Naomie Harris: New ‘Mandela’ film brought Winnie Mandela to tears

During an interview with theGrio’s Chris Witherspoon, British actress Naomi Harris, who stars as Winnie Mandela, opened up about bringing Mandela’s story to life on the big screen.

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, is the first biopic pic about Nelson Mandela approved by the legendary civil rights icon.

The film is based on South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming president and working to rebuild the country’s once segregated society.

The film also gives viewers a history lesson on the role that Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, played in the anti-Apartheid movement.

During an interview with theGrio’s Chris Witherspoon, British actress Naomie Harris, who stars as Winnie Mandela, opened up about bringing Mandela’s story to life on the big screen.

“I’m ashamed to say I really didn’t know who Winnie Mandela was when I got the role,” Harris confessed. “I said yes to it because I had worked with the same director and the same producers before in another film called The First Grader.”

“I thought as Winnie I would just be his wife who just supports him. I had no idea that she was a political activist in her own right and integral to the anti-Aparthied movement.”

Before filming commenced in South Africa, Harris had the opportunity to sit down with Winnie Mandela and ask her how she wished to be portrayed in the film.

“I couldn’t pull together this kind of cohesive idea about who Winnie Mandela was. So my main question was, how do you want to be portrayed? How do you want people to see you?” “She gave me this gift because she said, ‘look you’ve done your research and I trust you to play the part as you see fit.’ So she gave me carte blanche to just create her, which was amazingly liberating.”

Earlier this month Long Walk to Freedom premiered in South Africa. Harris was able to screen the film in the presence of Winnie Mandela.

“We took the film to South Africa I was terrified,” Harris said “Winnie was in the audience with one of her daughters. I was so nervous… They absolutely loved it. Winnie cried, and she said that there have been many interpretations of her over the years but this is the one that’s really captured her.”

“She called me an honorary South African. That was the critic that I was most worried about, so I’m so pleased now.”

Follow theGrio.com’s Entertainment Editor Chris Witherspoon on Twitter @WitherspoonC