Interview with actors from “Naomi” on The CW by Suzanne 1/6/22
This was a great panel with the cast and creators of the new teen superhero show on The CW. I love all of their superhero shows, so I was very grateful to be there. There was a lot of youth and passion in our little Zoom press panel.
THE CW NETWORK
Cast Zoom: Ava DuVernay (EP), Jill Blankenship (EP), Kaci Walfall “Naomi,” Cranston Johnson “Zumbado,” Alexander Wraith, “Dee,” Mary-Charles Jones, “Annabelle,” Barry Watson, “Greg,” Mouzam Makkar “Jennifer,” Daniel Puig “Nathan,” Camila Moreno “Lourdes,” Will Meyers “Anthony,” Aidan Gemme “Jacob,” 2022.0106
Here’s the description of the series that we were given in the panel:
“This is a truly fresh take on the superhero genre from executive producers Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship. And we’re so happy you’re joining us today to hear from them and our incredible cast. The DC drama Naomi follows the journey of a cool, confident, comic book-loving teenager as she pursues her hidden destiny. When a supernatural event shakes her hometown of Port Oswego to the core, Naomi sets out to uncover its origins with a little help from her fiercely-loyal best friend, Annabelle. She also has the support of her adopted doting parents, veteran military officer, Greg and linguistics teacher, Jennifer. After an encounter with Zumbado, the mysterious owner of a used-car lot leaves her shaken, Naomi turns to tattoo-parlor owner, Dee, who becomes her reluctant mentor. While unraveling the mystery about herself, Naomi also effortlessly navigates her high school friendships with kids on the military base, as well as local townies, including ex-boyfriend and high school jock Nathan, Annabelle’s long-time loyal boyfriend, Jacob, proud townie, Anthony, and fellow comic book enthusiast, Lourdes, who works in a vintage collectible shop. As Naomi journeys to the heights of the Multiverse in search of answers, what she discovers will challenge everything we believe about our heroes. Don’t believe everything you think. This is… Naomi. New series, Tuesday, January 11. Only on The CW.”
I was able to ask just two question because it was a large press panel with many journalists. First I asked the show’s star, Kaci, if she had been a fan of this (or any other) comic book prior to the show. She answered that she’s an “avid reader,” but not of comics. However, she did love The CW superhero shows, such as “Supergirl” and “The Flash.”
I love Barry Watson because I used to watch “7th Heaven,” where he played the hunky oldest teen boy. Here, he plays Naomi’s adoptive dad on the show. I asked him if he’d ever played a military man before. He replied that he hadn’t, as far as he could remember. He added that he does come from “a bit of a military family,” but this is his first time playing someone in the military.
Ava DuVernay chimed in to say how much she likes him “with the salt and pepper beard.” She said it’s a shame that he can’t wear it on the show, since he’s in the military. Then she mused that they might have to find a way to write it in the show. I had just been thinking the same thing, that he should keep the beard because he looks great with it. I thought, “Should I say that? Do I have time?”… so I’m glad she said it! She said that he looked “fantastic.” He grinned modestly. I’m sure he’s used to women complimenting him. He said that this is “how I roll.” Like so many men, he doesn’t shave when he’s not working. I don’t normally like beards, but it looks good on him. She joked again that she’ll have to write it in the script. He agreed and revealed that “shaving it every day hurts my face.”
DuVernay was very chatty during the panel and had a lot of energy. I could tell that she’s really the driving force behind the show as well as its biggest cheerleader. I can see now why people are so inspired by her.
Jamie asked where the show might fit in the DCU and whether it might be involved with some of the CW crossovers. Executive Producer Jill answered that this is the third DC show she’s worked on, and she loves how they have something for everyone. She doesn’t think that anything is “ever off the table” (including a crossover). That’s great to hear.
