Canadian based actress Emily Piggford’s
latest series Warigami
is currently available on CW Seed.
In the supernatural fantasy, Emily plays Wendy Ohata, a woman who makes “three startling realizations. One, she has a twin brother. Two, she’s a kami-jin — a descendent of an ancient Japanese people who can turn paper into deadly weapons. And three, there’s a kami-jin warrior named Sadako hunting her down for reasons she doesn’t understand.”
Warigami is an incredibly exciting and creative show and Piggford shines as the lead. Piggford has been involved in the arts since she was a child and has since built a solid resume on stage and on screen.
We had a chance to talk with Emily Piggford about Warigami but also about her journey in the arts. One of my favorite topics to discuss in interviews with actors is stage work and Piggford did not disappoint. She’s a consummate artist who has worked in all areas of theatre and screen. Check out the interview below!
You became involved in the arts when you were a kid. What was your first experience? What was it about that experience that made you fall in love with theatre?
My first experience was playing a bird in an original musical called The Three Pigs’ New Adventure with Four Seasons Musical Theatre. I fell in love with theatre during our tech run and dress rehearsal when all the elements started to come together, particularly the lights.
You’ve worked in almost all aspects of theatre. The process and cost of getting a show up and getting audience in seats can be equally grueling and rewarding. For you, what is the hardest part of getting a live show up and what is the most rewarding part?
I find promotion the most challenging – thinking of ways to market the show, invest the time, money, creativity and courage to get the word out to not only as many people as possible, but the people who might be truly interested or curious. The most rewarding thing is when the people come and we get to share what we made, especially with those who really enjoy it or may have needed it in whatever way.
You co-created and performed in the one-person show, ana. I have the same question about that experience. What is the hardest part of getting a one-person show up and what is the most rewarding part of that process?
I suppose a one-person show has the same general hurdles of development, mounting and promotion as any production does, however you’re doing it with typically less people, which can make the workload heavier. We were running an Indiegogo campaign for ana while also doing an intensive workshop to develop the piece. A successful crowdfunding campaign, I find, takes a good deal of time and attention, which can be taxing if it’s just one or two people running it (which it was) while also trying to build the show at the same time (which we were). But I honestly had so much fun crowdfunding for ana, making videos and gifs, that it wasn’t the hard part for me.
What I found the most challenging with ana is also what I found the most rewarding, and that was the sheer vulnerability of being the only one onstage, all the way through, no exits, the only option being to commit fully. The piece was developed initially around a table with me, director Andrew Barrett, wardrobe designer Halley Fulford, and composer Aulden MacQueen-Denz. We brainstormed what we wanted the show to be, to contain, to convey… Then we went into our various departments and worked away over the course of two years. When it came time to perform the piece, after so much development and feedback and different versions, I actually had to click part of my brain off, it felt like– the critical, analytic, producer, co-creator that had been at work the past two years– and just be a performer, trusting my director and our team. I’ve never prepared a show so rigorously and performed it with such a simple, primal, blind trust before. That was a unique and rewarding experience. Scary, but cool.
What was your first onscreen job?
It might actually have been doing background on the TV movie, The Party Never Stops, starring Sarah Paxton. I was in high school.
Your latest show Warigami just hit the US, congrats! It’s described as a ‘samurai action-fantasy series’ which sounds like an exciting world! Can you tell us a little bit about your character, Wendy Ohata?
Wendy Ohata is a kami-jin, a descendent of a magic Japanese bloodline that possesses the ability to manipulate the density of paper with a touch, weaponizing it. She only recently learned this was her lineage, having been adopted as a child and separated from her twin brother, who was in fact the key to her accessing her kami-jin ability– their kami-jin ability. Wendy is rather serious, studious, and a fighter– literally, in terms of martial arts, but also in regards to her determination and courage.
What was the audition process like?
They were casting in Toronto, where I’m based, but I was home with my family in Victoria B.C. for the Summer. I was actually in Vancouver with my brother when the audition email came in, having just completed a chemistry read there for another project. The self-tape audition required two scenes, speaking a bit of Japanese, and showcasing or at least listing any physical or martial arts ability. I was excited for it and really wanted to do well, but was feeling a little fried from the previous audition. My brother and I took the ferry home from Vancouver to Victoria, made the self-tape in my old bedroom, but I watched it and felt like I could do better. I had another day before the tape was due so I tried again, but still felt like I was missing the mark. I ended up sending the first tape and hoping they would see something in there to invite me for a callback and give me the chance to work it out with the director, Jason Lapeyre.
