Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview

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Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
YouTube/The CW Network

The CW has developed quite the slate of superhero shows in recent years. While it’s currently unclear how new series “Naomi” fits into the well-established Arrowverse, the pilot features a brief appearance by Superman, the very superhero with whom our titular character is obsessed.

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“Naomi” focuses on a teenager who’s a comic book fan and runs a popular Superman fan site. Her hometown of Port Oswego is seemingly free from drama, until one day when Superman suddenly appears and has a very public altercation with another being. Before long, “Naomi” realizes that there’s a lot more going on in her hometown than she previously thought, and that she may be responsible for some of the supernatural events that start taking place. In the pilot, we’re introduced to Zumbado, played by Cranston Johnson, a shady used car salesman with a pretty foreboding presence. it seems that there’s a lot more the character than first meets the eye.

Looper caught up with Cranston Johnson to find out about The CW’s “Naomi,” what it’s like playing the so-called villain, and why he’d love to work with Antoine Fuqua in the future.

Bringing Zumbado to life

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Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
Danny Delgado/The CW

In the first episode of “Naomi,” we’re introduced to your character, Zumbado, who is very mysterious. What can you tell us about the role, if anything?

Well, there are some things that I’m not allowed to spoil at this time, but what I can tell you, to piggyback off of what you just said, he is very mysterious. He’s this enigma that people seem to think that they know about his history and they know about his past, as evidenced by Naomi and Nathan, speaking of a reputation that he has in the town of Port Oswego for being a crook, as a car salesman he’s kind of ripping off the local town. All these things are just kind of hearsay — we don’t really know if any of this is factual. There’s this ominous presence about him that he is a bad evil guy … a lot of negative energy around him, so people like to avoid him and they are very uncomfortable in his presence. That’s pretty much what we can speak on at this time. 

Even though there was this bad energy surrounding him, you couldn’t tell if there was something good going on as well.

Absolutely. I think that’s the part that’s really fun and exciting for me to play. It’s  the unknown element, a curiosity around him that I think viewers will have trying to figure him out and trying to understand what his motivation is. To me, when something is not cut and dry, and you have to do your homework and wait for things to materialize or whatever, or try to put clues together, that’s most exciting to me to play and to watch. … It’s really exciting for me to be a part of it.

'Don't believe everything you think'

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
Danny Delgado/The CW

What else can fans expect from the first season of “Naomi?”

Well, you can expect to be challenged as far as the conditioning and the thought process that you have grown up to … That you’ve adopted and you’ve been taught since you were a very small child to believe in certain things and to have an understanding that this is the order of the universe and this is how everything works and how everything should be played out. I think throughout the series, you’re going to be challenged to try to come up with your own belief system and to not 100% trust in everything that you’ve been told … Just kind of do your own research and kind of figure things out on your own.

That’s very empowering to me as an actor and as an individual in my personal life. Because I think as I’ve become older, I think that I’ve adopted some of these things subconsciously without even kind of hearing the tagline from our show, “Don’t believe everything you think.” I definitely embrace that and I think that’s something that viewers will start to challenge a little bit. think that’s healthy, to try to figure things out on your own and not just follow everything that you’ve been told or conditioned to believe in, whether it’s about superheroes or whether it’s just about everyday life. I think that will open up good dialogue from the show.

Getting to know the Naomi cast

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Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
Danny Delgado/The CW

In the first couple of episodes, you get to interact with Kaci Walfall, who plays Naomi quite a lot. What’s it like working with her?

Well, working with Kaci is just so refreshing. She’s refreshing. She’s a breath of fresh air. She’s always just — she has so much energy. She has this wonderful smile that you see, that lights up the room. She’s a student, first and foremost, of the craft. I really appreciate that about her because I adopt those same philosophies and we’ve had some great conversations, about different techniques that we like to use in our acting or different philosophies that we’ve learned and that we try to embrace with the work. I really enjoy those conversations with her … She’s 17 years old and she’s really approaching this massive job that she has, to lead this show in such a professional manner. Whether it’s her social skills on set or whether it’s when the cameras are on, she’s just delivering these very layered performances that are inspiring to me and to everyone. To me, she’s the total package. She’s a pleasure to work with professionally and also to small talk with and kind of have fun.

