‘Wynonna Earp’ star Katherine Barrell talks #WayHaught, exploring Purgatory and lessons learned

(Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./SYFY)

Wynonna Earp, the weird Western you most definitely should have on your watch list, is back in quirky action for a jam-packed, chicken kickin’, demon killin’, love spelling spectacle of a second half of the season. Now in its fourth (and perhaps final) installment on SyFy, Wynonna Earp has stockpiled the most passionate, kind-hearted, dedicated fans on the interwebs. No, really– they’re pretty spectacular. The success of Wynonna Earp comes down to three simple ingredients: the fans, being able to say F bombs on the reg, and the on/off-screen talent. 

(Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./SYFY)

One of those exceptional on-screen talents is Katherine Barrell, who portrays Nicole Haught, the strong-willed Sheriff in fictional Purgatory. Barrell’s character quickly became a fan-favourite immediately following her introduction in Season 1. And real-talk, I’m not too proud to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that Officer Haught wasn’t a revenant out for Earp blood, but instead truly smitten with the youngest Earp sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley). It also helps that the show centers around female and queer characters, has an extraordinary cast to back up the first-rate writing, and is home to the #WayHaught fandom, a ship that members of the LGBTQ community have flocked to and promised to protect at all costs. Lookin’ at you Emily Andras (Showrunner)…

Nicole is mortal, but so what! She might not be wielding a gun that can end revenants, or have unusual magical abilities like her soon-to-be wifey Waverly, (although kicking a chicken is definitely at the top of Nicole’s “unusual” ability category as of late), as a whole, Barrell’s character is no stranger to being able to handle herself in a world of supernatural happenings. The way Nicole has evolved, and persevered despite her traumas, and has been so effortlessly woven into this crazy little town of Purgatory only further demonstrates the exceptionality of Barrell’s performance. 

With the fate of our beloved show up in the air, again, and as Earpers continue to fight for a fifth season (#BringWynonnaHome) of the supernatural adventure series, I had the pleasure of having a candid conversation with the red-headed half of #WayHaught, aka Kat ‘not a cat person’ Barrell. She recounted her most memorable moments playing Nicole (hint: it most certainly wasn’t as frog Nicole), lessons learned over the years both personally and professionally, and emphasized the importance of interacting with the audience, and never taking this built in fandom for granted. 

MCKENZIE MORRELL: Welcome Kat! It’s been a long time since we chatted. I think, since 2016.

KATHERINE BARRELL: Oh my gosh. Has it actually been, holy man.

MM: I was like, really? I haven’t talked to her in that long, but I’m really excited to catch up. Hopefully you’ve been good especially through this pandemic.

KB: Yes, I have been. I’ve been very fortunate to be working and everybody’s healthy. I really have nothing to complain about and that’s the best thing, right. I am excited to talk more Wynonna Earp with you.

MM: Of course. If you’re ready, we’ll just dive right in.

KB: Yes, let’s do it.

(Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./SYFY)
MM: The fans are enjoying the dynamic between Nicole and Rachel. How would you describe or define that dynamic? Is it more like a mother, daughter, relationship sisters, just general family?

KB: What’s really nice about Rachel’s relationship with everyone is that it’s different for each character and she’s coming in and then adapting to the group dynamic. But I think with Nicole, there is definitely more of a parental feel to it. Especially given that they were together for those 18 months and I think Nicole is such a caregiver that she almost needed to take on that parental role with Rachel almost more for her own sanity than for Rachel’s well being in a way. I think it was two-fold, Rachel needed someone to care for her and Nicole needed someone to care for. And I liked that the dynamic with Nicole and Rachel is different than it is with Rachel and Wynonna. There’s a very different energy there. And I really, I really like the difference between the two.

MM: Yeah. I definitely think it’s interesting to see the different dynamics between Wynonna and Rachel and then obviously Nicole. Are we going to see any more of that dynamic? I know we kinda got a little glimpses of it recently. But I know there’s only a couple episodes left to tie everything up.

KB: I think we do a little bit, I would say that the main pieces are what we’ve seen, but I would say you can feel it throughout everything. There’s little bits and pieces still sprinkled in that are coming up for sure.

MM: Of course. And after all these years, have you given Nicole her own childhood or teen backstory that the fans aren’t privy to since we didn’t get to fully explore your character?

