Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Wynonna Earp's Katherine Barrell Talks WayHaught, Season 4, And More - Exclusive Interview

The success of Wynonna Earp can be chalked up to several factors, including its supernatural adventure, its take-no-prisoners attitude, and its centering of female and queer characters. Showrunner Emily Andras has done a lot right in bringing this weird Western to life, but perhaps her greatest triumph has been in the casting department. Led by Melanie Scrofano as the title character, the Wynonna Earp onscreen roster is full of appealing faces who bring a palpable chemistry to bear.

One of those faces belongs to Katherine Barrell, who portrays law officer Nicole Haught. As Nicole is a mortal messing in the world of the supernatural, it might be easy to assume she'd get lost in all the insanity going on around her. It's a testament to Barrell's performance, then, that her character is one of the most memorable on the show, not to mention part — along with Wynonna's sister Waverly Earp (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) — of the romance that set a thousand Earper hearts aflame. Lovingly dubbed "WayHaught," it's a ship that has meant a great deal to many in the show's large and enthusiastic LGBTQ following.

The importance of being a part of such a fan-favorite pairing is not lost on Barrell, as she imparted to us in an exclusive interview leading up to the premiere of Wynonna Earp's fourth season in which she also recounted her favorite moments, talked about the trouble with breaking for a pandemic, and paid tribute to the family behind one of TV's biggest surprise genre hits.

Earpers, Wynonna Earp fandom, and what they mean to Katherine Barrell

Let's talk about season 4. It was a long time coming, with a lot of build-up and a lot of excitement. What was that process like going from the end of season 3 to the fan campaigns and everything that happened up to season 4's arrival?

It was such a rollercoaster. I mean, it was the ultimate rollercoaster of emotions. There was just riding the wave of doing this big announcement at Comic-Con, and we're all excited, and we have this huge release, and there's all this press on it. And then, I guess it never even crossed my mind that it would be in jeopardy. I think I only ever had one day when I thought, "Wow, this really might not happen."  It's hard at the end of each season, because you don't know, "Do I have to say goodbye to this character? Am I saying goodbye to this crew? Am I saying goodbye to working in the city?" There's this whole element of the unknown that I think you just have to get used to when you work in this business.

And then the fan campaign. I remember the group text conversations we had with the core cast and Emily Andras, our showrunner, and all of us starting to be like, "Hey, we haven't heard anything. It's almost January. We should be getting to Calgary soon. What's going on?" Emily was not able to say anything for a while, but we knew there was something going on. Then the fans started to pick up on it a little bit, wondering, "Why aren't they in Calgary? It's January. We should be getting pictures of them shooting." With all that, Emily was finally like, "We're going to say something to the fans and tell them that there's issues."

I think we all knew that they would do everything they could to help, but we didn't realize how incredibly intense the whole fight would be, how much they would have our backs and how much they would just give of themselves their time, their energy, their finances on those billboards, to bring the show back. I mean it was quite incredible to see the mobilization of all those people. It was just the most affirming thing, how much the show means to people and what a difference it's made in people's lives. And we felt that come at us in that gratitude. It was incredible.

So once you knew that it was a go, what was something that you were really looking forward to exploring with Nicole in season 4?

I think for Nicole, I am looking forward to seeing her step into her role as sheriff. I think that's something she's been working toward for a very long time. It also feels very much like a new chapter for her in the development of her relationship with Waverly. We got a suggestion of a proposal last season, and I'm really excited to see them step into what that's going to mean for them and their life together moving forward. And just seeing Nicole in a new phase of her life, it really does feel like the next chapter. She's got this amazing new job opportunity, she's got hopefully a beautiful fiancée. But of course, being Wynonna Earp in Purgatory, things don't always go as planned.

Katherine Barrell on WayHaught and being at the center of a big ship

So with Waverly and Nicole, can you preview a little bit where things are going with them in season 4? Obviously, at the end of season 3, Waverly seems like she's trapped, but we've seen in the trailer that they're reunited.

I think for them, it's not as easy as we would have thought because we have an 18-month time gap — over 18 months. So while it's only been a couple of days for Waverly, they've been terrible grueling horrific days for Nicole. Nicole's journey, in a weird way, reminds me of what we were all feeling in the fight for Wynonna. The longer it goes on, you start to lose a little bit of hope that it's going to resolve and you're going to get that thing back. For Nicole, it was everybody that she loved. I mean, it completely destroyed her. She lost her job, the town got overrun, Holt came in the Clanton family and just took everything out from under her, and she was in such a stage of grief, which is something we've never seen her in, that she retreated to protect the most important thing, which was the homestead.

So, it was this idea that just kept her going that, "If I keep the homestead safe, if it's still there for them to return to, and especially Waverly to return to, then they will come back." That became the mantra that just played on loop in her head and got her through, but she's gone through something incredibly traumatic and there's no way that that's not going to affect her moving forward. I think she's mentally a very strong person, but we see her at her most broken, and she's going to definitely struggle to find who she was before. She'll never quite be the same, I don't think. I think there's always going to be a fear, an extra fear of losing what she loves, because she got so close to it.

