Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with actress Emily Piggford to chat about her exciting new role on samurai action-fantasy series Warigami.
Q: ‘Warigami’ just had its US premiere on CW and is now streaming online on CW Seed. What excited you about this story and why do you feel it stands out in this incredible age for TV?
A: I love cross-genres, especially that combo of action, fantasy, and comedy. Mix in a bit of darkness and drama… It’s that kinda Marvel movie super recipe that I really enjoy watching and have always wanted to be part of as an actor—such a fun sandbox to play in, plus superpowers and fight training!
What excited me so much about Warigami and makes it distinct today is having all that cross-genre, superpower goodness centred around Japanese characters with action and aesthetic inspired by classic samurai cinema. It felt like bringing anime to life.
Q: Your character, Wendy Ohata, has a lot going on – whether it be discovering she has a twin brother or finding herself under attack from the Akuma. Can you tell us about Wendy and the details of the character that appealed to you?
A: Wendy is a formidable fighter, organized and intelligent, but also often obliviously socially awkward. She can irritate the characters around her, but I think it also makes her pretty endearing. “Hermione Granger, but a ninja” as director Jason Lapeyre and I fondly put it.
Over the course of the season, as she navigates chaotic, remarkable circumstances alongside her twin Vincent (Kai Bradbury) and his friend Mark (Akiel Julien), we start seeing the cracks in her fastidious visage. That is part of her really coming into her power—beyond the discipline and control, she has to learn vulnerability and trust.
Q: Wendy also finds out that she’s a ‘kami-jin’ – a descendant of an ancient Japanese people who can turn paper into deadly weapons. What do the deadly origami elements add to the show? It certainly looks like the origami leads to a lot of cool visuals.
A: Definitely. It’s a beautiful marriage between the art department, VFX, and clever camera work and editing.
I love how the kami-jin power extends to all paper objects. Some weapons are beautifully folded or manipulated into form by magic, but sometimes it’s whatever paper items are on-hand. This makes for fun resourcefulness, particularly as Wendy, Vincent and Mark play with the range of the newfound ability.
Also without origami as the source inspiration for the superpower, in a way the story could be enacted by people of any cultural background. It does still have that universality—it’s ultimately a story about finding your family, finding yourself, being responsible with power… But the origami element is what roots the story in Japanese culture, making it the seed from which so much of the show’s visual, sonic and cinematic aesthetic grows.
Q: I failed miserably at mastering even the most basic origami at school. Did you have to brush up on your origami skills before the shoot? And did you have to do any other preparation for playing Wendy?
A: I’ve folded cranes and boxes since I was little, but actually hadn’t made a shuriken before the show so I did learn that as part of my prep, haha! The kami-jin weapons we worked with on set, though, were crafted by the talented folks from Deville’s Workshop, to be beautiful and practical. I trained in Taekwondo leading up to the shoot and loved working with our stunt coordinator Master Tommy Chang and his incredible team of stunt performers.
For Wendy’s studiousness, I also read The Art of War, and The Art of Life and Death: Lessons in Budo, watched and re-watched some samurai films and anime — fun homework!
Q: From what I’ve seen, it appears as though there’s a fun on-screen chemistry between yourself, Kai Bradbury and Akiel Julien. How did you find the shoot and working with these two actors?
A: I LOVED working with Kai and Akiel, they are the BEST! Our three characters each take different things very seriously: Wendy takes her duty seriously, Mark takes his life and surviving it seriously, and Vincent is serious about not taking anything seriously, ha! Those three characters trying to find common ground was very fun for us to play with.
Kai perfectly balanced Vincent’s bravado with his “less dignified moments” (as Kai excellently puts it); Akiel delivered Mark’s cautiousness and worry with a sincerity that is quietly hilarious (and near the end he gets loudly hilarious). Add Miho Suzuki to the mix as the cool and intimidating nemesis Sadako and it’s all kinds of fun—on set and screen. We had awesome material to play with thanks to the words and work of showrunner Andrew Allen and the great writers’ room.
The shoot itself was jam-packed—long, full days with fight scenes and the prop work and blood-resets that come with that… There were night shoots, starting with an all-nighter in a park during cold Canadian autumn… All of that is honestly very fun, but could be tough to get through without good people with good vibes around, making the work feel like play, supporting and inspiring you. That’s how I felt working with Kai, Akiel and Miho. I really appreciate those three for how they work and who they are.
Q: You premiered the series at Cannes. What was it like being in that environment and showcasing ‘Warigami’ at such a prestigious event?
A: Exciting, humbling and deeply gratitude-inducing. Warigami’s journey started about four years ago when Edward Kim conceptualized it. Four years that led to a shoot over three intense weeks in October 2018, and by April 2019 it was making its world premiere at Canneseries.
To walk up the pink steps of the Palais des Festivals, to see it on a big screen with big sound alongside remarkable work from all over the world, in that gorgeous city, was a momentous way to celebrate everyone’s hard work.
Also I just really loved getting to spend more time with Miho, Jason, Andrew Smith (First Love Films), and Laura Schwartz (New Form Digital). Missed the rest of the team very much, but excited for more chances to hang out—at fests, on sets and in life.
Q: Have you got any other upcoming projects or ambitions to share with us?
A: I’m currently in New Zealand on a series that I’m excited to chat about soon! A beautiful short film I’m in that explores living with an eating disorder, It’s Nothing, just had its world premiere at TIFF. I also got to play in a mockumentary series coming soon called New Eden. The scripts and the creators behind them are hilarious and brilliant and I cannot wait to see it.
Ambitions: professionally, to do more work like Warigami! Also I miss singing and dancing. And I want to be good to the planet, to others, and my own body and mind.
Title image by Justine Stevens