Moneypenny has proved one of the James Bond series’ most popular characters, ever since she debuted in 1962’s Dr. No. She subsequently went on to win audience hearts across the years with her loyalty, her ready wit and her unwavering love for 007.
For director Sam Mendes, the character’s reintroduction in Skyfall, where he cast English actress Naomie Harris, was a real boon. She had been absent from the first two Daniel Craig films, Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, and the filmmakers elected to set up the new Moneypenny as an active field agent. In Spectre, she again plays a pivotal role in both the narrative and the action.
“In many ways, Spectre is a continuation of Skyfall,” begins Harris, 39. “Sam had another story that he wanted to tell and he knew the journey of our individual characters, so I am really, really glad that he is back.”
Harris, who rose to prominence in 2002 with the movie 28 Days Later and the television adaptation of acclaimed novel White Teeth, grew up an avid watcher of James Bond films and she loves Moneypenny in all her various incarnations. She is especially pleased, however, that her version of the character was introduced in 2012’s Skyfall as an active agent. The very first scenes in the US$1.1 billion box office smash feature Moneypenny with a sniper’s rifle, bidding to help Bond as he battles an enemy aboard a moving train.
“It was really hard to do the shooting during the train sequence in Skyfall,” she recalls. “It may look simple but it was really difficult because it is a real train going at I don’t know how many miles an hour, and to reset that train took 20 minutes, and in film time that is a lot.”
During that opening scene, there was a great deal of pressure on Harris to ensure that the rifle was aimed correctly, “and you can’t aim where they really are because on screen it doesn’t look as if you are aiming in the right place,” she adds. “You have to aim at this moving dot and it was really complicated. I wasn’t acting at that point because I really did feel the pressure!”
Whatever the pressures of the role, Harris is delighted by her casting and loves the fact that the female characters in the most recent Bond films, including those played by Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci in Spectre, figure prominently in the narrative. “That is really important,” she says, “and I am so excited to see that because I think it would be an imbalanced story if it were just led by the men, and the women were just arm candy. It makes for a much more interesting and dynamic story if the sexes are equal and they both have something to offer.”
Moneypenny offers plenty to the Spectre storyline. One of the main themes in the movie is trust, and it is to Harris’s character that 007 turns when he needs someone on whom he can rely.
“There’s a lack of trust going on throughout the movie,” the actress explains, “and so it is great for Moneypenny that Bond chooses her as the person to whom he is going to reveal his secret.
He is going to ask for help from her as well because she is the one person that he does trust. It is definitely a big theme.”
There is a lot of depth to the relationship between these two long-standing MI6 friends and colleagues. “There is this friction between them and an equality and respect,” adds Harris, who’s also appeared in two Pirates of the Caribbean films, Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and, most recently, Southpaw, among many other projects. “I think the audience prefers it, both men and women. No one wants someone who is too much of an easy kill, or an easy lay!”
Moneypenny’s relationship with Bond has shifted across the years, though most fans remember the sense of unrequited love founded in the early version of the character, played so memorably by Lois Maxwell in the first 13 films, from Dr. No to 1985’s A View To A Kill. It was also very present in the Timothy Dalton-Caroline Bliss pairing between 1987-89 in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill. The rapport between Pierce Brosnan and Samantha Bond between 1995 and 2002, meanwhile, saw a feisty Moneypenny flirting with Bond, though very much on her own terms. She gave as good as she got.
That sexual frisson is still in evidence in the Spectre relationship, says Harris. “Of course,” the actress smiles. “There always is a frisson between Bond and Moneypenny, absolutely. And I think that is one of the fun things to play with in the role because, ultimately, she is in love with this guy. You really see that in this movie as well but she is too professional to cross that line.”
So too, of course, is 007, especially the current manifestation, brought to life by Craig. When the actor was first introduced in Casino Royale, his Bond was a little rough around the edges, though over the years he has become more human and more refined. He is still tough and unshakeable, “but what you then add on top is his sensitivity and the heart and soul,” notes Harris.
“Sean Connery’s Bond, for example, is a love-them-and-leave-them type of character, whereas Daniel Craig’s Bond is deeper. He gets emotionally attached. You can really see that in Casino Royale where he gets attached to the Eva Green character [Vesper Lynd] and when she dies he is absolutely devastated. That was the first Bond movie I ever cried at. It is really emotional, don’t you think?”
It certainly is, and Bond is set for further emotional turmoil during the course of Spectre, especially with celebrated filmmaker Mendes returning to direct; he really put Bond through the wringer in Skyfall. According to Harris, Mendes is one of the best directors around.
“He gives direction brilliantly and makes you feel held and looked after and also he makes you feel that he completely trusts you as actor,” she says. “That instils in you a lot of confidence and Sam does it brilliantly. I think he’s done a wonderful job with Spectre.”
Interview transcript and images courtesy of Sony Pictures Singapore
Spectre opens in cinemas 5 Nov 2015
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