Editor's note: The following interview contains light spoilers for Naomi.From executive producers Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship, the CW series Naomi, based on the characters from DC Comics, follows teenager Naomi McDuffie (Kaci Walfall), a top student who has the third-biggest Superman fan site in the world. When an unexpected event in town leads her and her closest friends – Annabelle (Mary-Charles Jones), Nathan (Anthony Puig), Lourdes (Camila Moreno), Anthony (Will Meyers), and Jacob (Aidan Gemme) – on a journey that will change all of their lives, Naomi realizes that the impossible might actually be possible.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Walfall talked about what most excited her about this show, all of the Easter eggs, the positivity that comes with responsibility, what it’s like to lead a show while she’s still a teenager, her character’s journey from comic book fan to superhero, how much Naomi’s friends mean to her, the qualities in Naomi that she embraces, and what she’s learned about herself from being a part of this show.
Collider: I tremendously enjoyed this pilot. I love this character. I’m not much of a comic book person, so I didn’t know anything about this character and I thought that it was a really cool introduction to her.
KACI WALFALL: Thank you.
When it comes to this show and this character, what most excites you? What have you been most excited about getting to do and what are you most excited about fans getting to see?
WALFALL: There are so many things that I’m excited about and excited to do. One of those things is really, for the first time, diving super deep into a character, and the physicality of things, and really seeing how powerful I can be and how powerful she can be. There are certain Easter eggs from the comics that are super exciting, if fans know the comic. I’m also excited for fans to see a new perspective on a superhero show.
Are you someone who has delved enough into the comics now that you know what those Easter eggs are when you see them in a script, or do you still have to have them tell you what those Easter eggs are?
WALFALL: No, I know. There are a lot of Easter eggs in the pilot, but there’s a certain Easter egg in one of the scenes. The executive producer, co-creator, showrunner, and one of the writers, Jill Blankenship, walked past my chair right before a scene and she was like, “Are you reading the comics?” And I was like, “Of course!” She was like, “Did you find the Easter egg?” And I was like, “Yes, I did.” I texted Barry [Watson] and Mouzam [Makkar], who play Greg and Jennifer, the other day because there was a scene that could be compared to a scene in the comic. I texted them a picture and was like, “This is us.”
What would you say are the biggest responsibilities that you feel, taking on the lead and the title character on a comic book show, playing a superhero? This character is instantly going to become someone that people look up to and are inspired by, so what are the biggest responsibilities that you feel, in that regard?
WALFALL: There’s so much great positivity in that because responsibility is weight and the show holds so much weight. I feel the responsibility just to be respectful and a good number one, to always know what I’m doing, and be very careful with the work. I also feel a little bit of responsibility to tell the accurate truth, although some of the circumstances are not accurate to what we live in today. Responsibility is actually a really positive thing. Although it can feel like pressure, honestly, the positivity outweighs it.
Who out of your own friends and family is most excited about you doing the role on this show?
WALFALL: Probably my dad. My dad always tells me that he’s my biggest fan and he’s super excited. My mom is super excited. My younger brother is excited. I called my grandmother when I first got the role. My uncles, my aunts, and my cousins are really excited. And my friends are excited too.
To accept that she’s a superhero means that Naomi will have to accept that superheroes are real. What will that be like for her, to come to terms with both of those things?
WALFALL: She’s such a big fan of the comics. She’s such a big Superman fan. She has the third biggest Superman fan site in the world. She’s been obsessed with this for so long that she can’t even fathom the idea that it’s real. It feels real to her, but actually being real just questions her belief. If someone were to tell me that they saw Wonder Woman, I would think they’re crazy. I wouldn’t think it was real. So, her dealing with that and seeing that it is real, it shocks one of her core beliefs. And then, as she’s finding out who she is, it feels like a lot. She’s an adopted kid. She has lived with her parents for so long. She thought that she got adopted on the east coast. It shakes her belief, and there is a lot of pressure on her too.
What’s it like to balance the drama of high school and the drama of having superpowers? Is the drama of high school sometimes even bigger than the drama of being a superhero?
WALFALL: Naomi doesn’t get involved in high school drama. That is not her lane. That is not the lane of the show. It’s not a cliquey show either. I think it’s an accurate representation of someone in high school. I’m in high school. But Naomi has to balance those lives. She has to balance having this certain destiny, and then also being in high school and keeping things secret in high school. The person she is at school is a completely different person than when she is her superhero self. Naomi’s confidence is maybe a little bit different on the superhero side.