Max asked Ava and Jill about where the idea came from to develop the series and what their experiences were with comics beforehand. Duvernay informed us that through her production company Array, which is via Warner Brothers, she had been involved with a DCU movie “New Gods” (unfortunately, this film had been canceled because it conflicted with the “Justice League” movie). She also worked with them on another new show, “DMZ,” which comes out on HBO Max later this spring. Then she heard about a new comic about a black girl superhero, so she really wanted to be involved with it. She liked it because it was different from other superheroes, since this girl is figuring out her destiny and who she is. She praised Jill as one of the “top two best writing partners I’ve ever, ever had,” so she wanted her for the show, and they started working on it. Then she went on to heap loving praise on all of the cast and crew and said they’ve had a good time creating the show together.
Max then asked a second question, for Kaci, about what her audition process was like; he also asked the producers why they chose her. Kaci described her audition. She sent in a self-tape and didn’t hear anything for 2 weeks. Then Ava emailed her and wanted to do a Zoom call with her and two others. She did some scenes with them and answered questions, and then they flew her to L.A. She went with her mom out to L.A., where they had her do some readings (for chemistry). Then they talked about the show over lunch and got to know each other. A week later, Ava phoned her to say she got the part. This sounds like a very thorough audition. They never answered his second question, unfortunately.
Fred was called on next. Ava recognized him from when he was a publicist and she used to pitch (story ideas) to her. Awww, that was nice. Ava said he was very sweet and that they’d both been doing this a long time.
Fred asked Kaci whether the fact that Naomi just discovered her powers gives her a little leeway into training a little bit, and he also asked her how extensive her physical training has been.
Kaci agreed that she has been able to ease in to the training. She’s finding things out as Naomi does and is able to grow over time. She credits her stunt coordinator, Elizabeth, for telling her that she’s just at the right place (the same as the character). She just works out to stay fit and keep her energy going, but Naomi gets better every episode.
Fred followed up with asking Alex about his own physical training for the role of Dee. Alex admitted that while he was “pretty athletic,” he’d given up on heavy training and martial arts for a few years, so he had to start training again. He pointed out that it feels very good, and he feels that he’s back on track.
Ava disappeared for a moment to get her charger, just as Rick was going to ask her a question, so everyone laughed because it was a funny moment. He asked her whether she thinks first of the scifi elements of the story, or the coming of age stuff first, and what have been the pitfalls, as well as positive things about adapting a popular comic to the screen.
Ava answered that she thought of it first as the coming-of-age story and that’s what she loves most about it. She believes that all comic book stories are “really personal human stories about the … journeys that we all take, written in with issues of heroism and … magic.” The best ones are the ones we can relate to. She shared some of her favorite scenes in the show. There was one she was editing today that brought a tear to her eye. She was getting emotional editing this “young adult drama.” There’s another scene where Naomi and Cranston talk about love that made her cry. She also spoke highly about Barry and Mouzam, who play Naomi’s parents. She praised them for having “an edge” and “mystery. She added that Naomi has three love interests (one a girl). Lastly, she said that her favorite couple is Jacob and Annabelle; she said they might get a spinoff one day. All of these things make it more than just a superhero show to her.
Jill answered the other part of the question. She’s a fan herself of the comic book and loves how “characters jump off the page.” She’s excited to honor the writing in that and how the story progresses, yet still “expanding the world even beyond the comic.” She added that seeing this wonderful cast bringing it to life has been “spectacular.”
Judy asked Cranston and Alex to describe their characters, whom have known each other a long time and lived in the same town for years. She wants to know what their relationship is and whether they wrote their own backstory for them. Cranston relayed that he had been told that his character doesn’t like Dee, and we’ll find out why. Also, “the feeling is mutual,” but they may have to work toward a common goal. Ava praised him for avoiding any spoilers, saying “Well done!”
Alex doesn’t agree that Dee hates Zumbado. Dee keeps to himself to avoid any kind of drama, which he’s been through before. He just knows that Zumbado will be responsible for any problems that might come up.
