Interview: We Chat To The Cast Of Gaming Comedy ‘Dead Pixels’, Which Premieres Tonight On E4
‘Dead Pixels‘ is a Jon Brown’s (‘Loaded’, ‘Fresh Meat’, ‘Veep’) brand new part live-action/part computer-animated comedy which starts tonight at 9.30pm on E4.
The series follows three friends, Meg (Alexa Davies – ‘Detectorists’, ‘Harlots’), Nicky (Will Merrick – ‘Poldark’) and Usman (Sargon Yelda – ‘Strike’) who play Kingdom Scrolls, the popular online role-playing fantasy game, set in a magical world of wizards, orcs and wyverns. They are committed to the game. Because in the end, what’s more important – playing badminton with your flatmate Alison (Charlotte Ritchie – ‘Call the Midwife’), or defending Castle Blackfinger from marauding orcs? For Meg, Nicky and Usman it’s no contest, the castle comes first.
In real life, Meg and Nicky work in an office. Meg doesn’t fancy Nicky. Nicky definitely doesn’t fancy Meg. Nothing will ever happen between them, not in this world or in Kingdom Scrolls. They are not sure what Usman does for a living – but Usman has got his priorities right: if Castle Blackfinger needs defending, then grabbing a decent night’s sleep would not only be selfish, it would be irresponsible.
We had a chance to sit down with Alexa Davies, Charlotte Ritchie and Will Merrick to chat about what you can expect from the show.
Tell me about some of the characters you play on this show. Let’s start with Alexa.
Alexa Davies: Okay, I play Meg. She is a massive gamer. She’s constantly playing Kingdom Scroll from when she wakes up to when she goes to bed. Her avatar in the game is Greta, who is a hunchback, and I think that says a lot about her. She’s kind of fierce, she’s very vocal about herself and her needs and her wishes and ambitions. I think she’s really living this kind of life where I don’t think she really knows what she wants, in that she has this flatmate, Alison, who lives this really nice normal healthy lifestyle, without an obsession for gaming. And I think Meg definitely sees that and wants that a little bit, but at the same time wouldn’t give up Kingdom Scrolls if you paid her.
And Charlotte, you play Alison?
Charlotte Ritchie: Yep, I play Alison, the aforementioned flatmate. I am basically a sort of representation of the outside world, I think. I think Meg and Nicky see me as quite a strongly judgemental force in their lives, a sort of reminder of how life could be. And actually probably be more convenient if she wasn’t there, and they can just kind of plug in and forget. But Alison’s main project is luring Meg and Nicky out of their bedrooms into what she deems to be worthwhile activities that have meaning, as opposed to wasting your life on a computer. So yeah, she doesn’t get it, she’s baffled, completely baffled by it. She tries to make the living room really attractive for them to go out into, and has a party and stuff and tries to get Meg to come on dates… I think she just can’t really get her head around it, and I think she sort of feels in a kind of evangelical way that she needs to save them from themselves, and they just want her to just piss off, basically.
And Will, you play Nicky?
Will Merrick: Yeah. Nicky’s this sort of cynical, quite sarcastic, very very low self-esteem, reclusive guy. He’s a big gamer too, and he puts so much time into Kingdom Scrolls, I think partly because Meg does, and I think he loves spending time with Meg, even if they’re at each other’s throats a lot. I think that relationship means a lot to him. And also, where the game for Meg is probably about immersion and the storyline and the atmosphere and the romance of it, I think Nicky is far more stats based. He’s about 100% completion and as much equity as you can get, and levelling up. He talks in the first episode about the game offering him a distraction from the inevitability of his own death. That’s quite a good explanation of him.
Yes, a dark character, by the sounds of it.
Will: I think his head’s quite dark, he seems dark with himself, but… yeah.
Charlotte: There’s a fantastic Gotye lyric, if I may… “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness”, and I think that’s really true and I think they really do pity themselves that they love that.
Will: Yeah, yeah…
So the series is spawned out of the ‘Avatards’ BLAPS shorts, which you did. Meg’s actually the only character to survive the crossing from the shorts to the TV show, isn’t she, I think?
Alexa: I killed the rest of the cast. Meg’s the only survivor. [Laughs]
There can be only one! Are you particularly, any of you, gamers? I know Alexa, you definitely are a gamer. The important issue… have you got your Nintendo Switch fixed?
Alexa: Yes, thanks for asking [Laughs]
Alexa: I’ve already explained this to so many people in my life, it really ruins my day! I was unbearable! Like, my Switch was not turning on, but it has turned back on now. But that is like a big design flaw. I have put a lot of time and effort into mostly Zelda, also there a bit of Mario, a bit of L.A. Noire, like… I’ve put a lot of my life into that, and it’s all saved onto the console. But Nintendo needs to do cartridge saves, because losing the saves would have ruined me!
Well, I’m glad it’s back and it’s working, that’s good! So what about the others? Were you gamers beforehand or have you done any sort of research into MMOs, since getting the jobs?
