By Marie Claire
It's time to get back in the office, courtesy of Mythic Quest season 2, which drops its first two episodes on Apple TV+ today. This time around, the video game workplace comedy has settled into its groove, flawlessly delivering on the niche satire set up in the first season, while taking risks on more intimate, emotional arcs. Dare we say: It may even give your The Office addiction a run for its money. Ahead of the premiere, two of the show's biggest stars, Jessie Ennis and Charlotte Nicdao, who play Jo and Poppy, respectively, chatted about what they taught each other on set, their first time meeting, and why improvising for TV isn't as simple as it may seem.
On auditioning and becoming friends:
Jessie Ennis: Our friendship blossomed so fast. I remember feeling [like] you were my friend in the audition.
Charlotte Nicdao: You were so cool and confident and friendly with everyone...Everyone was nervous and you were like, "I'm here and we're going to have fun." And I was like, "We are going to have fun."
JE: And none of us got the part that we thought we were...
CN: Ashly [Burch] did. Ashly went in for Rachel and that was the role that she got. But I wanted to ask you—because, for me, just a gal from Australia, I would go into a lot of those auditions and be like, "Oh God, this is such a big deal and I'm so stressed and nervous"— and I just felt you came in with this confidence... Have you always been that way with auditions or was it something that you developed over your career?
JE: I think I've gotten better at auditioning over time, and I definitely feel I got a really helpful insight into that process because my dad's an actor. I went with him a lot to auditions as a kid and I got to watch how that whole auditioning process works and how frequently you're going to face rejection. I just realized that I get five minutes to act when I go to an audition. And you also can make friends. I think there's this concept that auditions are competition or that we're all up against each other in a way. But I [have] met a lot of friends in the waiting room. And I don't feel good if I go in there with my blinders on trying to avoid eye contact with people or sussing out if anyone's prettier or thinner than me or something. That's never really going to help my process.
On acting and improvising:
CN: I feel like you love acting more than anyone. I love acting a lot, but, I don't know, man, the enthusiasm you bring to this job is so infectious.
JE: I really [love] working with people who enjoy reading their script 40 times and coming up with little hints and secrets for themselves and clues for the audience to pick up on.
CN: You and I both love that way of working. We get to have a lot of conversations about character development.
JE: This season, you really helped me with this thing that Rob makes me do all the time as Jo where I'm supposed to yell out of nowhere.
CN: It's funny when you do it.
JE: [Jo] has this rage about her that's really fun to tap into, but I didn't fully understand why it was funny. And [show co-creator] Rob [McElhenney] had me do it in scenes where it wasn't written. He'd be like, "Just scream that one line." And I remember feeling a little insecure about it because it was this choice that we were making, a collective choice that we were making about Jo, that I didn't feel completely clued into. And I remember talking to you about that and you were like, "Why do you feel like you don't get it? It is funny."
And I said, "I have this the voice of this acting teacher just reminding me that when you yell, you lose all of your power." He always said, "If you're in a really intense argument scene, it's way more empowering to be seething." So instead of being like, "You're a dick!" He'd be like, "You're a dick." And I remember thinking that was so cool and this really awesome insight into how to play anger. And I told you that and you were like, "Right, but that's about power, isn't it? And doesn't Jo have power...and she's consistently showing that she doesn't have control over any power." And I remember just being like, Boom. I completely get it. You gave me a totally new in to Jo. I really appreciate it.
CN: I love so much that you feel that way because I feel I learned so many lessons from you, especially in season one... I remember I hadn't done any work before where I had to improvise very much. And I remember shooting the first episode—all these scenes with Rob and David [Hornsby], who are incredibly funny and quick...And I just remember coming out of these scenes and being like, "I have no idea, not even just how to keep up, but how to even be part of what is going on here." And I remember one Friday night we were driving after work to dinner...and I was like, "I don't know how to do this improv thing, and it's really hard." [You] have all this experience with not just improv, but you're a writer. And I knew that you do punch-up writing...and you gave me so many tips that I literally just brought in the lessons that you taught me that night the next week and was suddenly like, "Ah, I get it." And I'll be eternally grateful for that.
JE: Do you remember anything I said?
CN: One of the biggest things that you said was like, "Take what the scene is already about and build on it. Don't try to make a new thing happen."
