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Kaci Walfall: 'Naomi' may not want super powers

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Kaci Walfall: 'Naomi' may not want super powers
Kaci Walfall plays Naomie McDuffie in "Naomi." Photo courtesy of The CW

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Kaci Walfall, who plays the title character in Naomi, premiering Tuesday on The CW, said her character is a reluctant superhero - a DC Comics character who discovers she has powers while in high school.

"I do genuinely ask myself what would I do if I found out I have powers?" Walfall, 17, said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel. "Maybe finding out that you're a superhero is not something that you're completely enthusiastic for."

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Her character, Naomi McDuffie, is a fan of Superman comic books in the show. She lives with adoptive parents (Barry Watson and Mouzam Makkar) because her biological parents died in a mysterious accident.

In the premiere episode, Naomi meets Dee (Alexander Wraith), who tells Naomi about her lineage from another planet. Dee tries to teach her how to use her powers, but Naomi just wants to be a regular girl.

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"I think anyone with power feels responsibilities," Walfall said. "She's only 16, so I think she grapples with that."

Comic book writers Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker created Naomi, first published in 2019, with artist Jamal Campbell. Walfall said she read the comic books after landing the role, and already was familiar with The CW's other comic book hero shows.

"I watched Supergirl religiously in middle school all the time," Walfall said. "I've watched The Flash, so I was a fan of the film world a bit, but I haven't read comics before."

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay developed the CW adaptation with writing partner Jill Blankenship. DuVernay said the super powers come second to a universal childhood story.

"I think of it as a coming-of-age story first," DuVernay said. "The best stories are the ones where things are happening that we can all relate to."

The first season of Naomi will reveal gradually what powers Naomi has. Walfall said she is learning about her character as her character learns about herself.

"I think how I embody the powers in Episode 2 is going to be different than how I embody the powers in, let's say, Episode 11," Walfall said. "As the series goes on, she's figuring out things, and she gets better and better every episode."

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As a director and producer, DuVernay has tackled social issues like the prison industrial complex in her documentary 13th, Martin Luther King Jr. in the drama Selma and the Central Park Five in the drama When They See Us. DuVernay said Naomi also is a vehicle for normalizing seeing Black characters on screen.

"It's not about representation," DuVernay said. "It's about normalization. The more that you can portray images without underlining them, highlighting them and putting a star next to them, we start to make that normal."

As a child, Walfall performed in The Lion King on Broadway and the touring company of Matilda. At 9, Walfall had a recurring role on Army Wives, and subsequently appeared in episodes of Person of Interest, Power, The Equalizer and Modern Love.

Naomi is Walfall's first leading role in a series. She sent the producers an audition tape based on a character breakdown e-mailed to her.

"When I really saw the character and read the description, I really felt connected and I loved her sense of confidence," Walfall said.

Walfall had a live Zoom interview with DuVernay two weeks later. After speaking with DuVernay some more, Wallfall flew to Los Angeles to audition with DuVernay and test with other actors. She got the role a week later.

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Naomi airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.

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