Cillian Murphy:
"He's great! I just think he's amazing and the other thing about Cillian is that the camera adores him as well. He looks, like, gorgeous with his big blue eyes, it's amazing."
"Also, Danny has this thing about equality on set so nobody's allowed their own trailer. So everybody shares. So Cillian and I were sharing which was a bit awful at times, not because of Cillian but because we were sharing with the Infecteds, as well. So we were trying to eat and they were, like, dripping blood while we're trying to eat . . . I did get very close to Cillian and built up this whole relationship. Particularly with Megan (Megan Burns, who played Hannah) as well, because she was the only other girl on it, so we were really close.
On getting into character to play Selena:
I found getting Selena to be quite difficult to be quite honest with you. What really helped was doing the month with the circuit training and kickboxing and sword fighting and all that I did with the personal trainer. That really helped me. Because that's kind of getting into her physically and that helped with being emotionally shut down and being really tough, because she's, like, a million miles away from me.
"And then, also, we worked on a lot of back story with Danny. We did a week of rehearsals and Danny was like, What happened to you in the 28 days since infection? And we had to work out this story that I'd had a Mum and Dad and I'd had to kill the Mum and Dad, y'know, to survive and I also had this brother who I was protecting and that's why I killed my Mum and Dad. But then my brother became infected and I had to kill my brother who was like 14 and that's why she's, like, I'm not going to let anybody get close to me when you meet her.
On women responding to the strong female character Naomie plays:
"I think they are, in the movie industry, they're learning now that they can't have the sort of pathetic woman who just falls on the floor and screams the whole time, y'know, because that's not what women are responding to. And apparently, over here, women go to see movies more than men. They make up the majority of filmgoers. 'Cause in England it's young men."
On the differences between the original script and the final film:
"The ending is very different because that ending was never there. And we shot three different endings and then we had the test screenings."
"We shot the original ending first of all and then we had the test screenings and everyone was just like, 'It's such a bleak kind of movie and Oh my god, I can't take it if the ending's bleak as well.' It doesn't leave you with any hope. And Danny was saying to be a responsible filmmaker you have to take care of your audience. You have to, y'know, take them on this journey and so on, but you have to leave them in an okay place. And the ending that was there didn't leave people in a very good place. And that's why we changed it, originally."
"We had to go back and do re-shoots and I, in fact, was working on other projects and so was Cillian and he had to have half his head shaved again which he wasn't happy about, y'know, and part of it he's wearing a wig and I'm wearing a wig because it was, like, nine months later that we're doing the re-shoot."
(Note: She confirmed that the alternate ending coming out in theatres now is the original ending. As for the "third" ending, it should be on the DVD, which is already out in England).
On doing other horror films in spite of not being a fan of the genre:
"I don't think this is a typical horror movie, maybe, is maybe what it is. Or no, I shouldn't say that because that's being disrespectful to the horror genre and I don't know. People call this an intelligent horror movie, but I mean if this is the kind of horror movies that are being made then I'd love to be part of it because I think it's fantastic. And it's just great playing a role that's that interesting and acting in a movie directed like that so I'm quite happy doing many more."
On being recognized:
"I was in New York and I was staying at this hotel and these people, like, rang me in my hotel room. I don't know how they got my room number. And they were like, 'Naomie, we heard you were staying here and will you come down and sign autographs?' and I was like, 'Okay.' I mean, recognized in New York? It was the weirdest, weirdest thing."
"If you were somebody really famous and you had people following you around all the time that would be horrible but, y'know, just one or two people coming up to you and just saying hi and being really complimentary about the film, it's really nice. Particularly since I didn't know anybody in New York as well, it was like, 'Hi, be my friend. Hello.'"
On working with Danny Boyle:
"I think the great thing about working with Danny is, you're part of a team, y'know?
He's got this vision, but he's quite happy to share it with everybody. And that includes make-up, lighting, everybody can contribute, which is amazing. Because normally directors have big egos and they're like, 'This is my vision' and they're protecting it from everyone else. And if you argue with him he's quite happy to go, 'Okay, well, let's try it like that', do you know what I mean? Which is fantastic!
It's really very rare and the great thing is... we were working on DV [Digital Video]. You could do as many takes as you want. So Danny was like, 'Let's try it this way, try it your way, let's try it that way and then we'll see in the editing suite' and he'd sometimes come back to me and say, 'You know what, Naomi, you were right' or 'No, you were wrong' or what have you. And then also the great thing about him is what he'd do is that after we'd do a couple of takes and he'd be happy he'd say, 'Are you happy, because if you're not we could do as many as you'd like.'"
On night shoots and doing stunts:
"We were doing night shoots for a month, so we were, like, trying to sleep during the day when everybody else was awake and not getting any sun, it does funny things to your head, y'know, that was very disorientating. And also the physical thing of doing all the stunts as well because I didn't realize when you do stunts there's no way of doing them, really, without getting hurt in some way. When you're thrown on the floor, you're thrown on the floor when I was being manhandled by seven guys, you're gonna get bruised. So pretty much every day I was sore so that was not very nice. But it was good because it got me in that sort of vulnerable, emotional state that I was supposed to be in."
On realizing the film was a hit:
"When I saw it I just thought this is an amazing film and it has to do really well and people at Fox Searchlight were even saying 'This is a great movie'. And lots of people critics as well were saying this is really great and I was really like, 'Yeah, this is going to be fantastic'. But then what happened it kind of turned in England and the critics didn't really get behind it in the way that I really think that they should have. For whatever reason: gripes against Danny and what have you and I was really disappointed by that. People still went to see it, which was really nice and supported the movie but I think the critics could have got behind it a lot more in England."
"But it's great that it's come here and it's got what it deserved, y'know, because people have loved it and critics have really gone for it."
On the film's wonderful minimal exposition:
"I think the great thing about it is it's treating the audience with respect and recognizing that they're intelligent. They don't need everything explained to them, I mean they'll figure it out and that's the joy of working it all out, figuring it out. And that's why people have seen it three, four times because there's more to be found, there's more you can add in with your own imagination as well. And I think that's the mark of a really clever script."
This interview copyright 2003 E.C.McMullen Jr.