Naomie Harris takes a ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ as Winnie Mandela

Naomie Harris
Naomie Harris learned that there was a lot more to Winnie Mandela than she knew.

Naomie Harris freely admits that she wasn’t expecting much of a challenge portraying Winnie Mandela opposite Idris Elba in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” She was in for quite a surprise, as it turns out.

You had a lot to take on with this role.
And I had no idea, I was completely blind when I went into it. I genuinely thought that Winnie Mandela was Mandela’s wife who stood beside him and supported him. That’s all I knew about Winnie Mandela. I did not know that she was a political activist in her own right, I didn’t know that she was integral to the Free Nelson Mandela campaign, I didn’t know how controversial she was. So to be honest, when it started and I started doing all my research, it was a huge shock because I realized I’d taken on the challenge of my life, you know? Massive, massive.

I have to admit a lot of it was news to me as well.
Oh good, I wasn’t the only one. (laughs) It’s a shame. She deserves her own film because her life is so interesting, and you only get snippets of it, of course, because it is Mandela’s story.

Did you ever stop and say, “We should just do a movie on Winnie Mandela”?
Yeah, no. It was more like, “I’ve got enough on my plate, so you just focus on Idris over there and his Mandela.” (laughs)

You got to watch this at the White House recently.
Yes! The security clearance — I don’t know if I can actually say this on tape — but it really wasn’t that much. I was really like, “Is this it?” It was the same kind of security clearance you’d get in, like, schools in America. Someone said, actually, that it’s not actually once you’re there for the security clearance. It’s to get to that point because of the research that’s done about your name and so on.

How much has your life changed since “Skyfall” came out?
Not really at all. It’s made a difference in the industry, which is really cool, because now people know my name more so I’m getting more film offers, which is great. But not in my personal life. Everyone said when I did “Pirates,” “Everything is going to change now. You won’t be able to walk down the street.” Nothing changed. And then when I did “Skyfall,” they were like, “This is it now. Everything’s going to change. You’re not going to be allowed to walk down the street.” It’s exactly the same. There’s no difference, which is great. I think I have like a chameleon face, though. I don’t think people recognize my face, so I don’t get hassled in the street, which is really cool.


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