TV Zone Anniversaries Special '97

Special #26, p25-28

Teenager of Tomorrow: Ami - Naomie Harris

by Steven Eramo
From the moment Naomie Harris was born her mother knew that her baby daughter was destined to become an actress. "I was always trying to find an captive audience to perform in front of," laughs Naomie Harris. "I used to live in a kind of fantasy world in which I took on the persona of the latest movie stars of my choice, walking around the house pretending to be them. I also used to spend hours in front of the mirror making believe it was a camera and I was the lead actress in one of my favourite films."

Little did Harris and her family realise that she would one day cross over into the next stage of human evolution, becoming a Homo Superior with telepathic powers and the ability to teleport across thousands of miles just by thinking about it. As Ami in The Tomorrow People Harris did battle with virulent, sleep-inducing mosquitoes, a naive British professor with the ability to control the weather and an ancient Egyptian seeking ultimate power.

IMPROVISATION

Born in London's Maternity Hospital on September 6, 1976, Harris trained at the prestigious Anna Scher Theatre school where she learned a little bit of everything including how to act, dance and sing. The actress was soon chosen to join the school's prized Young Professionals group which meant that instead of just dreaming about acting in films the young girl would one day be auditioning for real. While acting is all make-believe, Harris says Scher's teaching techniques keep her young students' feet planted firmly on the ground.

"We did a lot of improvisation," says Harris, "and a little bit of dancing and singing, but the main emphasis is really on how to be a good, natural actor or actress. Anna taught us how to be reliable, punctual, well grounded actors who 'turn out the goods without any complaints or excuses.'

"As part of our training she also instilled enough vital lessons of life about personal morality so that we are honest, centred actors who believe that acting is a job like any other job, and learned not to get sucked into what she calls 'all this nonsense about stars and fame.' She believes in making good actors but without destroying our individuality. Instead of turning out a bunch of actors who speak the Queen's English and act in the same way, Anna Scher produces a real diversity of characters which is what I think acting is all about."

SIMON AND THE WITCH

The actress made her debut at the age of nine in the BBC children's series Simon and the Witch. She played one of the lead children, Joyce, who has to deal with having a witch join her class at school. "I can't remember much about my first job," says Harris, "although my mum tells me I was very nervous. All I can remember is being amazed at how big the studio was, how many cables there were, how bright the lights were and how big and menacing the cameras looked compared to my mirror at home!"

Harris had just finished her GCEs and was taking a break before going on to her A-levels when the opportunity came up for her to audition for a part in the updated The Tomorrow People. "My mum's boyfriend, who is an assistant director, was being interviewed for a job on the series," she recalls. "He overhead they were looking for someone who fitted my description, so, he sent them a tape of me in a programme that I had been shooting the summer before called Runaway Bay.

"They must have liked what the saw because they asked me to come in for an audition, which I did. In fact, I went in for three auditions. Each time there were loads of other girls there auditioning and I didn't really think I stood a chance of getting the part. After was seemed like forever, they sent the video they had taken of me over to America, got the OK from them and told me that I had the part!"

CULEX START

The Culex Experiment, the first episode of the second series of The Tomorrow People, marks the actress's debut as Ami. Kevin (Adam Pearce), a fellow Tomorrow Person, witnesses a scientist being bitten by a mosquito and falling unconscious. The scientist is taken away of a motorcycle by two figures dressed in white jumpsuits and black helmets. Before he can report what he has seen to his friends he also is bitten, setting off a chain of events in which the gifted youngsters must stop a scientist name Culex (Jean Marsh) from producing million of these deadly insects.

"Ami is a bot of a tomboy," explains the actress. "She is also a whizzkid on computers and loves a good adventure. She discovers that she is a Tomorrow Person when visiting her mother in hospital and has a flash of what had happened to the boy in the ward next door, without understanding why she feels drawn to the boy.

"She knows what had happened to him, who he is, and other details about him. Her insights into what had happened to Kevin makes the other Tomorrow People, Adam (Kristian Schmid) and Megabyte (Christian Tessier), realise that she must be one of them. After a lot of cajoling she finally allows them to take her back to their spaceship where she realises once and for all she most definitely is a Tomorrow Person."

MONSOON

Writers Lee Pressman and Grant Cathro took over from Roger Price for the next adventure, The Monsoon Man. With Adam, the youngest Tomorrow Person, nowhere to be seen our trio pits itself against a man who can control the weather. This episode culminates in a spectacular explosion at London's Battersea Power Station. "We filmed that in subzero temperatures," says the actress, "with mud and water up to our knees and wearing flimsy summer clothes. We were all freezing and had to keep stealing the soundman's sweets to keep our energy levels up.

