Naomie Harris almost didn't land a part in director Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" because of her looks.
"Gore didn't actually want me for the part because he said that I was actually too pretty and he didn't want anybody pretty," she reveals. "He wanted an older actress. The casting director, Denise Chamian ... persuaded Gore to audition me. When I walked into the room, he said, 'You're going to have to do this like three maybe four times so okay, let's just have a go.' And so I read it once and then he went, 'How would you like to come to the Bahamas?' It was great."
Verbinski didn't have to worry about Harris' good looks though, once she transformed into the character Tia Dalma, a mysterious Caribbean soothsayer from Captain Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp) past. The actress collaborated with the costumers and hair and makeup artists to create her character's unique image.
"They were all open to suggestion and we actually spent two days just trying on different looks and variations," she recalls. "We all ended up on a look that we loved ... [and] I got all in the costume and everything and went to see Gore and he said, 'that's way too much. Wipe it all off. And just bring everything down. Like bedraggle her.' And that's what we did and that's the image we ended up with."
Tia's wild look consists of ragbag clothes, unruly hair, haphazard makeup and a garish blackened smile, which required Harris to wear fake teeth.
"It was hugely uncomfortable, actually," she says. "It's like having your teeth kind of pressed and your gums pressed constantly, so it wasn't too nice, but bearable."
Harris previously put on false teeth and a Jamaican accent for the BBC's adaptation of Zadie Smith's "White Teeth." Her most well known role to date, however, is the short-haired, tough zombie hunter Selena in Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later." These transformations have allowed the actress to delve into her characters without being recognized on the street.
"[Tia Dalma] allowed me to introduce physicality ... and allowed me to be larger than life, which I hadn't been allowed to do in other characters," says Harris. "She also didn't have to worry about being beautiful ... but I think she's a hugely attractive character but just not like in a conventional way, and I found that really liberating."
Captain Jack Sparrow visits Tia Dalma as a last resort for help in his quest to escape the wrath of Davy Jones, the legendary pirate who terrorizes the Seven Seas in the Flying Dutchman. She accepts his payment of an undead monkey and gives him an odd tool to keep himself safe. Although her character only appears in a few, albeit meaty, scenes, Harris assures us that there's much more to come in the third installment in the "Pirates" franchise.
"There is a huge back story [for Tia Dalma] but it's all revealed in 'P3,'" she says. "You know she has her own reasons for doing what she's doing in 'P2.' 'P2' is just an introduction for the character and in 'P3' then she's throughout, she actually goes on a journey with all the different characters."
Despite the hardships of filming such a journey, Harris is proud to have avoided both injuries and mal de mer.
"I don't end up getting sort of thrown overboard or anything like that, which is nice," she recalls. "It's so weird because I signed up to do 'Pirates' but I didn't think about whether I got seasick, and I'd never been on a ship before. And so there were all these people ... throwing up and having to leave the ship and thankfully I don't get seasick I discovered, but it would have been awful if I did.
"No, apart from getting tied up, there's not much [physical stuff] at all. I seem to get tied up in every movie I do," she says, adding that unlike her co-star Depp, she probably won't be returning for "Pirates 4." "I don't think so. [Tia Dalma] has quite a dramatic departure in '3.'"
"Pirates" opens nationwide on Friday, July 7.