FEATURE: Naoko Mori “I’ve Always Believed She Was Treated Unfairly.”

As the first Japanese national to star in the leading role of a west-end production of “Miss Saigon” at the tender age of 17, Naoko Mori has gone on to rack up an array of credits, including: playing Saffy’s quirky best-friend in “Asolutely Fabulous, Dr. Sato in Eccleston’s first series of “Doctor Who”, a leading role in musical “Avenue Q” and computer expert Toshiko Sato in “Torchwood”. Having proved herself as a talented and versatile actress on stage and screen, Mori is re-united with Christopher Eccelston for her latest role, as Yoko Ono alongside Eccelston’s Lennon for BBC4 drama “Lennon Naked”.

Can you tell us a little bit more about Lennon Naked?

‘Lennon Naked’ is a one-off drama written by Robert Jones that looks at John Lennon’s life from 1967 – 1971. He went through an intense period of change during these years that led him to shed everything – both creatively and personally. From the sudden unexpected death of Brian Epstein, re-establishing contact with his father, and meeting Yoko Ono – to divorcing his wife Cynthia, the break-up of the Beatles, and him ultimately leaving Britain to start a new life in the US with Yoko. As well as looking at the impact these events had on him, the film also looks at the impact of his troubled childhood, and issues of fatherhood.

“I remember thinking how strange she sounded, not understanding and feeling a little scared.”

Were you a fan of Yoko Ono before taking on the role?

I wouldn’t say I was a fan per se – but I’ve always been curious and fascinated by Yoko Ono, and have been since I was about 5 years old. My brother (who is an artist) was/is a HUGE John Lennon fan – so I grew up listening to the Beatles and John Lennon – and hence, so was I.

The first time I ever heard Yoko Ono sing was in her song ‘Kiss Kiss Kiss’. I was about 5 or 6 at the time, and my older brother was playing the new album loudly at our NJ apartment. I remember thinking how strange she sounded, not understanding and feeling a little scared. I also remember clearly the horrified look on my parents’ faces while she repeatedly shouted ‘daite’ (hug me = f^&k me) from the record player.

That first impression had always stayed with me – even as I grew older. I knew she was cool avantgarde artist – but I didn’t quite understand her and her music/art. I was curious to – but she was such an enigma, a mystery to me. Almost like this ethereal woman whom I’d never understand. But having researched and learned so much about her for this project, I understand her much more now. I really get her – and her work. I have an enormous amount of new-found admiration and respect for her; I can definitely say I’m a big fan now.

What steps did you take to ensure your characterisation of Yoko was accurate?

The first and foremost was to understand her (truly). As an actor, it’s vital to understand and know the character you’re to play inside and out – but 500% more so with someone like Yoko Ono. After all, you’re ‘portraying’ a real (living) person and a true icon.

My first step was to research her extensively and in detail. I watched every archive footage I could find, read virtually everything out there about her, studied her and her works and listened to her songs day and night – trying to decipher and understand her. In order to make sure I portrayed her as truthfully, accurately and fairly as possible, I tried to not to be swayed by what others said/wrote about her (views/opinions) – and tried and get to the real her (truth/fact) – and her as an individual and as a woman. This to me was crucial – as I’ve always believed she was treated rather unfairly during those years, and often misunderstood (or plainly just not understood).

“I’ve always believed she was treated rather unfairly.”

Were you able to identify with Yoko’s personality traits?

In my own understanding of her – yes. As a Japanese woman who has also grown up in both cultures from an early age – there were many things about her that I feel I understood and personally related to.

One of these things was that she was a quite a private person too. One who doesn’t necessarily overtly express one’s feelings and emotions all of the time. This may just be me and my own understanding of her – but it may also be a particularly Japanese trait. We think and feel emotions deeply but seldom vocalise it overtly… and this can sometimes be misconstrued/misunderstood in the western cultures.

It’s something that is inherently in us – perhaps because of our culture, beliefs (and our history) – to be private, to not overtly express (especially private emotions), to be still and strive for peace. ‘WA’ which is our word for ‘Peace’ – as well as ‘Harmony’ – is an extremely important and cherished word/belief in our culture, represents much of our personality.

Words: Katie Meehan

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