The thing I discovered was that I could see Wendy going in three different directions and I was torn between which felt more “right ” to me and curious what their vision was for the story and its tone overall. Thankfully I did get a callback. I returned to Toronto, walked in the casting room prepared to break down the three versions of Wendy I had, and Jason said, “I see her going in three different directions.” We had a great talk, tried a few versions, and that was that! I got to be Wendy and I was so grateful and glad! I also met Miho Suzuki that day, coming in for her Sadako callback! She’s awesome and just perfect in the role.
What would you say the ‘mood’ of the show is?
Maybe it’s because we filmed in October in Ontario, so it was getting cold, foggy and close to Halloween, but I honestly feel there’s a fun, spooky mood to the show with that film-grain finish, dope soundtrack and crocodile-style of cinematography– a sense that there is something lurking beneath the surface… Turns out it’s the Akuma (the “bad guys”) and magic and an ancient feud! That moodiness and the flashes of action and splashes of blood juxtapose with the humour, goofiness and heart the show also has. Great for a cozy night in of pizza and escapism.
What kind of training did you have to do for the ‘action’ aspect of the series?
I trained in Taekwondo and worked closely with our stunt team and doubles to pull off the action in the show. My background is in dance and I have some experience with dramatic combat– hand-to-hand, sword, rapier-dagger– but I’ve always wanted to do more. I was so excited when that opportunity came with Warigami!
What do you think of the Warigami’s reception so far?
I’m really happy that people are enjoying it so far! Some of my favourite things to hear are people being excited by the dynamic between Wendy and Sadako, or that they’re crushing on Kai Bradbury as Wendy’s twin, Vincent, or they think Akiel Julien playing Mark is just the hilarious best. Also nice to hear remarks about how it feels to see a show led by contemporary Asian superheroes, specifically Japanese in this case, and how exciting that is.
As anyone can see from your resume, you are no stranger to the stage or screen. Your television credits include Hemlock Grove, The Girlfriend Experience, Lost Girl, Killjoys and so much more. I, of course, noticed all the Science Fiction and Fantasy! I know a lot of these shows shoot up in Toronto and you get to audition for them however, aside from being cast in many genre projects, are you a fan of Science Fiction, Fantasy and/or comics?
YES. Such a fan. Love to watch. Love to read. Hope to continue to perform in more. I grew up reading Dealing With Dragons, Artemis Fowl, Wolverine and Spiderman comics, watching Star Wars, crushing on Han, dressing up as Leia (as a kid, I actually considered changing my name to Leia Ford). Also grew up loving The Dark Crystal, Harry Potter, and then Supernatural and Twin Peaks. If I’m feeling overwhelmed on the ground, I love turning to shows in space and/or with fantastic, supernatural elements and the world opens back up again. Get me a sci-fi/fantasy/action with some love and laughs in there and I am oh so happy. There are some shows coming soon that I’m really excited to watch – Vagrant Queen, Cowboy Bebop, more Lord of the Rings… Joy.
What are some of your favorite things you like about working in genre shows?
The wardrobe and props haha! And seeing how it all comes together in post after VFX and sound have been done etc. As a performer, I love that I get to play with a bit of everything– the drama and high emotion, subtlety and vulnerability, maybe a bit of comedy, and then also the unique work and attention that the action/fantasy/sci-fi aspects require– like imagining you’re folding a paper katana then supercharging it into a functional weapon, when you’re actually holding nothing, then freezing while Damian runs in an hands you a gorgeous prop sword, and then it’s on with the fight, which you have to make look real and dangerous, while keeping it totally safe. Love it.
If you could give any advice to young girls who want to make a living in the arts, what would it be?
Study, train, collaborate. Celebrate what makes you unique, don’t be ashamed of being ambitious. Lead with passion, joy and patience. Stay inspired, try new things, embrace “failing” or “looking silly” at times. And beyond putting in the hard and wonderful work creatively and as a human, I think it’s also useful to remember that it is a business and in order to make a sustainable living in the arts, a certain amount of attention to managing finances, lifestyle, and goals is a good way to ensure your professional foundation is strong to support you through all your creative endeavours.
Do you have anything coming up that you’d like to talk about?
I’m currently in New Zealand filming a series called The Sounds, a psychological thriller starring Rachelle Lefevre and Matt Whelan, directed by Peter Stebbings, written by Sarah-Kate Lynch. Great team all around and it’s gorgeous here. I play a financial investigator named Esther Ishikawa who is sent to the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand to try and sort out the business surrounding the disappearance of Matt’s character Tom, butting heads with Rachelle’s character Maggie, Tom’s wife, in the process. Also keep an eye out for New Eden on Crave later this year, that’s gonna be fun.
Thanks Emily for chatting with us!
Audrey Kearns is a writer, actor, producer and the founder of Geek Girl Authority. She hosts and produces the podcasts Geeky Fun Time, Kneel Before Aud and the live storytelling show, 5 Truths and a Lie. She's also a Los Angeles producer for The Story Collider.
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