"I am for getting rid of the term 'Bond Girl.'"
While on the Istanbul set of the latest James Bond adventure, Skyfall, leading lady Naomie Harris made it clear that the days of Bond's female costars as arm candy are pretty much over. While Bond fans bow at the altar of such greats as Octopussy or Ursula Andress' Honey Ryder (the sequence of her emerging from the ocean, clad in a white bikini is true classic), they weren't exactly developed characters. Not so for the women of Skyfall. At a roundtable interview, Harris elaborated: "The term Bond Girl, we should probably get rid of it. They're not Bond Girls, they're just characters now. We never ever sat down to discuss 'what does it mean to be a Bond Girl? What are you going to add? How are you going to hold up the legacy of these other Bond Girls?' That wasn't even part of the discussion. It was all about the individual character."
Harris' presence, sweet but tough as nails, seems perfectly in tune with the evolution of the Bond's leading ladies over the past five decades. Her character, Eve, required a necessary edge, as she sees plenty of action alongside 007. "Eve is a field agent. She's very capable, very skilled. She's junior to Bond. He's the best there is and she's really excited to be working alongside him. She gets to learn from the greatest there is in the business."
Harris' secret service role will put her in a number of dangerous situations (the opening scene is her and Bond chasing down a baddie through the streets of Istanbul), but being that tough required a serious amount of the actress' imagination. "[It's about] trying to show you're not scared when you're really terrified," explained Harris. "I've never really fired a gun. I've trained for it, but never really done it. Now having done it, it's a completely different experience. It's so nerve-wracking. Doing the whole stunts thing is absolutely terrifying because it suddenly becomes so technical and so hugely pressurized. If you imagine you're doing a scene where you've got to shoot someone and bits of the scenery collapse and someone has to jump through a window — that's massive reseting time if you don't get it right. Versus if you're doing a dialogue scene and it doesn't work out. You just do another take! It's a very different experience."
In opposition to Eve and Bond is Sévérine, played by newcomer Bérénice Marlohe. As Marlohe puts it, the model-turned-actress hounded every person she could find on IMDb, Facebook and the like to get her acting reel in front of the right Bond casting agents. The plan worked, and now Marlohe joins the rank of past Bond villainesses — maybe. Marlohe kept details close to her chest, but hopes Sévérine comes off with shades of personality. "I don't see her as a Bond Girl. I see her and myself as a specific, unique character in a unique movie. I really want to be an interesting character. In different scenes, I can play different colors. I want her to be enigmatic so we can't define her. Not just 'good' or 'bad' — I want to give her lots of layers. Ambiguous layers." That said, Marlohe suggests she may get a moment or two of absolute wickedness. "Craziness I really love. Like Heath Ledger as The Joker...I love it. In this character, the craziness is not that obvious because the script was not like that. But I tried to put that inside. It's subtle."
In preparation for the shoot, both actresses engaged with the Bond series, but in rather unique ways. Harris cites director Sam Mendes as "her rock," helping her form Eve into a grounded character that would fit the rebooted Bond's tone — ideal for Harris' sensibilities. "The only time when a Bond really impacted me was with Casino Royale, because it was the first time I got emotionally involved in the Bond movies. I think that's because of Daniel [Craig]'s Bond. He had a greater sense of fragility to his character. When he fell, I was really worried he was going to hurt himself. That was a better journey for me to go on because I could get invested."
Marlohe immersed herself in the past Bond films, honing in on the diverse musicality of the series. "The music helped me understand the spirit, so I can give my contribution, building my character in the best way, respecting the spirit of the James Bond movies." While the Bond scores inspired Marlohe, the actress uses plenty of unrelated music to inspire her on set. "If I have a tragical scene, classical music is very inspiring. If I want to be very tough and focused – gangster rap. You stay concentrated and relaxed. You stay in your own world and you have to go when they're filming." Specifics? "The Requiem of Mozart is very powerful me. I also listen to Rage Against the Machine and gangster rap." Whatever works!
For Harris, it was important to separate herself from the expectations that come with the Bond franchise, but Marlohe can't avoid being a fan. "I love Famke Janssen [in Goldeneye] and Barbara Carrera [in Never Say Never Again]. As actresses they made a bold choice portraying psychopaths. I respect that, when actresses are able to go further and put their own personality in it. Not being afraid of being, 'am I too much?' She was killing people and having an orgasm! That was very original. I like that choice."
Read More from Hollywood.com's Visit to the Skyfall Set!