The Syfy series, Wynonna Earp has become a fast favorite among LGBTQ fans, due in part to Katherine Barrell’s Officer Nicole Haught. Officer Haught won fans over the second she walked into Shorty’s bar and started flirting with Waverly Earp (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) in episode two. She is a three-dimensional character, who happens to be a lesbian, and gets more of a story line then just her relationship with Waverly, which is an obnoxiously rare thing in many shows with queer women.
Provost-Chalkley and Melanie Scrofano recently shared some insight with 4YE about their characters and their careers (which you can read here and here). Barrell also recently took some time to chat with us about her fans, what she’s been working on, and of course, Nicole Haught.
Barrell discussed what attracted her to the show; she originally auditioned for Wynonna, then Waverly, and then Haught. “Melanie is so perfect for Wynonna, I can’t even imagine a more perfect person to play that part, she just totally nails it and Dominique to play her sister, they even look like they should be sisters and their dynamic is so beautiful, like it just works perfectly. I wanted to work with Emily, first and foremost, I loved what she did on Lost Girl and you know, being a female in a traditionally male dominated industry. Being able to work for a woman who’s so at the top of her game and so forward thinking with the stuff she’s getting made and the risks she’s taking. Being able to be on a show like Wynonna; I can’t think of a better job for me to do. As much as I love to act and love any opportunity as an actor that I get, I definitely have a kind of second vendetta to work on female driven stuff, I always have. I’m a member of several women on screen groups. I just directed a short over Christmas and it’s a completely female cast, all of my crew heads were female. I work with a wonderful producing partner (Farah Merani) who is just amazing and she and I are working on a bunch of female driven projects. So I really believe that me being a part of Wynonna is just kismet, is that the word? It’s like I put the energy into the world that I wanted to do work that was really strong and female driven and somehow, I got lucky enough to actually do it. These opportunities are so rare, I don’t know how I got so lucky to actually be on a show that is playing out the values of what I want to do with my career. You don’t always get choice as actors, you’ve got to pay your bills and you’ve got to eat and sometimes, you gotta just take a job; but when you can work on a job that you care about this much, it’s pretty special and pretty rare…I love the show, I love working on this show so much and I just feel lucky to be a part of it. You get auditions for things and you’re just like ‘I need to be on this, I need to be a part of this somehow’ and a lot of times it doesn’t work out, but once in a blue moon you get to work on something like Wynonna Earp and I think recognizing how special the opportunity is, is important. Time passes, nothing lasts forever and I try to just soak it in and enjoy as much as I can in the moment with because it goes by so fast.”
Wynonna Earp is a delightful mix of the western, sci-fi, and fantasy genres, and Barrell revealed which of those was her favorite genre. “I think because I trained in the theater, I’ve always loved things that are magical, so I love Wes Anderson stuff, I love movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and Big Fish. Big Fish is one of my absolute favorites, it’s a massive inspiration for me, I think like a lot of what I do is inspired by Big Fish. I love stories that have other-wordly elements, magical realism; any story that is set in the world in which we live but in some way has a magical element to it. I’m not so interested in or inspired by stories that look like my everyday life, I don’t want to turn on the TV and watch my everyday life because I’m already living it. I want to be transported into a place of magic and fantasy. I would say my dream would be to work on movies or shows that are based in some sort of magic and I’m fortunate enough to be doing that. I also like comedy, I have a soft spot for comedy because I feel like life’s too short, we gotta make fun of ourselves sometimes.”
One of the things Barrell spoke about most passionately was her fans and their passion for the show and her character. “I went to school and studied theater and in that kind of a setting, you get this immediate audience response where you can hear people laugh and hear them react to certain things and you get that sense of community, like what you’re doing is actually affecting someone. Which is ultimately why I got into acting in the first place. I want to do something that makes somebody feel something, makes them think or affects them in some way. I feel like a lot of times working on TV especially, you don’t get to interact with your audience. There’s lovely compliments and stuff from the crew but, being able to tweet with fans is a very special experience that I love, because I just feel like you actually get to hear from people and how what you’re doing is affecting them and it’s the most gratifying thing.”
