Meet the CW's Newest Superhero: 'Naomi' Star Kaci Walfall (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Fernando Decillis/The CW
Meet Kaci Walfall, the newest addition to the DC superhero universe on the CW's Naomi.
The 17-year-old actress, whose past credits include Army Wives, The Equalizer and Modern Love, plays the eponymous heroine Naomi McDuffie, a high school student (and Superman's biggest fan) who suddenly finds herself zapped with mysterious superpowers following a fantastical incident in her town. Unlike prior superhero origin stories, Naomi -- which hails from executive producers Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship, and is based on the 2019 comics by Brian Michael Bendis, David F. Walker and Jamal Campbell -- explores the untested waters of a young Black girl trying to figure out her place in the world while unraveling the truth behind who she really is.
"It was different than most fully-formed superheroes where we just dive into the comic and she's who she is, and she knows everything that's going on. This was really the step to becoming yourself, the steps to realizing your destiny, the steps that it takes to become who you're meant to be," DuVernay told reporters during a virtual Television Critics Association panel on Jan. 6. "And that's something that was very interesting to me."
Ahead of Tuesday's series debut, Walfall spoke with ET about entering the DC universe, her working relationship with DuVernay and why she's excited for audiences to "see a different narrative" of the hero's journey.
ET: Naomi is a relatively new entry into the DC superhero universe with the comics debuting in 2019. When the role first came to you, how familiar were you with this character and this world?
Kaci Walfall: I'm an avid reader, but I've never read comic books really. So when I first got cast and when I was starting to read for the role, I was reading some of the comic books. And then when I got cast, I went and I got it. So I'm excited to play this character and to step into this role.
What personality traits of Naomi's did you gravitate toward or felt you had kinship with?
One of the first things I did when I got cast in the role, of course, I got a notebook. I like to have a notebook for characters that I'm playing for a long time. And I made up a diagram of me and Naomi from the information that I knew from the pilot and the information I knew from the book and speaking to Jill [Blankenship] and Ava [DuVernay]. There are a lot of similarities. At the time when doing the pilot, I was 16. She's 16. We're both teenage Black girls. We're both intelligent. But I think what I really loved about Naomi is, although I'm confident, I always strive for her [sense] of confidence. She has this confidence and she's such an extrovert, while I would say I'm more of an introvert. And I loved playing that. I also loved how easy she was able to gel with all these different groups of people so effortlessly. On the page, it was so beautiful. I really felt connected to that as an actor and it compelled me to play this character.
You said you're looking forward to people seeing a different narrative within the superhero universe. What about Naomi's story will stand out to audiences who have seen other shows like The Flash and Arrow? What about this story makes it singular and unique?
There's a bunch of things that make it singular and unique. It looks different from other shows, first of all. The story's told differently in the writing of course. And I think that often, when people get superpowers in these shows, they are super excited and it's the greatest thing that could happen to them. But Naomi, it's even deeper with that. Because everyone knows all these answers about her life that she never thought that she had. And they're not telling her. So her also only being 16, it also is a sort of pressure to her. Within the show, we deal with that pressure. She grapples with her worth as a hero. I also think that it's different because it's still in a high school setting and it's still a coming-of-age story. That allows so much joy within the show.
Naomi has a lot going on. She has her school, she has her friends, she has unresolved feelings with regard to past relationships. There's secrets about the truth about her family history and her childhood. What can you say in terms of how she juggles all those balls in the air?
She's special. She's very, very special. On her own, she's special, she's intriguing. But I also think that her balancing all these things, having all these clubs, having the third biggest Superman fansite in the world, skateboarding, maintaining such a good relationship with her parents, making such good high school life, being just such a promising future. That's also superhero-ish in its own. Jill Blankenship and I often joke that she's able to do that because she's a superhero. She just doesn't know that she has powers yet. This is completely new ground for her. And it's nothing that she can relate to or that anyone around her can relate to. So it's different and it's also a pressure that she's never felt before. She's always known the answers. She's always known what to do. She's always had a great moral compass. She's always been loved. To be in a space where she doesn't know what's happening and is uncomfortable, it feels like a lot. But luckily, she does have people that she can lean on. She can lean on her parents and she can lean on her friends and she can lean on Dee (played by Alexander Wraith), who is like her Mr. Miyagi.
It's cool to see a character like Naomi really thriving in something that she loves to do -- and in her case, it's tracking Superman through her popular blog. Is there something that excites you about Naomi that you're excited about for people to see?
Naomi having this love for Superman, I'm super excited for people who are fans of Superman to side with her and her being this popular girl who isn't afraid to embrace that, it's great. And it's especially nuanced. I feel in the TV and film world, just telling that narrative of the character. I'm really excited for people to see the actors that I'm working with. Everyone is just at the top of their game in this show. Cranston Johnson is great, especially, in the pilot [as Zumbado]. And so is Mary-Charles [Jones as Annabelle] and Alex [Wraith as Dee]. Just everyone is completely stellar. One of my favorite scenes that isn't really a scene... when I saw it, I was like, "This is so cool!" It's a skateboarding scene in the pilot. This song that they chose... is just super cool and I'm excited for people to see that.
What was your experience like working closely with Ava on creating this character?
Working with Miss Ava has been great. She's just a really kind and nurturing person. She's such a great creative, but she's just, at the core, such a good person. That of course, makes you want to work with her and makes you want to be your best self. She makes you shine and really feel worthy when you're in her presence. The cast and I joke that she has this aura around her. And I'm being completely honest. There's just such great aura around her. But when working with her as a creator... it's great because every time I speak to her, I leave the conversation being inspired about the character and being inspired about the story. Hearing her perspective on things often really helps me as an actor, but she allows me to have a lot of creative freedom to explore and encourages me to explore. But still, of course, guides me. In the pilot, when I was with her, we had many conversations about the character. She had said things and I said things, and I feel very blessed to have those conversations with her because it is crucial in my performance.
What do you want people to know about the show?
I want people to know that there are, of course, different narrative stories to be told. I really want people to see themselves within Naomi, even if they don't look like her or they do look like her. I think that people can look up to her. There's a part of her that's so human. At the core, she's a 16-year-old girl. I want people to know that we should all be trusting ourselves and we should all know how special we really are. That's something that Naomi goes on a journey throughout the show.
Naomipremieres Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
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