Earlier this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Felicia Day at the Farpoint 2010 sci-fi convention in Timonium, Maryland. I am a huge fan of Felicia’ s work and I am pretty sure most of you Geekadelphia readers are as well. I tried to ask a lot of questions that you don’t traditionally hear in interviews with her. We all know she was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starred in Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog and eventually solidified a name for herself as a creator/writer/star of her webseries The Guild.
Read on, as we talk about everything from comics, to video games, to what she thinks of female role models in new media. I’d apologize for this being such a long post, but I think it’s worth the read. Enjoy.
So, you attended college at age of 16 and graduated as valedictorian with a double major in mathematics and music performance. What inspired you to suddenly move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting?
The thing that inspired me to movie to LA to pursue acting was kind of a blind enthusiasm [laughs] in a sense. I had always been doing theater everywhere I went. Actually, the two running themes throughout my childhood were doing Community Theater and online gaming. Because I was moving around so much I never had a consistent friendship with anybody because I always just left.
So either I kept in touch with them on the computer through like Prodigy [laughs], like total old-school internet stuff, like total old-school; or I met new people through community theater. So it had always been like a family to me, and for some reason I just always had this idea I would really love to go be an actor in LA. So a little bit of not-good planning led me to LA shortly after I graduated college.
I heard that the genesis of The Guild was a WOW intervention where the result was you going cold turkey and quitting the game; can you tell us a bit about that dark time in your life and were the characters you eventually wrote in The Guild pilot based off of anyone you knew personally? They all seem very believable.
Yeah, so I wrote The Guild after I had been gaming like 30-hour weeks, I was definitely a hard-core raider at the time. I really enjoyed it (gaming) and I don’t think it was necessarily a bad thing. I am a little bit obsessive, so I tend to take things personally and seriously. So I definitely let it take over my life in a way, because I didn’t have anything else going on, to kind of combat it. So I definitely don’t want my experience to be like a poster child for dysfunctional gamers. I just think that anything that I would have filled my time with would have probably taken over my life – just because I didn’t have a lot of fulfilling things going on at the time.
It’s hard to get a job [ in acting ] and it’s hard to face rejection everyday. That’s just kind of your job, and you have to face it. If you get an acting job it’s more like a reward, but it’s not the thing you are there to do. You’re there to audition, so it’s hard to get your mind around that as an actor cause you’re always emotionally available.
So I wrote The Guild because I wanted to write something to show a character, you know that optimal side of me, and that is how Codex came up. I love playing this sort of neurotic introverted character, which is something you don’t see on TV as a lead especially. So building those characters around Codex was the key to making it engaging and successful. To this day it’s still hard to write Codex because she is kind of a passive character and plays the role of a healer-in-life behind-the-scenes, so making her a little more outgoing is always a challenge.
The other characters were not based per se on people I knew. I had drawn some ideas, like people with screaming babies in the background, or like people who were being way too serious about the game. I wouldn’t say people directly inspired them, but they are sort of an amalgam of my experiences. The characters of Zaboo and Vork were based on those actors I tailor-made for them… because we do improv together. So in those cases it was tailored to the actors and the rest were impressions of people I played with online.
Much More After the Jump
I have heard writing is one the most difficult parts of the process for you in creating The Guild, can you shed any light on your writing process for the upcoming season?
I am starting it, which means I might be starting from scratch again. As every season goes on there is more and more pressure on me as a performer, and creator of the show. It’s hard to get the time to and the tunnel vision it takes to really concentrate on creating something. I write the season as a movie, so it’s like reading a movie script, so it gets more complex because I introduce more and more characters into the plot.
It’s very complex [the writing process]; I have really good people whom I will turn to at a certain point to help me out, if I really get really stuck. But, part of my process is getting myself stuck and reevaluating, and going back and redoing until I get something I really feel is good. Also a consideration is the fact that I have a lot of non-gamer fans, so I always have to be constantly be not too “inside” but still stay “inside” for the gamers. It’s a fine line to walk.
