A Chat with Naoko Mori of “Torchwood”

If you’re an Anglo-centric sci-fi fan, then I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that “Torchwood” is one of the best shows of its type to come around in ages. Spun off from “Doctor Who,” the series focuses on the Cardiff branch of the Torchwood Institute, an organization which was founded in 1879 by Queen Victoria to research and combat alien threats to the British Empire. If you’ve never watched “Torchwood,” it’s time to start playing catch-up. Season 1 is already available on DVD, and Season 2 makes its DVD debut on September 16th.

In conjunction with the Season 2 release, we were granted the opportunity to speak to one of the show’s cast members: Naoko Mori, who plays computer specialist Toshiko Sato. Like everyone affiliated with Torchwood, Toshiko…or Tosh, as she’s more familiarly known…has gone through quite a lot in her time with the Institute, but she definitely had more than her fair shares of issues in Season 2. We spoke with Ms. Mori about how she came aboard “Torchwood” in the first place, asked what it was like working during James Masters, quizzed her on her favorites episodes of the show, and – perhaps most crucially – asked if she still gets secretly excited when she recalls how she had a role in “Spice World.”

Stay tuned for…

Bullz-Eye: Hello!

Naoko Mori: Hi, Will! Where are you calling from?

BE: Norfolk, VA.

NM: Ooh, very nice. What’s the weather like out there?

BE: Very nasty, actually.

NM: (Bursts into laughter)

BE: It’s threatening rain, and it’s supposed to do that all week.

NM: Oh, dear. But rain…that’s good weather for us in England! (Laughs)

BE: Well, it’s a pleasure to speak with you…and since I figured I’d make this all-encompassing, I guess I should start by asking how you first came into the world of “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood,” and what was your knowledge of “Doctor Who” and its related franchises prior to that?

NM: Okay. (Takes a deep breath) Well, I did one episode of “Doctor Who” when Christopher Eccleston was The Doctor, in the first series, but my knowledge of “Doctor Who” was less than zero. It was kind of embarrassing. I’d known something about “Doctor Who,” but I never watched it, because I kind of grew up all over: in the States, Japan, da da da. So it really was, like, “Doctor Who?” Y’know, with a question mark. They sent me the script, and I didn’t even know what a TARDIS was. I tried to look it up in the dictionary, couldn’t find the word, phoned my agent…and he put the phone down, he was laughing so hard. But I didn’t know! He was, like, “That’s pathetic. Everyone knows what a TARDIS is.” Except me! So that was kind of embarrassing…but I still got the gig! So that was kind of my first foray into the “Who”-niverse, if you like, and…yeah, it was just really weird, because what happened was that, a little time later, I got a call out of the blue, saying, “Russell T. Davies is doing a new show, and they have you in mind for this particular character.” And, bam, out of the blue! It was so funny because I’d just landed in L.A. to spend some time out there again, and then I had to get on the flight straight back home…literally, the next day…to go meet with everyone. And I read the script, and I was, like, “Y’know what? This is exciting!” Not only is it Russell T. Davies, but it’s new, it’s…I don’t think England’s ever done a big sci-fi show, and for me, the attraction was that it wasn’t just sci-fi. It had so much more to it. It had drama, it had humor, it had romance and action, and so much was already conceived in the first episode that I just had to say, “Yes!”

BE: So how developed was your character, Tosh, when you first got the script? How far in advance had they plotted out what was going to happen with her?

NM: Well, I think the jury was still out as to whether she was going to be the same person who I’d played in “Doctor Who.” In Dr. Who, she was Dr. Sato, and she wasn’t a doctor in “Torchwood.” I think the guys, the writers and Russell, they really have their finger on the pulse, and I think they must have had some sort of idea, but the impression I got was…it’s a real sort of work in progress. We’ll shoot stuff, and then we’ll get new scripts and rewrites almost on a daily basis. Because they would watch what we’d shot that day, and they’d pick out things that they’d seen along the way. So it’s a real…what’s the word? Not “working hand in hand,” but…it’s very much a real work in progress, which, again, was a very exciting thing. It always felt like there was room for growth in every direction. But, yes, certainly, at the beginning…well, as I said, it was really new for all of us, and we were sort of experimenting and seeing which way nature would take its course, if you like. I just knew that she was with Torchwood and she’d been there probably the longest apart from Susie, at the beginning. And she was the expert with computers, and I knew she was kind of geeky, but that was pretty much the starting point. And then it kind of began to roll, y’know?