It’s really refreshing and also, she’s just so humble and thankful for the opportunity and grateful for the position that she’s in. I love that. I love that about her. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and I think that’s great, that’s a great mentality to have in this industry.

I thought she was fantastic. The whole cast is really good. It makes you want to watch more. 

Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I felt the same way when I first met our cast because, just thinking back, what I said about Kaci, I feel like that’s kind of the main theme for everyone on our show. It’s such a good group of people. Sometimes that can be rare, finding this collective group where it just feels like a family and everyone is just genuinely happy for each other and excited about creating this art and bringing this show to life.

Joining The CW's DC Universe

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
YouTube/The CW Network

“Naomi” joins a really impressive slate of superhero shows on The CW. What’s it been like becoming part of that comic book universe?

It’s been a surreal experience because comic books, to me, [weren’t] something that I grew up really being involved with. I hated reading as a youngster. I actually have not been very fond of reading until I got into acting and someone told me that in order to be a really, really good actor, you have to be a great reader. I was like, “Oh, well I guess I got to start reading stuff more.” So, I really do enjoy getting my hands on good reading material now and it kind of makes me wish that I had done that as a younger child, so I could have maybe got into this comic book thing. Because a lot of the information that I’m learning, a lot of the characters that I’m learning now and just the terminology from the comic books is, it’s all brand new to me.

It’s like this new education for me on the job. I’m learning so much about it, but I always have understood the level of importance and popularity that comic books have on our culture. Growing up, I kind of remember Superman and Wonder Woman being the first comic book heroes that I remember seeing and it’s so iconic, that brand. For Superman to be included in our show in the pilot … It’s just surreal. It’s almost like a pinch me moment, like you’re working with this DC property with all these iconic characters attached to it, and Zumbado and Naomi and all of our characters are living in these worlds and this is something that can last forever. To me, that’s very exciting to be involved with that. It’s an honor to be working on it.

The supernatural side of Naomi

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
YouTube/The CW Network

Was it fun creating the more supernatural elements of the show?

Yeah. To me, that’s very exciting. And it’s kind of a slow burn, as far as us getting into the supernatural and getting into all the powers and the special effects. You saw a glimpse of it in the pilot. But as the season continues, we’ll be able to see more about that as Naomi starts to ask the question, who am I? And she begins to learn how special of a young lady that she is, of course, with powers and these special abilities that she has, comes responsibilities. And usually there comes evil forces that are trying to counteract whatever good that you would like to do. So, all of that stuff is going to be very exciting once we build up to it. Getting to film some of that has been a dream come true. It’s like being a kid in a candy store, to be honest. Because who wouldn’t want to have special powers? Who wouldn’t want to be able to teleport or fly through the sky or have supernatural strength if you could?

Getting to act some of that out and do that stuff on set has been really cool, and again, it’s been a learning experience, trying to tackle these things from the most believable way that we can do them because there’s still a fine line of … it’s supernatural, but you want this to be based in reality and to appear as real as it can to the audience. So, [there’s a] little homework going into those things and trying to find these little nuance layers to make all of this stuff come to life, and it’s been really fun.

Playing the villain

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
YouTube/The CW Network

Is there a superhero, or villain, you’d want to play, if you weren’t on this show?

I do enjoy watching some of the comic book adaptations, to film and to television, and it’s really cool to see these things. I do enjoy the villains moreso than the heroes, I will say that. That’s not just the superhero world, that’s also in my regular viewing of any show. To me, the antagonist is … It’s always a little more interesting to watch because I feel like there are less boundaries that the actor or the actress has to work within.

The freedom that they have to play their character and to develop their character always seems more interesting. In any project that I work, I would rather be hated than loved, but it’s vice versa in the real world. I would rather be loved than hated, but on screen, yeah. It’s kind of cool being the one that people are calling creepy and scary and all of that stuff, because I couldn’t be further from that in my real life. I think that’s an amazing compliment when people are able to view it and they really think that you’re doing a great job at it. 

So we could be seeing more villainous roles in your future then?

