As an actor, director, and producer, Katherine Barrell has been involved in a plethora of notable projects over the years. After studying at the prestigious George Brown Classical Theater School, she jumped into television acting, appearing in several shows in both the U.S. and Canada. Some of her television credits include guest spots on Lost Girl, Reign, The Listener, Murdoch Mysteries and Saving Hope. She also starred in the films The Scarehouse, My Ex-Ex and Definition of Fear. Behind the camera, Barrell has produced seven short films, including the comedy Issues, which was named one of the top three short films in 2013 by television critic Richard Grouse. She ended up developing Issues into a television series that was optioned by Edyson Entertainment. It wasn’t long afterwards that Barrell ventured into directing for the shorts Cannonball (which will run the film festival circuit in 2016) and Dissecting Gwen (which is being adapted into a half-hour comedy).
Now, Barrell is starring in the new supernatural Western Wynonna Earp as Detective Nicole Haught. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Barrell about working on the cast and crew on set, what’s next for her character and her love for period pieces. Check it out below!
What appealed to you about the show “Wynonna Earp”?
I think what appealed to me the most about the show were the female characters. I think that just having amazing, kickass female leads like Wynonna is so rare considering what we are seeing on television these days. On top of that, you’ve got this beautiful sister relationship that’s the focus of the show. It’s about family and it’s centered on these women who are so multi-faceted. I think that working in this industry, you often audition for and play a lot of female characters who are dumbed down, so I think what appealed to me the most was the chance to be a part of a show that is kind of revolutionary. It’s amazing to me to get the chance to be a part of something that’s so special and has a chance to really change the landscape of shows that will come in the future as well—to provide an example of what should be portrayed and what’s working. I hope that it affects some change and I think that being a part of it is very special and very rare.
What was your first impression of your character Nicole Haught?
The scene that I auditioned with is actually that first scene where she goes to the bar and meets Waverly for the first time and what I liked about Nicole was that she’s fearless. She knows who she is and she’s really settled in her own skin and I think that kind of command and control over who she is—unapologetic, you know? She’s just this fearless person who’s also really grounded in who she is and what she wants out of life. She doesn’t feel like she needs to skirt around the issues; she’s very direct. I love that about her and I also think that it’s extremely rare to find that in a female character.
What was the audition process like?
It was actually a long audition process. I had gone in before to audition for both Wynonna and Waverly. They were casting for Wynonna first, so I went in for that, and then a couple of months went by and I thought “Ok, obviously that show has come and gone.” And then I went and auditioned for Waverly and then didn’t hear anything so I was like “Ok, I didn’t get that.” Then, the casting call for Nicole rolled around and I went in, and three days later, my agent called me and said, “They want you to be in Calgary tomorrow morning.” And it all went by so fast; it was like a whirlwind. But I think that it’s honestly the best character for me to play as an actor. I look at the amazing work that Melanie and Dominique are doing and I think that it was totally the perfect casting decision.
What has been your favorite scene to film so far?
Probably the one with Dominique, that first scene. It was my first day on set and getting to meet her and work with her, we’ve become such good friends over the course of filming. Now we hang out a lot. (laughs). We had so much fun filming that scene. It was my first day on set and meeting everybody so it was great. And I love that scene; I think that it’s so well-written. That was probably, out of the episodes that have aired so far, my favorite scene. I also love a couple of the scenes that Nicole has coming up with Wynonna. We actually see Nicole and Wynonna work together for the first time and I had a blast working with Melanie on those scenes because we got a few days together. Before that point, I didn’t really have the chance to spend a lot of time with her because our storylines hadn’t crossed up to that point. But she’s such a phenomenal actress and is so good at what she does. She’s fearless—she just tries stuff and she’s not afraid of making mistakes and trying again. She tries so many different things. I think that’s why she’s so perfect for Wynonna: because she’s got that fearless attitude.
In the last episode, we saw Waverly and Champ finally break up. Are we going to see your character and Waverly grow closer this season as a result?
I can say that Nicole and Waverly definitely have more stuff coming up together. I don’t want to say too much but they definitely have some stuff coming up together and they definitely grow as two characters, for sure.
That’s awesome to hear! I love the scene with your character, Champ and Waverly in the bar after Shorty died, in which we see Waverly reach out to your character for comfort. I thought that spoke volumes about the trust between them, so I’m glad they are going to become closer.
Yeah! And the beautiful thing about that scene is that the director (Ron Murphy) was so encouraging and emphasised that it didn’t have to be with words; it could just be a touch. It speaks volumes, like you said, about the emotion between them. Regardless of if it was a man or a woman, it’s not about that; it’s about figuring out what you really want. It’s so beautiful to see Waverly figuring out how she wants to be treated and what she deserves and who she wants to surround herself with. For me, that scene is really pivotal in that regard. Waverly really puts her foot down with Champ and is like “I don’t need this type of person in my life.” And then she looks at Nicole and is like “Here’s someone who’s offering so much support in a selfless way.” I feel like that, in my life experience, through relationships with other people, you figure out what kind of energy you want to have around you. And I think that’s what I love about Waverly’s development. This is really a huge coming-of-age for her. And from a fan point-of-view—because I love to watch the show as a fan to see my cast mates’ wonderful work—I love to see those scenes with Waverly in which she’s growing more self-aware and figuring out what she deserves and what kind of energy she wants in her life. I love it.
