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Interview - Emily Piggford

Canadian actor Emily Piggford has been forging her own impressive path for the past several years in Hollywood.

She’s appeared in series such as Hemlock Grove, Killjoys, The Girlfriend Experience and The Umbrella Academy to name a few. Her breakout role was playing Wendy Ohata in the series Warigami.

Emily graduated from the Canadian Film Centre's prestigious Actors Conservatory Program and is also a Canadian Screen Award nominated actor.

She currently stars at Esther Ishikawa in the CBC Gem thriller The Sounds. The series, created by best-selling author Sarah-Kate Lynch, is destined to take its viewers on one hell of a ride!

We sat down with Emily to talk about her character, what it was like working with the director and cast and what fans can look forward to with the first season of The Sounds.

Pop Culture Principle – What can you tell us about your character Esther Ishikawa?

Emily Piggford – She is a financial investigator for the Cabbotts, this very wealthy and ethically questionable corporate family in Vancouver. She’s been on the trail of uncovering missing millions that the Cabbotts have lost track of in the last couple of years.

She has this forensic focus and she loves her work. She struggles with her interpersonal skills, but it almost doesn’t faze her because she gets so much satisfaction from her job and would rather just focus on the facts. She believes in efficiency over all else to get through and finds that human interaction and emotion can just make things messy. So, when she is sent down to New Zealand to figure out what happened to Tom, she is in deep water in more ways than one.

Pop Culture Principle – Your character works for the family of the missing husband Tom Cabbott. The father himself is a very cold and cruel individual. Has his influence affected her at all working for him?

Emily Piggford – I think that she sees Frank Cabbott as an example to follow. She sees that he puts business first and interpersonal relationships second and he’s very successful. She thinks that if he can do it and all these other business men around her can do it, why can’t she focus on her work and be successful.

I also think that sometimes Frank Cabbott wants results faster than she can get them which is annoying to her because she is doing the best that she can and she knows she’s good at her job. So, when he is impatient, it’s a bit exhausting for her.

Pop Culture Principle – Esther Ishikawa is sent to investigate the disappearance of Tom Cabbott. It seems right from the beginning, her relationship with his wife Maggie is going to be a strained one. Will we see this continue throughout the firs season?

Emily Piggford – Definitely. They have very different intentions and very different ways of approaching life and approaching people. Maggie is a person who is also incredibly practical, driven and determined like Esther is, but she leads with emotions and isn’t shy about expressing them, whereas that is something that Esther struggles with and it makes her a bit uncomfortable.

Maggie wants to keep the fishery open, which was Tom’s business and wants Tom to be found, but Esther doesn’t care if Tom is found and she would rather the business shut down because that means she can leave New Zealand sooner. So, the fact that Maggie is leading with all this hope, Esther finds exhausting and inconvenient.

Pop Culture Principle – We really enjoy how these female character pushes against the idea of how a woman is supposed to act and behave in a situation like this. What are your thoughts?

Emily Piggford – Yes, they both have a very rich and nuanced and deeply personal way of responding to crisis. Both are quite ambitious in all that they do.

Pop Culture Principle – The family considers Maggie to be a gold digger even after all these years. From the beginning of her investigation, do you think Esther believes Maggie is involved with Tom’s disappearance?

Emily Piggford – Esther comes to New Zealand with a totally open mind. She’s just there to observe and receive the facts and move forward. It’s with some encouragement from the Cabbotts that she looks deeper into Maggie. Esther coming to New Zealand with no agenda other than to get out as soon as possible means that it’s totally possible that Maggie is a part of it.

Pop Culture Principle – As the season progresses, will we get any backstory about Esther and who she really is?

Emily Piggford – I had so much fun working with this character and a lot of it is backstory that I brought to the character. We see her move through the investigation as it expands and we see her with this aqua phobia and panic disorder and it seems that she may be high functioning on the autism spectrum scale as well. So, in order to sustain those aspects of her and hopefully make them rooted in reality, I did spend a lot of time doing my own backstory work and maybe we’ll get to see it in another season.

Pop Culture Principle – The series was shot entirely in New Zealand. What was it like filming in that amazing country?

Emily Piggford – It was beautiful and it’s so luscious. I’m from the West coast of Canada, Victoria, B.C. and there were a lot of similarities I found. We were based in Auckland for a majority of the shoot. I left in the middle of Toronto’s summer which is oppressively hot and humid to go to New Zealand in their winter, which was kind of like this tempestuous autumn.

I was telling friends it reminds me of St. John’s, Newfoundland, England, California and B.C. It’s the best parts of all those places in one. It was a really lovely community and the majority of the cast and crew naturally were locals, so we just had this wonderful and welcoming vibe on set.

Pop Culture Principle – Would you say that New Zealand itself is a character in the series?

Emily Piggford – Definitely! It’s both beautiful and also dangerous because it’s this rich, vibrant and living thing and it’s just all around you. On one hand, it can be very relaxing and soothing, but it also poses a threat because you could get lost in the brush or you could drown in the water and be carried away and there could be a week long search for you and not find a trace. I think that is very much what the show is about. Still waters run deep and a beautiful facade can hide a lot of danger and risk.

Pop Culture Principle – All eight episodes of the series were directed by Peter Stebbings. Can you talk a little bit about working with him and how it was having the same director for the entire run?

Emily Piggford – I loved working with Peter for all eight episodes. Of course, it’s great when you get to work with multiple directors and get their different takes, but for this show in particular, we shot all eight episodes spread out over the course of four months. So, I might do a day of one episode in month one and then another day of that episode in month two, so we had to track our arc for character and for locations across the whole time we were there.

So, having Peter as the great overseer of the entire season was great. All of our relationships and characters were a great gift and he is wonderful to work with. He gives his actors space and he lets the environment breathe. He was just wonderful to work with.

Pop Culture Principle - In a recent interview Peter Stebbings said that being an actor himself, it gives him the ability to empathize with the actors experiences on set. Would you agree with that?

Emily Piggford – I would certainly say so. I could feel that from him in the way he communicated and the language he used. Also, the space he gave the actors to play and his directions were always clear, kind and right on the money. So, I really think it’s such a gift to work with a director who is also an actor.

Pop Culture Principle – You also did some amazing work with Rachelle Lefevre who plays Maggie. What was it like working with her?

Emily Piggford – She is amazing! Watching her work and move through her life was a masterclass example on how to do it. How to be a professional and skilled actor and how to be a wonderful mother and human being. I have so much love and respect for Rachelle.

Pop Culture Principle – It seems that eight episodes were the perfect amount for the first season of The Sounds. Would you agree?

Emily Piggford – I think eight episodes was perfect and just in general, I love the number eight! There is so much content out there and we want to see as much as we can and be on top of all the new things and it can be a lot. Eight episodes is approachable, but beyond that it is the right amount of episodes to unleash the story, hook the audience and reach some kind of resolve, but still leave the audience wanting more.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the first season of The Sounds?

Emily Piggford – One of the things that I really love about the show is the twists on the twists. In true thriller fashion, all your opinions about the characters can switch or deepen. The search and rescue for Tom’s body actually unearths all of these other things naturally. I think that there are some satisfying reveals and some nice new relationships that are formed in the course of the investigation.

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A huge thank you to Emily Piggford for taking the time to talk with us. You can catch The Sounds currently airing in Canada on CBC Gem.

**The Sounds photos courtesy of CBC Gem**

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