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article imageWynonna Earp's Katherine Barrell talks 'WayHaught' Special

By A.R. Wilson     Jun 3, 2016 in Entertainment
Wynonna Earp's Katherine Barrell on WayHaught, the importance of LGBT representation on TV, and kissing Dominique Provost-Chalkley.
When Officer Nicole Haught made her debut in the second episode of Syfy's supernatural western Wynonna Earp, she made quite an impression. Fans of the show immediately fell for Nicole's gentle swagger and started lighting up social media with enthusiastic posts about the slowburn romance developing between the deputy and Waverly Earp (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) — a relationship coined "WayHaught."
Actress Katherine Barrell (Definition of Fear) says she never expected such a passionate response from viewers when she landed the role.
"I had no idea," she laughs. "I've never been so pleasantly surprised. Every episode just brings more and more love, and I'm so grateful for it."
Barrell, who phones from her home in Toronto, originally tried out for the parts of Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) and Waverly before reading for the role of Nicole. Her audition was for the very scene that first excited WayHaught fans — when Nicole introduces herself to Waverly in Shorty's bar and ends up helping her change her beer-soaked shirt. She says the scene grabbed her attention as well.
"I just really loved her confidence and her positivity and that she walks this really interesting line that's like, 'Is she just being friendly or is she flirting?'" Barrell says. "She's really clever that way, and that was a fun thing to get to play with a character. As a female in this industry, you don't get to play that character in that type of scene, you know, the instigator of that. Usually, it's played by a man. It's just so awesome within in a scene to be so forward."
But part of Nicole's appeal is that she's also respectful and kind. In last week's episode, "Bury Me With My Guns On," Nicole (an out lesbian) and Waverly (who has been questioning her sexuality) finally share a kiss after weeks of meaningful glances, and Nicole waits for Waverly to set the pace.
"What I really liked about it was that it was all in Waverly's hands," says Barrell. "She needed to initiate, and what I like about Nicole is that she doesn't push. She tells Waverly, 'I don't want you to be something you're not,' and I think that's one of the beautiful things about Nicole. She's like, 'I want you to be happy regardless of what happens with me and regardless of how it affects me,' and I think that showed such genuine care."
What was it like to film the kissing scene so many fans were anticipating? "Dom and I, we've become such good friends, so we were definitely both like, 'This is a little bit weird,'" she laughs. "But it's hard to have too much emotion behind something that's so incredibly technical and it's such an intimate moment and you have so many people watching you. I wasn't nervous for me, Katherine, doing the scene, I was nervous about making sure it was done right. I really think that's what it is. I was like, 'Great, I get to make out with this beautiful woman and she's awesome.' But genuinely, I really wanted the scene to be done well because of how important it is to these two characters, so that was where my nerves came in. I was like, 'I don't want to fuck this up.'"
Courtesy of Syfy
In fact, Barrell says that she and Provost-Chalkley have been very protective of Nicole and Waverly's relationship since day one. "I think the first day I met [Dominique], we went to dinner, and we were both totally on the same page of like, 'We just want to make this relationship feel as genuine and real as we possibly can,'" she says. "We didn't want it to feel like a gimmick or a trope."
And LGBT tropes have been a hot topic this year. Wynonna Earp premiered in the midst of a particularly disturbing outbreak of the "Bury Your Gays" TV trope, which dictates that LGBT characters (particularly women) meet tragic ends — especially if they are in love. From The 100 to The Walking Dead to Jane the Virgin to Person of Interest, queer women have been bumped off with such alarming frequency in 2016 that many LGBT fans have conditioned themselves to expect the worst as soon as a queer woman appears on their TV screen.
That apprehension extended to Officer Haught.
"As soon as the show came out, a lot of people were like, 'I hope you're wearing a bullet proof vest,' and 'It's just a matter of time before she's killed off,'" Barrell recalls. "And I'm like, 'What is happening?'"
"I'll be honest, I wasn't as aware of it before the first episodes of Wynonna started airing," she continues. "I hadn't seen The 100, so I went back and watched a ton of their videos to see how they portrayed the relationship and what happened and watched the scene where Lexa was killed. It was me like trying to understand what everyone was talking about, and I wanted to be informed of how the fans were feeling, of what they're reacting to because I think that's part of our responsibility."
After WayHaught's first kiss prompted another wave of fan anxiety on social media about the couple's fate, Wynonna Earp's official Twitter tried to calm nerves by announcing that Nicole and Waverly would make it through Season 1 alive.
Barrell, who grew up in Ontario, says she was "shocked" to learn queer women are regularly killed off TV shows and understands the importance of LGBT representation on television. "I live in a very liberal and accepting place, and I didn't know that it's such a big problem still," she says. "We need the equality on our shows, and I think we're getting there, and I hope that in a few years it won't even phase people. I hope it's just like, 'This is a character, a three-dimensional character, and they happen to be gay.'"
Officer Haught already fits that description.
Even as fans clamor for more WayHaught, Wynonna Earp's writers haven't relegated Nicole to a simple love interest. The show has explored her job as a cop — "She's a woman working hard in a man's world," notes Barrell — and let her build relationships with other characters on the show, including Wynonna herself.
A recent bonding scene involving Nicole, Wynonna, and a bottle of booze gave Barrell the chance to work extensively with series lead Scrofano. "I loved working with Melanie," she says. "She is really inspiring to watch because I find her very free with her acting. She's not afraid to try things and ad-lib little things here and there, which is what makes her so perfect for Wynonna. I just really admire the fearlessness that she seems to approach her work with."
Barrell says that Officer Haught will be even more involved in Wynonna Earp's plot as the first season winds down. "Nicole is definitely pretty determined to figure out what is going on in Purgatory because she doesn't know," she says. "Definitely get ready for some big twists and turns coming in the last quarter of the season."
And what's in store for WayHaught now that death is off the table? "I think I can say that it's not all perfect for Waverly and Nicole, but definitely, just like every other couple in life, they're going to have their challenges."
As for the future of LGBT representation on TV, Barrell — who also creates short films and aspires to become a television director — believes things are improving. "I do feel that we're really making progress," she says. "Things are changing and definitely looking better, not just as an actor but as somebody just working in the industry and producing or writing things. I do think and I hope that things are starting to shift and I hope that we'll just keep going."
'Wynonna Earp' airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy in the U.S. and Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CHCH in Canada.
Note: Canadian viewers can live stream 'Wynonna Earp' on the CHCH website at 10 p.m. ET on Fridays and again at 9 p.m. ET on Mondays.
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