CS Interview: Charlotte Nicdao on Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet
After being treated to the magnificent quarantine episode while waiting for the next season of the hit workplace comedy, ComingSoon.net got the chance to chat with Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet star Charlotte Nicdao to discuss the special episode, as well as her work on the first season and excitement for the second season!
Prior to taking on the role of lead engineer Poppy Li in the series, Nicdao found she had “a very limited understanding” of the gaming community and industry as a whole, but that after landing the part and diving into her research, “it was the most fun discovery I’d ever made for a job.”
“I got a Nintendo Switch, I played a lot of Zelda, I had some really fun conversations with friends who were gamers, and also I guess we had some great resources in the show, as well,” Nicdao brightly recalled. “Ashly Burch, who plays Rachel is also a writer on the show. And she’s been in that community for years, since she was a kid, really. And she had some really beautiful insights about it that I found really helpful and sounded like getting an understanding of what it was all about.”
She calls her dive into the research of the world of gaming “similar to a deep dive into any kind of art” as she explored everything from the most popular parts about the industry that “make a lot of money” to some of the “subcultures within the culture.”
“I was just so delighted by how varied and diverse the community is in terms of the games that people play,” Nicdao opined. “And also, the people playing and making the games. I mean, I started to think of games as being very much branded in the reasons that I was drawn to acting. So this idea of getting to embody another character and live a different life in a different world, and you don’t have to sit in a makeup chair for two hours before you do it.”
The 28-year-old actress looked back at the casting process for the series as “kind of a long one,” explaining that at the time she was auditioning she was still living in her home country of Australia and had been in Los Angeles for “a couple week long trip,” but had come to the decision that “I was going to basically not come to LA anymore” before landing the part.
“I had some good experiences here, but I just didn’t feel like my career here was going anywhere,” Nicdao described. “So I was like, all right, I’m just going to do this last trip, and then I’m just going to focus on work in Australia. And my first audition for Mythic Quest was in the last week before I was about to leave. And I got a call from casting like, a few days before I was meant to get on the flight being like, don’t fly back to Australia, just stay. And then, the casting process after that was like, gosh, a two or three-month long. I don’t think I’m exaggerating that in my head. And part of the reason for that I think was because the team having trouble figuring out where to put me. And the first character that I auditioned for was Poppy, but the way that they had pictured her I think at the beginning was quite different to who I was. And so, they tried me in a couple of other spots. But honestly, that character was the thing that I was the most excited about from the very beginning. And she went through a lot of evolutions. But I just remember even when I was going into other characters, obviously I was like, this show is awesome. This team is awesome. I want to be involved in any capacity. But there was something about Poppy and all her sort of like, messy, ambitious, flawed glory that kept coming back to me. And I think that was the thing that excited me most about being involved in the project. And I was really, really overjoyed when they gave me the part.”
Part of the evolutions that came from her casting included making Poppy an Australian-born character to better suit Nicdao, who noted that the creative team of Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz all are “used to sort of making television that plays to people’s strengths.”
“I think to some extent they were always like, okay, whoever we cast, that will then help define exactly who the character is,” Nicdao explained. “But I think Poppy, to begin with, you know, I remember my very last audition as full Poppy. They’d even done some rewrites before I did that audition because of what I was originally reading didn’t really work for who I was. And I remember going in, and I was still doing an American accent. And Rob was like, ‘You should do an Australian. You should use your natural accent.’ And I kind of pushed back against it to begin with because I was like, ‘No, no, no I’ve always pictured her as being American.’ But I feel like it did kind of imbue her with something different that I now really like.”
Though very excited to be taking on the role, Nicdao found it “terrifying” to be working with the creators and writer’s room to develop her character to be in line with herself and their vision for Poppy as “she was so intimated by everyone,” especially given their work on “some of my favorite, favorite shows.”
“But luckily, they’re all just the most generous and encouraging and wonderful people, Nicdao warmly described. “So it ended up being really fun. I mean, we discovered a lot on set. There was a good amount of improvising. And everyone would sort of be rewriting the scenes as we did them. So I would have Megan Ganz, who’s just brilliantly funny running after me between takes and being like, ‘Try this, try saying that.’ And so, there was a lot of experimentation. And it’s kind of fun to see how that all played out in the show.”
In mentioning the improvisation and experimentation on set and on camera, Nicdao takes a moment to look back at what her favorite moment of improvisation was, settling on the opening moments of episode seven, “Permadeath,” involving her, McElhenney and David Hornsby.
