Striking gold with 'Pirates' and 'Vice'

Associated Press

Until a couple of weeks ago, British actress Naomie Harris was best known as a tough chick gunning for zombies in "28 Days Later."

Now she's the voodoo princess of Hollywood in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," with a second big flick, "Miami Vice," close behind.

A stage-trained thespian who had her sights on the big screen from the start, Harris has charm, range and knockout beauty that quickly caught Hollywood's eye after "28 Days Later" became a horror mini-hit.

Harris found herself shuttling back and forth last year between two mega-productions shooting simultaneously, Gore Verbinski's "Pirates" and Michael Mann's "Miami Vice," an update of the TV cop show he shepherded in the 1980s.

With "Dead Man's Chest" setting an opening-weekend box-office record of $135.6 million and "Miami Vice" opening next Friday, Harris finds herself in a publicity blitz for two big summer movies before heading off to finish shooting the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" flick, due out next May.

"It's fantastic," the 29-year-old Harris said in an interview. "It's almost as if I organized it myself. I wish I had."

In "Dead Man's Chest," Harris plays the down-and-dirty, dreadlocked Jamaican enchantress Tia Dalma, a mystery woman who advises Johnny Depp's buccaneer Jack Sparrow and sets up the cliffhanger leading to the third movie.

In "Miami Vice," Harris plays a Bronx-born Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence analyst and the girlfriend of Jamie Foxx's Rico Tubbs.

About every two weeks during a four-month stretch last year, Harris traveled from the "Pirates" set in the Caribbean to various locations for "Miami Vice," which was shooting in Florida and Latin America, and back again. She never got the characters mixed up, though she had to mind their voices.

"It wasn't confusing at all, because they are so completely different," Harris said. "The challenge was keeping the different accents in my head, Jamaican and the Bronx, and getting my Britishness out of both of them. But I never did wander onto the 'Pirates' set speaking in a Bronx accent."

Raised in London as an only child by her single mother, a TV writer, Harris now has a younger stepbrother and stepsister. She sensed from around the age of 2, when she began spending hours play-acting in front of mirrors, that "I loved fantasy much more than reality. So it had to be acting for me, I think."

After studying at Cambridge, Harris spent two years training in drama at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Even though drama school centered on the stage, with only two weeks devoted to film, Harris always had her sights set on movies.

"I don't get that kind of buzz that most people get from doing theater," Harris said. "There's lots of my friends who are theatrical actresses, they say, 'Oh, when I get up on stage and the people applaud, it fills my heart.' I don't really feel any of that."

She spent six months doing theater after graduation, and has since worked exclusively in television and film, with her first Hollywood credit in the 2004 Pierce Brosnan-Salma Hayek crime romp "After the Sunset."

Harris co-starred in this year's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," giving a lively performance as a movie-set runner with a passion for Rainer Werner Fassbinder films.

After "Pirates," Harris said she's open to anything, anywhere, so long as she likes the story.

"It's about the script, always, no matter where it comes," Harris said. "If it's Outer Mongolia, I'm quite happy to go there. I love to travel."

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