Will: I did a lot of gaming when I was younger. My gaming period was like 14 to about 21, and it was quite heavy, it was heavy through that. I was a PlayStation guy, I didn’t move into PC, I never touched the PC.
Alexa: Neither did I, really.
Will: But console based, yeah, loved it, everything. Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, a lot of FIFA … The Last of Us, which is just a masterpiece. Those kinds of narrative-based games.
I love those all well, they’re great. So none of you were really into the big online multiplayer things?
Charlotte: No, no no. I was just… I actually now remember my friend has a Nintendo 64, and we played a lot of Mario Kart, that was the beginning. And then I had a PS2 when I was 11, and that probably lasts a couple of years of mainly Grand Theft Auto, but that was it, and it was never online. I wasn’t serious enough for that, I think I would’ve been eaten alive if I tried to go online and talk to other people. It was a real escapism for me. I just find that I’ve never really felt that… this is an insane thing to say about games… but I never felt the need to win, that wasn’t why I was doing it. It was there to have a great time and do the odd challenge. I’m basically a gamer’s worst nightmare, because I’d be the worst, I’d just give up and go and make a cup of tea!
Will: I was an excellent camper on Modern Warfare, the first Modern Warfare. I was a sniper. I never thought… so people told me I was camping on my headset, and it used to really upset me because I didn’t think I was camping. My idea of camping is sitting in corner and having people run around the corner and shooting them before they could shoot you. I was taking up strategic positions, very well hidden.
Alexa: That’s camping! That’s what being in a corner is! [Laughs]
Will: No no no! I’m sniping, I was sniping these guys across the entire map. I don’t think that’s camping, I think that’s excellent accuracy. [Laughs]
Charlotte: Is camping bad, then?
Will: Yeah, camping’s bad.
Charlotte: Camping’s like shooting someone in the back!
Will: Camping’s like [Will walks to the back of the room] being here with my M16, and I go and hide in the corner.
Charlotte: Will’s currently in the other side of the room in the corner…
Will: Yeah, that’s camping.
So you’ve not gone in and tried to play around with real-life MMOs to get a feel of what it is actually like in some of those games?
Will: I played Warcraft for about a month before we started shooting.
Ah, okay, that’s the game that definitely gives you a feel for it, I think.
Will: Yeah, yeah, I did that. Like you said, because I hadn’t had any experience of an MMO like that, so I got onto the PC. I’ve struggled with it, there are too many buttons, I didn’t know what to press. Trying to fight and pressing ‘2’ to change my weapon and then the mouse and it was… yeah… I struggled, because I think I’ve got years of PlayStation bias. But I did really really enjoy Warcraft.
Probably for the best! It is a great game, but it will suck your life away if you get into it.
So, the show is part live-action, part digital “in-game” CGI of your characters. Did you have any say over what the avatars were, or what they look like, and what was your reaction when you got to see them for the first time?
Alexa: Well Meg’s avatar is really similar to her avatar from ‘Avatards’. It was nice to see the development, but they actually took pictures of our faces. In the readthrough, the artists that were creating them took a photo of my face, WIll’s face, David’s face and of Sargon’s face, so that they would have a likeness to us. And I think that’s a fun little detail.
We didn’t get an overall say, because I think it’s very much a kind of an insight into who the character in the show are. It’s such an exciting show because the biggest thing about the series is they can play a different game at any time. And that really excites me, and I think it that were to ever happen then I’m sure we could fool Matt, Jessie, Sam and John [writers/producers] into letting us have our say.
In the shorts, they were very much in one position because they were corpse camping something. With the TV show, so we get to see a lot more of the Kingdom Scrolls world?
Alexa: Massively. You see so much more, there’s so much more moving around. Yeah, you see a lot more. I think with the Comedy Blaps, we were… not restricted, but we had a set amount of time to fill and we just needed to show what we could. But with the… I’m literally talking as if I designed the animation! [Laughs] But with the series, it just meant that we could make the universe bigger. You’ll see a lot more.
Cool, I’m looking forward to seeing more of that. How’s the experience of voicing the characters for the gaming side of things, because that must be slightly odd given that they’re obviously, I’m guessing, cutting backwards and forwards quite a lot. So are you having to redo stuff in ADR [revoicing] to match everything up. How does that process work for you?
Will: Most of the dialogue that’s coming from the avatars is the dialogue that we record live. So when you cut back to us at the computer, it’s that. We did have to do a bit of tidying up around that.
Alexa: Yeah, must’ve been nice for our and all the editors to have that freedom to basically choose which bits they want. So if you deliver the line terribly, they can cut to the animation, which is fantastic for us! If we give a bad performance, then it’s really, really bad! [Laughs]
Will: There are completely separate options they can use that’s not up [crosstalk 00:14:15]
Charlotte: It’s the weirdest thing, because we’ve shot the whole show, then they did all of the animation, but they have this option of adding scenes, which as you can, because it’s animated, you don’t need to get actors back in.
What’s been the most fun thing on this job for you?
