Interview: NAOKO MORI from TORCHWOOD (Part One)

Naoko Mori

NAOKO MORI plays the very smart and endearing Toshiko Sato on TORCHWOOD.

Recently, Naoko Mori took some time to speak with Daemon’s TV about the second season of Torchwood, which is coming to an end soon. She speaks about Tosh’s evolution this last season, her doomed love life, how she first heard about Doctor Who, what originally made her want to become an actor, and much more.

So without further ado, let’s see what Naoko Mori had so say.

(Note: In order to preserve the integrity of the finale of Torchwood, I have split the interview in two so that you don’t get any spoilers. Part two will be posted after the airing of the Torchwood season 2 finale, “Exit Wounds,” which airs on Saturday, April 19, at 9pm on BBC America. So check back then for more.)

Update: You can now read part two of the interview here.

How do you feel about how Tosh evolved in the second season of “Torchwood”?

Naoko Mori: I definitely think the second season for me, it was just a lot more bolder and bigger. And as far as the characters are concerned, I really felt pleased because I think with any show there’s what I call a bit of first “seasonitous,” you know it’s kind of a work in progress and everyone’s getting the feel of what the series is about. But with the second season, it’s like we found our feet and our identity, so I feel it’s really evolved and gotten bigger and better in many ways. As far as Tosh is concerned, I think her sort of journey has really become bigger as well and I think she’s kind of coming out of her shell a lot more. I feel she’s a lot more confident. In life we go through things, things happen to us and it hopefully makes us wiser and certainly I think Tosh has learned a heck of a lot from what happened during season one and she continues to do so in the second series. So hopefully the viewers all see that she’s really becoming a much more sort of balanced and rounded person, although she still has that sort of “hold the candle” towards Owen.

Did you already know in Season one as an actor that Tosh was in love with Owen?

Naoko Mori: I didn’t know that at the very beginning of the series, I don’t think the production team or the writers kind of knew. I think it kind of organically evolved in some ways. What’s been great with the team behind Torchwood, especially the writers, there’s a real sort of open two-way communication going on. We talk to each other all the time and there’re literally on set. I think, at the very beginning certainly, that I didn’t really know, as I said it was a real sort of work in progress, and the great thing is we’re in constant communication with the writers and they see all the dailies and stuff, so perhaps it was something that just happened or it was an idea that they had from the beginning, but I certainly didn’t know from the very beginning. But it’s been really nice in a sense, and I was always sort of cautious about it not just turning into a crush, although it does seem like it, and one of the important things I wanted to try and show was that, especially in the second season, it wasn’t just about her having a school girl crush on him. I’m sure there’s a little bit of that within her, but at the same time she really cares for him, the colleague and the human being, and so hopefully we were able to show a little bit of that through as well, especially towards the end of the season.

Do you wish that this season there had been a more stable relationship in Tosh’s life? It seems she always picks the wrong people.

Naoko Mori: Her love life is doomed (laughs). You know what in a way I kind of like that I think. A) it’s dramatic but also it is hilarious. What was it that someone pointed at me? Even though she has the worse love life ever out of everyone in Torchwood, she’s actually the one who gets it the most (laughs), but it’s doomed. It’s certainly been interesting, and I haven’t really minded that, although at the same time you kind of go “oh come on Tosh.” I love her to death but at times I would just be shouting at the script going “Oh my God! Why is she saying that? Why is she doing that? Don’t do it.” (laughs) But maybe deep down somewhere, I mean she is not a stupid person, she’s a highly intelligent person, she’s just unfortunately one of those people who have been so academically driven that she’s a late bloomer in the social side of life. So I think she’s beginning to learn and she certainly learned a lot, but she never loses hope and that’s one of the things I like about her. But yeah, it would have been kind of nice, but then I think … yeah interesting question. It would have been interesting to see her in a healthy real relationship. Maybe there’s a tiny bit of her that feels it’s kind of safe that she’s not in a relationship, so I don’t know. But you know she’s not very good or probably not very experienced at having relationships so baby steps I think perhaps.

Are you satisfied as an actor, as far as what you got to play in “Torchwood”? For example the Adam episode was really fun, especially since it was such a different side of Tosh.

Naoko Mori: Oh that was such fun, A) as an actor to be able to do this kind of thing in the same program you know. And then what was really funny was that it was probably like the first month of filming, we were doing those scenes, when Burn (Gorman) was playing the geek and I was playing the Owen-type character Tosh, and we were just laughing saying “this is really weird” we’re back to work on Torchwood, but it doesn’t feel like Torchwood, we’re not playing the usual characteristics but it was fun. The whole thing, both seasons, I think it’s just been an incredible experience and journey for me personally, and as an actor as well, to be able to be so many different things all under one roof that’s called Torchwood. I’ve been able to take off so many things on my list to do before I die, like run around chasing aliens, tick, in the rain, tick, you know, action, romance, comedy, and I think that’s the reason why the show’s been so well received. There’s so much in it, it’s not just sci-fi, it has all sorts of other things, there’s something in it for everyone I think.

What first attracted you to the part of Tosh in “Torchwood”? I know that Tosh first appeared on “Doctor Who,” but it was a small part, how did they approach you for “Torchwood”?

