June 9, 2023
A BITESIZE CHAT WITH
In the lead-up to Mythic Quest’s anticipated third season, Bitesize Breakdown held a roundtable discussion with the cast of Apple’s hit series (Charlotte Nicdao, David Hornsby, Danny Pudi, Imani Hakim, Ashly Burch, Jessie Ennis, Naomi Ekperigin) to talk about their characters, experiences on set, and what to expect in the coming season and beyond.
BB: I want to thank everyone for taking the time to sit down with Bitesize Breakdown today. I know we don’t have a ton of time, so I’d like to jump right in if that’s okay… The video game industry, and video game community in general, has a notorious reputation for being quite misogynistic. With that in mind, as writers and actors in such a diverse ensemble, can you discuss some of the reactions you've had to your characters and their arcs? What kind of steps have you taken to throw that reputation on its head a bit?
CN: I'm ashamed to say that, before I started working on this show, I had a really limited understanding of what the gaming community looked like. I know that there are definitely parts of that world that are maybe not the way that I like to operate, but I think that's true of almost every community. One thing I loved learning about the video game community, especially from Ashly (Burch), who really taught us a lot about what that community looks like, is it's extremely diverse. There are so many different kinds of games and so many different kinds of fandom within this world. Personally, my experience in making this show has been nothing but positive, and I think that's really a reflection of what my experience of that community has been.
IH: Yeah, and I'm grateful to be able to play a character that isn't necessarily represented or that we don't see very often. It's nice even to have a majority of my scenes take place with another woman who's in that gaming space as well. So, it’s nice to represent the voices that aren’t really heard and, you know, bring humor to it.
AB: I've had people say that they were triggered by it. Actually, in particular, there is a moment in the first season where Ian (Rob McElhenney) comes in and knocks a bunch of stuff off of a desk because he's having a tantrum, basically. And I had a creative director say, “that was a little bit too close to home.” *laughs*
JE: Triggering in a fun way *laughs*
AB: *laughs* yeah, triggering in a fun way. We're re-traumatizing the games industry, as is our want. *laughs* Um, yeah, it's fun. I think it's actually very fun for people in the games industry to have this show because it's both accurate to their experience and it's also a love letter to that industry. So, it's a combination of being both “Oh, God, this is cringy. I can't believe this is so close to how my life is,” but then also…I mean, for me, as someone that comes from the games industry, it's so fun to see it represented in a show with all these amazing people portraying these characters. It just feels like it gives us legitimacy. And it feels like we're a real industry, which, often, people don't really see games that way. It's been a really good experience for that.
DH: I think…we're not looking to necessarily throw any reputation on its head, but I think we're looking just to use what's out there and maybe shine a light on the hypocrisy of certain things, both sides of things. The struggles… the “Oh, what do we do? These are obviously well-intentioned people, yet there's a culture here that we need to… you know, none of us want to be culpable to that, so how do we react?” You know, with women in the workplace…they don't have many women or, like you said, the misogyny. Or dealing with a big social issue that pops up in your video game. It's literally like a game…you have these big issues that are popping up, and how do you deal with that? So, I think for us, it's that the video game world felt a little unexplored in the TV space, and this was a chance to not just make a show about funny characters interacting in a workplace, but the specific stories you can tell that maybe haven't been as explored, stories that bring in some real-world issues and how they deal with it. That was appealing to us.
BB: You mention specific stories…I think some of the best episodes have been the breakaway episodes. You know, the backstory of C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), the Season One episode “A Dark Quiet Death.” You kind of pull yourself out of the serialized storyline to bring in new actors and characters to make a little mini-movie, so to speak. How are you so successful at making those so impactful, especially with only 30 minutes?
DH: Oh, well, thank you. I think we lead with “what does the story of the season need?” because, obviously, there are a million topics you could choose to do for a breakaway episode. What do we want to reveal to the audience about which characters and why? And how does it connect with our present-day season? So, that's always the place we start from. Do we even want to do one this season? You know, I think we look at what's different and what's repeating ourselves. We want to not repeat ourselves, so artistically, I think we're looking for that challenge and the thing that's going to feel new…but not just for new’s sake, but what's going to make an impact. And how do they make an impact? I think it’s because we're trying to ultimately dig underneath the characters and connect, have our audience connect with the emotion of the characters in those specific episodes. If they are impactful, I think it's because we focus on the base desires that these characters are dealing with. And, you know, people find that accessible.
BB: Absolutely, they've been fantastic. Can we expect to see more backstory or breakaway episodes for other characters as we go forward?
DH: In season three, we do another breakaway episode because we felt it was important to shine a light on Ian and Poppy’s (Charlotte Nicdao) relationship to understand our characters better, to understand where they came from. We look at what their lives were before they met. That seemed like a ripe area and fertile ground to help understand our main characters better.
CN: We got to make a Christmas episode this season, which was really fun. I'm really excited for people to see that because it's such a tradition of our medium, and it was the first time I've ever made a Christmas episode.
IH: Yeah, you watch your favorite shows on tv, and you hope you get to experience that same [holiday] magic because Christmas episodes are so fun!
CN: I think Mythic Quest knows how to do a special episode. I feel confident [in saying that], so I'm very excited for people to see the Christmas episode.
BB: Speaking of Ian and Poppy, my read is that you've kind of gone out of your way to make sure it's more of a sibling dynamic than a “will they, won't they” relationship like in typical sitcoms. Can you talk a little about their dynamic?