BE: You certainly got the spotlight in “Greeks Bearing Gifts.” To say the least.

NM: (Laughs) I know, I know. And I think that really kind of defined who she was. I think. It certainly defined her a lot more in me. When I read that script, I was, like, “This is who she is. This is what Toshiko is all about.” She’s a late bloomer. That episode kind of encapsulated everything about Tosh. It was a great script.

BE: Did you have any hesitation about the sexuality of the script, or did you just go in all guns blazing?

NM: (Laughs) You know, I was kind of nervous, but my main concern was to make sure that it wasn’t seen as, for want of a better word, cheap. That it wasn’t a, “Let’s throw this lesbian thing in.” And what I wanted to make sure…and I talked at length with Russell and the director, Colin Teague, who’s brilliant…that it wasn’t just a social thing. That it was more about Tosh finding an ally. She was vulnerable and lonely, and she found someone she could talk to as a friend, and it just sort of happened to escalate into the sexual domain…but it wasn’t a lesbian thing, per se. It was more about her finding someone who she could be open and close to…who just happens to be blonde and hot. (Laughs) But it was more of an alliance or a friendship thing.

BE: Speaking in terms of the whole series, what was the reaction to the sexuality within “Torchwood” in the UK? I mean, in the US, we’re clearly Puritanistic… (Laughs) …but how did it go over there?

NM: Well, I think…you know, in the beginning, there was a lot of hype about it being very dark and gritty, and they were saying, “Russell T. Davies, he wrote ‘Queer as Folk,’ and I think people got quite worked up, saying, “Well, it’s going to be really sexual,” and blah blah blah. But in retrospect, I don’t think it feels like it was that, per se. I hope we got the balance right. But there was certainly a lot of hoo-hah here. It was received well, but I don’t think a lot of people got too worked up about the gay kiss or anything.

BE: What was it like working with James Marsters in Season 2?

NM: (Excitedly) Oh, great! (Gasps) Oh, he’s so fun to be with. He’s really funny, and he’s really cool, but at the same time he’s kind of a goofball. He’s a real goofy, cool guy, which is amazing, and he’s such a good actor. I mean, he’s so good at what he does. It was hilarious: he used to walk around with his amp and his guitar, writing and playing songs. Actually, I’m in one of his songs!

BE: Very nice.

NM: Yeah! I can’t remember the name of the song, but I believe I’m still in there. I believe my name is still mentioned! I’m very honored. But he’s a legend, y’know? And he’s an incredibly down to earth and funny guy to be with, and so talented.

BE: And do you believe his British accent to be about as authentic as you can get and not be British?

NM: Yeah. Oh, yeah. He’s great. In fact, I didn’t know – like a lot of people, I think – that he was American. But he was born and bred in California! It’s cool! It just shows how talented he is, y’know?

BE: The first time my wife first heard him talk in his normal accent, she said, “That’s just wrong! I don’t think I ever want to hear him speak out of character again!”

NM: (Laughs) That’s funny!

BE: What did you think about the progression of the relationship between Tosh and Owen? Was that a direction you would’ve been interested in following, had things gone a different way?