Barrell’s Twitter experience has been, thankfully, all positive. “You know, I got to say to you though, it could easily go the other way, we just have really great fans. There are actors out there who get just torn apart on Twitter and it’s awful. As wonderful as Twitter can be because it’s so immediate, the flipside of it is that it’s so immediate. Melanie (Scrofano), Dominique (Provost-Chalkley), and Emily (Andras) were at my house, we had a Twitter session a few weeks ago. Emily was talking about how she had heard one bad thing on Twitter about Wynonna and she said, “You know, it’s that tiny black speck in the middle of a white page.” The white page being this beautiful positivity and the one negative comment being the only thing you can look at. That’s the flipside and the danger of social media, for actors especially, who I think are super vulnerable to that kind of thing because it feels so personal. For some people, it’s hard to separate who you are from who your character is and what the fans are reacting to and a lot of times it’s outside of your control. I didn’t write Wynonna Earp and a lot of the good things about it are a complete credit to the writers. I’m just the embodiment of their vision, a lot of the decisions aren’t up to the actors, it’s really the writers. I think in the best-case scenario for actors, because they are the face of a characterization, they most directly get to enjoy the amazing feedback from the fans and positive results from their work – and it is incredibly gratifying. However, for some actors, if they’re playing a character that isn’t liked by the audience they get the brunt of the negative feedback. So, I think Twitter can be a really wonderful, positive thing, which is what I’m happily experiencing, but I also am very aware that it’s not that for everyone.”
Barrell continued on to talk about the fact that people need to remember that there’s someone on the other side of the screen. “At the end of the day, if you’re going to say mean things online, somebody is going to read it and even if it’s not the person that it was directed at, somebody is going to read it. I want to say again that I have not experienced any of it yet, I am shocked because I really thought that I would come across something negative but I really haven’t. I mean, there will come a day, I know it’s going to come eventually, but I’ve been extremely fortunate to get to this kind of stage of my Twitter evolution without seeing any negative comments. So I’m really grateful to the fans for kind of keeping me safe. I think too you got to have a good attitude about it, you know? Twitter gives you a lot of power, essentially, to affect somebody’s day and I think you need to take that responsibility very seriously. I just try to stay as positive as I can and make people happy, because I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to reach out quite directly to thousands of people, which I never would have been given before. I always think about how great of a responsibility that is and I think when you’re given an opportunity like that, it’s your responsibility to make it positive and fun and happy.”
Wynonna Earp was Barrell’s major introduction to Twitter and fandom. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t use Twitter really that much before Wynonna Earp. I used it a little bit for a horror movie I worked on a couple years ago and then kind of didn’t touch it for a while cause I just didn’t really see the point. It wasn’t until Wynonna where I really understood what Twitter was about and how to use it. I don’t watch very much TV or movies because watching stuff turns my brain on to work mode. I’m always watching for ‘how is this directed?’ or ‘how does this actor handle that scene?’ So it’s hard for me to turn off my brain when I watch TV, therefore I don’t watch a lot of it. Because of this, I didn’t know much about ships and with shipping. I was learning as it was happening, which I think is why it feels like it escalated so quickly, just because I was like ‘What is this?’ Emily did warn me, she was like, ‘Just so you know, there’s going to be some heat coming your way’ but I didn’t know the full extent of what that meant. I’ve just been along for a crazy ride.”
LGBTQ fans, specifically, are a very loyal bunch and Barrell commented on that loyalty. “That’s very special and very rare and absolutely wonderful. I’m very lucky to be on the receiving end of that loyalty. I’m very lucky and I take it very seriously.” After episode 9, where Waverly and Nicole make-out in the Sherriff’s office, Barrell tweeted out a detailed explanation of the height difference between her and Provost-Chalkley. “Well because everyone was asking me! I got like 20 tweets about it and I was like ‘OK, maybe I should just answer this so that everyone will be satisfied.’ I didn’t know, I mean, it makes sense, I get it. I get why it’s such an attractive thing, so I was like yeah, here’s the deal. Also, I think because in my uniform boots, I’m a couple inches higher and it just accentuates it even more and they always put her in flats. I remember being like ‘Why are they putting you in flats? Why aren’t they putting you in heels? Like, what’s happening?’ Cause she’s so tiny, like I’m already taller than she is and then she’s got these tiny little slipper shoes on and I’ve got these two inch clunky work boots. I had absolutely no idea it was going to be a thing, it didn’t even cross my mind, so I’m glad everybody likes it, I mean hey, sure.”
Officer Haught is still a relative mystery, we don’t know much about her past or what brought her to Purgatory. “We just don’t have a lot of time because now that Willa’s back, things are getting crazy for the last few episodes. I’m hoping that maybe in the future we’ll find out. I mean, I’ve made up my own kind of backstory of why she’s there but we’ll see what the writers reveal in the future. Willa’s back and there’s a lot of focus on the three sisters and the dynamic of that and there’s some interesting things coming up with how Nicole is going to be fitting into that dynamic, but we’re not reflecting too much, we’re really moving fast forward in the next few episodes.”
Barrell has an idea that Haught came from a big city, like Chicago. “I just felt like with Nicole, I wanted her to feel uncomfortable in Purgatory when I was making up my own actor backstory. My thought was always that Nicole came from a bigger city where perhaps people were a lot more open minded, she’s working in traditionally a man’s field and I just wanted her to come from a place where Purgatory felt weird. Not only because Purgatory is weird in its supernatural aspects, but also just because she’s like ‘I don’t know what to do in a town with so few people, like where’s the metro system? Why aren’t there concerts?’ I wanted to create that for her to have more weirdness to play…I don’t think Nicole chose Purgatory, I think she was like ‘I’m a rookie, where are they going to place me?’ In my head, she got transferred there somehow through some circumstance with her job, whether she needed to go and apply or whether she had family in a town nearby, so she thought ‘Well, at least my cousins are close by’ or something. I have a feeling that for some reason she had a hard time finding a job in the big city and so she had to request to be transferred and she got plopped in Purgatory… Maybe she’s avoiding an ex?”
Haught has been established as a steady, reliable, good, person, and Barrell talked about what other sides of Haught’s personal life and personality she’d like to see. “I’d love to see a little bit of Nicole’s family come into play, I think it would be really cool. I would really like to see what the writers come up with for Nicole, what her life growing up was like. I’d like to see Nicole get mad about something, because she’s so good-natured and I think because we’ve seen Nicole so much with Waverly and because she cares about Waverly so much, she’s extremely patient. I would like to see something that like rocks Nicole to the core and gets her mad, because Nicole right now has been in a very happy, comfortable, place. She had a little bit of a confrontation with Wynonna and she handled it very professionally, but I would like to see Nicole get really heated up about something outside of work. So that she’s in her personal life and allowed to get mad, because in her work, she’s got to keep everything kind of under wraps and under control. But I’d like to see her lose her shit about something.” Barrell added “She’s so good, right? You’re like, you can’t possibly be this nice all the time! I mean like I was like, ‘She’s a fantastic person!’ I’ve often referred to Nicole as a rock. I want to be friends with Nicole because I think Nicole would be the person you would call when shit hit the fan and she would just calmly sort everything out for you. I really, really, want to be friends with Nicole. It would just be so interesting to see her fired up about something…I mean, it’s got to come eventually, she can’t just be nice all the time.”
