Charlotte Nicdao isn’t a gamer girl in real life, but she plays one on TV! Sort of. Nicdao is part of the brilliant ensemble cast behind Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. Her Poppy Li is a breath of fresh air in the workplace comedy genre. She’s a female in a power position – she’s lead programmer on the titular online game – but she’s also kind of a giant mess. Hilariously so.
The Australian-born Nicdao brings Mythic Quest a fresh blend of girl-next-door charm mixed with a fierce intelligence and insane competitive streak. Her arc over season one highlights Poppy’s increasing frustration with myriad whims of creative director Ian (Rob McElhenney) to a near-complete mental breakdown. But it’s the premiere season epilogue – Mythic Quest: Quarantine – that gives Nicdao some of her finest work in the season.
Here, Nicdao talks about finding her way into Mythic Quest through the audition process. She also talks about Poppy’s place as a female lead developer and the conversation around the inevitable girl-on-girl competition. Finally, she gives us a sneak preview of what she’d like to explore in Mythic Quest‘s second season.
Awards Daily: How did you become involved in Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet?
Charlotte Nicdao: The way that I think most actors at the beginning of their careers get involved in a project — I auditioned. I didn’t live in LA at the time when they were casting it. I was still living in Australia. I used to come to LA every now and then to try my luck. I had some bites, but I hadn’t gotten any work. So, on this trip, I decided it was going to be my last one, thinking I would go home and keep at it in Australia. You need to know when it’s time to give up.
My audition for Mythic Quest was the last week that I was in LA. I was meant to fly back to Australia that weekend. My manager gave me a call a couple of days before my flight and was like, “Casting has asked you to not get on the plane.” I ended up staying two more months doing call-backs until I got the pilot.
AD: Was the character of Poppy Li written as an Australian?
CN: No, a lot of the characters they tweaked after they were cast. That’s what, I think, makes the ensemble so fun. It draws on specificities on who we all are. I actually auditioned for a couple of characters. They were trying to figure out where to slot me in. Originally, Poppy was different from the way she ended up on the show. I auditioned using an American accent actually. My final audition, Rob asked me to do it in my Australian accent. To be honest, I kind of pushed back at first, but there was something really different and interesting that I think comes out of the character by making her Australian. Partly because it’s not an accent that you usually hearing with characters who you’re being asked to believe are geniuses. I don’t know why. I don’t think that should reflect poorly on Australia, but you don’t usually see an Australian genius in the international sphere.
AD: (Laughs) So, how’s the American accent now?
CN: I used to think it was really good, but because I haven’t done it in a little while now, now when I get asked to do it for auditions and stuff, I kind of freak out. (Laughs)
AD: So, obviously Mythic Quest is about a gaming company. Are you a gamer in your personal life?
CN: I wasn’t when I was first cast. I had a limited understanding about what that community and culture was. We were really lucky that we had a lot of people involved in the show who were really well acquainted with it. Ashley Burch who plays Rachel on the show and was in the writer’s room taught me a lot about the parts of the culture that are less talked about. How diverse it is. How accepting it is. She told me gamers are the most excited group of people you’ll ever meet. It’s also the most fun I’ve ever had researching for a role in my life. I got a Nintendo Switch and sat in my house and played for days.
AD: OK, so you learned about the gaming community that way, but how did you figure out how to play a female programmer?
CN: I think it’s no secret that women and people of color are really underrepresented in the industry. It’s something we wanted to address in the show, but address in a way that appear we were trying to teach the audience a lesson but also in a way where we weren’t trying to sugar coat what that experience is like for the few very talented people that do work in the industry that weren’t white men. It’s something that was very much on my mind, and as a half-Filipino woman, there were elements in my life that I was drawing on in terms of the frustration she feels in getting the point of recognition she feels she deserves.
In terms of getting to the specifics about a female programmer, we were very fortunate to have Ubisoft as one of the producers on the show. We had people from Ubisoft on set every day that we could ask questions of. I met with a female programmer just in terms of understanding why someone would get into that field of work. She told me a really cool story about, when she was growing up, she loved to fix cars. There was an element of taking car parts apart and putting them back together to understand how they work. But that’s a really expensive hobby. Then, she started getting into coding and realized that it was a similar thing. All you needed was a computer.
AD: Given the relatively few female developers in the show, were you at all concerned about the subplot – albeit a funny one – that continuously pits Poppy against Michelle (Aparna Nancherla)?
CN: Yeah, we talked about that a lot actually. The thing that was important to me when you’re looking at the way relationships between women are portrayed onscreen is, if you have two female characters in the entire story and their relationship is one of competitiveness, then yeah you’re pushing a narrative that women must compete with each other. In our show, and increasingly in other stories, you see many female characters that all have varied relationships with each other. Portraying women who all have the same perspective and never disagree with each other is kind of false and not really helpful in terms of understanding the nuances of how human women might interact with each other in the workplace.
So, as you said, I found it really funny, and I like that the show also addresses the fact that even Michelle knows that the relationship is toxic and that it’s been encouraged by an industry that’s told them they have to compete with each other. But they still want to be the best, so it doesn’t really matter.
AD: The crew filmed an uplifting quarantine episode where Poppy struggled with lack of human connection. Is that something you related to in your personal life?
CN: Yeah, absolutely. I was really fortunate in that I have been in lockdown with my husband and my dog, but even then, there’s a sense of isolation that a lot of us have never experienced before. As many people are, I’ve been talking a lot to friends and family and hearing the struggles that people are going through in this moment of crisis where all we really want is to reach out to each other in an intimate way, but that’s the one thing we can’t do. I think it’s kind of heartbreaking, and I know I’m not alone in having moments similar to the moments Poppy has in that episode of feeling utterly helpless.
AD: When you return to Mythic Quest for season two after the quarantine, what would you like to explore in Poppy Li?
CN: I really like the idea that, so far, we’ve seen her as the underdog, and there’s a certain affection you develop for someone who, even though they may act like an asshole at times, you feel like they deserve more than they get. I think the fun thing about season two is she kind of gets what she deserves in terms of power at the company, but I don’t think she’s going to be any less of an asshole about it. What if we give her the same kind of untapped power that Ian has? Will we still love her then? I’m really excited to get to play with that.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is now streaming on Apple TV+.