Tia Dalma, the sultry, scary, tattooed voodoo priestess, played a pivotal role in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. But her part is vastly more important in the third film in the series. She’s the character who gives the third film its title, who asks the question that sends the motley crew on an afterlife quest, to Davey Jones’ Locker in search of Capt. Jack Sparrow.
“What would you do? What would any of you be willing to do? Would you brave the weird and haunted shores at world’s end to fetch back wit’ ye Jack?”
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, Chow Yun Fat
(The Walt Disney Company; US theatrical: 25 May 2007 (General release); 2007)
It’s hard to see or hear Naomie Harris, the lovely 30-year-old London-born character actress, behind those black teeth, those blue-stained lips, those hundred-year-dreadlocks in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. But that’s her, the same woman who was Trudy, the Jamie Foxx love-interest in Miami Vice, the cute production assistant who turns randy actor Steve Coogan’s head in the hilarious “Tristram Shandy” and the fiesty Selena in the 2003 hit 28 Days Later.
The Bristol Old Vic-trained actress, as audiences have discovered, can play a lot more than a mere “love interest” on screen. Her Tia Dalma is a formidable character, closer to her turn in her breakout role, as Selena, the zombie-killing vigilante that had The Village Voice labeling the screen newcomer “redoubtable”—as in, a one-woman fortress against the zombie hordes. We reached her in Los Angeles.
Your mother (sitcom writer Lisselle Kayla) is, I understand, Jamaican. So is this an accent you heard growing up?
My mother is Jamaican, but she doesn’t speak with a Jamaican accent. She can speak with that accent, and she was my accent coach on Pirates 2 and 3. That Jamaican accent you hear in the States can be pretty watered-down, from being around Americans. Hers is authentic. So is Tia Dalma’s.
You had to be happy Tia Dalma’s role in these movies grew as the series went on. Did you know that it would, going in?
I didn’t, actually. I signed up to do 2, I was told `You’re also going to be in Pirates 3.’ They mentioned something about it being a bigger role in the third film. I was only in two scenes in Dead Man’s Chest. I figured, `So I’ll be in three scenes, then.’
But when we got into the third film, I was very much surprised that they wanted me around pretty much throughout.
And they couldn’t cut you out of the movie, because you’re the character who says the title line.
That’s right, haha! I hadn’t thought that, though I did worry a bit that they’d cut me out of it. All actresses do.
You’re almost completely hidden under that makeup. Tell us what they had to do to you every day to get you to look like a woman Jamie Foxx or Steve Coogan would never give a second look?
Oh, it wasn’t that bad. You know, a wig. Black lipstick, black eye shadow, some tribal markings and gold and dirt on the face. The teeth were prosthetic teeth that you just clip in and out.
Oh, and I also had to fill my mouth with vegetable dye before each take. Tasty. The idea was that Tia Dalma is kind of oozing ink and evil.
What’s been the most fun about this long haul, making these movies back to back?
Oh, it was the work. Tia Dalma is this larger-than-life character, and you aren’t bound by the constraints of reality with her. I got to create her myself. That’s freedom!
What did you take with you to keep you sane during the shoot?
It was long, wasn’t it? A couple of years. My cousin came with me and stayed with me for long periods of time. She kept me sane.
Johnny Depp has said he might be game for another Pirates, if Disney comes calling. How about you?
This was a huge commitment of time, and I’m not sure I would. I love to do lots of different things. I had a great time, but I’ve kind’ve had enough now.
What can you tell us about August, the drama that you’re filming?
It’s about dot-com millionaires, those people who were worth hundreds millions on paper in the late 90s, only to lose it all when the bubble burst in 2001. Josh Hartnett plays one and I’m his ex-girlfriend, the woman who comes back into his life to give him perspective on what’s really important.
No black teeth for that one, right?
Oh certainly not! And I get to use my own accent. I’m doubly blessed in that regard. Less work. And no vegetable dye!