That and people are constantly asking me, “When is Season 4 coming out?” That puts a lot of pressure on me as a person, so it’s kind of learning to ignore everything and satisfy myself because that is what worked for seasons 1 and 2. So I might have to go into a cave for a week, if it doesn’t come in the next couple of weeks. But it will get done, but we don’t have a release date or a contract yet so I am still formulating.
That has to be quite a bit of pressure, since you hold total creative control of The Guild, to consistently have to keep out doing yourself.
You really just have to do the best that you can do as a human. Whether your outdoing yourself or you’re not, you just constantly have to be checking back in, “is this really what I want to do with this, is this making me happy?”
It’s hard when people are pulling you in 50 different directions to creatively think about a story for the right reasons. I am positive I have some good ideas for season 5. There is somewhere I am aiming to go, so hopefully the journey is at least funny. We will see.
As a content creator you keep a tight reign on The Guild as an intellectual property, it’s great to see someone like yourself not only be successful, but doing so on your own terms and not having to dilute your ideas for mass consumption; first with the Web Series and now the comic. What inspired the move to comics for the property, and are you a comic book fan yourself?
The move to comics was kind of done because of Scott Allie at Dark Horse knew me through Doctor Horrible, and through Joss (Whedon). I had seen him at 2 Comicons in a row, and even 2 years ago he was like, “We should do The Guild as a comic.” I was like, “I don’t know, I am just doing season 2 now, I don’t have time to do it immediately.” So I put it off, and this past year in July, he approached me again and was like, “It’s time to do it.” And I thought, “You know, it’s a good idea I think maybe I could do this, if I did it like this.” I didn’t want it to interfere with my webstory idea, so I had to do it more like, let’s backup and see how this character Codex got into the game because she is the heart of The Guild.
It’s a journey of her getting into gaming, as Scott said it’s kind of a love letter to video games – because it is this one girl’s journey. It really kind of forced me explore her character in a way I hadn’t before, because how did she get into this game? I really didn’t want to duplicate my process, so I had to create a lot of things from scratch. It gave me a really new perspective on comic book writing in a way that I did not have before. I have a lot more respect for the parameters of working in a comic form. I mean really, it’s limitless in a way but there are so many parameters you have to work under.
It’s very much like a screenplay or webseries but the opposite. Because rather than having lots of dialog and few locations like we do in the webseries, I had to think of it in a opposite way. We could go to any location in the world, there was no money limit so far to crashes, explosions, and exteriors – but I couldn’t have a lot of dialog and I am very dialog heavy in The Guild. Literally he would be like you have to cut this down to 12 words from 15 in this bubble, and I was like AHHHH! I can’t do it! So that was a big challenge and I wrote probably twice as much as what ended up in the comic, because you just have no room. So I had to cut out storylines here and there, take out back-stories, and I really narrowed it down to really what is this one thing that this is about. So in the end it took me three months to write those, in addition to all the distractions and post-production on season 3.
I think what I came up with was really good and I am really happy it and it is exactly what I want it to be. I think the artist Jim Rugg did an amazing job bringing the characters to life in an indie, not too characture-esque way. I really like his style he did Street Angel and Aphrodisiac he is really more indie than mainstream style wise. It really has been a journey getting panels sent back to me, knowing that I have to describe the panels, which I didn’t even know when I started. I read comics but I am not like a graphic novel aficionado, I am a lot more now that I did a lot of research. I am more of a novel reader, so it was definitely a learning curve. But I tried to like reading other people’s stuff, and try to fit myself into their mold, because those were the rules and I couldn’t write. So I had to throw it all out and do what I want to do with this and by then I broke through. So I don’t know if I broke a lot of rules or not, I just hope people enjoy it.
What were some of the comic books you were reading while working on The Guild comic?