KB: Definitely, yes, I have filled it in and I’ve talked about it in panels over the years and have my own backstory for how I think Nicole grew up and how she came to be the person she grew into. It’s definitely something I filled in for myself because I think when you play someone for so long, you have to sort of figure out–where they came from and what they’re bringing with them and what experiences they’ve had. I think, especially when we explored the Cult of Bulshar storyline, that’s when stuff really started to fill in, for me. I think it’s really important when you work with a character for a long time to know where they came from.

(Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./SYFY)
MM: No, of course. And obviously Nicole has gone through her own journey aside from, you know, her journey with Waverly. We see her struggling with PTSD regarding the aftermath of the isolation and losing Waverley to the garden for so long. How did you approach that storyline since it’s such a contrast from what you’ve had to tackle in the past on the show?

KB: I think for me, it was really important for me to–I kind of wrote out what I think happened and as much detail as I could between the last time I saw everyone at the homestead and essentially waking up. So for me, it was a lot like filling in, visualizing it, almost as if I had played it already, because it was really important for me to go through it, what would those feelings be? I did research on PTSD and people who have survived major traumas. What would happen to two people who are the survivors and what does that guilt feel like? And what it’s like for people who go through it. I was walking myself through the months. When Nicole lost her job, what did that look like? How did that feel and how did it go down? When did she start fortifying the homestead and what did she start with first and what was the mentality behind that? When did she stop looking for Nedley? And so I would go through every loss and try to put them into the order in which they happened. Just for myself to sort of build a little bit of a backstory.

MM: That’s obviously important. Some would say there’s definitely some out of character moments this season regarding Nicole, but ultimately I think that’s the point of her dealing with what she went through and having to kind of move forward because she’s obviously going to evolve and change throughout.

KB: Yeah, absolutely. It was very challenging for me, especially because I feel like Nicole was just in such a different emotional space than everybody else. It was challenging as an actor to not feel like I was bringing the energy down of the show. The chili cook-off was one of the first scenes where I really felt that Nicole was just in such a different place than everyone else. She has such a different energy and it’s hard because as an actor you get sucked into the energy of your fellow performers and it’s such a lovely fun place to be. It’s hard to be the one who brings much more somber energy. I always worried I was hurting the tone. But I would check in with the directors to make sure that I was still on tone. Even for the last episode we just saw, the chicken kicker stuff, and clearly Nicole’s in such a different place than the rest of the episode which is crazy and wild and fun and frantic and classic Wynonna Earp kind of energy. Nicole is just in a very, very different place which makes the storylines so strong because we always have that yin and yang in this show, which I think is what people are so drawn to with it.

(Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./SYFY)
MM: Oh, of course. I totally agree with that. One of my favorite questions from the fans was them asking if you ever dream in character. You’ve played this role for so long, has that ever happened to you?

KB: Do you know what? I never have. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a dream in one of my characters, so it’s not just Nicole. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that experience. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot of my dreams. There’s nothing that I can recall. I think it would be really fascinating and I’m sure there’s themes that would maybe pop up in my personal dreams. I can’t remember ever doing it, but it would be fun.

MM: We’re seeing a lot of new places in the second half of season four, do you have a set that was your favorite, that’s something new that you hadn’t explored?

KB: I loved the MagPie Ranch. I thought it was just so well done. It was such a great set. The art department did such an incredible job. It was such a big set. There was so much to look at. It was such a rich environment and it just informed so much about who this new family was and where they were coming from and their energy. It was a huge set that we spent a lot of time in. Not my character Nicole so much, but as a show, we were there a lot. I think it was really a fantastic representation of the Clantons and their energy.

MM: I definitely enjoyed that. Being able to see different places in Purgatory and the contrasting families to the Earp’s. Now, it’s no secret that you’re a fan favorite on the series, you sell out in record time when it comes to conventions and meet and greets. Has it finally sunk in that Earpers are your ride or die fam, and they’re most likely going to support you for the rest of your career.

KB: Oh man. I think it’s still a strange feeling. I think it’s good that it remains a strange feeling. I don’t know. I don’t know if I like the idea of getting used to that. This business is so impermanent.

MM: That’s understandable. You don’t want to take that for granted. And you have been dubbed the Queen of Conventions and despite your hectic schedule, you always make time for the fans. Do you prefer the in-person cons or the online ones?

