Naoko Mori has a long history of playing geeks, kooks and outsiders.
It started with a bang when she became known to British and Irish audiences playing Saffy's bespectacled and dorky friend Sarah in Absolutely Fabulous and has continued to this day, via Torchwood, Doctor Who, and the film Hackers. It's something she's continuing too, with a new part playing a professor in the upcoming comedy drama You Me and the Apocalypse, an original drama shortly to air on Sky 1, which stars a "pile-up" of big names and award-winning talent including Rob Lowe and Pauline Quirke.
Mori is a familiar face to TV audiences. "I know in reality I'm not a leading lady type," she says. "I have been able to play lots of different kinds of parts. Mostly either geeky or slightly off, or troubled or goofy. Which has always been really fun."
In film, she's followed a similar path too, and alongside her turn on the telly at the moment, can currently be seen in the multiplexes playing one of her most challenging roles to date, that of the explorer Yasuko Namba in the nail-biting disaster-flick Everest. The conditions of filming, in Nepal, Italy and later in Pinewood, made it "probably the most challenging and immersive job I've ever done in my career," Naoko says. "The cold, the minus twenty something degrees, and where we were filming and so much snow. It's just been an extraordinary experience. Being able to portray somebody who was so extraordinary as well. One feels a huge sense of responsibility when you are portraying someone who actually existed and I just wanted to make sure I did her justice."
She had an idea that she was quite a toughie to start out with, but the shoot tested her resolve. "I was the only female cast member on the Nepal leg, and I'd been told that there were no facilities and that it would be pretty basic. So I was a little bit nervous about that, and whilst trying to stay ladylike, all that kind of went out the window on the second day. Because it really was, you've got to pull your own weight, there's no help, you've got to carry your own backpack and there are no cars. You couldn't get out, you couldn't give up. We would be filming and they would say, 'OK, that's a wrap on this location, we'll trek for four or five hours to the next location, see you there.'"
But Mori has always been disciplined and independent. It was bred into her, when she was growing up as the daughter of Japanese parents who moved around the world. She lived in America when she was a child, and later moved to England where, in her early teens, she decided to stay on alone when her parents returned to Japan so that she could continue her education there.
Her determination was "really instilled in me from an early age by my parents," she says. "I think having gone to the States when I was three, and then moving back and forth, you kind of develop a thicker skin I think." Certainly she was raised to be self-starting and self-sufficient. "When we were abroad, I would go to Japanese school on the weekend, and when we were in Japan, I'd go to English school on the weekend. So it was sort of school seven days a week, but thank goodness for that I'm able to speak the two languages."
Her early experiences have fed into her craft in valuable ways too. "I think the moving around being in different cultures, I'd like to think it has made me more open and more understanding to different people, different cultures, different ways of thinking. And that's one of the biggest attractions for me. I love how different people are, but at the same time we are all the same. I always want to find out why a certain person feels a certain way."
You Me and the Apocalypse comes to Sky 1 on Wednesday September 30, at 9pm.
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