Emily Rudd talks Netflix's One Piece: "I was born to be Nami"

Any pirate crew worth its salt needs a navigator, and Netflix's live-action adaptation of One Piece found its own in the form of Emily Rudd, who portrays early crew member Nami in the new series.

Creator Eiichiro Oda's popular manga already has a similarly popular anime show, but Netflix's attempt marks the first serious effort at a global, live-action adaptation. In One Piece, the Straw Hat Pirates with Monkey D. Luffy as captain encounter an increasingly unusual series of friends and foes, with several joining the crew early on. The latest trailer for Netflix's One Piece indicates that it will likely follow a similar path with many scenes directly recreated.

Ahead of the show's release on August 31, GamesRadar+ spoke with the Straw Hats all about the new series. Though Mackenyu, who portrays Zoro, was exceedingly straightforward in his responses just like his character would be, Rudd was much more in line with Nami herself and spoke at length all about being the boss, reading maps, and more.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Additionally, it was conducted prior to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, which you can read more about here.

Emily Rudd as Nami stands in darkness in still from Netflix's One Piece

(Image credit: Netflix)

GamesRadar+: Obviously, the One Piece manga and anime have been around forever at this point, right? What do you feel makes One Piece so enduring?

Emily Rudd: Absolutely. First of all, Oda-sensei is an absolute genius and, you know, it's kind of hard to argue against genius. He did such an incredible, masterful job at creating a story that is not only wacky, crazy, playful, and adventurous, but also so grounded and real. It has a lot of heart. It's a story about found family. It's a story about freedom, and pursuing your dreams. And I think that that is something that people can universally connect to.

This is the first real attempt at a live-action adaptation. And those are a very specific beast. Like, it's not for everybody. How do you personally pitch that to people?

I think there have been crazier shows done. And yes, it's a little bit silly and a little bit wacky. But again, I think something that we have really focused on is just the heart of the show. It's a really beautiful story. And I think it's the adventure, it's the play, but it's also like real stories, real people. And so, finding the grounded version of it while still maintaining the spirit of the original was something that we tried to find the balance of.

Now, you're playing Nami, one of the earliest members of the Straw Hat crew to join. What are three words that most define Nami to you, and why?

I would say, clever. I think she's the brains of the bunch. You know, she's keeping the boys in line. And she's obviously a cat burglar, so she knows how to pull the wool over people's eyes. I think she's protective, not only of her crew members, but of herself, especially during the East Blue Saga. You know, she keeps some secrets, she keeps her cards close to her chest. So she's protective. And… I would say, loving, I think, even when it seems like she's doing something that could be harmful to people, the undercurrent and the true reason behind it is love. And so I think she is a deeply caring person. So those three.

It's funny to hear you say "clever" first. In preparation for this interview, I saw someone describing Nami and Luffy's relationship as, "Luffy is the captain, but Nami is the boss." Like, that's just how that works.

Oh, totally! The way that she's the only one that controls the money, and they're like, 'Nami, can I please have some allowance?' And she's like, "You get 20 Berry, enjoy," like that's it. I love it. Of course she is. Of course she's, like, mothering these people. They're just crazy, silly boys.

Luffy, Nami, and Zoro stand tall in Netflix's One Piece still

(Image credit: Netflix)

Nami is the crew's navigator. So, how are you at orientation? Are you pretty handy with a map or do you get lost easily?

I am actually super good at it. I'm kind of like the default person that, if we're in a new city, people are like 'hey Em, can you navigate us' because I've just… I grew up camping. And so we have the paper maps, and it's like – when I say 'camping,' I mean, like 'middle of nowhere, bathroom is a hole in the ground somewhere in the forest,'-type camping.

I was always the person that was told by my family to navigate us. So, I guess I was born to be a navigator. I was – I was born to be Nami. Let's say it! I'll say it.

Given what we know about the adaptation, it seems fair to say that we're going to see a lot of crew member introductions early on. But it also seems like we're going to get what are easily some of the most definitive, emotional Nami arcs in the manga and anime. How daunting was that for you? Did you know going in that a particularly chunky piece of this was going to hinge on you and your character?

Oh, I was so deeply aware that this was going to hinge on me. I mean, the scene that we are addressing was the one that made me a fan of the show. It was what locked me in, and I remember the first time seeing it, I was bawling. And every time I have seen or read it since, I cry. I think about it, I cry.

But that was the only scene that I think I was actually nervous for because everything else – like I said, I know I was joking when I said I was born to play Nami, but she truly is the first character in my career that I have ever been like: 'Oh, of course. Of course it's her. Of course it's me.'

But that scene, because it means so much not only to existing fans, but to me, that was like, 'I have to make it right. I have to make it right,' and I really think that we did. Like the entire team really kind of turned it out for that moment.

Emily Rudd as Nami on a boat in still from Netflix's One Piece

(Image credit: Netflix)

We're harping on the specific arcs that this adaptation is covering, but do you have a favorite one?

Ooh! OK, um. I like Enies Lobby. I mean, like Water Seven/Enies Lobby, obviously you gain like two of the hats, and I mean, Robin's moment at Enies Lobby… Like, I love Robin. I think if I can't choose Nami, I would choose Robin. That moment, for me, it was second to Nami's moment in the East Blue arc. So, I think that's probably why I'm into Enies Lobby.

It's funny, I think that's probably number two for me. The end of Alabasta always gets me.

Oh! Yes, of course. It's, it's close. It's close for a lot of the arcs honestly, like Oda-sensei just… he does not miss. He does not miss.

What was the biggest challenge of this whole project for you? Was it that previously mentioned moment? Or something else?

I think emotionally, that moment for Nami's story was the hardest. But I did find the stunt work to be a new challenge. I grew up doing karate. I'm technically a black belt, but I got that when I was like 10/11? So, it's been a long time since I've touched a bo staff.

So, kind of refamiliarizing myself and in such a relatively fast-paced way, in how you film stunt sequences where you do it over and over again, and you have all of these different variables, people coming at you. I think that was a challenge I knew was going to be a challenge, but it was a fun one as well.

One Piece Straw Hats walk across a lawn in Netflix still

(Image credit: Netflix)

So, I do have a particularly difficult question… Who is the most powerful member of the Straw Hat crew, in your opinion?

Ooooooh! Are we talking current?

However you want to interpret that...

OK, can I have two answers for this?

Of course, you can have two answers.

Thank you! OK, if I'm talking current, only one of the Straw Hats is one of the Four Emperors, so. [long pause] And I'm not gonna say who, just in case.

But if I have to talk about our crew, I'm going to say Nami, because she's the boss, like we said. Who controls the money? Who navigates the ship? You can't get anywhere without her and you can't buy anything without her, like, you're stuck, I'm sorry.

Can't get anything done without Nami!

You cannot get anything done without that woman, I'm sorry.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

I think my ultimate dream is that people who were maybe reluctant to watch the anime or read the manga take a chance on our show and fall in love with it in the same way that I and millions of other people have fallen in love with One Piece, because it is so special, and I hope that existing fans feel the love that was put into it because there was a lot.

The live-action adaptation series of One Piece is set to release on Netflix on August 31. Looking for something to watch on Netflix while you wait? Check out our list of the 50 best Netflix shows to watch right now.

Rollin Bishop
US Managing Editor

Rollin is the US Managing Editor at GamesRadar+. With over 16 years of online journalism experience, Rollin has helped provide coverage of gaming and entertainment for brands like IGN, Inverse, ComicBook.com, and more. While he has approximate knowledge of many things, his work often has a focus on RPGs and animation in addition to franchises like Pokemon and Dragon Age. In his spare time, Rollin likes to import Valkyria Chronicles merch and watch anime.