I also think there's a really beautiful relationship that she develops with Rachel. There's this mother-daughter or big sister relationship that comes between the two of them because she kept Rachel safe. But really, Rachel kept her sane. Rachel gave her a project to work on. I think having someone to protect is so central to Nicole's sense of self. I think, if she doesn't have that, she just loses her mind, so thank God for Rachel. As much as she was "protecting" Rachel, Rachel was really giving her purpose, because Nicole is such a protector by nature. She's a cop, that's so much of what she does and how she forms her identity, and I think if she didn't have that, she would have unwound a little faster.

The WayHaught relationship is such a huge part of the fandom and it's really, really important to a lot of people, especially in the LGBTQ community. What's it like being at the center of something like that?

It's a trip. It's crazy. It's big. Look, I don't take it lightly. It's this constant balancing act of remembering it's there serving the fandom, trying everything I can to make them feel seen and proud and celebrated, not only on the show, but in talking about LGBTQ issues in going to conventions, connecting with them, hearing their stories, sharing their stories, talking about what it means to be queer and what it feels like to walk through life and helping to facilitate the connections in the fandom. All of that is attached to this job, and I take it all very seriously and with a lot of pride. Then there's an element of, when we're shooting, I try not to think about it, because as you can imagine, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us as actors to get it right, or to make people happy.

I think when we're shooting, I know Dominique and I... neither of us are really on social media that much, but Dom even less so than me. We do try to stay off of social media a little bit. It's going to be weird this year, because the shows are airing while we're shooting, but usually when we're shooting, we tap out a little bit just because we really try not to let the noise of the fandom get in the way of doing the work and serving the story that we receive in those scripts. I think it can become very dangerous when actors are too aware of the fandom, because it just stunts your choices. You just get scared and there's always a filter on everything you do of, "Will the fans like this? Will they be happy with it? Will it be well received?" You really don't want to be thinking about that when you're trying to act and just tell the story, because you want to stay as true as you can to what's on the page and not start manufacturing extra things.

So it's a really interesting, delicate dance that I've been learning. It's just constant learning of how to best handle it as the fandom shifts and changes and grows, and as I grow as a person, trying to balance the responsibility, serve the fans because they're so important to me, and also serve the story. It's a constant checking in and a constant learning experience, and I'm just doing the best I can, always.

It does bring to mind shows like The Magicians or The 100 that had issues when a fandom, in particular an LGBTQ fandom, responded negatively to some of the creative choices they made. Is that something that factors into the planning and the execution of the story at all? Or are you guys just telling the story you want to tell and hoping that the fans trust you enough to come along?

I definitely would say that is in the hands of our incredible showrunner, Emily Andras, who I trust 150 percent. She is very in tune with the fandom and with the tropes and the issues that plague queer characters in our media. It is getting so much better. I have seen a massive shift just in the five years that I've been involved with Wynonna Earp especially, and as an actor playing a queer character on television, I've been pretty in tune with what's going on. I've noticed a huge shift, even in getting breakdowns for character descriptions, which is the thing we get as actors when we're auditioning.

The way queer characters are being described or included in storylines — there's an amazing shift towards better inclusion. I think the thing I'm always worried about and cautious of with people who are in the writers' room or the creators is, you've got to be really careful to stay away from stereotypes, and I think I'm noticing a lot more nuance in the way the queer community is being represented in media. It's a much more nuanced and three-dimensional approach to showing people, who are part of characters who are part of the queer community, in a multitude of different facets, and I love that.

We're seeing more transqueer characters, we're seeing more gender-neutral characters. We're seeing characters who maybe have a more nuanced approach to their sexuality that isn't quite so black and white, and I love all of that. Those are the discussions we need to be having more, because I have always believed that sexuality is on a spectrum. You may be completely on the right or completely on the left of it. For myself, I've always felt that about my sexuality. I've always been in between and I think it's really important to explore that.

So that being said, I think that for me, once I get a script, I play it 100 percent to my ability, because it's Emily and I trust her and I know she's in tune. I know she has spoken out and I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I know that Emily has spoken out. There are challenges when you are being held to a high standard of serving a community. It becomes difficult, because you can't tell a good story without stakes and risk. 

If you want your fans to come along for the ride and trust you, because there was a lot I remember at the beginning with Clexa, there was a lot of fans really hesitant to jump into a new queer ship. I remember Emily assuring them that Nicole was going to be okay — Nicole and Waverly, but especially Nicole because she was a little more the outsider.

Emily has done those things in the past, but I always defer to Emily and I always follow her lead, because I know she always makes the right decision. She's just very good at what she does and she cares a lot, and she's very in tune. And she has the conversations. I think that one of the most amazing things on Wynonna is, we are so open to having the conversations with the fandom and hearing what they have to say and learning, reading articles and educating ourselves, and watching other shows and seeing what they do and how they handle it. But the cons are really huge. I think that face-to-face interaction with people, to ask, "How do you feel about it? What do you think?" Listening to the questions that come up on panels, reflecting... We've done so much reflecting on these panels, all of it. All of it feeds it and helps, but the bottom line is I will always serve Emily's story, because I trust her implicitly.