“There’s a scene where Poppy is lecturing David and Ian and halfway through something that I’m saying, David coughs and then the two of them just keep coughing over my lines until eventually, I leave,” Nicdao recalled. “And that was an accident. David actually just coughed over my line, and then Rob picked up on it and thought it was funny and started coughing as well. And then, they were both coughing. And eventually, I was just like, ‘Fine, I’m not even going to finish the line,’ and left the room. That was pretty funny, you can sort of see my visible confusion.”
With the previous season ending with Poppy realizing MQ is the right place for her to be at this point in her life and having also been promoted to co-creative director alongside Ian, the second season is primed for her to take on a bigger arc than she already had and with the quarantine episode creating a storyline offering a new look at her character, Nicdao feels that “we want to still try to tell the stories that we had planned for season two.”
“Obviously, that is going to be slightly altered with the reality that we all as a global community find ourselves in now and that we acknowledged by doing the quarantine episode,” Nicdao noted. “So that sort of grounded the show in the world that we’re all in. But I think that we still want to continue to explore the things that we’re exploring in season one. And the thing that I’m really excited about is with the idea of Poppy getting everything that she’s ever wanted, and how that really never actually makes anyone as happy as they think that it’s going to. There’s always going to be more that you want to achieve. And so, I’m really excited to get to play with the idea that now she has the power she’s always wanted, it kind of becomes easier for her to behave as just as much of a jerk as Ian does. And now that their power rankings are kind of on the same level, I think that it’s going to be really fun to play with that relationship, especially after you know, we acknowledge that in the quarantine episode that they do have a friendship that’s very real. They really do care about each other. But I have a feeling that as soon as they get back into the office, they’re going to be back at each other’s throats again.”
When she first got the script for the quarantine episode from McElhenney, Ganz, and Hornsby, who penned it together, Nicdao recalled she “cried” after reading it for the first time and that she was caught off-guard by the more serious nature of her character’s mindset.
“They had mentioned a few ideas that they were having for the episode that I was expecting to see that then, what they came up with, which is so brilliant, was not what I was expecting,” Nicdao described. “And I think it’s really important that — well, it was important to us that we showed a part of this story, this pandemic story that is the reality for a lot of people. You know, we wanted to make people laugh and we wanted to deliver a sense of hope. But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that this has been really tragic for a lot of reasons. And one of those reasons is that people are experiencing sort of extreme loneliness. And we wanted to send this message of, you know, you’re not alone. And that was what we were trying to achieve in that scene. We shot that episode, none of us left our houses. Like, every set that you see in that episode is just where the cast all live. And I remember being so excited to shoot this quarantine episode because we have so much fun on set and all of us are really good friends. So it was like, yes, I’m getting to do like a week of work. This is going to be so fun. And then, my whole storyline is about her experiencing this thing that’s really similar to what I and everyone has been experiencing, which is this existential dread and loneliness. And I was like, I remember coming up with a few of the scenes in that episode and being like, oh, that was heavier than I was expecting this week to be.”
Though the shoot only lasted one week, Nicdao and her cast have continually kept in touch with each other during their time off, including a special group text with the actresses of the series in which they “literally check in with each other every day.”
“I didn’t feel like I hadn’t gotten to see anyone until that week, but that week, we definitely spent a lot more time together online,” Nicdao said. “Like we would shoot through these Zoom calls, where all the crew would sign on so that everyone could see what was being captured. And we would all log into the Zoom call, even when we weren’t shooting a scene, so that we could watch kind of like gathering around video village and a real set. So that was really fun. And we also did a couple of Zoom happy hours at the end of the day, which was really nice.”
Though the series is certainly an ensemble effort, much of the series sees the group split up into pairs or smaller bunches and lets them loose on one another with their comedic efforts and with a lot of her time in the first season spent being pitted against McElhenney’s Ian, Nicdao and some of her co-stars have an idea for an exciting team-up episode in a future season.
“Me and the other actresses have been vying for like a bottle episode with just the women since we met, really,” Nicdao excitedly noted. “So obviously, I’m hoping that that happens at some point, but honestly, I mean, it’s a pretty exciting thing to both genuinely like, but also professionally admire everyone in the cast. I mean, we have an Oscar winner in the cast. It’s pretty extraordinary. So I get pretty excited seeing whoever I get to be paired with. I’m excited for what season two is going to bring in terms of that.”
Co-created by McElhenney, Day, and Ganz, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet follows a team of video game developers as they navigate the challenges of running a popular video game. The first season is now streaming globally on Apple TV+ and has already been picked up for a second season.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is executive produced by McElhenney and Day under their RCG banner; Michael Rotenberg and Nicholas Frenkel on behalf of 3Arts; and Jason Altman, Danielle Kreinik and Gérard Guillemot for Ubisoft Film & Television. Hornsby (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Ganz (Modern Family, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) also executive produce. The series is produced by Lionsgate and 3Arts Entertainment and Ubisoft.