Introducing Naomi J Ogawa. The London-born actress may have only recently graduated from drama school, but she is already a part of the Netflix family, starring in the platform’s new series, Wednesday.
Tim Burton’s gothic reimagining of The Addams Family sees Ogawa play Yoko Tanaka, a vampire at Nevermore Academy - and a part that the young actress fought to secure, inspired by Chris Hemsworth about him persevering with a role, even after getting a no.
Congratulations on the release of Wednesday!
I am so excited. My friends have booked a cinema room and have invited me to watch it with them, but like a lot of actors I just cannot watch myself so I’m going to have to watch it alone or with my mum.
What does the fantasy genre mean to you?
What I love about fantasy is that it really takes you out of reality. It gives people free rein to experiment with different ways of viewing the world. As an actor, it's such a gift to be a part of a project in the realms of fantasy because you can allow your imagination to run wild and have that childlike playfulness that we kind of lose when we get into adulthood. So for me, it was very nostalgic and freeing to be a part of a project that's really fantastical and otherworldly.
What drew you to your role?
I loved how kooky Yoko was at her initial introduction. There were so many ways of playing her - it was a pretty complicated audition process to be honest because they were still trying to figure out who she was and what they wanted from the character. It was a long process, but it allowed me to get creative and explore different versions of her until one stuck
How was your audition process?
Girl, it was a long process. I did my first audition for them and that went really well, but then I completely flunked the chemistry read - I was so nervous. Imagine it - you're on this Zoom session and Tim Burton’s face pops up, and you've got all the producers and a whole bunch of other people watching. I was doing the scene with Emma and she skipped a line, and we both just looked at each other through the screen and panicked. I was so nervous that it would have gone badly even if she hadn’t skipped a line. The whole thing lasted five minutes but it felt like hours.
The next day, my agent just ripped off the band aid and said it's a no, but I was determined not to mess it up.I remember watching on YouTube, actors who have messed up auditions, but then they somehow got the role. The one that really stood out was Chris Hemsworth. He said he totally flunked his Thor audition. But he thought, no this part is mine. He did another self tape and sent it off to them. And then he got a yes. So I'm like, if Chris Hemsworth can be Thor then Naomi can be Yoko. I did another self tape and they loved the character development. I think they were just like, oh my god, she must really want it if she keeps coming back with all these new ideas.
What was it like working with Tim Burton?
Oh my goodness. It was obviously very nerve wracking because he's so iconic and I grew up watching his movies. I loved that little escape from reality because all of his work is just so fantastical and otherworldly. It’s super playful and it does pull on your heartstrings watching it as an adult because it's so much a part of your childhood. He was just wonderful to work with on set. He is the most down to earth person ever and what I loved about him was that he was very patient with his actors. He wanted to get things perfect, but he was very much open to the actor being creative and taking full responsibility for their character. He gave his input, but instead of telling the actors how they should play their character, he gave us complete freedom.
What was your reaction to getting the part?
I didn't believe it when my agent called me and told me I got the job. I was obviously over the moon, but I think I was just so shocked that I got it and it didn’t hit me that I'd have to pack my bags up and go to Romania two weeks later. That was so mind boggling to me. The first thing I did was call my mum - she was so happy for me and just very proud because she knew how hard I fought for it and how much I wanted it as well. I just felt a huge sense of relief.
How was filming in Romania?
We were filming in the midst of COVID. I was out there for seven months, and with all the COVID restrictions, it was quite difficult. But we all got along as a cast, and we enjoyed each other's company so that made it a whole lot easier because we all gave each other so much support. We got to come home over Christmas too so we had a few weeks off to just visit family. I had my mum come visit me once or twice, but it was the longest I've been away from my family.
Did it get lonely?
I adopted the most gorgeous French Bulldog that I named Pugsley. Despite being the most adorable, chaotic and sensitive dog ever, she was such a huge support system throughout the whole experience. I don't think I could have done it without her. I brought her to set and she would follow me everywhere - she was like everyone’s therapy dog.
There was a lot of fear around getting COVID and having to stop filming, so we mostly kept to ourselves, but we did meet up occasionally and we definitely made it a positive experience. It was OK for me because I love doing my own thing anyway, so I got to explore Romania. I even went to a spiritual retreat in the mountains for a weekend which was incredible - I must say the Romanian countryside is breathtaking.
What is your process for getting into character?
For Yoko, because it was such a complicated audition process and we never really figured out who she was, we kind of had to go along with it. I didn't really start the process until I figured out what she looked like because I think the image really lends to the character. When I got into her costume and I had the dark hair and purple strands, that's when I really felt like the character and could fill in any gaps in her storyline with my imagination, and really understand her better - hopefully that translates on screen. Also going on set and then seeing the environment really helped me - it ignited my imagination and I just allowed myself to be free when it came to exploring her.
What is a lesson that you learnt on set?
I actually learned so many lessons when I was on set because the whole experience was just so new to me. The one thing that I had to learn on the job was to speak up if something didn't make sense. If the director or someone wanted something from me, in order to get clarity, you have to ask for it. I had to be very clear if I didn't understand something and learn that it's okay to ask.
What is your favourite line from the script?
Wednesday has so many cool one-liners, and I would say one of them that I really liked was “I act as if I don't care if people dislike me, deep down. I actually enjoy it.” That's the one for me, but she has so many!
What are you looking forward to in your career?
I would love to show off my comedy chops because I think I can be quite comedic. So I am looking forward to hopefully being in a comedy. I’d also love to try a role that was physically demanding - I think would be really cool.
Wednesday is out on Netflix 23rd November 2022.
Photography, Kyle Galvin
Styling, Sarah-Rose Harrison
Videographer, Rodney Rico
Makeup, Buster Knight at The Only Agency using Iconic London
Hair, Nicola Harrowell at Premier Hair & Make-up using KEVIN.MURPHY assisted by Alyssa Kraus
Manicurist, Julia Babbage using Mii Cosmetics Nourish + Nurture Nail & Cuticle Oil and Care + Caress Hand Serum assisted by Sara Sorrenti
Casting and production, Sarah-Rose Harrison
Production assistant, Angel Brown
Features writer, Dionne Brighton
Editor-in-Chief, Andrea Thompson
Editor, Sunil Makan
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Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.
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