Naoko Mori: It’s really funny, because when they first came to me with Doctor Who, they sent me the script and I was like, well I’ve kind of heard of Doctor Who, but I’ve never really grew up with it and watched it. I’m reading the script and it was like “What? Doctor who?” You know, it really was like Doctor who questions. And I’m really embarrassed to say, but I’ve been open about this for a long time, when I first read the script there were certain words I didn’t understand so I looked it up in the dictionary, couldn’t find it, so I phoned my agent and I said you know there are some words I don’t understand, and he’s like “well, look it up in the dictionary,” I said “but it’s not in the dictionary.” So I phoned him and I was like “what’s a tardis?” you know, and he was laughing so hard he put the phone down on me. So yeah, that’s where I started from, I didn’t know who Doctor Who was, I didn’t know what a tardis was, or that kind of thing. And then I must have done something right, I don’t know, within that tiny part that I had. Russell (T Davies) and his team contacted my agent and told him “we have this thing called Torchwood and we’d really like her to play this part,” and I was like “where does this come from?” So I guess I must have done something right. And I met with them and they sent me a script, and I think the first thing for me was – I always love having a challenge and doing things I’ve never done and sci-fi certainly had been something I had never ever done. And just by reading the first script it just told me that it had so much to come. I could already kind of smell the potential, it was soaking up so much and it was something that I’d never seen before, that premise, everything was so new and I was just so curious about the whole thing, that was the biggest attraction. It was something that I knew was going to be very new and very interesting, something that you’d probably never seen on British TV before. So that really excited me for sure.

Anthony Lewis and Naoko Mori

What was your favorite episode this season?

Naoko Mori: I really enjoyed episode 3, which was the Tommy episode, “To The Last Man,” that was incredibly intense. I loved the whole script and the fact that this happened in real life, first World War, soldiers were getting killed by their own people for being cowards, so that kind of resonated a lot, and it’s a very tender story that was very well written, so I enjoyed that. “Adam” was a ball. it was great fun to be able to play a very different side of Tosh. Gosh, there are so many, the thing with Torchwood is that every episode is so different. And I have to say certainly the last two are just ridiculous, I mean completely enjoyable and emotional and intense. Episode 12 (“Fragments”) is really well written and it tells a lot about how we all came to be in Torchwood, so it’s a great story. And episode 13 (“Exit Wounds”) is episode 13, what can I say!

How similar are you to Tosh? Are you actually good with computers and stuff like that?

Naoko Mori: Yes, I’m Japanese, it’s in the blood (laughs). You know, seriously. All my friends know that I’m a bit of a geek, I like my gadgets and so does John Barrowman. John and I used to look at catalogs. It sounds really dull but we love catalogs. He’s Japanese too, he’s a bit of a big geek. So yes, totally I definitely share that with Tosh. I guess I would like to think I’m a little bit more outgoing than Tosh, obviously I’m not as intelligent and a genius like Tosh. But we share definitely the love of technology. I’m the first one to get excited about gadgets and computers and stuff. I guess I’m pretty private too in a sense that work is work and I’m not one of those people who talks about their private life and stuff like that. I’m a lot more at ease with myself than Tosh, I hope (laughs).

What originally made you want to become an actress?

Naoko Mori: You know what, I actually wanted to be a singer first. I loved singing and my parents were very into the arts, especially when we lived in New Jersey, we used to go to Broadway all the time and look at the concert and the Lincoln Center and they were very interested in theater and films and arts, so I’ve been very lucky in that sense. And I really wanted to do some singing, purely at the beginning as a hobby and I actually started training as a classical singer when I was eleven. When I was doing that, I kind of got a scholarship for the singing and then someone suggested that I should do theater study, like drama, too and so I’ve always been interested in theater and acting and stuff. Loved black and white films, that’s all I used to watch and then what was kind of like a hobby turned into a full blown obsession. I ate and breathed, every waking moment was about movies and theater and plays and you know. I think for me in retrospect maybe it’s to do with having grown up in different cultures and different places, people always intrigued me and different cultures intrigued me. But at the end of the day what I found was people are people. People are the same. They’re different but the same, whatever country you may be in, whatever creed, color, religion you are, people are at the end of the day the same. But there are differences and those unique qualities make a person and everyone has a different story to tell, and that’s something that really captured my imagination. I love people and I want to tell people story and I think that was the thing for me, becoming an actor and sort of trying to understand people. I find people curious, you know, everyone has a different voice, a different opinion, a different thought, a different take on thing, and they have a different story to tell. That’s why I almost enjoy people who are not perfect, I mean obviously no one’s perfect, but people who are what I call real characters. Like Tosh is far from being perfect. Okay, she might be a genius but everything else in her life, you know, she’s not really good at her social life, and those kind of shortcomings, you can call it her shortcomings but it’s not, that’s what makes her who she is and that’s one of the things that I’ve loved with Tosh and sort of learning with her and going on a journey with her.

How do you prepare for the different characters you play?

Naoko Mori: Well first and foremost everything is in the script pretty much and I think it’s just finding a way of giving someone a voice. For example, I don’t know if you know how someone like the director Mike Leigh works, he’s very famous for doing sort of hour long improvisations and working from scratch to create a character and a persona, and for me in a sense it’s not far off it. It’s like I would sit down and go, “well, what would this person eat? What did this person have for breakfast? How many brothers and sisters would this person have?” And building a persona. You get the hint from the script and then kind of giving that person a voice. When I first started working on Tosh, obviously you’re very lead by the writing, and then you fill in the holes and then you think about the subtext, you know people say things, but they mean often mean something else. So it’s kind of those kind of techniques if you like. But I love Tosh because I could just see her like going home and sort of getting excited about a new gadget or something. To her that was probably better than going to see a movie or something. And I think you definitely have to care about the character. And just try to understand and building them up from there. And certainly, I think there’s little quirks. Everyone has quirks, and for me Tosh had so many of them in a way, but it’s certainly been an amazing two years working on Torchwood and it’s just been an amazing project and I love it and I love Tosh. Bless her, bless her and her red glasses (laughs).

Read part two of Naoko Mori‘s interview here.