KB: I think there’s aspects of both that I enjoy for sure. I think part of it with the online cons is that there are people who can’t come to conventions in person that now can come. It’s such a nice way to include people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have been able to join. It makes me feel so great about that because you know, it just improves the community and makes it more accessible for everybody, which is awesome.

MM: Online conventions truly have changed the game.

KB: I like the in-person ones, as well, and I hope that in the future we can do that again. Conventions are really important for me just because it is a way to connect with the fans and to be able to say thank you in person. I think coming from a theater background, one of the things I miss the most about doing film is that there’s no feedback from your audience. You know, when you’re doing theater, you can immediately hear the reaction or feel the energy in the room. That’s always there. Whereas when you’re doing film, it’s just the crew and they’re not ever going to be as invested as an audience would. So I think for me, the fans connecting with me through conventions is really important. I always try to go when I can, I kind of have a say yes to everything policy until I can’t, if there’s a conflict.

MM: That’s a great mentality to have! Especially in this business.

KB: For me, it’s just also really important to participate because I know how much the conventions mean to the fans to get to be with each other. It’s become such a safe space for people in the community over the years. Especially that first ClexaCon we did way back then. It was probably five, six years ago now, but seeing people be able to come to those conventions and some of them maybe they’re not out at home or with their family and just getting to see the joy that they feel in a safe and welcoming space where they feel like they’re surrounded by their tribe is so important. It’s really important that we participate to continue to create these spaces for fans.

MM: So many people have met their significant others, friends for life, it’s a great avenue to find like-minded people and to just be able to be yourself with unconditional support.

KB: Absolutely. I think for me, it’s really important because I believe that it fosters a larger community aspect that I don’t want to see go anywhere anytime soon. We need to show up for that reason. And it brings me so much joy and it brings other people so much, so much joy. It’s just really a win-win.

MM: There’s not many fandoms as great as the Earpers. I definitely think there’s a special sauce that makes it so great and why people continue to follow you guys.

KB: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MM: Last time we spoke, I asked you what type of donut Bernie would be based on his personality. So I’m going to circle back to that question since it’s legit been almost 5 years since our last chat!

KB: He just jumped in here. He just got back from a walk. He’s like, I know it’s my time. I know this is my question coming up. What would you be, Bern? What would your donut be? He’s a pretty classy guy. So I feel like something classic, but still fun. Maybe a salted caramel glaze specialty donut that you can only get at a fancy donut shop. He’s pretty fancy.

MM: The fandom loves Bernie. They wanted to know how he’s doing, what he’s up to while you’re working.

KB: He’s doing great. He loves his life. He has a great life. He has many, many fans in the neighborhood who love to see him. He’s got all his buddies and he’s got his routine when he goes to his doggy daycare, but he’s been really good. Lucky for him, one of us is almost always home.

MM: That’s awesome. That’s rare.

KB: It always kind of works out that one of us is here, which is perfect for Bernie. So he’s living his best life. He always has doggy play dates and somebody to hang out with. So he’s never lonely that’s for sure.

MM: I’m sure the fans will be happy to hear that! Can I just say that it hurts my soul every time Nicole says that she’s a cat person because I’m not a cat person.

KB: I know, I know, I know me too. It kills me. And they made me say it twice this year.

MM: They probably do it on purpose to torture you.

KB: They really do. It’s true. They really, really do.

MM: Which version of Nicole has been the most fun to play. We’ve got drunk Nicole, Possessed Nicole, Love Spell Nicole, Frog Nicole, and so on.

KB: Does Eve Nicole count? Eve Nicole would be my favorite just because I would love to play a villain. It was a lovely taste of getting to do something like that. That was really, really fun. I think that’s been my favorite Nicole to date.

MM: One of my favorite moments was your character coming up with the hashtags for the wedding and throwing out WayHaught. It was such a funny meta moment. Whose idea was that? Was it the creative teams?

KB: Oh yeah, that was all Emily [Andras]. I’m pretty sure the writers for sure.

MM: It was pretty hilarious and gratifying. I’m confident everyone loved that moment.

KB: I think it’s really funny how they always make a point to call out some of the online chatter. It’s a fun nod to our fans who gather online for the live streaming tweets and everything. It’s such an important part of the community and the show. It’s a big part of our success, the noise that we’re able to make with the fans online. It’s a thank you to the fans when the writers throw stuff like that in. So it always makes me really happy to see.

MM: I know these fans are so resilient and persistent. The fate of the show is up in the air, once again, and assuming there’s no new home for Wynonna Earp. Would you say that the fans will be satisfied with its ending?

KB: I think so. Absolutely. I’m really, really happy with where we leave all the characters and, you know, I think there’s always more story to tell, but I also feel like people will be really at peace and really happy with where we say goodbye… if we do. It’s all gravy at this point, I’m so grateful that we got to tell so much of this story the way that I think we really wanted to.

MM: Yeah, definitely unapologetic. The writers have been very forthcoming with stories they want to tell and never changed that trajectory of those stories.

KB: Absolutely. And it’s a huge credit to them. It’s very hard not knowing every year, you just don’t know, It’s really hard to pace a show when you don’t know how long it’s going to last. And I think they’ve done an amazing job.

MM: Obviously we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and what goes into these decisions. But for the fans, I’m sure they feel like the networks are so blind to the fact of what they have here. The fandom is so passionate, people support it. Rally to save it, time and time again. Unfortunately, it seems like the production has its own curse surrounding it.

KB: I agree. I agree. I feel like every year we sort of just squeak by, but that’s what makes it special. I think there’s something really special that the show in itself is a survivor. And I think that’s pretty beautiful because we never take it for granted.

MM: That’s for sure. What’s one thing you’ll take away that you’ve learned while playing this character.

KB: Oh gosh, there’s so much that I’ll take away from this experience. I think it’s sort of two-fold. On a personal level, I remember auditioning for Nicole and saying, I’ll never book this. I could never play this character. She’s too strong. I’m not strong enough. And I think through the character, I’ve found a strength and a groundedness in myself that perhaps would have taken me years longer to find without Nicole. That’s one thing I definitely will take away from walking in her shoes. On a bigger picture, professional level, I think just the power of complex storytelling. Of giving your audience a show. I’ve never experienced a show that can make you laugh one second and cry the next. It does it so beautifully and so effortlessly because it’s real and it’s always grounded. We tell this crazy story about demons and monsters and curses, but it has connected with so many people. This completely fictional, SciFi, crazy world has resonated with so many people on such a deeply personal and very real level. Seeing the power of authentic storytelling and always giving your audience credit. They will come along for the ride, even if it seems like the most outlandish thing. If you’re grounded in that, in that emotion and in that realness, it’s going to be golden, right? The rest is cake.

(Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./SYFY)
MM: That’s definitely something impactful to take away. As we are winding down in the interview and the season is coming to a close, what type of married couple do you think Nicole and Waverly will be? Future travels? Running the town?

KB: I think there will be a desire to stay close to home. I do think they would make amazing parents and I really hope that they get to be parents one day. Cause I think they would make such a great team. The dynamic of the two of them is so complimentary that they would raise really amazing people.

MM: Putting a WayHaught Family spinoff vibes into the world.

KB: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It would be amazing. But I think just settling into this new chapter of their life. There’s been a lot of crazy. I don’t see them jetting off to a million travel destinations. I kind of just see them enjoying being home and starting a more settled chapter of their life together. Maybe some of the crazy has subsided, but whatever it is, they can handle it. I would love to see them with some kids. I totally see that for them. That would be awesome.

MM: And before we say goodbye, is there anything you can tell us about Cabin Connection? Because everybody was asking for a little tidbit of what’s to come… 

KB: I just finished it on Friday, so it’s just in the can, but it’s going to be hopefully available soon. It’ll be on Super Channel in Canada and we’re going to have an American release. We’re just not sure where yet, but it’s a lovely, very sweet story of my character, Hannah, she is quite jaded by a lot of heartbreak and learns to let go and surrender to falling in love again. There’s an amazing, amazing cast and a really sweet story. I think people are really going to enjoy it.

MM: Oh I’m sure they will! They will. We’ll be waiting for that to come out. And hopefully I’ll be talking to you in the future for that WayHaught spinoff [laughs] or something new coming up. 

KB: Totally. We’ve got some really fun stuff coming in on a Hallmark this season, actually. Some Good Witch stuff coming down the line in May.

MM: Can’t wait! Thanks so much for joining me today! 


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