‘SPECTRE’ Star Naomie Harris on Reinventing Moneypenny and Whether James Bond Needs to Be a White Man

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  • Naomie Harris
    Naomie Harris
    English actress
  • Daniel Craig
    Daniel Craig
    English actor
  • Samantha Bond
    British actress

Naomie Harris and Daniel Craig in ‘Skyfall’

SPECTRE is costar Naomie Harris’s second James Bond film, and this time around, the 39-year-old British actress can actually talk about the character she’s playing.

“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, not having to lie this time,” said Harris, who couldn’t say who exactly she was playing while promoting the 2012 Bond movie Skyfall. That’s because her character didn’t confirm until the very end of that smash hit that she is indeed the legendary MI6 secretary Eve Moneypenny, a mainstay of the 007 franchise since the very beginning. Even with that admission out of the way, Harris said that she didn’t look to any of the previous versions of Miss Moneypenny when preparing for SPECTRE, which brings back Skyfall director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig as James Bond and hits theaters on Nov. 6.

“My Moneypenny is the departure from the Moneypennys of old,” Harris tells Yahoo Movies. “They wanted her to be a modern reinvention of the character, so I didn’t feel as though it was helpful to look back. It was very much using my imagination — what I’d be like working at MI6 being an agent.”

SPECTRE is the 24th official Bond film, which kicked off with 1963’s Dr. No, and takes place soon after the events of Skyfall. The sequel re-introduces the shadowy crime syndicate called SPECTRE that was featured in many of the early 007 installments. This time, it’s led by a maniac named Franz Oberhauser, played by franchise newcomer Christoph Waltz. The old-school spy agency M16 is in a time of crisis after the events of Skyfall, and Moneypenny plays a crucial role in aiding Bond as he goes rogue against the wishes of their boss M (Ralph Fiennes).

She’s as loyal to 007 as ever, but in other ways, the Moneypenny that Harris and Bond screenwriters created is a major deviation from previous versions, who were played at various times by Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss, and Samantha Bond. Harris’s Moneypenny began as a field agent before transitioning into a job as M’s assistant (“I can stay behind the desk, because that’s where I’m definitely happiest,” said Harris, laughing). Moneypenny 4.0 is also a bit of a romantic foil for 007, which is a seismic shift from previous installments, when Moneypenny was a lovelorn assistant forever pining after the bed-hopping secret agent. In SPECTRE, it’s Bond who feels at least a few pangs of jealousy and desire.

“Ultimately, there’s a deep fondness between the two of them,” Harris says of the more evenly-balanced relationship. “And a sexual attraction for sure. I think they love playing with that line, but I think neither of them would ever cross it.”

Watch a scene between Moneypenny and Bond from ‘Skyfall’:

While Harris did not visit any of the exotic international locations during SPECTRE’s eight-month production, her press responsibilities will bring her to Zurich, Berlin, Moscow, Mexico, Beijing, LA, New York, and Japan in the next month alone. And at each of those stops, it’s likely she’ll be faced with questions about the future of the franchise, especially after Craig made headlines by declaring his preference for wrist-slitting over playing Bond again. Harris sympathizes with Craig, saying “I think eight months of shooting any movie is going to be exhausting” — and is ultimately counting on Craig eventually choosing Bond over blood. (As she said last week, he was likely just being sarcastic anyway.)

“We have no idea what’s being planned, and I just hope Daniel is part of that journey to come. And I hope I am too,” she says. And she’s not exaggerating about not knowing what the future holds for the franchise — or even, at times, the present. “I was at a red carpet quite recently, and someone said, ‘How do you feel about Sam Smith’ singing the Bond theme?” she recalled. “And I said, 'Is he?’ It was the first time I heard of it.”

If Craig does ending up stepping down, Harris acknowledges that there will be a lot of discussion about his successor, including whether it’s time to have the 007 role filled by a woman or a person of color (like, say, her Mandela costar Idris Elba). As the first black Moneypenny, Harris thinks it’s almost a silly conversation to have — mostly because there should be no objection to adding some diversity to the franchise.

“I think it’s entirely the completely the wrong focus, whether it’ll be a black or female Bond. The fact of the matter is that you just want a Bond who inhabits all the essential qualities of Bond: The charisma, the sexual magnetism, the skill in the field, the elements of danger, his charm and wit,“ she says. "Those things are what make up Bond; it’s not actually his ethnicity or his sex, even. But what I would say is that I really do believe that Daniel is the ultimate Bond, and he would be an incredibly tough act to follow by anybody. So anybody who wants to try, I say good luck to them.”

Watch the trailer for ‘SPECTRE’ below: