interview JANA LETONJA

Actress Joanna Sotomura will star in Apple+ series ‘Sunny’, coming out on 10th July. She has previously starred on ‘Barry’, ‘The Good Place’, ‘Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ and ‘I Love You for You’.

Joanna, we’ll be seeing you in Apple TV+’s dark and thrilling series ‘Sunny’., which is based on the book ‘The Dark Manual’. Tell us more about what we can expect.

‘Sunny’ is a dark thriller, mystery and comedy set in near futuristic Kyoto. It centers around Suzie Sakamoto who is a woman dealing with unimaginable loss after losing her husband and son in a plane crash. She received a gift, a homebot named Sunny, programmed specifically to her personality to help her through the grief. Together, they navigate the mystery of figuring out what really happened to her family.

In the series, you portray Sunny, a domestic robot. What can you share with us about your character, and what excited you the most about portraying her?

Sunny is a three foot tall, top of the line domestic robot. She’s quite advanced, but still has a long way to go in terms of learning how to best deal with Suzie and her loss. Sunny is bright, optimistic and sweet juxtaposed to Suzie, who is very understandably dark and broken, and grieving. I think it’s so fascinating to watch their relationship grow in such a unique and sometimes uncomfortable, but beautiful way.

You not only voiced Sunny, but through groundbreaking technology used your facial expressions and mannerisms to portray her personality. What was the most exciting aspect of this approach?

When I first read the script, I was immediately drawn to Sunny and loved every scene she showed up in. She is such a fun, fully realized robot and I couldn’t wait to be able to play her. That being said, playing her was a really unique challenge on set. We had an actual 3 foot tall robot and I would initially rehearse the scenes as myself, then I would go off and get rigged up in a helmet with a ring light, camera and a monitor and then they would wheel the robot Sunny in, and we would do the take. When I would move my head and say her lines, Sunny would move her head and say her lines. They tracked my facial expressions and we had two puppeteers, Jayce Ong and Hiroko Yashiki, mimicking my body movements and translating them to the robot. I think there was something really special about working with a practical robot on set vs something that’s completely CGI. It really gives our show its edge.

Have you read the book or watched ‘Her’ before you started filming? How do you think this series differs from the book?

I have read the ‘Dark Manual’ and have seen the film ‘Her’. Our series has a lot of similarities to the original book. It deals with someone going through life altering grief, despair, brokenness, and how having a friend through it all can make every bit of difference. Our show, however, does branch off and create its own unique take on this theme and builds a beautiful futuristic Kyoto. And like ‘Her’, we also explore the help and hurt that AI posses.

dress OW

What kind of roles do you enjoy the most as an artist, and which roles challenge you the most creatively?

I absolutely love all types of characters I get to play, but definitely the ones that are the most fun are the ones with a devious element to them. The villains, the broken, the antagonist, and if they have some comedic undertones that’s the best. In terms of my most challenging role, I’d have to say Sunny. Not only was she a unique and delightful character, but having to learn how to work with this new technology while giving a realistic performance was a very tough but rewarding challenge.

Which role or project has made the biggest impact on you so far, and why?

I have had the honor of being a part of so many great projects that I am so proud of and that have really influenced my career, but the one that has made the biggest impact is hands-down that of Sunny. To be able to play this title robot girl has been an honor of a lifetime and I am so excited for audiences to watch her journey on AppleTv+.

You are of Japanese descent and grew up in Hawai’i. How has this cultural background impacted who you are today, and your values?

I am so insanely proud of my Japanese heritage and of my upbringing in Hawai’i. It was surreal to be able to film a show like this in Japan, a country I have wanted to visit my entire life. While working in Tokyo, everything just sort of clicked. The city was filled with fun foods from my childhood, unspoken social mannerisms suddenly made sense, and I saw my grandma and grandpa in every Obaachan and Ojiichan that crossed the streets. Such a beautiful ride.

What is your favorite memory of growing up in Hawai’i, and how much do you miss it now that you live in LA?

I’m so fortunate to have too many great memories to count growing up in Hawai’i. It’s such a wonderful place to raise children and the warmth and the kindness of the people just can’t be recreated anywhere else. From swimming in tidepools at Makapuʻu, to my high school graduation from ‘Iolani, it’s all just been such an idyllic childhood. I love Los Angeles and all the opportunities it has afforded me, but there’s just no place like home.

When you’re not filming, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

I love trying new restaurants around Los Angeles and eating as much good food as possible. I love thrifting my outfits, home decor and hanging out with friends for epic game nights. I’d say the thing that I find myself doing most these days is learning how to be a mommy to my six month old daughter. She’s the absolute love of our lives and seeing her grow and evolve into this little person has been such a trip. It’s a lot of life coming at me all at once and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

What can you share with us about your other upcoming projects that we’ll be able to see you in?

I’m just so excited to finally be able to share Sunny with the world. It has been two years in the making and I’ve been counting down the days since we wrapped in December 2022. It’s truly such a fantastic story and I am so insanely proud. And to be totally cheesy, I’m looking forward the all the sunny days ahead.

set OW
ring & earring GEORGINA JEWELRY

photographer IRVIN RIVERA