English actress Naomie Harris won over moviegoers with a pair of extremely opposite characters – the ruthless, machete-wielding Selena in Danny Boyle’s science fiction thriller “28 Days Later” (2002); and Tia Dalma, the grotesquely bedecked witch in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) and its sequel, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2007). In between these roles, she assumed a more down-to-earth persona, such as a comely detective in Michael Mann’s big-screen “Miami Vice” (2006).
Born Sept. 6, 1976 in North London, England, Naomie Melanie Harris was the only child of television writer Lisselle Kayla. She took to acting at a very early age, joining the Anna Scher Theatre School, a prestigious children’s drama club in London, and was encouraged by the school’s founder to audition for roles on television. Shortly thereafter, Harris landed a part on the UK children’s series, “Simon and the Witch” (BBC, 1987-88). More television followed, including a turn as a regular on “The Tomorrow People” (ITV, 1992-95), a revived version of a popular science fiction television series about young adults with special powers.
In 1992, Harris enrolled at Pembroke College in Cambridge University to study social and political sciences. But her interest in acting never waned, and in 1998, she put herself through the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School by applying for numerous scholarships. She graduated in 2002 and was cast almost immediately in “28 Days Later.” The shot-on-digital-video horror film was a worldwide success, which generated much positive press for the newcomer, both in her homeland and across the pond.
Roles in English productions such as the college comedy “Living in Hope” (2002) and the homely daughter of an evangelist in a television adaptation of Zadie Smith’s novel “White Teeth” (2002) helped to show Harris’ range, as did a lead as a Labour Party activist in the miniseries “The Party” (2002). American film soon beckoned with a role opposite Pierce Brosnan and Don Cheadle in Brett Ratner’s overbaked heist thriller “After the Sunset,” for which she revived her stellar island accent as a Bahamian police detective. A major part in the UK psychological thriller “Trauma” (2004), with Colin Firth as a car accident victim who suffers from visions of his late wife, was seen largely by audiences outside the United States only. Nonetheless, the more she worked, the more she garnered press as the promising up-and-comer.
Viewers familiar with Harris’ lovely features may not have recognized her as Tia Dalma in the second “Pirates” movie, as she was covered in a sort of pancake makeup and sporting gruesomely blackened teeth; her appearance rivaling that of Bill Nighy’s octopus-faced Davy Jones in terms of sheer shock value. Despite the less-than-beautiful makeover, Harris still managed to inject a hint of sensuality, thanks in no small part to her husky tone and body language. She recreated the role for the third “Pirates,” for which she enjoyed more screen time, as well as a juicy character secret – that she is Calypso, goddess of the sea.
Between “Pirates” movies, Harris rode with real police on a stakeout to prepare for her role as an undercover detective in “Miami Vice,” for which she also enjoyed love scenes with Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. She then returned to London to appear in Michael Winterbottom’s metaphysical big screen comedy “Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” (2006), in which she joined Steve Coogan, Gillian Anderson, Jeremy Northam and Stephen Fry in an attempt to unravel Laurence Sterne’s “unfilmable” novel.