"The special effects in the series were amazing," continued Harris. "My little cousins used to sit glued to the television screen with their mouths open when they watched it, and my friends were forever asking me, 'How did they do that?' I'm even shocked myself sometimes at just how good some of the stunts and special effects were, particularly in The Monsoon Man when Lucy (Laurence Bouvard) discovers the weather machine being hidden by the baddies and it starts raining and flashing lightning across the insides of the room whilst outside it is all sunny and bright."

CASTING PAINS

Price and the rest of his production crew took great pains when they cast each of the young actors in the series. Their search took them around the world to the United States, Canada, Australia, and, of course, England. Once the cast had been assembled, it was then up to them to get to know each other and develop on-screen chemistry. Luckily the camaraderie continued long after the filming stopped.

"Working with Kristian, Christian and Adam was a really interesting experience because they're all very experience actors," she says. "It was nice to watch their different acting methods. Also, as Kristian, Christian and I are all around the same age, we had a great laugh on and off set and we often found ourselves going out together once we finished working."

LAST TOMORROWS

Harris joined Schmid and Tessier in London during the summer of 1994 to film two further Tomorrow People adventures. The first of these, The Rameses Connection, boast a star-studded cast which includes Elizabeth Spriggs, Robert Lang and veteran horror film actor Christopher Lee as an ancient Egyptian in search of absolute power.

"When I found out that Elizabeth Spriggs was coming to work on the series I was so excited," smile Harris. "I had worked with here when I was 11 years old in Simon and the Witch. However I had never heard of either Christopher Lee or Robert Lang, so, I didn't get nervous about working with the, especially since they were both so down-to-earth and friendly."

While trying to stop Ramesses (sic) from achieving his goal, the Tomorrow People battle a deadly feline adversary become trapped in an alternate dimension and are almost buried alive underneath a pyramid in Egypt. This particular scene is one that became a bit too real for Harris and fellow costar Kristian Schmid when they stepped in front of the cameras.

"It was a bit of a harrowing experience when it came to shooting the scene in which Kristian and I are trapped in the tomb that is collapsing around us," explains the actress. "In order to create the effect the props people had to throw sand and polystyrene rocks at us. While we had no fears about the set collapsing in on top of us, it did mean that by the end of the scene both Kristian and I were very bruised and covered from head-to-toe with sand."

FAREWELL

In the opening minutes of their second adventure, The Living Stones, both Adam and Megabyte see Ami and her mother off at the airport as they go on holiday. In the real world Harris was busy preparing for her A-levels at college, and, as a result, temporarily hands over the reins to a new Tomorrow People recruit named Jade (Alexandra Milman). While her work on this story is minimal, Harris does recall one of the guest stars in it with great fondness.

"When I was 15 I filmed a series in Martinique which I've already mentioned, Runaway Bay, with Danny John-Jules (who plays rock star Byron Lucifer in the story), so, I know what great fun he is to be around."

Although the series was originally aimed at a younger audience, The Tomorrow People managed to capture the minds and imaginations of both the young and the old and offers something to even the most sophisticated of viewers. "It's the kind of programme the whole family can watch because it has interesting coherent scripts which adults can follow without getting bored," says Harris, "as they contain quite a bit of adult humour. On the other hand, children love the series because it's packed full of action, amazing special effects and characters they can relate to. It's also a very colourful series with some outstanding locations and sets that make it both easy and appealing to watch.

"The series developed enormously after The Culex Experiment and entirely for the better. It became much faster moving and the special effects were absolutely sensational. While my family and friends only watched the series because I was in it, they didn't miss and episode (of her second series) because they said it was so exciting.

SERIOUS

When she is in front of the camera Harris takes her job extremely seriously and turned out a convincing performance as the young Ami. "I love the challenge of trying to convey the exact emotions and feelings that a character is experiencing." Harris explains. "I also enjoy pretending to be someone else and trying to understand how she sees the world, the situation she's in, and how she would react to people and things around them.

"I felt that Ami developed a great deal throughout my time on the series," continues Harris. "She became far more confident about the special powers that came with being a Tomorrow Person and was much more willing to take the lead in an adventure, which made her a much more interesting character to play. "The most difficult part of acting for me is when I'm called upon to laugh hysterically or break down into a flood of tears because, although I can do both perfectly well when I am practicing at home, without being given time to build up to doing it it's very hard to do."

After filming her last set of Tomorrow People adventures Harris worked on a short video with the well-known director Charlie Crichton. The actress has been keeping busy with her university studies and is very much looking forward to the next steps in front of the cameras. "I'm trying to concentrate on school, but in the long-term I most definitely want to carry on acting and I hope to do some films and more television work."


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