Exclusive: Naomie Harris Talks ‘Rampage’

“Rampage,” directed by Brad Peyton, stars Academy Award nominee Naomie Harris as Dr. Kate Caldwell.

Alongside her, is box-office star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who shares a deep bond with a silverback gorilla named George. The two must team up together to save George and the city of Chicago when a genetic experiment gone awry causes George to transform from lovable primate to a gigantic, danger to humanity. Rampage premieres in theatres Friday, April 13th.

The Knockturnal: There’s an excellent balance between action, comedy, and emotional scenes in the movie. Can you speak about that?

Naomie Harris: Yeah, I think it’s such a brilliant mixture of all those things, and I think that’s really a testament to Dwayne and his ability to understand exactly the cocktail of things that are needed to make a film work and really what his fans love. Also, it speaks to the brilliance of Brad Peyton, our director. He was always incredibly aware while we were filming that we were making an action-adventure movie but that to make any adventure fun and worth going on, there has to be heart and soul, and you have to have a connection with the characters. It has to be believable on some level – on an emotional level, even though the whole scenario is larger than life. Then there also has to be humor as well. This is ultimately an escapism kind of movie. People want to go to the theater, they want to leave feeling good, and they want to go on a journey that makes them feel good, you know? That’s what this movie does. It’s a rollercoaster of fun, humor, and heart.

The Knockturnal: Your character, Dr. Kate Caldwell, she has a really important backstory. How do you think that motivates her throughout the movie?

Naomie Harris: I love Kate’s backstory. I love the fact that she gets introduced on ultimately a lie and then she gets quite found out. It just makes her more complex and more interesting to play. Because ultimately she’s pretending that she’s one person and actually she’s another…but her motives are always pure throughout, you know. Ultimately, she wants to do good. She knows that her research has been used in a way that has been detrimental and she wants to make amends to that. She wants to help [Davis] and help George, as well as the other creatures. And obviously, of course, save the city of Chicago.

The Knockturnal: What do you most admire about Kate?

Naomie Harris: I admire her strength and her bravery, and the fact that she is willing to go on this journey and put her own life at risk in order to do what’s right.

The Knockturnal: Friendship is an important theme in the movie. Can you talk about that?

Naomie Harris: Yeah, I think it’s a really beautiful message in the movie about the relationship between man and animal. That’s beautifully portrayed as a result of the relationship between Davis and George, the silverback gorilla. Because, as Davis’ character says in the beginning, he doesn’t really have any friends. His only friends are the gorillas. I think that shows just how we can have a friendship with any kind of sentient being. I think it shows how intelligent, how conscious, and how animals actually do have feelings, and therefore I think we should be kinder and more respectful of them.

The Knockturnal: Having done two Bond films, do you think that helped prepare you for the action in this film?

Naomie Harris: I had hoped that it would [laugh] help me, because I kind of – when I chose to do this movie and I got a start date I immediately got a trainer, and I thought, “Oh my gosh I’ve got to keep up with The Rock. How am I going to do that?” I thought I was just going to really work hard for a month, and do all this stunt training stuff and do all this circuit training as well to get my body into shape, because I thought it would be similar to Bond. But it’s completely different because the kind of stuff that we were required to do in this movie required a lot of green screens. It’s a lot of acting against absolutely nothing, with just tennis balls in a room. And the tennis balls are numbered like, one to say seven. And then Brad would shout out, “Look to number two. The building is falling down” and “Look to number seven. A monster is coming towards you!” The hardest thing about it wasn’t actually the physical challenges, but that I was required to learn a completely new skill, which is acting against nothing except your imagination. That forces you to become like a kid and to play, and it feels like a lot of the time you feel like an idiot. You really have to throw yourself into it and play.

The Knockturnal: Definitely. And your character is really thrust into a lot of the action in the movie. What was it like working with your director, Brad Peyton?

Naomie Harris: I completely love Brad. I think he is just extraordinary. I loved him from the moment I had my first conversation with him. I was kind of on the fence about whether I was going to do the movie, and my agent said, “Let’s set up a call with the director and you can see how you guys feel each other out.” And I spoke to Brad, and he was so enthusiastic and so passionate and so energetic on the phone that by the end of the call I was completely sold. “Oh my god, I so want to do this movie.” He never ever let me down on the movie. He was exactly the same person that I spoke to on the phone, he was exactly that same person throughout the entire shoot. I never saw him lose patience or lose passion or commitment. He is always just so energetic, and he gives 110 percent all the time. I’m seeing that even now that we’re on the press tour, getting up early, and doing long days, talking to journalists all day and talking about the movie. In every interview, he is so impassioned, because he truly believes in this story. He’s so committed to giving the audience a great time in the cinema.

The Knockturnal: Do you have any fun set stories?

Naomie Harris: Well, it’s not really fun, it’s kind of embarrassing. In one of the final scenes in the movie, Malin Ackerman’s character, who plays the baddie, I’m supposed to punch her in the face. I did punch her in the face, obviously, a stage/screen punch where you stop several inches from the person’s face. But in one take I misjudged the distance, and I actually did punch her in the face.

The Knockturnal: Oh wow.

Naomie Harris: And I felt guilty about that until literally yesterday because yesterday was the first day we started press and I got to see her. And I was like, “I still feel bad about it, how are you?” and she’s like, “My face is totally fine. It doesn’t matter.” I’ve been carrying this guilt the whole time since it happened, but no, she’s fine. Yeah, that was a great day.

The Knockturnal: So, I understand that the next project you have coming out is Mowgli. Do you want to tell us a bit about that?

Naomie Harris: Mowgli is The Jungle Book, and I play Mother Wolf, Nisha. I haven’t seen any of it, but I’m super excited because it’s directed by Andy Serkis. Andy and I worked together on a film many years ago called Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll. He’s an extraordinary actor, and it was such privilege to get the experience of working with him as a director, because he’s exactly the same gorgeous human being he is as an actor, as a director. I loved that experience. There were no sets. There was just a load of actors in a room over a weekend, shooting the movie. We shot it very very quickly because we had cameras on helmets capturing our facial expressions, it was motion capture. I was playing a wolf, and I had my wolf cubs with me and my wolf husband. We would be on our hands and knees, just howling, pretending to be animals. It was so liberating. It was like being a kid again or being back at drama school. It was a really freeing experience. I think it’s going to be a fantastic movie.

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