Naomie Harris assumed on a big task when she took the role of Winnie Mandela in the movie Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, so to prepare the actress spent countless hours studying video and interviewing those close to the former First Lady of South Africa.
Harris, who has received quite a bit of critical acclaim for her portrayal of Mandela, decided that in order to dedicate herself to the role she would take a year off from acting before filming started. During that time Harris said she focused on “exorcising Winnie” so she could have an idea of the experience Mandela had during and after Apartheid.
Naomie Harris said she met with Winnie Mandela, studied film of the wife of Nelson Mandela, and met with others who knew the Mandelas. In the movie she portrayed Winnie from the ages of 21 to 57, encompassing a number of major events in South African history.
“The producers wanted to make her a modern character, someone that women and audiences can identify with and look up to,” Harris said.
Appearing at the Critics Circle Film Awards, Harris said the role is the one she is most proud of during her entire acting career.
While the role has been praised by critics, Naomie Harris said there is one stamp of approval that meant more than all the rest — the blessing of Winnie Mandela herself.
‘It doesn’t bode well for me, and I think for a film, if you portray someone without asking for their blessing in making the film,” she said. “The Mandelas — both Winnie and Mandela, who were asked to sanction the movie — they were very generous about it and they just said, ‘Look, we want you to create the movie faithfully and truthfully, but we’re not going to be involved.’ And they were very hands-off about it.”
To add to the pressure of Naomie Harris and to the film itself, Nelson Mandela himself was in ailing health as it made its debut on the festival circuit.