How much do Naomi’s friends mean to her and how much will they continue to mean to her? What sort of role are they going to play in all of this?
WALFALL: I think that her friends are very crucial to the story. The show is a coming-of-age show. It’s a coming-of-age show in high school. It’s a coming-of-age show, as a superhero. The story of Naomi is about someone who loves and is loved. That’s a thing that you could say about the story. She’s loved to buy the people around her, and she loves them. They’re great friends. They are some of her best friends. They always come through for her, but I also think they allow her to have a sense of normalcy.
In the pilot, we see that there are these two guys that are going to play a role in Naomi’s life in some way, with Dee and Zumbado. What can you say about those dynamics and how those characters are going to affect her?
WALFALL: Dee and Zumbado are both in the comics. First of all, I love Alex [Wraith] and Cranston [Johnson]. I think that they’re great actors and also great people, so I love working with them. Naomi has this drive in her, so when she knows that someone knows the answer, she’s gonna ask them questions. I think of Dee as her teacher. He’s like her Mr. Miyagi. He’s teaching her, but he doesn’t have all of the answers Neither Zumbado or Dee have all of the answers, so she still has to figure them out for herself. Naomi has a very strong perspective on Zumbado. She is someone who doesn’t really speak bad about people, but she speaks bad about Zumbado, from what her parents have told her about him. So, I think that it’ll be really interesting to explore those relationships within the show.
One of the elements of a superhero show is always who should and who should know about the secret identity. Without spoilers or revealing who, will Naomi have people that she can trust and rely on, as she’s figuring this out, that she can actually tell what’s going on?
WALFALL: Yes, she will. There are some great characters that will help her along her journey.
Have you had a moment on set, where you felt like everything really clicked and you got who Naomi is, or do you feel like you’re still figuring that out?
WALFALL: Well, I’m still figuring myself out. I’m a teenager. Figuring a character out and getting to live within this character for six months is great. The best is when I’m doing a scene and my subconscious is completely focused on the character and I almost forget that I’m Kaci. There have been many scenes where it’s all clicked. Even after doing so much preparation and doing so much work, I’ll do a scene and then say to the director, “Wait, no, she’s doing this within the scene.” That’s such a feeling of euphoria.
What’s it like, as the lead on this show, to develop that collaborative relationship with your showrunner? The showrunner is the one constant throughout a TV show, as you have all of these different directors and you never know what’s coming next in the story, so what’s it like to have that one bond that’s always there?
WALFALL: I think that it’s great. Jill always makes me know that she’s just a phone call away, for the littlest question. We’ve had conversations. We’ve often had Zooms, or when she was in person on the episode, we’ve talked. I’m like Naomi. I am the queen of questions. I have so many questions, all the time, and Naomi has a lot of questions. That’s what we are similar with. I always ask her questions that are really helpful. And then, DeMane Davis, who is the producing director of the show, is always on set. I’ve really learned about collaboration within this process. If I have an opinion on something, because I’m very protective of my characters, they are so open to listening and so open to letting me try.
What are the qualities and what are the flaws that you love and embrace in Naomi?
WALFALL: A quality that I love about her is that she sees the best within everyone. That’s why her saying that Zumbado is a bad person in the pilot is a very strong point of view. She always sees the best in everyone, no matter if it’s a character that’s a villain. She has this great moral compass within her. As far as flaws, it’s really interesting because she gets into this world of superpowers, but at the core, she’s just a 16-year-old girl. I don’t think that it’s a flaw at all, but we can be emotional and we can have certain feelings. She just has human emotions, but that isn’t a flaw. Even if other people or other characters may see that as one, she doesn’t see it as one and I don’t see it as one.
Similarly to Naomi’s journey, how well do you feel you know yourself? What have you learned about yourself, through the journey of doing this show? Does it ever feel like you’re on a similar path as her self-discovery?
WALFALL: Yeah. I think that our lives are sometimes mirrored and it’s actually very interesting. We’re often going through the same things. I’ve learned to trust myself more. I’ve learned many things about acting, of course. I’ve learned that we all have a destiny within ourselves and that we all are greater than we may think we are.
Naomi airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.
The new series will premiere next month.