It’s a strange old world we live in right now. On the one hand, we’re relieved that lockdown has (sort of) eased: and yet life is far from “normal”.
Firstly, there’s the ever-present threat of a second wave on the horizon: the elephant in the room that no-one can ignore. And secondly so many things are unfamiliar in our new reality, from wearing masks every time we pop into a coffee shop to keeping a distance from loved ones.
These are small sacrifices, of course, and well worth making, but they can still be unnerving in a low-level kind of way.
So Naomie Harris speaks for many of us when she talks about the difficulty of adapting to this new post-lockdown age we’re all muddling to get through.
The James Bond star says that, after a positive lockdown period spent with her family earlier this year, she has found these past few months of easing “incredibly hard”.
“I expected life to get back to normal and we have this ‘new normal’ which I find really challenging,” Harris tells Make for Tomorrow, an NHS arts and health programme for people with mental health difficulties.
“The masks and so on I know they’re meant to protect us but they also seem like a way of isolating ourselves and not really being able to connect with another human being, not being able to go out and hug your friends… I’m a very tactile person so I found that really hard.”
Harris, who reprises her role as Moneypenny in upcoming Bond film No Time to Die, as well as appearing in Sky Atlantic thriller The Third Day this autumn, says that professionally, the transition has also been “really tough”.
“I was supposed to start filming in August then it got pushed back to September and now they’re hoping for November but who knows – if we have a second lockdown – what will happen,” she says.
“The film and TV industry has been hit incredibly hard by the virus,” she adds, noting that since there are typically up to 90 people on a film set at once, social distancing guidelines are very difficult to implement.
Harris’ words about not hugging your friends will ring true for many people.
Government guidance advises against close social contact (under one metre) with those outside your household, and new rules limiting gatherings to groups of six come into force today.
However, confusion still reigns about what is “right”: while some people are still arranging socially distanced picnics, others are posting photos of themselves hugging mates on a night out.
For Harris, the new reality of post-lockdown life also comes in stark contrast to an idyllic-sounding “early retirement” phase earlier this year.
“Lockdown for me was really a fine experience because I live on the same street as my family so we were able to be in our own bubble,” she explains. “So I wasn’t alone, I was with them; I love my family, I’m very close to my family and we had a great time.”
The actor describes how lockdown felt like “early retirement” with lots of baking and family time: “It was a beautiful thing to be able to stop and have no responsibilities whatsoever and just be with my family,” she says.
At a time when unemployment rates are soaring, Harris also recalls her own experience of looking for a job when she left drama school.
“As an adult, I spent nine months unemployed and it was the toughest period of my life,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t have an identity. I felt like I didn’t have the right to call myself an actress. And then if I wasn’t an actress, what was I? Because everyone else was something. So I felt really lost during that period.”
Harris says she wanted to simply make a living out of acting, but was also driven by roles that portrayed women in a particular way. “I wanted to remain true to myself always,” she says. “I wanted to always play positive images of women, and Black women in particular, because those are the images I grew up around.”