Judy pointed out that the series relies on Naomi’s relationship with her friends, so she asked each of the young actors what they did outside of the set and hanging out together to get their chemistry. Ava asked Mary Charles to start. She shared that she and Kaci had done one scene together over Zoom for the pilot (so they could work looking like best friends). Then they started doing a group Zoom with the other younger people. She revealed that they “did very teenagery icebreakers,” such as asking each other’s “star signs” and what their favorite ice cream flavor was.
Camila remembers that and said she really liked “this amazing group of people. She thought that building this relationship was going to be very easy. She’s blessed to part of it and says that they’re a very likable group.
Ava pointed out that this is Daniel’s first job. Puig agreed that making the chemistry with them all was “awesome” and reminded him of hanging out with his high school friends. He feels that they’ll all be close forever. Will was wearing a suit, so Ava pointed out that he was “”looking so debonaire” and asked him his thoughts on it. He noticed that at the beginning, they were all just working on their characters and anxious to get started, but then they were told to get to know each other, which made him more excited. He said that they were all “wonderful” and that getting to know them has been “such a joy.” He echoed Daniel’s sentiments, saying, “I really feel a connection with every single one of you, and it’s been nothing but fun. ”
Ava called on Aidan last. He said there was some awkwardness when they did their first table read, but since then, they’ve all been building on their relationships. He feels that “everybody wants to be here and [is] open and engaging.” It makes him feel “humbled” to be included. Then Ava praised them all and talked about how they support Kaci, which is “extraordinary.” She said that Kaci is the star and lead of the show, and they all work to rally around her, even though she’s only 17 and the youngest person in the cast. She complimented her on handling things with such “grace.”
Abbie asked Ava if she’ll be addressing issues such as “race and civil rights” in a real or metaphorical way, since that’s what she’s done in previous projects. Ava says they will be doing it with a process she calls “normalization,” which means having diversity of race, gender and class as if it’s an every-day thing and not anything out of the ordinary. She feels this is a “radical revolutionary thing.”
Abbie also asked Kaci about how she views her character, whether it’s through being excited that she has superpowers or something else. Kaci replied that the show is very realistic, so she asks herself the question of what she would do if she had superpowers. She wouldn’t necessarily be “joyful,” which is how the character is dealing with the issue. Being a teenager, she doesn’t want to be “different.” Abbie went on to ask whether Naomi feels that she has a greater responsibility to protect her community (now that she has superpowers). Kaci believes anyone with powers would feel that way. Being 16, it may not be a good thing to have to struggle with, which she does throughout the show.
Jim asks about Naomi’s flirting and romances in the show and whether we’ll see some of that as a story point in the first season. He feels that some viewers might be struggling with their own sexuality and want to see that addressed.
Jill, adding on to what Ava said about normalization, replied that she admires how the younger people today are very different when it comes to sexuality. She finds their “attitude towards sexuality and toward this sort of aversion to labels so inspiring.” They do use that through the season, grounded in the reality of their show.
Ava asked Barry and Mouzam to give their opinions on this, since they’re playing Naomi’s parents. She reminds us that there’s a conversation in the first episode where they’re talking about the other teens that Naomi is involved with. Mouzam agrees with Ava that there are many different people in the world, and their characters raised Naomi to believe that “love is love.” They have great communication between them. She praises their family dynamic and how Naomi can be free to be herself and that it’s all coming from reality. Barry agrees and says they have “an openness” to everything and they really want their daughter to be happy, more than anything.
Jim had a follow-up question. He calls the teens the “Scooby gang.” Ava chimed in to say that the kids don’t know that ancient reference, but they all do (of course, because “Scooby-Doo” has run in re-runs and remakes forever, and the phrase has been used many times, over and over, in the media). Kaci said that they do call themselves that already.
Jim asks them if they knew the backstory of their characters, whether it was in the script or not. Camila answered that they have great access to asking Jill questions. She and Ava are very open about answering their questions. She’s very curious about her character’s background and personality. Aidan agrees. He comes from the theater, where there’s always an end, so they don’t have as much opportunity to explore their characters. This show has been fun because they’re all on a journey together. Every time he opens his script, he learns something new about the characters.
