Naomie Harris Explains Why She Almost Turned Down ‘Moonlight’ Role

Movies & TV

Naomie Harris is proud of the work accomplished in the Oscar-contending film Moonlight but isn’t afraid to share the concerns she had about a role.

READ Review: ‘Moonlight’ Explores The Plight Of Black Gay Identity

In a special package for CBS, the cast including Harris (Paula), Mahershala Ali (Juan) and Alex Hibbert (Chiron) opened up about their roles and how the film changed their lives. Harris, who plays a drug addict, says she was worrisome about the Paula character. Speaking to CBS’ Nancy Giles, Harris says she wanted to play Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend played by Janelle Monaé.

“I feel that there are enough negative portrayals of women in general, and black women in particular,” she said. “I grew up with this really strong mother – really intelligent, powerful, independent – and I’ve always admired her. She was part of a group of strong, powerful women as well. I very rarely saw those women represented then. So I initially said no to the role.’”


After making the decision to play Paula, the British actress watched YouTube videos that highlighted women addicted to drugs. She also spoke to women who were undergoing recovery at a local soup kitchen.

“I had so much judgment, actually, and I really had to work very hard to overcome that judgment,” she said about understanding Paula. “What you do as an actor is you’re inhabiting souls. And you’re asking those souls to come into your space. And you could only do that in a non-judgmental way.”

Harris’ performance earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod and several other accolades. In an interview with The Telegraph Thursday (Feb. 2), Harris extended her thoughts on Paula. “The more layers I have to hide under as a character, the happier I am,” she said. “So with Paula in Moonlight, despite the tortuous journey to get to her, once I found her was incredibly comfortable on set. Because she is so far removed. She is like the polar opposite to me.”

Watch her interview with CBS in the clip below.

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