Well, I think there may be, and if they are out there, bring them on. I always want to do work that’s fulfilling for me. And right now, this role as Zumbado is … I couldn’t have asked for more, as far as the fulfilling aspect of it through the art. Like I said, as these episodes continue to roll in and we get into more of the backstory, we’re going to learn a lot of things about him and peeling some of those layers was really fulfilling and some good meaty work that I got to sink my teeth in that I really enjoyed. I’m open to playing more villains if that comes, but the main thing is it has to be fulfilling, whatever the role, whatever the capacity of the role is. I like doing fulfilling work.

Working with Kim Cattrall

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
Fox/YouTube

You also starred on “Filthy Rich” with Kim Cattrall. What was that like?

That was an amazing experience as well. I did that job and was really excited when I got the word that I was going to be working on that job because, I was a fan of hers from the different things that she did — primarily, I guess, “Sex in the City.” I remember “Police Academy,” back in the day, and she was on that. That’s a movie that I grew up with, it was always funny to me. I really didn’t even know she was attached to that until later on.

She was very welcoming, easy to work with, [along with] tThat entire cast, Tate Taylor, who was the writer and director of that show. Also, Abe Sylvia, who I worked with previously on “Hap and Leonard,” was the show runner.  I met some really cool people [and] got to play a really fun news reporter/FBI agent. It was some really good work that I did on that, shot it in New Orleans and it was my first time being down there, spending an extensive amount of time. Being down there, kind of enjoying that culture and all that good food, it was really enjoyable. I enjoyed the process of it, it was great.

Dreaming of working with Denzel

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
YouTube/The CW Network

Are there any other directors or actors that you would love to work with that you haven’t yet?

Oh, there’s a ton of them. There’s a ton of them so I’ll just give you a short list. Denzel Washington probably is my biggest inspiration. Before acting, and even when I started acting about 10 or 11 years ago, he’s somebody that I’ve always looked to as a bar and as an inspiration. Working with him, whether he was directing or whether I got to work across from him as an actor, I think would be just like a bucket list type situation for me, it would really be special. I enjoy his work. 

I also enjoy … I’m going to put this out in the universe because I want this to happen and I believe in kind of putting things out there and speaking them to existence. Antoine Fuqua is a director that I would love to get the opportunity to work with in the future — and not only because I enjoy his work and the things that he’s directed, but he’s someone that I met in high school. I don’t want to date myself too much, but I met him when I was in high school when I was working as a background talent on a music video in my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina, and he was directing that video.

I remember small talking, me and my best friend at the time, we were small talking with him one day at craft services. Because we lived in this small town, and this production was coming to our town, we had never seen anything like this. We are wide eyed and bushy tailed and we’re asking all these questions and he was so welcoming and he was telling us a little bit about everything and also small talking with us and it was so cool. At that time, I had no idea that I would be acting. I had no desire to do it. I was playing sports in high school and that was my whole world.

For it to come back full circle, for me to be an actor now, to be a fan of his work — and I’ve auditioned for a couple of his projects, but it would be so cool to get to work with him. Then, for me to share that story, like, “Do you remember when you did this?” I think that would be so cool to do that, so, those two. It’s many more, but I just want to share those two with you right now. We got to speak that into existence. Maybe he’ll see this and be like, “Hey, I’m going to hire that guy.”

Naomi will challenge your perspective

Cranston Johnson Talks Naomi And Shoots His Shot With Denzel Washington And Antoine Fuqua - Exclusive Interview
YouTube/The CW Network

It sounds like it’s meant to be after your high school experience [with Antoine Fuqua], to be honest.

Well, you know what, even if I was able to bump into him somewhere, without even the job being attached to it. I’ve just been telling my friends, that’s going to be a cool little story to tell because I guess, in some way maybe he inspired me to do this. I do remember walking away from that and just having this new vision of like, “Wow, this is cool. Hollywood came to Gastonia, North Carolina, our little small town.”

Is there anything else you want our readers to know about “Naomi?”

Give it a try and, like I said, we’re approaching some things that I think are going to be very unique, as far as asking these questions of the individual, of the viewer, to kind of change the perspective on what you’ve been conditioned to think or what you’ve grown up to be accustomed of thinking. So just tune in to The CW Tuesday nights, 9:00 PM, and hopefully we can take you down that path of trying to challenge some of the things that you’ve been told and you’ve been accustomed to growing up, listening to. 

New episodes of “Naomi” air Tuesday nights on The CW.

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