Wynonna Earp's family vibe created memorable moments for Katherine Barrell

Over three and a half seasons, what's been your most memorable moment on set?

Oh my gosh, So many come to mind. I'll always still love the scenes when we're all together. One of my most memorable moments, I don't know if it was because it was early days... it was the first time we'd all been together. At the end of season 1, we shot this... it was a party, and we were all dressed up. It feels 100 years ago now, but it was the first time that we were all together on set, and that was a really cool feeling, just to see everybody, because there are people who you don't work with. 

Another memorable one for me was the scene in which we're in the bar, and Mama Earp is there, and a fistfight breaks out. I remember that day just being so chaotic and crazy, and we had so much to shoot, and there were stunts, and there were certain people... because we have all these background performers, but some of them are special skills stunt performers. So those are the people that you're allowed to hit over the head with a breakaway bottle, but not this other guy. It was just so much madness and craziness that day, and I remember it being so fun and just wacky, and everyone working together so hard to get the day.

It's things like that. I find for me, my most memorable moments are the big group scenes when we're all together and we're doing something that feels impossible, like getting a huge fight that really should have taken at least two days of filming in one afternoon. It's hard to explain, but there's nothing like the feeling when the whole group is in flow together, when everyone is just hyper-focused, we know that we need to get this done and everyone's just ready to go giving 120 percent. It's a really beautiful thing to see when everyone's in the zone and working together, because when it works, it works really well. When it doesn't, we get three hours behind, but when it works, and most of the time it works, it's a really cool feeling because you just feel like you're moving as a unit. It's hard to explain, but it's like you transcend, and you're so connected with each other that you move spontaneously, and the camera moves and steps back. There's a flow with that, and it's like this organism moving as one. It sounds really hokey and it's hard to explain, but when it happens in those big group scenes, those are the days when you're like, "Wow, this is magic."

I would guess that chemistry, now that you've got three and a half seasons under your belt, has developed from where it started. Can you talk a little bit about that process and developing that type of alchemy that you're talking about?

Yeah, alchemy. Great word. Yes, it has developed so much. I mean, we've been through so much together as a cast. We've also traveled the world together. I was joking with these guys — one of my personal absolute favorite things to do is to share a meal with people. It doesn't even have to be a nice place. That's not the point, but it's just to have good food and to have it be shared with the people you love. I have had some of the most incredible meals of my life in the most incredible places in the world with these people. I was talking to Dominique about it the other day, just the other day, and she was saying, "God, we're really like a family."

The dynamic of a family is really true, because we've gotten past the initial jitters and the niceties. We've seen each other at our worst and at our best. We've had to work through so much together, and we've watched each other in and out of relationships, having children, we've just watched each other go through so much, and it develops an incredible bond. It's something that you get so rarely, maybe only once or twice in your career, and so none of us are taking it lightly. Especially with Dominique and I, we've just developed such a deep understanding for Nicole and Waverly as a unit. We have our own understandings individually of our characters, but then we've had so much amazing discussion around their relationship, how it progresses, how they're feeling, how each of them shows love.

There's so much that goes into it, but it takes on a life of its own and you get to a place where you don't have to talk about it anymore. That's really when you know that you've reached another level of your understanding, when we can both read a scene and come together. We used to talk through every beat of it, especially if there was intimacy, but now, we talk through it still, but we know where the story is going so well and we know each other so well that there's a lot more that can remain unsaid and just be understood. That's a really beautiful thing.

What Katherine Barrell wants you to know about the team behind Wynonna Earp

This is a show that's very connected to its fans, and the fanbase follows the production. What would you say is one thing that fans don't know about making Wynonna Earp that you think they should?

I think that it's a constant learning process, that we don't have all the answers, and we are still every day just doing our absolute best. It seems like a slick, well-oiled machine sometimes from the outside, but it's a constant ebb and flow and effort from everyone involved to just put their best foot forward and show up giving their best every day. I hope they know we're always trying and always working on improving. 

That isn't a particular response to anything. I think from the outside, it can look so glossy, but we're all just people trying to manage a crazy job and doing our best and showing up every day and giving our best. I think that's an important thing to keep on remembering, that there are so many people behind the glossy, fancy show that you see, with hopes and dreams and lives and struggles. It's a constant evolution, and we're just people doing a crazy job and doing our best.

The break that you've had to take in production, how did that feel?

At first, it was, "Oh my God. We just got this thing off the ground finally, and now this. Of course this is going to happen right now." But I think it was a really good time away to reflect. I think you have an even greater appreciation to come back. We're one of the only productions that's up and running in the country right now, and we're so lucky that we got off the ground before the pandemic hit, because it's very difficult for productions to start up. It's becoming very difficult with boring things like insurance and all that. But yeah, I think there is a sense of, "Please let nothing else happen so we can finish this season and get it out to the fans." That's all anybody wants to do, and we're just working so hard to keep all these safety measures in place so that we can do that successfully.

Everyone is making sacrifices because they love the show and they love the fans, they want to give them their show back. We're just really happy to be back, but there's definitely a sense of fragility more than ever, with the fight for Wynonna and then the pandemic. We're just so aware of how fragile this is, and how lucky we are to be doing it.