I was reading DMZ, was one of the ones I really loved. I read Walking Dead, Fray, Scott Pilgrim, Love and Rockets, and Strangers in Paradise, you know because it wasn’t in the vein of super hero comics, it was more the real based comics. There is just some really amazing work out there that really introduced me to the breadth of comics that they weren’t just super heroes – there was a lot more out there than that. I would love to do actually different stories maybe something more grandiose in scale, because I know I would never be able to do it in real life. So if I ever come up with a webseries idea that is too expensive to shoot I can just do it as a comic.
Speaking of branching out The Guild, could there be a Guild video game in the future?
Microsoft already owns the rights, if it was the right time and the right kind of game I am sure they would be open to hearing my thoughts on it. I am not sure what that would look like. I would not be opposed to it, in fact I am kind of obsessed with video games. It’s the storytelling in video games lately. I played a little bit of Uncharted 2 and I have also been playing Mass Effect 2, Assassins Creed 2 and I feel video games are going more in a direction of story telling that really hasn’t been integrated into videogames until now. I am really excited about that because good acting and good storytelling in video games can totally supplant sometimes seeing a bad movie.
Who wants to see a formula of a movie when you can play a game a live some story but also be more interactive with it? For me I am really excited that video game are refining those parts, because they have obviously mastered the technical aspects and there is always going to be emphasis on that, but a good story can carry almost anything even with bad graphics through, and it can be compelling. So I am really interested to see where that goes, and if I was going to develop something it would have to be story based first and foremost.
You’re a big proponent and role model of the intelligent geek woman both online and in social media, you write your own blog and twitter filling them with content that is both intelligent and compelling. Do you feel that the women who simply use their cute avatar pic to get hits and attention hurt your hard work in proving that a woman can be more than a smiling bubbly profile pic, and a cute tweet every now and again?
I mean I don’t want to condemn anyone else as far as that. I know what I am is what I represent myself as, I don’t have an image I am trying to present. I am just delighted that I found a venue to actually be myself in, versus trying to be that cute actress who has no cares in the world except for her intentions or whatever. If you try to do that you will actually realize it’s a lot of hard work. With the avatar video it was more work than I had ever done on my appearance and I was like, “wow, I have a new respect for superstars who really have to maintain their body like a shrine in a sense.” It’s a lot of work in a completely different sense. So I don’t want to denigrate, anyone’s actions like that.
I would like it if women were a little bit more intellectual in general. But really who am I to say? I think people should be themselves, and exploiting your sexuality is definitely a way to go for whatever it is your end result is. For me that is just something I have never put forward in a way, and I think it is not sustainable in the long run. I would rather be known as a creator, so at least when I get to the point when I can’t put that forth, I have something else to do that will carry me through. I am just glad to be a voice for women of all kinds. Listen I am a girl – I like having my hair look pretty, I don’t like getting my nails done, but I like shopping and stuff.
Although I think there is an interesting argument with that, it came up on twitter that you kind of have to be “one or the other”. You have to be serious and taken seriously and not be sexual at all, and not be flirty and pretty, or you’re that – just a vapid piece of fluff. After that twitter thing a surprising number of women were like, “How dare you pose like that, in a trench coat!” [ Edt: Referring to her Vanity Fair photo shoot ] I thought it was kind of glamorous but some people thought it was over the line, completely relative. But I think it was interesting that from both sides defending that, but also condemning it in a way for even women doing that. That’s almost as bad as just saying it’s fluffy. I really don’t think you have to be one or the other, you can blend the two and be a complete person and encompass all the things femininity and glamor, and also be intelligent and grounded.
I think we live in a black and white world where it’s easier to consume things when you can pigeon hole people and for me I don’t enjoy being pigeon holed. I don’t feel as if I am a pigeon hole-able person and anyone who is proud of embracing all aspects of themselves, they show other people they can do that too. They don’t just have to be one thing.
Speaking of being who you really are, it brought to mind how you were accused of having your PR people do your book reviews, and how because you come off as such a genuine gamer, people somehow feel there is the possibility of there being some marketing involved in your various social media. That maybe Felicia Day is not writing this. But I think if people do their homework they will realize you are quite the reader and gamer and it is not just some cheap marketing ploy.
Well I think there are a couple aspects to that; I think some people don’t do their homework. Life is a little short to do homework, and I don’t blame someone for making a snap decision. I of course appreciate someone looking a little deeper. I make snap decisions on the way people look all the time, I might look like jerk but that’s not true. We kind of have to do that to operate. But, yeah at the same time I know a lot of prominent people in Hollywood and not in Hollywood who are not genuine, that(online presence) is not who they are. They may have an idea of who they want to be and they try to fit themselves into it. They actually have people talking for them on their blogs, and on twitter and that’s justifiable. That is what I like about the Internet, its kind of jaded and they are looking for things that are fresh, and they are willing to embrace things that are out of the box.
So I understand why someone would jump to that conclusion, that’s actually why I have a Google alert on myself so I can be like, “Yes I did read those books, I have read twice as many books.” So that is the Internet, and sometimes I have a tendency to chase down things, I really shouldn’t be spending my time doing; I should be writing. It gets irritating if someone makes assumptions about you that are not true. But I understand why they do that. Being jaded is always good, but I try not to do it.
I see you’ve started to getting into voice work in video games with Guild Wars 2. Is this something you have wanted to do for a while now? And what other roles do we have to look forward to?
Yeah so Guild Wars 2 approached me to do the voice of Zojja a little tiny alien creature who is sooo cute. I was like, this is amazing, because this is the first time someone approached me, and I was like “Yes please!” Subsequently when I twittered that all these video game developers started to Twitter me, saying, “Hey, do a voice in my game.” I was like wow, I am a better agent for myself than the people I pay. [laughs]
I am really excited about that and I have another video game coming out Rock of the Dead, where I do the voice it’s a Wii game. I am doing a voice and Neil Patrick Harris is doing a voice and you attack zombies with a guitar hero controller, much like typing of the dead, and it’s coming out in a couple of months.
I have a few other developers interested in me doing voices but I am not necessarily a voice over actor. But I had a lot of fun coming up with a new voice for Guild Wars 2, the other one I did was more myself. It’s definitely a different kind of acting; it requires a lot more expression than when you would normally talk and I have to slow it down a bit because I normally talk really fast. It’s definitely another skill set and I am really happy to have the opportunity. I love being a part of it and seeing myself as a character. Wow, it’s like the best thing ever.
Have you ever thought about doing anime voice work?
No one has really approached me to do stuff like that. So we’ll see, sometimes I have voice-over auditions. I did an episode of a cartoon that’s coming out in the fall for Cartoon Network. Just one, so a guest star. But voice acting like I said is a very unique beast and the people that are able to do that, many different voices well, its like God bless them it is an amazing skill set you have to admire it.
I know you’re a fan of the Amazon Kindle and an avid reader, any thoughts on the debacle over pulling the Macmillan titles off the Amazon store due to pricing?
Yeah, it’s really interesting I really don’t have a strong opinion on this, I mean I love the Kindle I love books so I didn’t think I would like my Kindle. I love because I can carry it around and no one can see what I am reading, I read a lot of bodice rippers but I am over them now. It’s very interesting to see that I don’t know if it was handled well. It seems like publishing is in an interesting bind. It’s the same in Hollywood, distribution is completely changing now, and the middlemen are really fighting to stay in the game in a sense. Publishers are basically middlemen, if I was a famous author and with everyone consuming everything electronically do you really need a middleman to release that for you? There are options out there that weren’t available to creators, I am not saying it’s the best option but for everybody or anybody, but I am saying it is an option. They are scared and rightly so because their distribution model is falling apart.
I think we are going to see a lot more of that with TV; music was already devastated from it, so I think publishing and TV is trying to learn from what happened to music. But they may not be able to move fast enough for that. My experience working with Amazon, XBOX, Microsoft, Google and all these big new media companies that they are hungry to transform the way we consume our media. The old-school kind of companies are not constructed to be as facile to adapt. So I think we are going to see a lot more fighting over content, over how people get their content. I don’t think this is the first or last time this is going to happen. For me its always like what is going to best for the consumer and these companies are gong to try and stake out ground wherever they can to try and make money.
Speaking of the mobile devices being a content creator what are your thoughts on the Apple iPad? It really seems like the all in one content device bringing together books, Comics, music and video someone could go from watching a guild episode to reading a comic?
I think about the iPad in two different ways, it’s really exciting because it can transform the way we read books in a way it could create new media. You know for me, I am like why can’t we have animation in a book, or why cant you have a game in a book now? What is a movie/book/game? I mean you can do what ever you want to meld your media now. It’s something really cool, there is an opportunity for that and something I personally as a creator I am interested in doing.
But at the same time your looking at a device that is very closed off, a very closed system. We are moving to a place where I don’t know if that is good. We aggregate through our DVD distributor that is the only way we were able to get The Guild on iTunes. Which is great because they were a huge supporter of the show on iTunes, which is fantastic. But it is more of a closed system for independent content, because they tend to work more with big developers and big studios. So even though you have a browser in the device you’re catering to a more close system than the Internet.
So they are trying to create a situation where they are shrinking the Internet into bite size pieces. Which is great for the casual consumer in theory it’s going to be a lot more refined, but in the same vein are we losing the spirit of the Internet which is kind of like the Wild West; where anybody can be anything they want to be. Where you can have like crazy Tom Selleck sandwich memes (laughs). I would never want to lose that because that is what I love about the Internet. So I am of two thoughts: it could be a revolution, it could also be a closing of the system. I certainly want one, because I am a gadget freak. I have yet to figure out how I would use it. I just want to see one first.
What’s the last good movie you saw?
I haven’t seen a lot of good movies lately [laughs]. A Simple Man was good I enjoyed that. I mean I enjoyed Avatar for the technical aspects, but I knew what the story was going to be going in. So there was nothing surprising there, but the 3D was fantastic! I can’t wait to play a video game like that. I mean, I am really sad there are no movies I am really excited to see except for Alice in Wonderland. It seems like movies have shrunk in a sense. There are not a lot of great independent things being made with stories, the kind you just have to see this or that weekend. Maybe its just me, because I don’t watch a lot of TV and movies as I use to, but it feels like there are so few things being made that aren’t sequels or are just not exciting to me. So I am really eager for the summer films to come out.
What race and class do you prefer in World of Warcraft and why?
That is a hard question. I have only played a priest and a warlock; no, I also played a mage. Ideally I would be a mage, because I hate transit time so that is most irritating thing in the world. I can’t wait for Cataclysm so I can fly around the old continents. My guild pitched in and got me an epic-flying mount which was very sweet and it revolutionized my life, I can’t stand commuting in the game or out. I really need to level my mage.
I also really enjoy my priest because it is a much different role in kind in the back supporting everything. But if I were going to raid again I would enjoy my warlock because I really enjoy creating things and being like, wow. I know it’s kinda stupid but I really like having really big crit numbers.
If you could participate in bringing one video game or comic book property to the big screen, what would it be?
The George R. R. Martin books; they are already making those at HBO The Game of Thrones. I wasn’t British so I wasn’t allowed to audition for those, but that would be really fun. I think a Fallout movie would be really awesome, because I love the mythology of that game. I think it would be really cinematically cool. I think they have done some apocalyptic things lately, but I don’t think they have been just like awesome, like I think a Fallout movie could be. A lot of video games turn out to be really poop to be honest. But I think that kind of environment would lend itself to and could be really interesting. The deep roleplaying of that game could be really interesting in a movie form. I would love to play a dirty urchin character with a weird crew cut, if I could be a girl in that that would be awesome.