CN: Poppy and Ian are really trying to navigate a new space, which is one where Ian doesn't automatically have more power than [Poppy] does, and I think Ian certainly struggles with that. Although, when we come into Season Three, we see him really doing his best to be a good support for Poppy. But the thing that I found most interesting about the new dynamic is that Poppy has already proven in Season Two that she hasn't really developed the skills to be a boss, you know, to run things. She crumbles under that pressure in Season Two, and in Season Three, it's like she's determined to prove that she can really do it, often to her own detriment. I do think that she makes some strides in creating something that she's proud of, but I think that she does it at a high cost to herself and to very funny results.
DH: You know, I don't know if the audience wants a “will they, won't they.” I don't know. We do what we think works for the story. I think, just speaking for myself, I think that it’s more powerful to have a relationship that doesn't necessarily turn to romance but shows the complicated dynamic of both a creative artistic partnership and a friendship. That in itself feels like it could use the respect it deserves as a storyline to tell, and that, in a sense to me, could be more powerful than a “will they, won't they.”
BB: I absolutely agree, and I think Mythic Quest is better for that, not falling down the rabbit hole of typical tropes.
DH: No, totally. And a 14-year-old might disagree, wanting to see them make out *laughs*, but I don't know. We feel it's more powerful to see them as, you know, that push and pull of the respect they have for each other, but also the sort of deep, intrinsic difference that they have too.
BB: Switching gears if I may…Danny, I recently described your character, Brad Bakshi, as being like Abed [from Community] via Bret Easton Ellis…kind of like American Psycho Abed. Was that a decision you made or just something you kind of fell into because you played Abed for so long?
DP: *laughs* I've never heard that, so I will say that's new. But I like it, I think it's interesting. I don't know. I mean, I think there's something fun about playing a character who is hyper-focused and has a plan. You know, there's this plan, this meticulousness that I think maybe has some of that American Psycho feel there with Brad. I think that's just something that I talked over with [show co-creator] Megan Ganz, who also worked on Community so she was familiar with me as a performer and I think we have a little bit of a shorthand, when we were kind of developing this role and working in this world together. And I think some of that stuff is just, you know, reading what the writers write, then kind of putting it into my body. Personally, my visualization isn't American Psycho, it's Wile E. Coyote. *laughs* That was the first image that popped in my head when reading and thinking about this role, but I'm glad it's resonating in that way too. *laughs*
BB: Jessie…I have a question for you from one of our readers. Who do you think your character, Jo, enjoyed working for the most? And, dead or alive, who do you think would be her dream mentor?
JE: Hmm, probably the Dean at the all-boys military academy she went to, I think that would be her dream mentor. And who did she like working for the most? I think she really wanted to work for Ian in the first season. I mean, she did some work for him. Was it requested of her? Was she technically working for him? Was she being paid to work for him? Absolutely not. I think she loved working for Brad, but she was so full of herself and a little too big for her britches there. So, she kind of scorched that Earth. Now, she's really channeling her energy into working for David (David Hornsby), who she recognizes is not a very powerful man, but she has tricked herself into caring.
BB: David… a lot of people know you as Rickety Cricket on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For me, when I look at Always Sunny, it feels kind of like a raw rock band playing in a small, one room-venue…you know, a more visceral feeling…whereas Mythic Quest feels like the polished arena tour. As executive producer and writer for both shows, how is your approach different for each show?
DH: Good question. I mean, Sunny and Mythic Quest are very different shows. I think they're going to retain some similarities, right? How we interact with each other; in some ways, how we work together behind the scenes. But Sunny is, you know, in a sense, a live action cartoon. It's very broad characters, very satirizing. Characters, who never learn, satirizing, you know, the American experience in different ways. I think with this show… if anything, it might be a reaction to the other. So, over there, we're writing that kind of show, then with Mythic Quest, we want to craft something with more pathos that is very funny but tries not to go to the same wells of comedy or dynamics. And for me, just having my face without a prosthetic on it is always a bonus. *laughs*
BB: Also, speaking of Cricket, I think your character in Mythic Quest, David Brittlesbee, is almost like a white-collar Cricket, where the world hasn’t really been his friend so much. What draws you to that kind of character?
DH: *Laughs* I think every project has a little doorway that you kind of open up, and you don't quite know what's behind it. There's just something that attracts you to open that door. So, for one, I think it's working with the people that I work with. On Sunny, in a slightly different tone of show, I can also still do something that's maybe close to my area of comedy. But, in the beginning [of this show], we explored, “Oh, should I play Brad? Should I play David? Have we seen me do something too much like David in some aspect of Cricket, etc.” I think for this, I wanted to explore a character that is in a similar realm to something in my wheelhouse. But we will reveal more things as the seasons go, right? So you can kind of play within that new sandbox and still not do something completely different. I think looking ahead, it would be fun, not just in this show to do something different, but in a different [role] to do something that feels very different. I mean, Good Girls was a chance to do that, but I think that's always the challenge. You want to stretch yourself, but sometimes you don't want to go too far afield because you want to just take it step-by-step in a way. It's always fun to challenge yourself with new things.
BB: Naomi… on screen, you're often the only sane one in the madhouse. Does it feel that way when you're on set? Do you sometimes look over and wish you were having as much fun as the clowns? *laughs*
DP: *Raises a fist in fake anger* Careful!! *laughs*
BB: *laughs* With all due respect!
NE: *laughs* When we're shooting, I’m the craziest one, okay? When the cameras aren't rolling, I'm like, “Is it good? Did you like it? Is everyone okay?” So, you know, what I'm telling you, Quentin, is that I am ACT-ING, okay? *laughs* I am truly mad, and it is so fun to play a character who has it together. Oh my god, what fun to pretend to have your -ish together.
DP: Yeah, she's only vocalizing what we're all feeling on the inside. We know each of us are unraveling quickly. *laughs*
Check out Season Three of Mythic Quest, premiering November 11th on Apple TV+.
Interview conducted on November 2nd, 2022 by Quentin Lester.
Photo Credits: Apple TV+