Naomie Harris Opens Up About Her Wellness Journey, and the One Thing That Totally Changed Her Relationship With Her Body

The acclaimed actor shares her thoughtful approach to her career and her health.
By Bethany Heitman
October 08, 2020

When it comes to her career, Naomie Harris has always had one very specific goal—to navigate it on her own terms. “I said from the very start, when I had no money and no security whatsoever: ‘I will always do roles that I am proud of and that do not denigrate me as a woman or as a Black woman,’ ” she explains. Looking at her nearly 35-year-long career, she’s more than stuck to that promise. From her Oscar-nominated role of a drug-addicted mother in 2016’s Moonlight to playing a rookie cop who breaks the blue code of silence to turn in another cop in 2019’s Black and Blue, Naomie has been applauded by critics and fans alike for bringing depth and humanity to the characters she plays.

Most recently, audiences have been able to catch the 44-year-old in HBO’s The Third Day, an eerie limited series that features raw and emotional performances by both Naomie and her costar Jude Law. And Naomie will return as Eve Moneypenny in the next Bond film, No Time to Die. But don’t call her a Bond girl. “It’s me and Léa Seydoux—you can’t call us girls. We are truly women,” she notes. “I look back at the older Bond movies, and the term girl is probably appropriate because they aren’t fully fleshed-out, rounded characters. But, particularly in No Time to Die, they are formidable women who are truly driving the plot forward.”

Naomie’s dedication and ambition extend beyond her career—she is passionate about health and wellness, too. From trying just about every form of meditation to committing to yearly trips to India for a digital detox, she is a self-described “seeker” who is always looking for ways to improve herself. Here, Naomie shares the important lesson she learned during the pandemic and why she has hope that the Black Lives Matter movement will lead to real change, and reveals the wellness practices that keep her grounded and feeling her best.

Credit: THE MASONS

You’ve been quarantining at home, in London. How has that been?

It’s felt like early retirement, and in some ways, that is such a privilege. Normally, it’s not until the end of people’s lives that they realize, “I had my priorities all wrong.” And I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to experience that now and to reassess my whole life. And that’s been really beautiful in many respects because I think the biggest thing I realized was that I was focusing so much on work and I’d really neglected other areas of my life. This time of reflection has caused me to reassess.

You’ve been working as an actor since you were about 9—where does that work ethic come from?

I’m sure it’s from my mum. When I was a kid, all I ever saw was my mum working. She had me at 18 and always said when I went to school, she would go to school. So as soon as I turned 5 and I went to school, she put herself through university. I remember as a kid being taken from school and going to my mum’s university lectures and sitting in the back of a hall, coloring. Then we’d come home and we’d do our homework together. After university, my mum became a writer—she was always working. So I’m sure that’s where I got it from, that all downtime should be work time. That is something I’m trying to unlearn now.

You’ve also used this time to speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s been an incredible time to not just reassess your life but to also get greater clarity about what’s happening in the world. Particularly in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. People, perhaps for the first time, are seeing the oppression of Black people. Many are uniting in support of Black people and wanting to do everything they possibly can to stamp out oppression. I have found it so moving to see all of the demonstrations all around the world and people coming together to express their unity.

Credit: THE MASONS

What do you make of it all?

I think the vast majority of us are good, and good people are coming together to really use their voices and to bring about change and really reflect on what kind of society we want to live in. What kind of society do we want future generations to live in? It’s an incredible moment, and I certainly would never, ever want to be silent about those issues. And what is really important to say is that this is just the very beginning.

In your opinion, what’s next?

I think step one is awareness, and that’s wonderful that we have that. But now it’s: “What demands do we make? How do we bring about change?” And then really uniting and demanding that change happens.

Some of the movies you’ve chosen to be a part of—like Moonlight and Black and Blue—touch on important subject matter that relates to humanity and race. What draws you to a project?

I’m just so grateful to the writers of those, because that’s where the vision ultimately comes from. I have such huge respect for writers—not just because my mum is a writer but also because, ultimately, that’s where the idea really stems from. I’m so honored that I was able to be part of projects like that with such incredible vision. That’s the kind of work that I like to do, that it’s not just entertaining but that it’s moving us forward in some way as a society.

Most recently, you were in HBO’s The Third Day. It’s an eerie series—what made you want to take on the role of Helen?

A big part of why I was drawn to it is because it gave me an opportunity to play my mum. I always felt, when I was growing up, that there was this fierce love that my mother had for me. And I really felt if anybody threatened any one of her children—there’s three of us—that my mum would put her life on the line there and then. And as someone who doesn’t have children, I’ve always been fascinated by [that]. And that’s what Helen is like. If you cut her in half, through every cell in her body runs these two children. And so it gave me an opportunity to explore that kind of fierce mother’s love.

Switching gears, right before the pandemic shut things down, you were in India—what were you doing there?

I go to India once a year. I do a detox; I fast for a fortnight and then do a whole wellness package, basically. I started doing it three years ago, and it was like I hit the reset button. And I just came back with this renewed sense of passion for life and energy, and it was incredible. So I was like, “I’m going to do this every year.” And a big part of it, I think, is going anywhere you can switch your phone off.

You also meditate. How long have you been practicing?

I started at university. It was just this desire to have more stillness and quiet within. I’ve always had a very chatty mind—so I always want to escape that mind. I’ve tried lots of different techniques. I started with TM [Transcendental Meditation]. I’ve done Emily Fletcher’s Ziva Meditation. I did Vipassana where I went off and I did 10 days’ silent retreat. I explored Buddhism—everything, really. I’m a real seeker. I’m always learning, looking for: “Why are we here? What’s life about, and how can I live in this body that I’ve been given in the very best way possible? And how can I make the most of life?”

Credit: THE MASONS

When it comes to working out, what are you drawn to?

I do Pilates. And, during lockdown, I started using the Couch to 5K app. I used to swim a lot, but then, obviously, with lockdown, you couldn’t use the pool. So I thought, “What am I going to do for my cardiovascular health?” My friend told me about that app, and I was like, “But I hate running.” Then I discovered I love it. It’s a form of meditation as well because you get confronted with your mind. Your mind says, “OK, stop here. We don’t have to finish this. We can do it tomorrow.” And you have to just block it out. It’s about mental strength.

You’ve talked about having scoliosis before—how has that affected your relationship with your body?

You were asking me about my journey into meditation, and alongside my interest in that is my obsession with health. That definitely started as a result of having scoliosis as a young child—going through this huge operation where I spent a month in hospital, had a rib removed, my lung deflated, and a metal rod put along my spine. It forces you to have a very different relationship with your body. I know what it’s like to spend a month not being able to walk. And I never, ever want to be in that position ever again. And so, what can I do to be at peak health at all times? It’s the reason I don’t drink alcohol and I never experimented with drugs or anything like that—because I always felt the most important thing for me is health.

How does that affect the way you approach nutrition?

I’ve tried a ton of different diets—a bit too many, I think. Anything that they said was healthy, I was like, “I’ll try it.” It’s amazing that it’s taken me so long to realize this, but nobody can tell you what works for your body. It’s all about you being in tune with your body enough to listen and be like, “No, this doesn’t work; this does.” It’s coming back to that internal wisdom. It’s about coming to that realization that actually nobody knows better about my truth than me.

When you think about your life, what are you most proud of?

I think I’m proud of my constant searching. I’m always seeking to be the very best version of myself that I can be. And I’m never just resting on my laurels. I’m always focused on change and growth.

This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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