Fan Fest EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Christina Ochoa discusses her role of Warrant Officer Nora Madani on The CW’s ‘Valor’
If you are looking for a thrilling show to spend your Monday nights watching, we have the perfect show for you. Valor is a military drama which made its debut on The CW Network on October 9th, and it has certainly captured our attention. The military genre is a new direction for the network, but executive produce Kyle Jarrow has believed from the start that the core audience will find a strong love for the new series.
“These are young [characters] living adrenaline-packed lives,” Jarrow stated, in a prior interview with EW. “They’re screwing around, having relationships and plenty of personal drama.”
He was certainly right! Here at Fan Fest, we are absolutely addicted!
Valor is a story about an elite unit of helicopter pilots in the United States Army who are trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions. These highly skilled soldiers test the boundaries between military discipline and human desire, as layers of personal and military secrets come to light. Flashbacks reveal details of a failed mission involving one of the unit’s first female pilots, while in the present, the team works on a daring plan to rescue a group of soldiers that has gone missing.
Recently, I had the amazing pleasure of speaking with Christina Ochoa who plays Warrant Officer Nora Madani on the show.
Christina was born in Barcelona, Spain and is best known for her current roles on TNT’s Animal Kingdom and as the lead for SyFy’s Blood Drive. She is the winner of Los Angeles Movie Awards “Best Actress” in a short film 2011, but prior to her acting days she studied Oceanographic Engineering in Las Palmas University in the Canary Islands and Advanced Marine Biology in James Cook Univ. in Australia. In fact, she is also a Dive Master with over 2000 dives recorded around the globe!
Jules: In the CW series Valor you play the role of Warrant Officer Nora Madani. What can you tell us about your character?
Christina: So Nora is the first Special Ops female helicopter pilot, in the 186th which is copying the 160th Division in real life and the ‘Night Stalkers’ in our show which we called the ‘Shadow Raiders’ in our show. She’s coping with not just being a female in a very male dominated field within the military but also in everything that these men and women also have to deal with like coping mechanism, PTSD, fellow comrades being taken, killed or in this case a prisoner of war. It’s a little bit of an homage in our minds to the active military.
Jules: Being a Soldier, and a Warrant Officer with that, there are a lot of physical demands that come with this role. Are there any challenges that you personally find yourself facing while taking on this role?
Christina: I think for me I was not very well versed on military general life and everything that they go through whether its families, or the military members themselves. I’m from Spain so I didn’t have anyone in the military in my family – I didn’t have any references. So the biggest challenge for me was in the research and in the conversations that I had especially with female vets which we are lucky to have in the writers room and I’ve been very lucky to have conversations with them. Also books and reading some these testimonies. So I would have to say has been the best challenge for me, understanding that.
Jules: That leads into my next question. In addition to being a female in a combative military unit, your character also suffers from PTSD. What type of research did you do to get into that mindset?
Christina: Aside from the conversations, as I mentioned, we have two female vets in the writers room for the show April Fitzsimmons and Shamar White and both of them have been instrumental to any questions that I may have had when it came to the character. Books… Ashley’s War, Shoot Like A Girl…. books that tap into not only what people in these positions and special ops go through but specifically women in these positions go through. They have been critical to me in being able to understand and tap into these storylines.
Jules: Can you walk us through how you gained the role? What was your audition like?
Christina: Honestly it’s a bit of a whirlwind! It was very fast – they had been looking for a Nora for quite some time. I was, at the time, still on hold for Blood Drive which was another show I was doing for SyFy for Season 2 and we didn’t know if we were gonna go or not. I wasn’t privy to the scripts or anything to do with the show, it was kind of the eleventh hour when I was released. I was on vacation and flew back, tested the next day and the day after that I was taking helicopter piloting lessons and flying to Atlanta to shoot the pilot. So it was fairly quick of a process in actually booking.
Jules: Since taking on the role of a Soldier, has it changed the way you live your everyday life?
Christina: The one thing that I would say, and I tap into whatever my character is going through, the fighter in Nora. The survivalist comes out in my day to day life. I find myself kind of fighting for causes a lot more. Whether it be for other people, other artists or other people on set… who knows! Whatever it is! I don’t shy away from that combative element of myself as much. I don’t bow down as much, so that’s probably a good thing and a bad thing depending on what the situation is!
Jules: There are other military dramas that have premiered this fall. The Brave, which aired on NBC and Seal Team, on CBS. How would you personally say that Valor stands out from these other Military TV series?
Christina: I have friends that work either in front of or behind the camera on both, and I think they are great shows. I think the main difference though is that I think our show taps into the female perspective, and kind of that plight when it comes to the active military. That’s a story that’s been told I feel as often and as well as need be. I also think for those shows they are very much plot driven or action driven. Because of the network we are on and because of the story telling with the writers we have on board, we’re character driven more than story driver. For us, it’s about the relationships and the human element to these characters and what they have to go through whether it be the members within our unit or it be the families of the members in the unit. It’s really all about the human aspect.
