IT’S hard to imagine that Naomie Harris, a stunning, confident actress who’s now in the running to play the next Bond girl, was once a nerd.

“I was always a nerd and a bookworm at school - I worked a bit too hard,” she says.

The work paid off, though. At 34, Harris is grounded and intelligent with a degree from Cambridge University and an incredibly bright acting future.

Playing an airhead Bond girl used to be considered career suicide, but now they’re roles for feisty actresses like Gemma Arterton and Eva Green who go on to even greater success.

Harris, who came to fame in the 2002 TV adaptation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth before being almost unrecognisable as a voodoo priestess in two Pirates Of The Caribbean films, admits she’s yet to sign up for the part opposite Daniel Craig in the eagerly-anticipated Bond 23, but she’s willing as long as the character is right.

“I’ve never played a beautiful vacuous woman. I don’t think I’d be very good at it. So if that was the role, it wouldn’t appeal.

“But I just don’t think Bond would be interested in a woman like that now. The new Bond has to be intellectually stimulated by whoever he’s having his dalliances with,” she giggles.

Her latest role couldn’t be further from the high octane 007 films. In THE FIRST GRADER, based on a true story about an 84-year-old Kenyan who decides to go back to school, Harris plays inspirational headteacher Jane Obinchu.

“It was a wonderful experience but definitely very challenging,” she says.

The whole shoot took place on location at a small mountain-top Kenyan primary school, where real schoolchildren were recruited to play Jane’s pupils.

“I was brought in two weeks before we started filming. Justin (Chadwick, the director) wanted me to be introduced to the children as their teacher and not as an actress, so I was known as ‘Teacher Jane’,” Harris explains.

“I had to be able to speak some Kiswahili to communicate with them, because most of them didn’t speak English that well.”

Harris says the children, whose resources were so limited they had to eke one pencil out for an entire term, taught her something about life in the West.

“I thought I was going to be in tears knowing these children have got no shoes and only eat one meal a day - and actually I came away thinking, not poor them, but poor us, because they have a much greater sense of community and belonging.”