Ava piped up again to say that they gave Mary-Charles, Will and Daniel the most background material. She mentions who the characters each are. She doesn’t like giving them too many details because they want the actors to help fill in those gaps. They listen to the younger actors and how they speak, so they use some of the slang terms they use. Jill agrees that she feels “10% cooler just from my text exchange …with these actors.” Mary-Charles backed them up by saying that what is really great is that they listen to them in a respectful way about how they speak and whether this or that is still trendy to say.
Dawn asked Ava and Jill what made Kaci just right for the role (which is great, since that question was asked earlier and never answered). Ava says that besides the talent, she looks for a person that has certain qualities because she has to work closely with them, possibly for years. She asks if she wants to be in a relationship with this person. She knew after Kaci auditioned that she is “flat out incredible, beyond good enough” as an actor. She had to fly her out and meet her, have a meal and get to see who she was as well. Even though Kaci was only 16 and just had a little theater experience, she had a great “work ethic, the professionalism, the talent, the vibrancy, the charisma, all of it.” She also liked her as a person. She knew Kaci would be able to shoulder the responsibility of being the title character of a TV show. She feels very lucky to have found her, and she felt the same way about other actors she found for roles in her TV and movie projects (which she listed). Jill also added how impressed she’s been with Kaci. She sometimes forget she’s 17 “because she’s so thoughtful. She’s so mature. She’s so considerate and such a great leader, as Ava said that again, it’s just, she’s exceeded my wildest expectations, personally.” Kaci blushed a bit and smile at all of the nice things they said about her.
Ava also added that the rest of the cast was also great. They all like each other in real life, which is not always the case. She complimented Cranston, Alex, Barry and Mouzam again.
There was more, but this was a really long interview. I’ll add the rest later if I see anything worth adding, but you get the idea. I hope you enjoy the series!
Tuesday (9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET) on The CW
From Oscar® nominee/Emmy® winner Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship (“Arrow”), and starring Kaci Walfall (“Army Wives,” “Power,” “The Lion King” on Broadway) in the title role, the DC drama NAOMI follows the journey of a cool, confident, comic book–loving teenager as she pursues her hidden destiny. When a supernatural event shakes her hometown of Port Oswego to the core, Naomi sets out to uncover its origins, with a little help from her fiercely loyal best friend Annabelle (Mary-Charles Jones, “Kevin Can Wait”). She also has the support of her adoptive, doting parents, veteran military officer Greg (Barry Watson, “7th Heaven,” “The Loudest Voice”) and linguistics teacher Jennifer (Mouzam Makkar, “The Fix”). After an encounter with Zumbado (Cranston Johnson, “Filthy Rich”), the mysterious owner of a used car lot, leaves her shaken, Naomi turns to tattoo parlor owner Dee (Alexander Wraith, “Orange Is the New Black”), who becomes her reluctant mentor. While unfolding the mystery about herself, Naomi also effortlessly navigates her high school friendships with kids on the military base as well as well as local townies, including ex-boyfriend and high school jock Nathan (Daniel Puig); Annabelle’s longtime, loyal boyfriend Jacob (Aidan Gemme); proud “townie” Anthony (Will Meyers, “Bad Education”); and fellow comic book enthusiast Lourdes (Camila Moreno), who works in a vintage collectible shop. As Naomi journeys to the heights of the Multiverse in search of answers, what she discovers will challenge everything we believe about our heroes. Based on the characters from DC, NAOMI is written and executive produced by Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship (“Arrow”), and executive produced by Sarah Bremner and Paul Garnes of ARRAY Filmworks. Amanda Marsalis (“Echo Park,” “Queen Sugar”) directed and co-executive produced the pilot episode. The series is from ARRAY Filmworks in association with Warner Bros. Television.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda