Before she costarred in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Felicia Day already had a web hit to her credit, The Guild. She writes and stars in the award-winning series about a group of adult online gamers who, for better or worse (mostly worse), come to know one another off-line. Seasons 1 and 2 were just released on DVD, with audio commentaries and other extras, exclusively through Amazon. Taking a break from penning Season 3, which she begins shooting next month, Day phoned PopWatch to chat about The Guild, “the frowny face heard ’round the world,” a recent high school production of Dr. Horrible she attended, and her Dungeons & Dragons dice collection. (That’s why we administer the Pop Culture Personality Test, people.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re right on time.
FELICIA DAY: I try to be. I sit in front of the phone. It’s the equivalent of sitting in your car outside someone’s house. I do that, too.
For a half hour, like Cyd [a.k.a Codex, her character in The Guild] does?
No. You have to take everything and exaggerate it in comedy. I would say, conservatively, I’m usually 15 minutes early in the car.
The show is written for gamers, by a gamer, but I stopped playing back in the day of Atari 2600, and I still related to it. Is that something you hear a lot of?
Yeah. A lot of our fans are not gamers at all. They’re kinda geeks, they’re techno people. And there are a lot of women who like my show, which I find to be gratifying, ’cause that’s what I was aiming to do — give a geek girl a chance. I mean, listen, you don’t have to be a surgeon to understand ER. Just because you don’t know gaming terms doesn’t mean you’re not gonna get it, as long as I did my job and made jokes understandable.
How are you going to top the final shot of Season 2, with Codex running away from herself in a sort of out-of-body experience? [Note: That would only really be a spoiler if we told you why.]
I have no idea. I was actually a little intimidated when I sat down to write Season 3. That visual was actually the one thing I got in my head to be able to write Season 2. I was like, Oh, this would be a really cool analogy for somebody dying inside. Which some gamers pointed out was inaccurate because your ghost should be running back to your body, but I figured people would intellectually understand. [Laughs] It’s always hard to sit down [to write] and have enjoyment without having pressure on yourself. I got over that in a couple of weeks.
Describe your writing process. I follow you on Twitter, so I’ve got some idea of —
The agony? [Laughs] The problem is I do so many other things that it’s hard to stick with a schedule, and I think scheduling is really important with writing. So after a couple weeks, I figured out that I need to get up in the morning, and I need to not check my email, and then I need to write, and then I need to whine a lot, and then I need to go buy some kind of expensive coffee and maybe some peanut butter pretzels, and then I need to sit down and get a first draft on paper, a “vomit draft” I like to call it. Because I could agonize over a page for weeks… It’s hard with comedy because you read it, and then you go back, especially with a rewrite, and it’s hard to trust that if it made you laugh the first draft, you should keep it. Your instinct is, Oh, I’ve seen that. Maybe I should make it funnier. It’s like watching a sitcom taping. The first couple times you watch [a scene filmed], you’re like Oh, that’s kinda funny. Then after the fourth take, you’re like, Please get me out of here.
Why did The Guild succeed online when so many web series don’t?
Web video is really at a weird position now. There are a lot ofcompanies going under. Personally, I think that’s because people were trying to doTV shows on the Web. When I see people funding Webseries and I look at the description of the show, I’m like, “Why wouldI watch that on the Web with lower production values, when I could seethat on TV next week?” TV has to please everybody to make a show, theWeb needs to be the opposite. If it’s a Somali immigrant familycomedy set in Chicago, it’s something you’ve never seen before, and itmight be really interesting. You’re more likely to give it a chancethan Hey, it’s a bunch of white people who work in a coffee shop. Seen it. It’s been done better. With very attractive people…. The Guild is tailor-made for anaudience that is specific. We were able to get our show to peoplebecause it was aiming toward a niche. Then we were able to grow out ofthat niche because it’s about the characters not the gaming. But youprobably never would have seen the show unless the hardcore gamers hadspread it around the first year.
And you’re hoping to take Season 3 footage to Comic-Con?
That should be fun. I only went the first time last year for Dr. Horrible. I saw a rumor on the Internet that they’re going to screen my Dollhouse episode.
Well, since you brought that up…
Segue! As soon as you Tweeted that your episode of Dollhouse wasn’t going to air on Fox, it would just be on the season 1 DVD, the emails started flying at EW.
I know! It was the Tweet heard ’round the world. “The frowny face heard ’round the world.” I like that one, because I put a little frowny face.
Were you just like, What the hell?
I was really like, Oh, I’m gonna get in trouble. It definitely got out of control. And I did follow it up with a Tweet right after saying, “No, it didn’t get canceled. This episode just isn’t airing.” I think it fanned the flames of the hostility that people had with the treatment of the show. It was something to focus on.
What do you play in the episode?
I play a post-apocalyptic fighter girl, which is crazy. It’s crazy because Joss [Whedon] is the only person in Hollywood who would ever hire me to do this role, but it’s such a great role. I had so much fun. I was in the zone. I had a playlist and everything. I don’t want to give anything away. [Laughs] You saw that Tweet, I have to be careful.
A huge group of us went. The cast was so good, and I was really dubious as to what they could do to adapt an actual show to a stage play, especially on a high school budget — they did an amazing job. Like, they had the van in it. They had a wooden van that [Captain Hammer] was standing on. And they had a movie in the background so it looked like the van was moving. Just really clever and inventive. When Hammer’s beating up Horrible, they made their own Hammer-beating-up-Horrible cut-tos, and they put ’em on the screen behind them like a slideshow. We were all just blown away. I hope more people do it ’cause it was really fun.
Let’s move on to the Pop Culture Personality Test. When do you yell at the TV?
I know this is sort of picky, but I always yell at the TV when there’s crazy makeup. Like when a girl has been sleeping all night and she has perfect makeup and fake eye lashes on, or she’s been running and there’s makeup inconsistencies — she has blood on the wrong side of her face. Or, if a girl does something really, really dumb. I remember that I yelled at Heroes a lot.
How many TiVos do you own?
We have two in the house, one in the front and one in the back.
Your TiVos would kill you if they didn’t tape what show?
I’d be really pissed about The Office. I’m a huge fan of The Office. And Project Runway is my favorite show. Seriously, probably in the last three years, I’ve never watched a show on time — except for Project Runway. That’s terrible as a person who works in scripted TV for a living, but that show is so great because it celebrates people’s talents. Those are the kind of reality shows that I like, when you’re watching somebody do something that you absolutely could not possibly be doing yourself. There’s a skill level. That’s why I like Top Chef, too.
Do you feel pressure to not like reality TV as an actor and a writer? I often hear that apology.
Obviously, there’s a place for both to co-exist. I think people love to see scripted stuff, and there’s just not a ton of good stuff. I’d rather watch bad reality than bad scripted, and I think a lot of the country feels that way. At least there’s an authenticity to bad reality — you’re seeing people really act in a bad manner. If you’re watching bad scripted, you’re probably being doused with clichés.
The movie you have to watch every time you spot it on cable?
Any martial arts film, however bad or good. Like, Big Trouble in Little China is my 100 percent favorite movie of all time…Anything involving Jet Li or Chow Yun-Fat is a definite…And then Sleepless in Seattle. I know that makes me a girl, but Sleepless in Seattle is pretty awesome.
The movie that makes you cry?
Babe, the pig movie. That’s probably my second favorite movie. No, it’s tied for first.
Do you smuggle snacks into the movie theater? If so, what?
Absolutely. I always bring in Reese’s cups…and burritos. You have to have a meal and a dessert.
Your best communal moviegoing experience?
In college [at the University of Texas, where she majored in mathematics and violin performance], the old rickety theater that nobody used anymore would show Golden Harvest martial art movies once a week, very late on Saturday nights, and my family and all my friends would go and sit in the balcony and watch these bad, out of tune kung-fu movies. Good ones, too.
The piece of pop-culture memorabilia from your childhood you wish you still had?
Funny that you should’ve mentioned this earlier. My Atari 2600. I had a very good collection. I was particularly good at Kaboom!.
What is your geekiest possession?
Oh god. Should I name it? I have a dice collection for Dungeons & Dragons. I kind of get a little obsessive about color-coordinating them with my character, so if I change characters, I have to order a whole new set to go with the zeitgeist of my character. That was completely the most nerdy thing you’ve ever heard.
But awesome. I appreciate that kind of commitment. What is your position on karaoke, and what is your song?
I love karaoke. When I sing karaoke, I don’t try to be good though. Because those girls are always sad to me. It’s like, Oh, look at me. My mom entered me in pageants. So I always have to do it with gusto and a few mojitos. My No. 1 song is Mr. Mister’s “Take These Broken Wings.” It’s a great song. Underappreciated in every way.
Your guilty pleasure dance song?
Last week, I did a mix tape on MixTape.me of the worst but best dance music. I had 45 songs on the playlist. I’m actually looking at it right now…So I love anything by C & C Music Factory, clearly…
The ringtone on your cell phone?
Howard Jones’ “Life in One Day.” It’s the worst lyrics ever. “Time will wear away the stone.”
And therefore you’re like Must be my ringtone.
The band you’ve seen most often in concert?
Erasure. I’ve seen them probably four times. I went to see them and I thought it was ’80s night, and it was actually Cyndi Lauper’s tour for gay rights. [Laughs] I didn’t look, I was just like, Oh, it’s Cyndi Lauper and Erasure, I’m gonna go, and I bought tickets without researching the True Colors Tour properly. So me and my friends were all dressed ’80s, but everybody else is like, This is an important political event. I tried to comb my crimping out.
You crimped your hair?
Yes! I was devoted. I was like, This is the chance.