Jules: I know that we are only a few episodes in, but what is one of your most favorite scenes that you filmed. One that you can tell us about!
Christina: One of my favorite scenes to shoot… I would say there is a scene with Charlie Barnett, who plays Ian Porter. I was very connected to in the moment. I haven’t seen it, how they cut it yet, but it aired last week because I know it was episode six. It’s when he kind of confronts Nora about her problems, she comes clean and basically tells him that she’s been dealing with and coping with her issues with pain killers. I think that scene I remember it very vividly.
Jules: I’m sure that was a very powerful and emotional scene for you!
Christina: It is and credit to Charlie, who is just so emotionally available for any of the scenes that we’ve had together. He has a huge responsibility because he is a huge emotional elemental part of her he is the personal life vs Gallo who is more so her battle buddy. There’s action and a lot of comradery. Charlie has that more accessible and emotional layer to him in his role. So kudos to him for always bringing that to the table, and letting Nora get to play with that.
Jules: You’ve been a part of a lot of hit TV series. Animal Kingdom, Blood Drive, and now Valor! Your characters are certainly diverse! In which ways would you say Valor is a new milestone for your acting career?
Christina: Valor is stripping my characters I think compared to other shows that I have done. I would say that some of the troupes that I’ve been also tapping into with other characters. There’s no sexuality in her as a tool. No makeup and she’s in these situations where she’s in her fatigues and her helmet and its all about her bringing her strength in different ways as a woman I haven’t had to play as much because I have played roles that have tapped into those things rather than shy away from. Finding ways to make her just as tough and competent and skilled still being a woman, not trying to be a man, in a man’s world has been very interesting for me.
Jules: Between Nora (Valor), Grace (Blood Drive) and Renn (Animal Kingdom) which has been your favorite character to play and why?
Christina: Oh gosh that’s a really hard question (laughs). I have a soft spot for every single one of them. I think that right now Nora is the closest one to my heart because she is someone I’m still constantly learning from everyday. It was also the furthest away from my own personality out of all of them. She’s the one that I carry right now the most. Renn is special to me because it was my first role that I got to dive into and I keep going back to other shows so we start Season 3 for that soon! It’s like I see her progress, kind of like seeing a relative you haven’t seen in years and then finding out all about them when you get together again.
Jules: Is there a cast member on the set of Valor that you feel you connect best with? Aside from your characters love triangles!
Christina: Aside from the love triangle stories I would say that Corbin Reid who plays Jessica Kam on the show is probably that person that just honestly will always look up to for her talent and I think that I have a lot of fun with. We don’t get as much material or as many scenes as we would like. But aside from my boys (laughs) Matt and Charlie, Corbin is definitely someone I can connect with. I’m very lucky to have this family.
Jules: What is the hardest part about being a character that’s involved in a love triangle for you?
Christina: The going back and forth! I do a scene with Matt and I’m like ‘I’m Team Gallo for sure!’ and then I do a scene with Charlie and I’m like ‘Uh uh…. I’m Team Charlie all the way! This is the love of my life!’ I think the going back and forth is the hardest part. I am not very loyal, as to which of the two I am rooting for because I’m not even positive Nora is sure a lot of the time!
Jules: What can we expect to see for the rest of this season for Valor? More suspense? More secrets? We are on the edge of our seats!
Christina: I love hearing that! Thank you so much! I think as the story unravels we get to see the stakes heightened in all of the aspects. So the relationships get heightened and the stakes get raised. We get to see that love triangle evolve when it comes to the mission and when it comes to rescuing Jimmy. We get to see those stakes as we get closer and closer and the mission is being planned and the rescue is underway. I think that we get to see those stakes and as the mystery unravels we get to see who is behind what elements of this conspiracy and what is happening with that.
Jules: Aside from acting, do you have any other hobbies that you enjoy?
Christina: Travel and SCUBA I would say are two of the biggest ones for me! Any time I can get close to the water, that’s my background! Any time I can be in the ocean, that’s a big plus!
Jules: Now here is a fun nerdy question for you! Since the Justice League movie is coming out… Kiss, Marry, Kill. Batman, Superman, Aquaman!
Christina: Oh! Marry Aquaman, hands down! Again… the water, I can’t help it! (laughs). Kiss Batman. Kill Superman… oooh! I feel terrible!
Jules: Well, Superman does always come back!
Christina: Yes! That’s true, you can’t really kill Superman, so yeah!
Valor airs on Mondays at 9PM/EST on The CW Network.