Barrell did share how she maintains her sense of self and avoids burnout. “I think having hobbies outside of the industry, you got to let it go at the end of the day. I used to play a lot of basketball, I don’t play as much now because I can’t risk getting hurt as much, which is kind of crappy. I love doing projects, like refinishing furniture, just anything I can do with my hands. I think that’s the most important thing of maintaining your sense of self, to do stuff outside of the industry. It can just feel like you’re just kind of this vessel for whatever character you’re playing and then after a while you get lost when there’s nobody in the vessel, like when there’s no character put on top of you. Also, it’s just what makes you a better actor because, when was the last time an actor played an actor? You’re playing real people so go out and make friends with people who are not in your industry and go experience things and talk to people from all different walks of life and hear their stories. I think that’s the most important thing…Otherwise, you just get empty, you have nothing to pull from. Travel as much as you can and just do things that are not in the industry and learn new things. Take classes in whatever, I really want to take a jewelry making class, like a metalsmith class is on my to-do list. I want to learn how to make a ring or a pendant or whatever it is, I just want to melt metal down and make something out of it, I think that would be really cool. You know who’s really got it figured out? Tim (Rozon), who plays Doc Holliday, he’s got two restaurants and even when he’s working on crazy stuff, he goes home for like three days and works in his restaurant. Not because he has to, but because he loves it and it makes him who he is. He’s said to me, ‘You know Kat, those restaurants are just as much a part of me as being an actor is.’ I think every actor needs like a grounding pole, because otherwise you just kind of float around thinking ‘I don’t really know who I am or what I’m doing.’ I think you need to have something to return to that is not just about acting…Acting is a super lonely profession, you don’t have an office to go to every day where you have friends and have a community, and you’re constantly bouncing from job to job. Being on Wynonna is rare, being on a show working for several months in a row with the same people, that’s rare, you’re lucky if you get a few weeks. You’re really kind of flying solo often, you’re traveling a lot, it can be an extremely lonely profession. I think that’s one of the things a lot of actors don’t talk about but really struggle with, it just feels like you’re kind of swimming in the pool all by yourself.”
Barrell also touched on fans who assume they know an actor because of the roles they’ve played. “Yeah, definitely, there is a lot of that too. I think Nicole would be the first role I’ve played for a long enough amount of time where anyone will meet me and think that I’m Nicole. I think we have a lot of similarities, for sure, but she’s not me at the end of the day.”
Shooting for Wynonna Earp ended months ago, around February, and Barrell talked about what’s she’s been working on. “I have two short films that I directed in post-production right now, I’m like three weeks away from completing them and I’m hoping to run the film festival circuit with them. One is a film dedicated to Kent Nolan, my former producing partner who passed away really suddenly a couple years ago. It’s a film inspired by his passing and if you could have that last conversation with the person you lose suddenly, what would you say? My other one is a very female driven film. It’s about another issue that’s really poignant amongst a lot of young professionals, the whole baby debate of, ‘Do I want to have children? And what does that mean for this career that I’ve battled so hard to achieve, crawling up the corporate ladder when everything was harder simply because I was a woman?’ The short explores that story of this woman who’s really on the fence about wanting to have a baby. It’s her having conversations with all of her different voices in her head, her different personalities, and exploring that idea of what does it mean to be a woman in 2016, and what is society’s pressure and what do I really want? I loved working on that one, it was like my female powerhouse cast and crew… I’m actually developing that idea into a half hour comedy series with my writing partner.” Barrell said that she should be able to release those two shorts online in six months to a year, but she does have one that’s online now, called Mature Young Adults.
Barrell believes strongly in the power of positive thinking and offered up some advice for achieving goals. “I really believe that, this is going to sound hokey but hear me out, my life philosophy: if you really want to do something, you have to say it out loud. If you have a desire or a dream or a goal, you just have to start telling people about it and in some form, it will happen. It’s not like oh, go tell everyone you want to have a million dollars, it doesn’t work like that; but if you’re like, ‘I really want to do this thing’ just go and tell as many people as you can about your desire, inevitably, just by you putting that energy out into the world, it’s going to come back to you. I’m certain of it, because it works every single time, it happened for me with Wynonna and it’s starting to happen with my small directing projects. Just start telling people that that’s what you want to do and you will look back and be like ‘Oh my god, I asked for this’ I know that sounds hokey but I swear it works.”
You can watch Wynonna Earp on Fridays at 10:00 p.m. on Syfy!