NM: It was certainly an interesting thing to have, especially since every episode is so different, but in the second season, there’s definitely a story arc or a continuation of certain storylines, and…I think I can say this for Burn (Gorman, who plays Owen) and myself…we wanted to make sure it was realistic, and that it wasn’t going to turn into a soapy thing. And, certainly, I didn’t want to…there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of ideas and to see how it naturally progressed, but I was wary. I knew that I could trust the writers, though, and that was the one great thing: like I said, there’s a total open communication with the writers and Russell, and we talked about everything at such length. Every single word is thought about intensely. As far as the Tosh and Owen thing was concerned, I was wanting to make sure that the balance was right. I didn’t want Tosh to just seem to be like a bunny-boiling stalker, y’know? (Laughs) I wanted to make sure it was a slightly uneasy thing for her, too. It wasn’t just a teenage crush, but it was more about her wanting to be there and care for him as a comrade and a colleague and a friend as well, but at the same time there was confusion within herself, too, I think, as to whether she really loved him in a romantic way or if it was just an unrequited thing. There were so many different types of attraction. But it was really interesting to see, and it was nice to have that kind of closure at the end, in the last episode. That kind of said, “I love you as a person,” in her video message. So it wasn’t just a little crush. My interpretation was that it was more than that. She just really cared for him, y’know? On a deeper level. On a humanistic level, if you like.

BE: What have been your favorite episodes during the two seasons?

NM: Oh, gosh.

BE: I know you’ve had the spotlight a lot over the course of time.

NM: Yeah. I’d have to say “Greeks Bearing Gifts” for the first season; it was a big episode for me and for Tosh. I really do like “Countycide,” too, which was a lot of running around in the forest. I liked that because it wasn’t aliens, y’know? It turned out to be a human thing. But it had a real traditional horror feel, which I really enjoyed, and it was great to get out of the office, y’know? (Laughs) It was probably one of the first episodes where you saw us outside The Hub, in the wilderness. But, certainly, “Greeks” was the big one for me in the first season. In the second season…gosh, I mean, there are so many!

BE: I figured that one would be harder to choose.

NM: Oh, it’s so hard! I mean, it was pretty intense for Tosh. The whole season was great. I especially loved “Fragments.” All the back stories were great to watch, how we all came to be in Torchwood. Obviously, I loved the idea of “Adam,” the memory thief. There was a little bit of role reversal for Owen and Tosh, which was really fun to do. And, y’know, “The Last Man,” with the frozen soldier, Tommy, was a really emotional episode. And, of course, the last one!

BE: Ah, but is it the last one?

NM: Yeah! (Hesitates) Well, certainly for Tosh, I think. A lot of people have asked me whether she’s coming back, since it’s sci-fi, so they must find another pair of gloves, blah blah blah. But there’s a part of me…well, I would never say never. If the story is right, then certainly it would be lovely for her to come back. But there’s a part of me that hopes that she stays dead, in a way, because if you brought her back, it might take away from what we did in the last episode of Season 2. But we’ll see. We’ll see what happens!

BE: Okay, two rapid-fire questions to close with.

NM: Sure!

BE: When you go into the video store and see “Spice World” on the shelf, are you secretly excited to recall that you had a part in that film?

NM: (Bursts into laughter) “Secretly excited”! Well, you know, they were pretty big at the time, weren’t they? And the sad thing, again, was that I didn’t know who they were! And that probably helped me get the job. Because I’d been working in Japan for two or three years. I sound like such a dork, but I really didn’t know who they were when I met them. “Who? You’re Mel? Oh, there’s two Mels? What? You’re Baby…?” (Laughs) But I have to say, you know, that I loved it. It was fun, it was crazy…and, again, as an actor, I couldn’t wish for something more than doing the Spice Girls movie, then working with Sir Mike Leigh (on “Topsy Turvy”), and then working with Russell T. Davies, and then doing “Absolutely Fabulous.” To be able to have that kind of variety has been such a blessing. I’ve been incredibly lucky. So, yes, I do get a little excited! (Laughs) But I feel old, too! I go, “Oh, my God! We were so young then…”

BE: And, lastly, what’s your favorite song in “Avenue Q”? (Writer’s note: Mori played the role of Christmas Eve in the London production of the musical.)

NM: (Gasps) Oh, that’s so hard! Oh…oh…okay, but I love it all! But I love “The More You Ruv Someone,” because it’s kind of true: you do always want to kill them. And I have to say that I love “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” because it’s so true. (Laughs) I love that show!

BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you!

NM: Thank you so much! Have fun! Bye!

  

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