Karen Knox On Barbelle’s Not So Standard Female Characters

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KindaTV
KindaTV

Are you in need of a new obsession? Well, you’re in luck because we think we have just the series for you. Barbelle, the new web series available now on KindaTV’s YouTube channel, was created by and stars Gwenlyn Cumyn and Karen Knox. The duo play Alice and Veronica, girlfriends and bandmates in Toronto who break up, and then must fake their relationship to their adoring fans just as their music career as pop stars Barbelle is really taking off. Can they successfully make their sophomore album, do public appearances and act like a couple on social media without their breakup getting out?

The first four episodes of the 10 episode Season 1 of Barbelle are available now for users, with new batches dropping on Mondays. Originally part of Bell Media’s Fibe TV program, Knox and Cumyn also ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to make Barbelle the way they wanted to do it. “We were able to achieve the vision we really wanted to do” despite that tight budget, Knox told The TV Junkies. She says that she and Cumyn were able to assemble “a dream team,” and had a blast working on this story of two queer pop stars navigating the ups and downs of being a celebrity in the digital age. Knox also spoke with us about her inspiration for Veronica, whether or not Veronica and Alice may have hope as a couple, and how she came up with all those catchy Barbelle songs that you’ll surely have stuck in your head after watching.

 

The TV Junkies: Where did the idea for Barbelle come from? How did you and Gwen come together on this project?

Karen Knox: Gwen and I are creative partners and have known each other for about a decade. We met at acting school and immediately recognized in one another that we were creative soulmates. We’re actually extremely different human beings, but have the same tastes. After graduating we were both bored by what we were working on and roles we were going out for, so we said ‘we should just make a show where we get to play the characters we want to play!’ It was late one night, we were at a bar, and Gwen was like ‘I’ve got an idea. We’re in a band and we have to pretend that we’re together, but we’re not.’ I stood up right away and was like ‘That’s amazing!’

We exchanged scripts back and forth that whole summer and that September started shopping it around. We just went for it and it was an uphill struggle the whole way, but we made it happen.

TTVJ: Veronica is quite the character and definitely a diva. Did you have any inspirations that you drew on in playing her?

KK: A bit of the early days of Kristen Stewart, when she was just finishing up Twilight and starting to find herself as a woman. Also there’s a little bit of Miley Cyrus, although she was also an inspiration for Lulu (Cynthia Hicks) who is trying to find herself after being a child star. Kristen Stewart for sure guided our inspiration though.

KindaTV
KindaTV

TTVJ: Being a show about a music duo, there’s obviously a lot of music in the series and from what I’ve seen and heard so far it’s fantastic. I heard you actually wrote all the lyrics to those songs, so what was that like? Are the songs going to be available to viewers?

KK: Yes, for sure. My background actually is in writing poetry and I’ve never done songwriting before. I started looking at Robyn and Kesha’s lyrics and realized it’s just poetry. I wrote them and Gwen would say they were way over dramatic and tell me to dial it back. We settled on some cool stuff, recorded all the songs and some of the ones in the coming episodes are completely improvised from me just riffing on a ukelele one day.

TTVJ: One thing I think we see a lot, especially with female characters, is that they always have to be likable. Something I liked watching Barbelle was that we don’t 100% like Veronica and Alice all of the time, but they feel very real. Is that something you guys discussed and why was it important to your story to show all sides to those women?

KK: For so long we’ve been allowed to embrace the male antihero, but it’s so rare we get to see a woman who is fighting for good, who we want to root for sometimes, but at other times you’re like ‘Oh my god! What is she doing?’ That’s a realistic representation. I’m actually looking at this in my next writing project because I’m really interested in the idea of a woman being a supervillain, getting away with it and not experiencing that much retribution. We’re allowed to adore these male supervillains, but we just don’t see that with female characters because I think the patriarchy has ran the film industry for the last 100 years. They are often like ‘why would we put a girl in it if we don’t like her?’

Also, as we were writing it, we wanted people to have their allegiances swayed throughout the first season. In the first half we wanted people questioning Veronica, seeing she’s a bit of a mess and emotionally abusive. We were hoping that some people were rooting for Alice and Lulu to get together. We didn’t want to be obvious in our storyline because we want to surprise people. It’s a lot more exciting when there’s possibilities of it going in other ways and really interesting to surprise people. So you may hate a character one episode, but then flip it in the next episode so you see their perspective. When we flip the perspective on things you can see the humanity of those who are different from us or who have opinions we don’t agree with.

Nando Machado
Nando Machado

TTVJ: In watching the first few episodes, it seems like Veronica may not be so down for this breakup with Alice. Without spoiling too much, is there any hope for this couple?

KK: Yes, there’s definitely hope for them going forward. Veronica is going to fight tooth and nail to get Alice back. The whole season is about her scheming to get her back, but things are going to get real messy before her final attempt. It’s a final attempt that may be successful, but may not be.

TTVJ: There’s 10 episodes in Season 1, but what is the status of a Season 2? Do you already have plans for that?

KK: We sure do! We’re hush hush about it right now, but the scripts are in the slow cooker. We’re exploring how we’re going to finance it, but have been overwhelmed with how positive the response has been. If people like it, we will definitely make more because we love it.

TTVJ: So along with Season 2 plans, what other projects do you have that we should keep an eye out for?

KK: I just directed my first film that starred Gwenlyn called The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping. It’s going to do a festival run in the spring and is quite a bit darker than Barbelle. It’s about the misuse and overuse of the rape trope in contemporary cinema. It’s us trying to deconstruct and shine a light on that trope that has been misused and overused for so long. Gwen is absolutely amazing in it and I was thrilled to be working with her again. I can’t imagine doing a project without her at this point.

 

Are you already enjoying Barbelle? Interested in checking it out? Sound off in the comments below!

Barbelle Season 1 is available now on KindaTV and releases new episodes every Monday.

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