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What Naomie Harris Had To Do To Be So 'Black And Blue'

Naomie Harris stars in the action thriller <em>Black and Blue </em>as a police officer who captures a murder committed by corrupt cops on her body camera.
Alan Markfield
Screen Gems
Naomie Harris stars in the action thriller Black and Blue as a police officer who captures a murder committed by corrupt cops on her body camera.

The new movie Black and Blue is a thriller about a woman who tries to straddle a divide between two groups of people: African Americans and the police.

The New Orleans police officer who tries to bridge these worlds is Alicia West, played by Naomie Harris. In the movie's opening scene, she's going for a run, wearing a hoodie, when cops stop her for questioning. It turns rough, but while they're searching her, they find her police badge.

Black and Blue is an action movie, but it's also set with timely social context. "[Director] Deon [Taylor] says that this movie is candy with medicine in it," Harris says.

This is a very American story — and yet Naomie Harris, who carries it, is British. In an interview, she described her preparation for the part, playing her first leading role and how she relates to the themes of police violence and mistrust.

Interview Highlights

On how issues around race and police violence translate from the U.S. to the U.K.

I was definitely very aware that it is a uniquely American story. And so I had to deep dive and do all of my research and so on so that I honored that experience and could play it as authentically as I possibly could. But sadly, the American experience is not exclusive to America. We have the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.K., and we have a breakdown of relations between the police and the black community within the U.K. as well, and many unexplained deaths of black people — perfectly healthy black men in particular — that have been arrested and then ended up dead in police custody. All the issues you have in America — I think they're much more extreme here [in the U.S.], but we have them in the U.K. as well for sure.

On working with co-star Tyrese Gibson

I was incredibly lucky because Tyrese, who obviously co-stars in the movie, is from South Central LA. And he was like: The experience that Alicia had growing up, and the kind of community she came from, is exactly the community that I came from. And so I'm going to help you, and I'm going to be there for you and explain any cultural differences that you don't get. ...

One of the moments that really stuck out in my mind was when [Tyrese's character] calls the police for help in the movie. And they come, and they actually handcuff him, and harass him. And he was saying that that is an experience that he's seen happen many times before, and how frustrating, belittling, anger-inducing that is as a black man who's called for help, and then actually ends up being treated as though they are the criminal.

On playing her first leading role in a movie

So I always said I didn't want to play a lead, because I've always found it quite stressful. ... I always said, you know, "I don't want the weight of a whole movie," because it's kind of stressful enough coming in and doing your part. And I just enjoyed this collaborative experience of being a part of this whole process. I didn't want to have the entire spotlight on me. I mean, it's very typical of my personality, because I'm much more of an introvert than an extrovert, bizarrely enough, given that I'm in this profession. ...

It's funny because you know, you read the script, you think, "Oh that's great, oh my gosh, it's so exciting, it's brilliant." And then it's not until you actually start filming it and you realize, "What, I've got to be running every single day? I've got to be scared every single — I've got to be jumping through windows? You know what I mean?" ... Every day, running, jumping, terrified. I actually signed a contract which said that they weren't even going to get me to run. So I did no preparation — physical preparation for the role, because I was like: Somebody else is going to be doing all the hard lifting for me, and I'm just going to act it. And then you get there, and you are confronted with the amazing Deon Taylor, our director, who, you know, just smiles at you and just says, "Hey, Naomie, would you mind just running from here to there? I mean, that's all we're asking. Would you mind?" And you go, "Yeah, sure Deon." And the next day it's like, "Would you mind running from here to two miles down the road?" ... Suddenly I'm sprinting, jumping out windows, jumping off things, being hit, thrown across the room, in chokeholds. It was rough, but it was an intense experience. ...

At the end of the movie, I was like, "I love playing leads!" I want to play leads all the time now. ... My misconception was that it was actually more stressful playing a lead, but actually it's less stressful, because you're on all the time. So you don't have time to wait around in your trailer getting nervous and worrying about the scene and getting all head up about it. And also because you are the lead, you get to set the rhythm for the whole piece, and the tone, and just the vibe on set. So it becomes your family, your thing that you've created, and it just really feels very special. And I really just got over my nerves. Because usually, before I'm acting, before any scene, I'm nervous, you know? But I wasn't nervous during this because I was there every day. These were my friends, these were my family.

On corrupt cops, compared to those who just go along with corruption

I think [the latter] are the majority, to be honest. I think the bad apples are very few and far between. I think that most people engage in criminality by turning a blind eye. And actually, I think that's one of the strong themes of the movie: That actually, by doing nothing, you do a hell of a lot, because you're not standing up to what is wrong. ...

I think it says that the real challenge is getting over apathy. There used to be a time where, when the Black Lives Matter movement first started, where people were out marching and outraged, and now I think people are like, "Ah, this is the way it is." And so the aim of this film is also to reignite dialogue and get people outraged again and hopefully get them active.

Christina Cala and Dave Blanchard produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.