In May of last year, at what now could be considered the beginning of the pandemic, Mythic Quest released a stand-alone episode, aptly titled “Quarantine.” Written, filmed, and edited in just three weeks, and shot entirely on iPhones, it became the first truly great pop culture monument to what life was like in 2020.
It also gave us one of the most charming behind-the-scenes moments, where star Charlotte Nicdao, who plays the games co-creative director Poppy Li, was told to spill some mustard on her shirt to show how her character was handling life in lockdown. To which, she happily obliged, which showed not just Poppy’s descent into slobbery, but Nicdao’s absolute commitment to the bit.
Now, out of quarantine and back in the office, the workplace ensemble about the day-to-day dysfunction of a massive online video game returns for Season 2 on May 7th. Now with Poppy on equal footing with Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney, who also co-created the show) following her promotion at the end of Season 1, we spoke to Nicdao about the evolution of her character, what makes the show appealing to more than just gamers, and, of course, mustard.
I have to know: how much mustard did you spill on your shirt when helping define who Poppy is as a character?
I don’t even really fully know how to answer that question, but I love it. How much mustard do I get on my shirt defining Poppy as a character? A lot of mustard. I think the answer is like a lot of mustard. I think they put a lot of mustard on her on the page, and then I came along and I’m kind of an awkward, goofy person. And I was like, ‘More mustard.’
For all her erratic and sometimes spiteful actions, she’s still someone you root for. You want her to do well. Part of that might be she’s kind of a messy person, and everyone’s kind of a messy person in their own way, so it’s nice to see one of our own on screen.
I think that’s true. It is partly her flaws and her messiness that makes her relatable as a character. It’s certainly what makes her relatable to me because in some ways she’s pretty unrelatable. She’s a genius, she’s a supernova in her field. Those parts of her are very singular, but the parts of her that don’t quite know how to be around people, that don’t know how to be a leader that don’t know how to be modest, that don’t know how to connect. Those are things that we all struggle with, and I think that that’s what people are seeing. That’s certainly what I really love about playing the character.
There seemed to be a lingering conversation around the show where people wonder how much they’ll ‘get it’ if video games aren’t really their thing, but Ted Lasso proved that you can make a great show for people who don’t know anything about soccer. With Poppy being the genius programmer that she is, did your familiarity with the world of gaming, or lack thereof, help strike that balance a little bit?
The world of gaming was very foreign to me when I was cast, but it was the most fun research that I ever got to do. Now I have a Nintendo Switch and I got completely obsessed with Animal Crossing last year. But, to what you’re saying, I think that you’re absolutely right, and Ted Lasso was a good example because for me. When Ted Lasso came out, I was like, ‘Oh, soccer, I don’t really know anything about that.” Then I watched that show and I was like, ‘Oh, this show is about humans. This show is about people and the ways that they interact and connect and bump up against each other, and that’s really our show too.
I think if you love games, you’ll love the show because it is niche, and I think that we really try to honor that industry and that community. But at the same time, ultimately we’re a workplace comedy, and if you like watching those sorts of shows, if these sort of dysfunctional found families, I think you’ll like the show.
Rob McElhenney has spoken before about his commitment to being collaborative, to bring in younger, diverse writers and actors to help keep things fresh and funny and relevant all at the same time. How’s that experience been for you, not only as the co-lead on the show, but as the flip side to his character’s insufferable ego.
As Charlotte working with Rob, I’m incredibly grateful because he’s the most generous and collaborative boss that you would ever hope for in every way, both when we’re performing in scenes together and even then behind the scenes in the ways that he allows everybody in the cast and crew, into the process of creating the show that we’re making. I feel really lucky to get to work that way. Then, in terms of like actually shooting these scenes where half the time we’re yelling at each other… when we started, it was a really intimidating thing to be like, ‘Okay, and then I guess I yell at my actual boss in real life!’ Now I think we’ve become really good friends and we have a lot of fun with it.
Watching ‘Everlight’ ahead of the Season 2 premiere, I’d forgotten about those interstitial cutscenes from the game that broke up some of the scenes. Then, by the end of the episode, suddenly it had taken over the narrative, including Poppy. What was it like filming a full-on, no-holds-barred fantasy sequence?
It was a dream come true. It was really like everything that you dream of when you become an actor, I got to do in that episode. I don’t know if anyone’s ever going to actually call us like this guy me, in an action film. So the fact that I got to do it in this show, and it was so much fun and we got to do all this fight choreography and everyone was in amazing costumes and the entire crew did the most amazing job of the set design and the costuming and the way the whole thing looks. We are really, really proud of it.
The first time through you kinda keep waiting for it to break, or for someone to give a sideways glance, but it never comes. The episode fully commits.
I really see the episode as a celebration of togetherness. I think that’s a little bit why it’s a standalone because, in some ways, it’s a small departure from the rest of the season in terms of the way that we treat the subject matter. It really is about what we’re all going through at the moment where we’re trying to figure out how to be around each other once again, or we’re starting to consider what it will be like to be around each other once again. It’s the celebration that sort of hope and the importance of that.
So, you’re open for a casting call for The Witcher Season 3?
I mean, you know… my lines are open.
Mythic Quest Season 2 premieres Friday, May 7th on AppleTV+