INTERVIEW: Emily Piggford Stars In CW’S Martial Arts Fantasy, WARIGAMI
Emily Piggford is a rising star, and you can watch her on compelling web shows like That’s My DJ and on the popular Netflix series in The Umbrella Academy. She is back on the blog to talk about her new show, Warigami, a fantastical and action-filled adventure series on The CW. Read more about it below.
Hi Emily! Thank you for talking to Defective Geeks again! I watched the premiere of Warigami and loved it. Can you tell our readers all about it and about the character you play, Wendy Ohata?
Thanks for having me back and for loving Warigami!! Warigami is an action-fantasy digital series that follows Wendy Ohata, her long-lost twin brother Vincent (Kai Bradbury) and his best friend Mark (Akiel Julien) as they face down a secret organization called the Akuma, armed with paper. Wendy and Vincent are descendants of an ancient bloodline called kami-jin who have the ability to turn paper into a weapon with a touch. The Akuma are also kami-jin and they want something the Ohata family protects. In a short amount of time, Wendy and Vincent have to figure out how to use their newfound ability and together with Mark prepare for some super-powered showdowns with a formidable enemy.
With Warigami’s fantastical history being based in Japanese culture, the style of the show pays tribute through the wardrobe, sets, score… with splashes of blood and action that call to mind samurai films and anime. Wendy Ohata is at once ferocious and tidy, a warrior and a little awkward. Since discovering her birth-family’s history, she has trained tirelessly, wanting to be worthy of defending their legacy. Vincent and Mark are not as keen to jump on the same page with Wendy off the top, which makes zero sense to her. As a result, Warigami, is also peppered with humo=ur as the unlikely heroes try to work together.
I imagine you had to train for the show. What is it like learning fight choreography that involves paper as a weapon? What was the most challenging part about it and what did you enjoy the most about it?
I loved learning and performing the fight choreography! One of the fun aspects of the “paper power” is that it applies to any paper object. With the ability being so new to Wendy and Vincent, we get to see them improvising as they go, weaponizing found objects. As they get a better handle on it, we start to see some folding and also some straight-up magical manipulation of paper into objects fit to fight with. The challenging part of doing fight choreography with these “paper weapons” was also what made it so enjoyable for me, and that was this dance between different departments to make each fight land. It’s a mix of choreography, cinematography, props and practical effects, then VFX and sound design. It was wild to know how we’d broken down the action on set, then see how it came together on screen. First of all, to be safe of course the action is generally performed several inches off-target. Each fight is also generally performed in chunks – to change location or camera angle, but sometimes just freezing mid-take to set or switch a prop from paper to weapon. Some parts of a fight are even shot several days apart. Sometimes you’re not holding any weapon in your hand, but it’s there onscreen. Ultimately, it all takes imagination and that is tons of fun and a big reason why I love this job.
Kai Bradbury as your twin brother is so perfect! Tell us about working with the rest of the cast of Warigami.There must have been some fun moments on set while filming the show.
Kaiiii! My twin from another… dimen…sion…? Such a terrific cast to work with! And such interesting scenarios we found ourselves in, haha!– from yelling in a library, to hurling sugar packets at stunt men, to seeing twins everywhere with the stunt doubles. The leader of the Akuma is played by Brenda Kamino and she is–and also looked– just fantastic. It was so cool and truly rather spooky to see her and the Akuma guards on set. I loved working with Hiro Kanagawa who plays Wendy’s grandfather, James Ohata, and who so excellently captured James’ disgruntled stoicism.
One scene I really enjoyed with Hiro is actually one I’m not exactly in– I’m standing behind a shoji door listening to an exchange between James and Sadako (a deadly yet elegant member of the Akuma played perfectly by Miho Suzuki). It was thrilling to be on the other side of that screen listening and in that moment, feeling me AND Wendy grasp the gravity of the stakes and situation. (It was exciting for actor-me, but a bit upsetting for Wendy).
Some of my favorite fun moments on set were shooting scenes between Wendy, Vincent and Mark, especially in the warehouse. We had several comedic beats together that were tough not to corpse through (crack up). (Incidentally, including some stuff to do with corpses). Akiel is so good and so funny– love who he is and what he did with Mark. Wendy and Vincent joust more with their humor, which was very fun for Kai and I, playing this sassy tennis, then Akiel is there as Mark with the subtle, quick comments and glances and he just steals a scene (and our hearts!!). Then Miho is there as Sadako just freaking us all out, haha!
If you discovered you had a long lost brother in real life, what would you imagine them to be like?
I hope they would be like Kai Bradbury.
What are you hoping to explore more with your character, Wendy, and her relationships in the show in future episodes? Where do you hope her story goes?
Wendy has basically lived most of her life without love. Her identity became about achievements and being shown off rather than being “seen.” I think she started to feel a bit unloveable as a result– only worth attention if she was excelling. Her determination matched with her desire to feel loved– or at least understood– is what drove her to seek information about her biological family. In future episodes, I want to see how she evolves when she feels supported by her biological and new found-family and also as she comes to love herself more. I’m excited to see how her relationship with Vincent develops, these siblings who are so opposite. I’d like to see her fall in love. I’d like to see what happens between her and Sadako, because there is a spark there – is it just recognition or something more? Also, I want to see Wendy progress even further with her martial arts and kami-jin ability and just be a next-level, epic, magic badass.
There has been more and more mainstream television shows in North America that are featuring Asian culture in all kinds of genres, like Kim’s Convenience and Wu Assassins– and now Warigami. Wendy would have been the kind of character I would have clung on to as a young Asian-American kid watching television. What do you think of this growing representation and its importance?
I think it’s terrifically exciting and important. It’s exciting because there is so much in Asian culture to be tapped into to make engaging content of all kinds, across all genres– whether we get to see relatable family dynamics or impressive martial arts. It’s important because sharing aspects of Asian culture and seeing performers of Asian descent on screen provides a sense of community and feeling of recognition, validation, and a very specific kind of inspiration to those watching who are also of Asian descent. It’s empowering. And to those watching who are not of Asian descent, it’s a fantastic window into this incredible history and culture. And we’re still very much in an age where a lot of “othering” happens, where there is “us vs. them,” and I believe an effective way to dispel this generally harmful practice/outlook is to breakdown preconceived notions by defying stereotypes, and getting to see Asian actors, characters, stories of all kinds.
You were also in the Umbrella Academy. It is the era of epic action, comic book and fantasy genres in movies and television. As an actress, are you excited for the possibilities of very unique roles?
Oh my goodness, yes! These are shows that I love to watch and that make me very excited to be in this industry. With such vast resources of source material to draw from, it’s fun to see who or what will be brought to life next. Fantasy and sci-fi generally I absolutely love for the way they can take familiar themes and situations from life here on the ground, and flip them with metaphor or whimsical representation. As a result, these universal truths or moving morals kinda sneak-attack you mid-escapism and in doing so can have a profound impact. I love that feeling when I’m enjoying watching some wild, creative ride and then the penny drops or the catharsis comes, ideally both. And yes totally– as an actress I am so keen to get to be part of these fantastic worlds for every element, from the wardrobe and sets, to the action, to the impact.
For our final question, going back to Warigami, if you could turn anything in the real world into a weapon, what would you pick and how would you use it?
I think the ability to manipulate water would be fantastic, to be able to change its state– liquify, solidify, vaporize– and maneuver it in every form. You could make versatile weapons with ice, ooh maybe steam, or use the ability as a passive form of defense with fog or a good ‘ol wash away. Water was a pretty handy defense in Warigami, actually.
For US viewers, you can watch Warigami now on The CW Seed for free!