11/22/2004 at 01:00 AM EST
Before Naomie Harris costarred with Woody Harrelson, she considered herself a serious, no-nonsense actress. But after three months on the Bahamas set of After the Sunset—where jokester Harrelson "would moon the cameras," Harris recalls—she learned to relax. "Woody made me realize that acting can be working real hard," says the British actress, 28, "but also playing real hard."
After a memorably intense turn battling zombies in 2002's 28 Days Later, the Cambridge grad loosens up as a Bahamian cop trailing a jewel thief (Pierce Brosnan) in the lighthearted heist movie. Harris, whose own roots are Jamaican and Trinidadian, grew up in a London housing project with her single mother, a children's book author. Spotted by a talent scout in her after-school acting program, she began appearing in children's TV shows at 11. After earning a degree in social and political science from Cambridge, she wrote to 250 charities and other organizations to scrounge up funding so she could study at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. "You create your own luck," she says. Her hard-driving schedule has kept her off the dating scene. (Her "dream guy"? Colin Firth.) But her new outlook on life may change things. "I left [Sunset] realizing that I want to have fun," she says, "and worry less."