Charlotte: Obviously, a lot of the scenes take place, at the computers. So you see Meg playing the game, you see Nicky playing the game, and you see Usman playing the game. But what that meant as actor is, some days it’d be a Meg day, some days it’d be a Nicky day, and if it wasn’t your day then you would go in in just your own clothes and get to read your lines off camera, and that was like own clothes day at school, it was really fun.
I’ve got one specifically favourite scene that we filmed, that I actually keep thinking about and laughing while another question’s being answered, and it’s a scene where Nicky and Meg gang up on Alison in the kitchen, and tell her that they’re in a show, and they’re like “Alison, we’re actually in a different show than you. We’ve got our own narrative, maybe you should go be in your own show.” So basically it’s just like this really meta thing. I loved the dynamic of getting to be ganged up on by these two completely dysfunctional people, and just being left speechless, it was so great. Loved it!
Will: You can’t beat them in an argument, can you?
Charlotte: They’re not intellectual enough, no. But also have this make-believe, completely different way of looking at life.
Will: And there’s two of them…
Charlotte: They’re the majority.
Will: Alison looks like the fool quite a lot, she’s like “you’re getting it so wrong, you’re wasting your life.”
Charlotte: It’s like living in a cult, but being from the outside world and trying to work out how to help, and getting shouted down by the cult leaders! [Laughs]
Alexa: “You don’t get it! This is all reality!” [Laughs]
Will: We did have a big argument about what’s real. We like go “Is that real? Is this real?”, I remember saying ‘real’ so much! “What is ‘real’ Alison?!”
Charlotte: I’ve never thought of it like that, it’s fundamentally different from me in why you live life, it’s so interesting.
Alexa: And I feel like they always feel they have the upper hand, because they do live real life as well, but you [Alison] don’t understand the game at all. We know better!
Will: I remember that day, we were laughing so much, when Alison reminds us about this time last year when she was going through a rough patch, and Nicky and Meg are looking at each other like, “What the fuck is she talking about?” Unaware of this stuff! [Laughs]
Charlotte: That’s probably the first time you start to feel quite sorry for Alison, because she’s like “Remember when I had that really tough time? I was having trouble at work and anxiety” and they’re like “yeah, definitely…”
Alexa: I’m so excited, I want to see the rest of this, it’s going to be great.
So, a couple of final questions for you. First, what TV shows are you watching at the moment?
Alexa: I just finished ‘Escape at Dannemora’, and it was one of the best pieces of telly I’ve seen in ages. What else have I … oh I’ve also only just started watching ‘Inside Number Nine’. I’ve already gotten through both the two first series, and that’s just absolutely genius.
Charlotte: I’ve only just started ‘The Sopranos’, like on Saturday. I can’t believe … it’s so good, so I’m on episode five. I was thinking about this earlier this morning … when you get into a good TV show that’s long-running, it sounds so nerdy but you get this really weird feeling that you’ve got like a little world that exists that you get to go back to. I keep thinking about Tony Soprano and what he might be saying in therapy and it’s like … I have this little secret that I spend my time doing. I really like the feeling of being immersed and yeah, it’s so good, it’s so good.
Will: I’m not seeing anything at the moment. It’s because I’ve got that bloody Sapiens book from Yuval Noah Harari, and I can’t put it down! I got it from my girlfriend for Christmas, and that led me to a lot of some big YouTube binges of like astrology and universe and space shit, I don’t know if you know, but space is really big and there’s lots going on out there, and I never thought about it! So TV’s taking a bit of a back seat to YouTube. Last night I watched three 20 minutes videos of what it would be like to fall into the atmosphere of different planets.
Charlotte: My boyfriend talked to me the other day about the fact that the gas giants, the big ones like Saturn, right? Is that a gas giant?… Jupiter, sorry, Jupiter.
Charlotte: Jupiter, it’s basically just a big … it’s not solid! I couldn’t get my head around the fact that there’s a planet that just like… not solid.
Will: When you go down Jupiter far enough, you get a to a layer of liquid metal.
Charlotte: Yes, yes yes. I saw the cool picture.
Charlotte: Really cool.
Awesome. The very last question, if you had the opportunity to work on any TV show, past present or future, not one that you’ve worked on, which one would it be?
Alexa: Acorn Antiques! Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie. And I just thought it was comic gold, it’s just genius.
Charlotte: Oh God, what would it be … that’s such a good question. TV show … okay, so I’m having a brain blank.
Alexa: The Simpsons?
Charlotte: Yeah, The Simpsons, yeah. Be a voice on the Simpsons.
Will: The Mighty Boosh.
Charlotte: Ooh, great.
Will: I wouldn’t even mind if I had like three lines in it, because some of those characters are the best. Like, Noel plays a car in the first series, Howard’s like crying into a pond, and there’s like a three-second cutaway to Noel as a car. That’s it!
‘Dead Pixels‘ Season 1 premieres tonight (Thursday, 28th March 2019) at 9.30pm on E4.