I understand that the children that Naomie Harris worked with in the movie The First Grader were not actors, but students at a school in Kenya. Did it inspire her to want to become a humanitarian, possibly like Angelina Jolie?
—Eliud Mpanda, Madison, Wis.
London-born Harris, 34, who is best known as Tia Dalma, the voodoo priestess in the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, says in some respects working with the children did make her want to be a crusader. But, she adds, that is not her calling.
“I love acting, and that is what I want to do,” she says. The First Grader is based on the true story of an 84-year-old African freedom fighter, who decides to learn to read when he hears that Kenya is offering free education. Harris plays the school’s head teacher, Jane Obinchu, who supports his struggle to gain admission against opposition from authorities and parents.
At the insistence of the film’s director, Justin Chadwick, Harris flew to Kenya three weeks early to get to know the students. She was glad she did.
“They are completely different to the children that I have known, because they are shy, they are very, very gentle, and it takes them a long time because it is disrespectful to look an adult in the eye. It is not in their culture. You certainly don’t answer back or engage in dialogue with an adult, and certainly not a teacher. So it took a long time for them to warm to me and to open up.”