So, in addition to being an actress, you are also a director and a producer. Do you have any plans to direct an episode of “Wynonna Earp”?
Oh my goodness, that would be amazing one day! I don’t think I’m there yet in regard to my directing. I tend to see acting as a sort of sprint, whereas directing is like a marathon. You are always learning and, more often than not, great directors are coming from another aspect of the business. Directing is really such an all-encompassing job; you really have to know what everybody on set is doing. I think that good directors and producers have done many other jobs in the industry because that’s what makes them good leaders—and you really can’t be a good leader unless you have experience with what everyone working beside you is going through. So, I think I have a long way to go with my directing but it’s definitely something that I want to keep doing. I love it; it’s such a wonderful creative outlet for me. I think I fall in love with it more and more as I do these little projects. When I started to dabble in it a few years back, it made me appreciate everything so much more—every single job on set. And it’s not like you don’t appreciate them as an actor; it’s more that you have a firmer understanding of what everyone’s job is. It gives you much more a birds-eye view of how production works and increases your respect for each and every person. But I would love to direct an episode of “Wynonna Earp” someday.
You also recently announced that you joined the cast of the film “Goliath.” Could you tell me a little about that project?
“Goliath” came to me through a friend of mine who is an actor and producer who got involved in the project. It’s an awesome little indie film helmed by a wonderful young filmmaker (Luke Villemaire) who I think is going to blossom into an amazing filmmaker. I think that because I’ve ventured into directing and producing, I have so much respect for young filmmakers with a vision and who are just trying to make something happen; it’s truly amazing to watch a feature film at the indie level be brought to life. And I love the concept of the film; it’s about a young woman who returns to her hometown after the death of her father, and basically, through trying to follow through with his final wishes, she uncovers some dark family secrets. She also is dealing with borderline personality disorder, providing a wonderful and crucial light on mental illness. You know, mental illness doesn’t just affect one person; it affects the entire family. It’s such a stigma in our culture still—and I think that it’s slowly getting better—but I feel that it’s really a serious topic that we need to destigmatize, shed light on and improve understanding. So that contributed to me wanting to be a part of the cast of the film. Then, there’s the fact that, as an actress, I don’t get the chance to play very many characters like her. She’s kind of on the fringes and, through drugs and alcohol, she’s really kind of lost her footing and her family a few years back fell apart. She’s just a beautifully complex character—her name is Violet—and I don’t often get the chance to play those types of characters, so I’m really looking forward to that as well.
Besides funding the project on Indiegogo, what would you suggest that people who want to get involved in the project do?
I think I would suggest the same thing that I would suggest with “Wynonna”; social media has become a massive way of promoting film, especially indie film. You know, we met our funding goal on Indiegogo so we’re going to be going into production now, so I’ll be tweeting out more links for the film as we go along so if people would just share those, that would be amazing. I know the team is really trying to be active on social media so I know they are going to do some intense social media campaigns for the film. I just want to encourage people who are excited about the project to share it with their network of friends—that would be so amazing and helpful.
Back to “Wynonna” for just a minute: do you have any funny, behind-the-scenes stories that you could share?
The first one that comes to mind is that we have an awesome guy, Greg, who is responsible for all the firearms—all the guns and everything—and Greg was teaching me on my first day on set how to use my gun, because I had shot a few guns for other projects, but my police gun for Nicole was different. What I found out is that it’s so hard to reload. You have to insert this cartridge and then click this lever down that holds everything in place, so he was telling me how long it would take to reload if you were in a stand-off or a gun-fight, and every time, he was like “Bang! You’re dead! Bang! You’re dead!” (laughs). I couldn’t click fast enough, which I was really embarrassed by. On several days, we would continue doing that exercise in which he would test how fast I could reload my gun, and it’s really, really hard. You have to have some serious thumb muscles to reload that gun. What are some other funny stories….oh gosh, there are just so many special moments! In general, the set is amazing; we have the best crew. All the actors are really lovely and we all really get along together in real life. To love everyone that you work with is so cool and so rare. I feel very lucky to be a part of a cast like that, especially in season one. We’re all starting out together and we’re all waiting to hear about if we got a season two and what will happen to our characters, so we have this camaraderie together and a really special bond.
What shows, books, movies, music, etc. bring out the nerd in you?
My guilty pleasure is any kind of period piece. I love the time period of Marie Antoinette and the time period of Jane Austin. Anything Edwardian or Victorian is appealing to me. I can’t even name all the period pieces that I’ve seen because I’ve seen so many! (laughs). I’ve always been very intrigued by the history of those time periods. So, that would definitely be a guilty pleasure of mine, for sure. A friend of mine is on this show “Versailles” (available on SuperChannel) and I’m so jealous; I would love to be part of a show like that because there’s so much history. I’m also on a Nicki Minaj kick right now, and I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B.
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And don’t miss Katherine Barrell as Officer Nicole Haught in Wynonna Earp, Fridays at 10/9c on Syfy.
*Featured image photo credit: Dennys Ilic