JE: I learned that from Steve Mallory. He's a producer who makes movies with Melissa McCarthy. I did a movie with her where they'd be like, "Let's do a fun run and you guys can say whatever you want. Improvise." And the scene will be about one thing. And I'd be like, "When I was five, my parents left me in a ditch." I would come up with these ridiculous stories about my character and essentially just insert backstory into scenes that had nothing to do with me or my backstory. And eventually, Steve was like, "You're good at improvising, but you're trying to insert things that don't help feed the point of the scene so just try to stay on the rhythm and the wave of the reason why the scene is written. Give more information to the situation itself, not just weird backstory tidbits."
CN: That's good advice. I remember you telling me that and [telling me to] switch from feeling I needed to come up with a funny joke in the moment to being like, "What is my character feeling here?" And if it's funny, great. And if it's not a joke, it's probably still going to be funny. And, obviously, the blessing that I have is that Poppy is bad with people and bad at talking.
CN: You're a writer, you're a director. You're obviously a brilliant actor. What's the thing that you most gravitate to, or do you really feel all of these things are important to who you are as an artist?
JE: I think they're all important. And I think they all feed off of each other in this really cool way. Getting the experience of writing and directing informed my acting choices in a lot of ways, or even how I audition. I feel I'm more capable of seeing the point behind why a character is in a script thanks to my writing abilities... I'm a trained actor, so I feel the most comfortable acting because it's something that I have the tools to do. So acting's fun and challenging, but also kind of easy. It's comfortable for me to act. Directing is scary, and I love doing it because it gets my adrenaline pumping in a totally different way. And then writing is the homework that you have to do to get to do the other two things. I love when something is done, when I've already written it, and I can look back on it or edit it or start to plan pre-production.
CN: You're like, "I've created this thing."
JE: The moment between having a cool idea and actually getting that script is the worst period of time for me. I don't like sitting down and having to write, I get very in my head about it.
CN: I've had so much advice over the years—especially when I was still in a phase of my career where I was just struggling to get any work at all—where people would be like, "If you can't get a job, you should just write something." And I would be like, "I really don't think it's that straightforward." I can't write... It's a whole very complicated skill in itself that I find extremely impressive.
JE: I do find that people who are able to write for themselves create things that no one would have written for them. I love Fleabag and no one was going to write Fleabag for [Phoebe Waller-Bridge]. She had to find her own opportunities.
CN: All the best TV, at the moment, is that stuff—people who have really strong voices who wrote something for themselves that is unlike anything that anyone else could ever create. Still doesn't make it easy though.
JE: No, it's horrible. It's like having really hard homework.
CN: It's like cooking. Do you enjoy the process or do you just enjoy a delicious meal at the end?
JE: Megan [Ganz, show co-creator and writer] and Rob have been so welcoming to us in every aspect of production. I got to spend time in the writer's room this year, and we got to shadow Rob as a director. You and I got to edit a scene together, which was really cool.
CN: Rob has said is it kind of makes you a better actor to understand how things get edited together and what it looks like watching it from the other side of the monitor. That day we had been sitting in and watching him edit and trying to learn stuff. And then at a certain point, he was like, "Okay, well I'm going to go, and you guys are going to stay here and have a go." And my instinctive reaction was to go, "No!" I was so insecure. And you immediately were like, "Wow, thank you so much for the opportunity. We can't wait to put something together." And I was like, "Yes, that. What Jessie said."
JE: But you're undercutting yourself because three minutes after that you had a strong take on something that we had to have in the scene. I was like, "We can lose it." And you were like, "No, we're keeping that."
CN: You give me the confidence to believe in myself.
On season 2:
CN: What are you most excited for the fans to see this season?
JE: I think that the stuff that happens with [your character] Poppy this season is really cool, and I love how they handle female empowerment with an edge of satire... [Was] there a specific episode that was your favorite to shoot?
CN: I loved shooting the first episode. I really can't wait to see how people respond to it.
JE: The first episode is special. It kind of brings the joy after this long drought.
CN: With Megan, this was her first time directing, which is absolutely mind-blowing. Without giving too much away, I think when [viewers] see the episode that she directed you'll understand why I say that because it was an absolute feat of amazingness that she pulled off. It was really cool to see someone who had a vision from the beginning of the conception of the episode to actually executing.
JE: I don't think it would be a spoiler in any way to say all of us are in a really, really long scene, and Megan had to block it like you would a play... There were some takes that were seven pages long, which never ever happens...
That stuff at the end is heart-wrenching [too]. I got to watch it with my mom and she was screaming at the TV and being like, "Poppy!"
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