in Television

Interview with Emily Piggford of “Hemlock Grove”

Photo: Kirsten Hofbauer

Photo: Kirsten Hofbauer

I very recently had the opportunity to interview Hemlock Grove‘s Emily Piggford, who played Ashley Valentine on the show. Ashley, fellow high school classmate of upir Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard) and werewolf Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), is one of many characters who end up inadvertently caught up in the web of the supernatural when a string of murders occur within town. The show, based on a novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy, is a Netflix Original Series produced by horror aficionado Eli Roth.

It was announced today that Hemlock Grove has officially been renewed for a second season.

You can read the interview with Emily Piggford below:

1. When did you start acting and what got you interested? Was there anyone or anything that inspired you?

This first thing that I actually wanted to be was a singer. I would also dance around a lot, to Enya and ABBA, Laura Branigan and Cyndi Lauper. I went through wanting to be a paleontologist, an author and a teacher as well—all that before I was eleven, then I discovered acting.

My grade five teacher thought I did well in the Christmas pageant and recommended I audition for a community theatre production of “The Three Pigs New Adventure” with Four Seasons Musical Theatre. I played a blue bird and remember my mom asking me in the car after rehearsal one night what I thought of acting.

By that point, I was still set on being a singer/songwriter and said maybe I would do acting on the side. This is a very vivid memory for me for some reason—I suppose it’s when the wheels really began to turn.

By the time we mounted the show and I saw how our work was affecting the audience, which was mainly children and their parents, I felt solidly taken with acting. It’s dress-up with a focus and philosophy, insight, examples, commentary, a moral, a warning, hope… I had always loved movies and doing imitations and dressing up, like any kid, really. I was very romantic. I’m so thankful that I get to hold onto all that and be a part of this exuberant, intellectual and instinctual profession.

I’m inspired by the nature of the industry itself, the possibilities it has on so many levels to affect change.

2. Internet entities such as Netflix and Amazon are starting to make original programming, attempting to compete with network and cable shows. What are your thoughts on this venture?

When I first received the email about auditioning for Hemlock Grove and saw that it was going to be a Netflix series, it somehow felt less official than it being a TV series that would be aired weekly. I wondered how established these new Netflix Original Series were, what sort of budget they had to work with and what sort of exposure they would receive. It is amazing how quickly my impressions changed and how I see now, after Hemlock and House of Cards, how astounding the production value is—the performances, the score, the effects and editing, directing—it is all top of the line, high-quality filmmaking, and these series essentially are like 13-hour long movies.

I wonder how many people still think of the original programming idea like I did at first. But it is a brilliant idea and I think if anyone either hasn’t checked it out or come around to it yet, they will. I also think that if someone has to choose between having cable or internet, they will choose internet, so the more series and movies that are available online and fresh, the better. I’m sure that Netflix and Amazon will continue to have success with their original programming.

I just got cable again recently and, before now, have had it very intermittently through my life. So for the last long while, I was only watching things online with Netflix or re-watching movies from my jumbo DVD collection and kind of embracing being disconnected from whatever was current, especially with TV shows. When I did have cable before, my schedule often didn’t allow me to watch what I wanted, (and I didn’t have PVR at the time, which IS amazing). I was so happy when I saw how many TV shows Netflix was starting to provide in addition to the growing movie library; I felt like I could catch up.

But with the original series it is even BETTER, because I don’t have to “catch up” on seasons that everyone else has already seen and moved on from and told me about… With the original series, a season is released there and only there and all at once. It’s not just convenient, it makes me feel like I’m in the loop again! (Marginally, I still haven’t watched Game of Thrones or Orphan Black or more than one episode of Homeland [which I just discovered is on Netflix!] etc., etc…SO MUCH TO SEE!)

3. In the short film Frost, you played the main character. I’ve heard that everything was filmed in front of a green screen. Do you feel that starring in a short film and having to imagine the world around you is more or less demanding than coming back to a recurring role week after week on a television show?

I love working on short films in general because of how concentrated the work is. I just shot a short zombie film directed by Will Pascoe called Detention and we took 3.5 hours of footage for a 7.5-minute film in only two days. That condensed timeline helps greatly with a sense of continuity and it also gives me less time to over-think.

We shot Frost over five straight days. I didn’t have any dialogue on set and most of my scenes were me alone, interacting with the inanimate environment and projecting the world that Jeremy (Jeremy Ball, our creator/director) indicated onto the green screens. All of this was quite freeing.

With Hemlock, it was wonderful and challenging to get to revisit Ashley Valentine over about four months and create an arc for her across that time, as well as work to make her interactions fuse naturally with the characters that have been there all the way through. I had to be very aware of how the characters she met with had been conveyed so far in the show and also aware of the tone or style that the series had established for itself, to make sure my performance fit in. In that sense, there were more factors outside of my control with Hemlock that I formed my performance around. With Frost, I was a little more free to establish the world and the role myself and I did really enjoy that.

4. In one of your final appearances on the show, your character states that she feels like she was a bitch toward Bill Skarsgard’s character, Roman. I’ve noticed some commenters online suggested that this scene was used as a cop out for Roman’s behavior—that it excused what he did. What is your take on that?

Ashley’s remorse and sweetness later is not meant to excuse Roman, but, in fact, lead the audience to do the opposite. Before Roman leaves her that night, he commands her to forget the rape and that he was ever there. His powers are successful to the point where she actually makes him an elaborate “get well” card when he’s in a coma and she still holds onto this little crush for him. It’s meant to feel unjust and sickening that she has forgotten what has happened and also actually still likes him. The entire rape-altercation shows how little Roman thinks of himself. He damages himself constantly, but also raping Ashley is one of the first times we see him inflict harm and his self-hate onto someone else. We see the dark acts that he is capable of and it makes us wonder what else he will do or has done.

5. What are some of your future projects?

I did my first guest spot on a sitcom! It’s called Spun Out and I understand it’s the first Canadian sitcom with a live audience since about 1989. It’s a fantastic, funny, well directed, written and acted show set in a PR office. It airs on CTV this fall, I believe. I also just shot that short film, Detention, which is funded by Bravo and can be described as Breakfast Club with zombies. It’s actually a tidbit from a feature idea. Will Pascoe co-wrote and directed, Eric Johnson co-wrote and acted. It will be completed in the fall and available online through Bravo. Hopefully we get to work on the feature before too long. Same with Frost (though the feature would be called Polaris.)

I’m in a wait-and-see zone now: Spun Out and Detention will be available in the fall, an animated short I contributed my voice to, Cloudrise, (directed/animated by Denver Jackson,) will be available soon, Frost is still going around to festivals, so I hope to make it to at least one of those, and we’re also waiting to see if Hemlock Grove gets the second season it deserves. Hopefully Ashley Valentine will be back if they do. In the meantime I’m just going to get back into yoga and dance and catch up on all those shows I wanna watch!

You can catch up on the first season of Hemlock Grove here on Netflix.

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