Saturday 08 Mar 2014
Naomie Harris plays Alison Wade, a devoted mum desperately juggling her time and energy between her family and her demanding job working in a special needs school. But then, to Alison's disbelief and horror, she finds herself in the dock facing serious allegations and at risk of losing everyone and everything she loves.
Talking to the cheerful, friendly and instantly likeable actress, it strikes home how very different she is to her latest character, Alison. But then what stands out about Naomie's career is her commitment to constantly tackling new challenges and very different roles, both in the cinema and on television.
On the big screen, Naomie is probably best known for her spirited portrayal of Tia Dalma, the fantastical and eccentric enchantress in the worldwide hit Pirates Of The Caribbean films. But, this year, cinema goers have seen Naomie in a completely different guise as Ian Dury's warm-blooded lover, Denise Roudette, in Sex & Drugs & Roll & Roll, opposite Andy Serkis, who, by coincidence, plays the leading role in Liam's Story.
This spring, BBC Two viewers enjoyed seeing Naomie as a privileged young PR executive Alice Omuka in Guy Hibbert's powerful thriller about oil and corruption in Nigeria, Blood And Oil. And, last autumn, critics and BBC One viewers were captivated by Naomie's spell-binding performance as Hortense, an unworldly young Jamaican bride in London during the Blitz, in Small Island.
Now, she returns to the same channel as Alison, a young married mum who ends up facing seemingly insurmountable odds, in a gritty crime drama set in North-West England.
So, what appealed about this role and the script to this successful international actress?
"I'm always attracted to a brilliant script, an exciting character and I love doing completely different things in different ways – that's how I keep fresh and enthusiastic about the business. I think it's really important to keep challenging yourself," says Naomie.
"What excited me about this particular project was Jimmy McGovern's script is so well written. It's an absolute page turner from start to finish and Alison is a fantastic leading female role – a gift to any actress.
"While I acknowledge my life is very different to Alison's, I felt an immediate affinity with her. I can't imagine there are many women out there who won't empathise with her plight," says Naomie, careful not to give away any salient bits of the plot away.
Naomie describes Alison as "a modern everywoman: a working woman, a kind compassionate woman, but she's also put upon by life.
"She's got far too much on her plate, her husband's lost his job and is unemployed. Money's tight, they've got two young children to care for and she constantly worries about them and, on top of all that, her job's extremely demanding. I think many women will recognise these circumstances.
"What's brilliant is her story gets hold of you and won't let go," enthuses Naomie.
"I'm quite sure the story will take the audience on a huge roller-coaster of a ride with their emotions and allegiances' swinging between Alison and her husband, David, as their marriage disintegrates and they become pitted against each other.
"What's really interesting is as we were filming we were debating: 'Who are you for, Alison or David?' and along the way members of the crew changed their minds about the rights or wrongs of what happens.
"But for my part there were no mitigating circumstances for David – not for one second was I for him," avers Naomie. "Alison's trying to hold the fort down and be the man and the woman in their relationship. No easy task."
However, Naomie is quick to praise the skill and kindness of her co-star, Warren Brown, who plays her embattled husband.
"Warren and I have some very intense and harrowing scenes to act, but I couldn't have asked for a more sensitive and wonderful person to act them with."
"We worked together not against each other," says Naomie, noting the irony in this as it's opposite of what happens on screen.
In fact, says Naomie: "Warren and I got quite broody filming with Janay Bell (Hannah Wade) and Lucas Sproul (Tom Wade), who play our children.
"They are the sweetest, sweetest little actors and Warren and I kept saying: 'We want a family now ... we want to take these lovely children home.'
"There's a scene when Alison comes through door and the children come running calling: 'Mummy, Mummy,' and she scoops them up and kisses them.
"And I couldn't help thinking: 'What I am doing, travelling all over the world filming, when I get back home I don't this kind of welcome!
"But then reality kicks in and I think I'd want the impossible," jokes Naomie. "I'd want perfectly behaved children, but somehow I don't think mine would be!
"Warren and I decided we should start something called 'Rent a Family', perfectly behaved parents and perfect kids, with none of the drama that real life is necessarily about."
Going back to her experience of making the film, Naomie reflects:
"Sometimes when you reach a certain level in life people around you assume you know what you're doing and leave you alone. But we all, always, have more to learn. On this project we were all so lucky to work with our director, David Blair.
"He really enjoys actors' company and talks their language. David knows how to push and motivate actors and coax the best possible performance out of them.
"Hopefully, all this great team work will make the film stronger for the audience – getting them as involved in the action and all the moral dilemmas as we were from the beginning to the end."
So, what's next for this modest star who is so quick to say how lucky she's been in all things and downplays her prodigious talents?
Lately, she has been busy promoting her latest film, Justin Chadwick's touching biographical film, The First Grader, in which she plays Jane Obinchu, the Kenyan teacher who got into trouble for allowing 84-year-old student Kimani Maruge attend her primary school classes, enabling him to realise his dream of attaining an education.