After booking the lead role in the new superhero series “Naomi,” actress Kaci Walfall headed to the nearest comic book store to meet her character in person.
“The first thing I did was go to the comic book store and get the Naomi comic. I needed it in my hands,” says 17-year-old actress Kaci Walfall. “I didn’t know about the Naomi character before. She’s a fairly new character.”
Naomi is a young Black high school student and Superman superfan who skateboards around town and participates in debate club. She’s also a superhero, an identity that gets revealed to her after Superman zips through her downtown.
The character was written for the DC Universe by comic book author Brian Michael Bendis in 2019. Ava DuVernay, along with writer Jill Blankenship, adapted the story for TV under her Array collective. The series premiered on the CW earlier this week and will continue to air new episodes each Tuesday through spring.
Walfall, a Brooklyn native, was in Los Angeles this week for the series premiere. This weekend, she’ll head back to Atlanta to shoot the last episodes in the season. “I thought it would be a little bit weird for the first episode to come out while we were still shooting,” Walfall says. “But it is kind of nice just to see what people like, and still be able to go and finish it and not be done with it.”
“Naomi” is a superhero origin story tucked inside of a coming-of-age tale — sure to resonate with its primarily YA audience — and the show is structured around the character’s central question: “Who am I?”
Walfall brought parts of herself into the character as she discovered who Naomi was for herself. “What I homed in on is that drive and passion from Naomi we see in the first episode, that she’s not going to stop,” says Walfall, adding that she also related to her character’s sense of style. “She’s not afraid to wear what everyone else isn’t wearing. She’s not afraid to not look how everyone else in her town looks,” she says. “That’s what makes people love her so much: her authenticity. Authenticity is presence. Authenticity is key.”
The young actress credits the same quality in DuVernay — or as Walfall calls her, “Ms. Ava.”
“Ms. Ava isn’t afraid to ask questions and unapologetically take up space and be kind while doing it,” Walfall says.
She first met DuVernay over Zoom early in the audition process. “At first, I was trying to play it cool, but I was a little bit nervous,” says Walfall, who was excited to meet one of her idols in the industry. DuVernay welcomed her with, “Hi, Kaci, how are you?” and Walfall was at ease. “It felt so genuine. It didn’t feel like, ‘OK, let’s go to the next girl.’ It felt like she took time to talk to me.”
Afterward, the actress flew out to L.A. with her mother to meet DuVernay in person at a vegan restaurant. Over plant-based burgers and cookies, Walfall shared her own “origin” story with DuVernay and discussed the show. “I remember saying, whoever’s going to get this, I’m going to cheer them on so well, because this is just such a great role, and I knew that Ms. Ava is such a great creative,” Walfall adds. A week later, when she was back in New York, she received the invitation to join the Array family.
Walfall got her start as a child actress in New York City. “People ask me, ‘How long have you been acting?’ And I always say my whole life, because I’ve always been a very performative person,” she says.
Her parents weren’t part of the entertainment industry (her mother is a principal), but were basketball fans and had dreams of Walfall playing in the WNBA. “They put me in all these sports, and it just didn’t stick,” she says. “So I went to take an acting class when I was seven, and I just had so much fun. I wasn’t afraid to be up there. I was really in my element.” That same year, she got an agent and booked her first commercial. Stage roles followed, as did a small recurring TV role in 2013 series “Army Wives.”
This spring, after she finishes shooting season one of “Naomi,” Walfall will graduate from her performing arts high school. Although uncertain about what life will look like after graduation, she hopes to continue portraying Naomi onscreen for future seasons.
“And continuing to do projects that I’m passionate about and have fun doing,” she adds.