For award-winning actress/writer Ashly Burch, the gaming’s the thing.
Many would envy Ashly Burch's professional momentum.
The Arizona actress/writer broke into the gaming industry as a BAFTA-nominated voice actress, with roles in Horizon Zero Down, Life is Strange, Borderlands 2 and 3, and Guardians of the Galaxy. As a writer, she won an Emmy for her work on Adventure Time with Finn & Jake. Her gaming and writing experience recently dovetailed into her new role as Rachel, a game tester, on Mythic Quest, the new comedy on Apple TV+.
The brainchild of Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, David Hornsby, and Rob McElhenney, producers of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mythic Quest looks at a dysfunctional team developing a World of Warcraft-like MMORPG game.
Ashly Burch: This is my first on-camera room. You're surrounded by some of the funniest people on the planet; just a murderer's row of hilarious people. Forgive the gaming pun, but there was a leveling-up.
What was appealing about the character of Rachel to you? What can you tell us about her?
Rachel is a tester the game company in quality assurance to make sure there aren't any glitches in the game. The fun thing about her storyline is she's part of the "will they/won't they", the only love story in the office. She's in love with her co-tester Dana (Imani Hakim).
She's a fun character because she's extremely opinionated and doesn't have a very developed sense of shame or social boundaries. She's very hot-headed with a strict moral compass. I love her love story with Dana and that it's a love story between two women.
Were you approached for this based on your writing for Adventure Time and your gaming background?
I was on the writing staff for Mythic Quest before I was cast. I didn't know it at the time, but Rob McElhenney had been thinking of me for Rachel.
I remember one of our executive producers, Megan Ganz, had been talking to the writing room about who we thought could play the role. I sheepishly texted her later and asked if I could audition. She said, "Well, actually, Rob had been thinking of you for Rachel." It was serendipitous.
How did your character change from conception to filming? Was it through Rachel and Dana's evolving relationship becoming the heart of the series?
It's interesting being on the first season of show because so much changes at every step of the process, from when you break stories, to when you cast, to when you start filming.
Initially, Rachel was a bit more bullheaded and bit less aware and sensitive to Dana's feelings. I think she was a bit of a runaway train. As we started developing [the series] more, and when we cast me and Imani Hakim, we discovered what we wanted the characters to be.
We kept a lot of Rachel's brashness, her willingness to speak in a meeting where she'd shouldn't, but the relationship between her and Dana became more reciprocal and sweeter. We grounded her and made the relationship between her and Dana, as you said, the heart of the story.
Having a "will they/won't they" relationship can be risky in an ongoing series when it becomes a major focus for a pair of characters. Was that a concern when you started to develop it?
I think "will they/won't they" relationships are fun. That's why they're something that's retuned in a lot of sitcoms. I think the ones that are ultimately successful are the ones between characters that have storylines and desires outside of the romance.
I don't feel particularly worried about it because we all have an awareness of making sure Rachel and Dana are fleshed out with goals and desires beyond just being with each other.
The series craftily addresses bigger issues without outright calling attention to them, particularly gender politics, ageism, the whims of influencers, and the hierarchy within gaming.
Megan Ganz, David Hornsby, Rob McElhenney, and Charlie Day are all It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia alumni. I think a thing that show does really well is have a group of people that are pretty terrible and uses them to explore different subjects. In much the same way, they never put a stamp on anything in any particular direction. Comedy is king on that show.
I think we're working with and being led by people that are good at exploring concepts without being evangelical about things. I think it's more interesting to present the context or experience without commenting.
We're presenting different viewpoints but leave it up to the people watching it to decide how they feel about it. We're serving up story and comedy, and we wanted to touch on interesting subjects, particularly those relevant to games. My thought is that when you put too much focus on messaging, you potentially lose people and the thread of the story you're trying to tell.
Given your background in gaming, was it difficult to write it about because of your proximity to that world, or did it make things easier for you?
A combination. I was used to animation, which had much smaller [writers' room]. It's just a different medium entirely. This is my first on-camera room. You're surrounded by some of the funniest people on the planet; just a murderer's row of hilarious people. Forgive the gaming pun, but there was a leveling-up.
I had to keep in step with people who were like savants in what they do. The nice thing about games was that it was my safety blanket. I could always go back to that knowledge base as a way to contribute. I also became increasingly more comfortable. It was also a very supportive room. I didn't have to use my gaming knowledge as a crutch, but certainly that first week or two, I was saying, "Thank God I know about games."
What are your views on gaming now that you've tackled the subject from different sides?
I've got a deep and abiding love of gaming. My goal for my career was always to be a video game voice actor. It's an oddly specific goal, but I've loved games my entire life.
Being part of this show, I'm very grateful I got to be an ambassador for the industry in the room. I really do love gaming and love the people in it. We wanted to make a show that felt earnest. This isn't a show that pokes the thumb over and says, "Look at these nerds." It's certainly a love letter. I feel it's a singular privilege to be the person speaking to that experience for the room in the show.
Were there any additional pressure given this was one of the first series to debut on Apple TV+?
I just really believe in the people that work on the show. I'm also not running it, so if there's a different pressure if your name's in the executive producer line, I couldn't say.
I am so enamored with the people working on the show, I just think they're so funny and talented, that I don't worry about [the pressure]. For me, I'm more curious how my peers in the gaming industry will feel about it. That's more my cottage industry. I very much trust in my leadership in this project. I always knew the show would be funny.
I think it's kind of cool to be one of the first hard comedies on this platform and a fun opportunity. I'm interested in having conversations with people about what they feel we got right or wrong. This is the first show of its kind about gaming.
Mythic Quest premiered February 7 on Apple TV+.
For more on Mythic Quest" Raven's Banquet, click here.
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