LA JOLLA — Pink robots, morality and psychedelic tunes all converge in a La Jolla Playhouse musical that recently made its debut. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is based on The Flaming Lips’ concept album of the same name. Fittingly, actors accompanied by an orchestra burst into Lips’ songs to convey themes of love and loss as a girl named Yoshimi battles a life-threatening disease. In this Q&A, Nik Walker, who plays Booker, one of two love interests competing for Yoshimi’s heart, talks about being part of the newest from famed director Des McAnuff.
Describe your character in this musical, and how did you prepare for the role?
My character is named after The Flaming Lip’s manager Scott Booker. The character similarities end there. Booker is a Wall Street businessman. He’s a man of few words, but has a lot of emotion. The other love interest of Yoshimi is a very extroverted guy, very clownish — a wonderfully charming man. My character is more of the buttoned-down mysterious type. To prepare I watched a lot of Mad Men (laughs). To be completely honest, I watched John Hamm playing Don Draper. That actor has the unique ability to convey a lot of thought and desire just with his face and his body. And that’s what this was for me — to tell Booker’s story in the most minimal, quiet and reserved way possible.
In a production surrounded by robots and other elaborate things, was it difficult to get that emotion across?
Des (McAnuff) is the master of simple story telling. Even with all the technology, it still comes down to a very simple story. You have this girl fighting for her life and caught in this battle with two men who love her. What Des pushed me to trust is that Wayne Coyne’s (the lead singer of The Flaming Lips) lyrics are enough for the story. I did a lot of work at home on my mannerisms and other things, but during rehearsal it was letting the songs tell the story. And because we have so much technology going on in the play, it’s not about the acting competing with the technology, it’s all of it working together to tell the same story.
Your resume includes roles in “Rent” and “Into the Woods” back east, is playing a character as introverted as Booker new territory for you?
It’s interesting, for me it’s a new way of approaching old territory. I come from a Shakespeare background. You often find that people who are groomed in Shakespeare and end up in the world of musicals play darker characters, and Booker is definitely in line with that. But normally I’d be louder and more outward in productions. This production was about being more understated and getting out of the songs’ way. It’s been different and a big challenge to be completely quiet at times and vulnerable while performing.
Were you aware or a fan of The Flaming Lip’s album Yoshimi before being cast?
I was. I’ve been a fan of theirs since eighth grade. They were one of the first EPs I picked up. To be honest, I didn’t even know what their music was about, I just picked up the EP because the album cover was cool. I slowly started following them after that. Then when they came out with “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” that was a huge explosion for them and their music. And I fell in love with that album. So yes, I was very aware.
Yoshimi will run until Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse.