Emily Piggford was born and raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. At the age of 11, she took to the stage and it was here where she discovered her passion for acting. From there,
Emily made her way to the University of Victoria graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre. During her time at the University, she became an artistic associate of the multidisciplinary theatre company Impulse Theatre collaborating on many of their productions such as the one-woman show ANA performed and co-created by Emily herself for UNO Fest, an annual curated festival of one-person theatre.
Following university, Emily made the move to Toronto, Ontario where she currently resides. Since then she has appeared in several film and television productions including Guidance (TIFF), Still (TIFF), Frost (TIFF), The Girlfriend Experience, Spun out, Lost Girl, The Listener, Hemlock Grove (NETFLIX), Michael: EveryDay (CBC) and Riftworld Chronicles.
Emily is widely known for her starring role as Meagan in the award-winning web series That’s My DJ for which she received a Canadian Screen Awards Best Performance by an Actress nomination. She is also a recent graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s (CFC) CBC Actors Conservatory program. Coming up,you can catch her in the third season of the hit web series That’s My DJ .
We had a chance to catch up with Emily recently to find out what’s up!
You play Meagan in the web series, That’s My DJ. Tell us about this character and how she’s evolved.
EP: Meagan is such a sensory person– she loves to feel and experience as much as possible and live very much for the moment. In season one, we meet Meagan as a supporting character to the protagonist, Simon aka DJ Deadpixel, played by Jacob Neayem. At this point, she’s a party girl enjoying Toronto’s electronic music scene.
In season two, Meagan is the protagonist and we see how her love for the music and her connection to the industry has evolved into her job as a promoter for DJ events in Toronto. With her friend Sam, played by Jade Hassouné, Meagan decides to throw a monthly night of their own: Home Brew. In the process, she falls in love with Hannah, played by Dayle McLeod, a DJ they hire to spin at Home Brew. Hannah has a boyfriend, though, so there’s that. Meagan tries to wait until the coast is clear with Hannah, but her affinity for electricity pulls her in pretty fast and hard and fireworks ensue. So from season one to two, we get to see that Meagan is more than just a fun-loving party girl, but that she is also hard-working and brave, a bit reckless, but it’s all because of this huge heart that she has and this desire to live life to the fullest.
In season three, we’ll see Meagan burning a bit less brightly after playing with the fire that was Hannah.
Then you became more involved in the series as a producer. That probably brings a different perspective and appreciation for the series?
EP: Oh my goodness, yes! As an actress, I was already so invested in “That’s My DJ,” but when I produced on seasons two and three, I suddenly found myself in a position where I could suggest things like location, cast, crew, shoot schedule, meals… It was so exciting and satisfying to brainstorm with D.W. and the other producers on how we could get the scripts to screen in the most dynamic, engaging and faithful way possible, with a modest budget and tight schedule. Producing “That’s My DJ ” made me fall next-level in love with the series and feel such gratitude for everyone involved. I always feel a bit of awe when I’m on any set, but to be on a set that I helped put together, surrounded by amazing people who are all there because they’re passionate about their work and the project, makes it feel even more miraculous. I’ve also always had appreciation for producers, but it’s definitely deepened now that I better understand even a bit a of what exactly it is that they do.
The series revolves around the Toronto music scene. What was the inspiration there?
EP: The inspiration was creator/director, D.W. Waterson’s life, actually. In addition to being a filmmaker, D.W. is also a DJ: hey!dw. She fell in love with electronic music, taught herself how to DJ, and eventually created this amazing alter ego, hey!dw, who drums while she DJs, wearing a purple cheerleader uniform. She also created Home Brew in real life, which she headlines and runs monthly in Toronto. With “That’s My DJ ,” she wanted to tell that story of taking a leap of faith to realize your dreams and set it within the context of Toronto’s electronic music scene, which is vibrant and thriving with so many talented people. D.W. wanted to showcase all of that through the story, the soundtrack, the locations and by featuring tons of local talent.
Why did you decide to get involved in a web series and how is it different from acting in TV, film or on stage?
EP: D.W. approached me after I’d been living and working professionally in Toronto for about a year and a half. I had the Netflix series “Hemlock Grove” under my belt and a couple short films. Regardless of the medium, I was interested in being involved in “That’s My DJ ” based on the story, the character, the project’s goals and D.W. herself. The fact that it was a web series was an added incentive because the intimacy of the set reminded me of doing indie theatre, which is what I was most familiar with at the time, so it created a comfort zone for me to play in. I was eager to discover more about and experiment with my acting process and it felt like a great opportunity to do that. It just so happens that D.W. is also the kind of director who not only supports her actors in taking chances, but encourages it. There was a collaborative dynamic that I don’t always feel if it’s a much larger set or if I’m in a much smaller role, which makes sense. Productions are such multi-faceted machines, whether for stage or screen, and unless I’m there from the beginning or in the lead role, working one-on-one with the director, I’ve learned to become more autonomous as an actor, which is also really exciting.
You’re also in CBC’s Michael: Everyday working with director Don McKellar. Looks like a fun show! Tell us what you love about your character?
EP: It is a fun show and I loved working on it with Don and with the talented co-writing, co-star team of Bob Martin and Matt Watts. Three such awesome and kind guys. I play Beth, who is this super deadpan receptionist to Bob’s character, Dr. Storper. I’m the sort of person who always wants people to feel comfortable, but Beth just does not expend any energy making people feel warm and fuzzy, in fact, you usually sense that she’s quietly judging you behind her neutral expression. Other times her sarcasm makes it pretty obvious, haha! That was a lot of fun to play with and a real pleasure opposite such a talented cast all around and with such fun scripts.
What advice has Don McKellar given you?
EP: Don hasn’t shared advice with me, per se, but he helped me to trust myself and my work by trusting me with the role. He always gave me the space and support to play as Beth. Any direction he gave was a subtle or specific adjustment and kindly given. Since Don was so appreciative and gave me such room to just do my Beth, shooting “Michael: Every Day” became another experience in autonomy for me as an actor, which previously might have been scary, but on Don’s set was actually quite liberating and I’ve carried that feeling and confidence forward.
You’re part Japanese, do you feel like more acting opportunities are opening up beyond stereotypical roles?
EP: Yes, I feel this change coming and I’m seeing evidence of it more and more. I personally have played only one role on screen so far where my character was specifically Japanese. It’s not a bad thing to have characters whose ethnicity is a key aspect of the story, as long as the representation is respectful and authentic. This definitely feels like a time of transition in the media where there is still some “tokenism” happening– even if the Asian character is not stereotyped, we don’t get to see or know that much about them and the placement of the character can feel a bit more like fulfillment of a “diversity” requirement. Increased visibility is great, but I’m excited for greater depth. With things moving so quickly these days, I don’t think it will be long before we see more Asian actors in leading roles where the story does not necessarily revolve around the fact that they are Asian.
Do you find that being of mixed races can sometimes make you not ethnic enough for a role? And how do you handle that situation?
EP: I definitely have felt that, whether or not it’s true– I don’t always get to know what casting is thinking– but I often feel that I may not be Asian or Caucasian enough for a certain role. I’m grateful to be considered to play Asian characters, but sometimes I actually feel bad and almost disrespectful if I’m called to play a Chinese character, for example, because I’m half Japanese and half British and while I would love to play any role and am grateful to be considered, I also feel torn because I want to see more and more authentic casting. As a result, I consider the roles I’m called for very carefully and try to recognize if something is perpetuating a stereotype or is appropriate for me to portray etc. So I’m excited to sense and see that more content is coming out where the ethnicity of the actor/character is not so pertinent to the story as a whole; instead we just get to watch a PERSON live a LIFE without fixating on the race of the character or falling back on stereotypes.
Advice for young asian actors?
EP: Be proud of your heritage and, I think, feel privileged that there are certain roles out there that only you can play (or should, if whitewashing wasn’t a thing.) On the other hand, when choosing or creating roles, be mindful of the portrayal of the Asian characters and be brave in busting down stereotypes and avoiding tokenism.
What role would you love to take on?
EP: Oh man, I don’t know if I can pick just one! The roles I’d like to play range from characters like Ripley in “Aliens” to Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” There’s actually a character that I’ve wanted to play for years and she’s from a novel– Oryx from Margaret Atwood’s “Maddaddam” trilogy. I heard that Darren Aronofsky is set to adapt the trilogy into a miniseries, which is incredibly exciting and I’ll just be so glad to see it, whether or not I get to be involved.
What’s your mantra?
EP: The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz:
1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.
Big thanks to Emily for taking the time out to chat with us! You can check out the web series at thatsmydjseries.com