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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Naoko Mori from the BBC's "Torchwood"

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Naoko Mori plays science technician/alien-buster Toshiko Sato on the BBC's "Torchwood", the coolest science fiction show to come out of the UK in quite a while. In fact, when put up against a lot of the other science fiction originating on cable, "Torchwood" more than holds its own against "Stargate Atlantis", "Flash Gordon", etc. The production values are great and the stories I think are a bit more unique than some of these other incredibly inbred and convoluted series.

If you're a scifi geek like myself, you may have seen her appearance on the UK's perennial stalwart "Doctor Who" a couple years back but a great many more American's know Naoko Mori as (the adorable and very funny) Sarah (aka "Titty KaaKaa"), Saffron's studious college friend in Jennifer Saunders' "Absolutely Fabulous", the show that helped establish and stabilize BBC America in viewers minds as a source for great TV.

LAist had a chance to talk to Mori and ask her about what's coming up on "Torchwood", [which will have an excellent episode tonight at 9:00pm!!] as well as some specifics about her career.

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Listen to the complete audio of the interview here:

[Text excerpts of the interview after the jump]

LAist: I'm very excited to talk to you as I've been a fan of yours ever since I saw you in your role on Absolutely Fabulous, I loved your character as Sarah.

Naoko Mori: Oh, you are probably the only person who knows the real name of my character. I think it was in Series Two when Jennifer (Saunders) started writing my real name in the scripts and I was asking her, why are you putting my real name in here, and it was because she couldn't remember what Sarah's name was [laughs] and I was like, "You're the one that wrote these" [laughing]

LAist: But I don't think her character ever says your character's name, she calls you "Titty KaaKaa" among other things

Naoko Mori: [Laughing] Yes, that's right! Well, so you know my name, that's great, brilliant!

LAist: It was always a treat when you were on. You knew it was going to be a good show. Your character was always an excellent foil to (Saunders') because she couldn't get through to you (with her nonsense) and your character had this separate agenda of education and eventually boys there at the end. She had nothing to insult you with.

Naoko Mori: I think that she became so disfuntional herself, she started out as this geeky - I always end up playing geeky roles (maybe someone is trying to say something to me) - but she became so disfunctional by the end, what's so wonderful about working with Jennifer is that she would let you find the freedom to improvise and fool around, she'd literally say "Go for it, do what you like see what happens." We never thought Sarah would become so disfunctional. What started out as a small, rather timid girl morphed into an alcoholic stalking lesbian.

LAist: I have to warn you that I'm a Doctor Who fan from way back, we're talking 20+ years ago, and your exposure (on that show) and the spawning of "Torchwood" beyond that is how you got to where you are now with your character Toshiko Sato.

Naoko Mori: I'm embarassed to say I really didn't know who Doctor Who was when I got the script. I'd known it existed but I never watched it. It was really embarassing when I got the script and there was a word in script I didn't know and I looked it up in the dictionary and it wasn't there, so I called up my agent and said "What's a 'TARDIS'?" and he was laughing so hard and said "Are you being serious?" and he put the phone down on me. Because it really was "Doctor Who?" for me, with the question mark. I admitted this to Russell (Davies, creator of "Torchwood" and producer of "Doctor Who") and he was [indignant voice] "I cannot believe this! I should never have given you the job!" But I never imagined that after playing this one little part on Doctor Who that I'd be called back in for Torchwood so the whole experience made me think to myself, "Gosh, you really don't know what could happen when a little connection could turn into a huge opportunity." It's been such a lovely lovely surprise.

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LAist: Now you know that because of that one appearance on Doctor Who, because of that sub-culture, you've been immortalized.

Naoko Mori: Yeah, I know, it so weird and so hard to get used to. I was in a (stage) show (in Lonon) called Avenue Q between season one and season two of Torchwood and literally I'd come out of the stage door and there'd be a huge crowd of Doctor Who fans who would know every single thing about you and about the show and I'm constantly surprised by how much information (there is out there). And I'd say "Guys, I just played this small part" and they'd say "No no no, you were in _Doctor Who_!!"

LAist: I think that the reason why Torchwood is making inroads in the United States a bit faster (than Doctor Who) is because Doctor Who has always been a kids show, (Doctor Who) has always been very PG and Torchwood goes (way) beyond it. People die in (Torchwood) graphically, and there's cursing, and there's ambiguous hypersexuality in the show. (Torchwood) is a science fiction equivalent to some of the other edgier programs that people in the United States are watching.

Naoko Mori: With the second season I think (Torchwood) has really found its identity. With any show, in the first season it's a real work in process. Everyone is trying things out and seeing what the show is all about, both the writers and us. We learned a lot during the first season and I really feel confident that in the second series we've found our feet - there's a lot more character (development) than story lines and I think that's the way to go with any show. I've never really been a huge scifi person because I've never watched it before but it's been a real eye-opener. But I jumped on it because Russell is like a god, really great writing, and that was the reason to go for this. What's been great, and I think this is what has helped the success of Torchwood is that it's not just scifi: there's something in there for everyone, there's scifi, but also drama, and action, and a lot of humor.

LAist: The humor is probably one of the best things about Torchwood. In the states there's an entire channel devoted to science fiction and the shows are just way too serious, they're too into themselves and there's no levity, and the shows end up being very dry. In Torchwood, there's comedy in there all the time. You're a great comedic actress and I'm hoping to see more of that with you, without the show getting campy. The comedy combined with the fast pace are the best things about the show.

Naoko Mori: In England, we get all these great shows coming across the pond from you guys. We can't compete with the budgets of these shows so we make up for it with the writing and the comedy and keeping the energy up.

LAist: Another great thing about Torchwood is that because of the cast we're not just hearing a bunch of British accents - the cast is varied, you have John Barryman who is Scottish originally but was raised in the United States, so we have an American in there and it's a nice melange.

Naoko Mori: In the United States it's normal to see Asian and Hispanic actors. I've been very fortunate to play parts that are not written specifically for Asians. In the UK there is a bit of an island mentality; we don't have a lot of black people or yellow people and other races (on the television) but I think it's beginning to change. There's been a huge move towards that in England and it's a long time coming. We're taking a step in the right direction.

LAist: Perhaps this is why certain programming from the US is successful overseas, like "Lost" for example.

Naoko Mori: Oh yes! It definitely opens itself up to a larger audience with different demographics.

LAist: You mentioned Avenue Q as something that you've been doing outside of Torchwood, do you have something like that planned this year or are you taking a little break now?

Naoko Mori: I did Avenue Q between season one and season two but this year I'm taking a bit of a break since I didn't get that last year. We do have a ball on the set of Torchwood, you'd probably be mortified if you'd ever visit. We do have fun but it's a pretty harsh schedule during shooting. So I'm making a conscious decision to take a break right now but I'm looking at doing some more stage work because I really love it. It's like going back to a chiropractor, it realigns you as an actor.

Torchwood is on BBCA at 9:00pm on Saturday nights

[In the audio we also talked about "Knight Rider", "American Gladiator", the Super Furry Animals, Welsh accents, Mexican food in LA and clam chowder from Cape Cod]