Queer Representation on TV: Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Katherine Barrell

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Syfy
Syfy

By: Bridget Liszewski and Megan Haas 

Wynonna Earp may be the heir and girl who is able to wield the magical gun on Syfy’s Wynonna Earp, but what really has fans talking is the relationship involving Wynonna’s little sis Waverly and Officer Nicole Haught. Almost as soon as Officer Haught (Katherine Barrell) strutted her way into Shorty’s bar in Episode 2 and introduced herself to Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), the “WayHaught” ship set sail with fans clamoring to jump on board. Now that Waverly has finally made her move on one of Purgatory’s finest, the two women seem poised to start a relationship together.

Since it came on the scene Wynonna Earp is a show that has been garnering acclaim for not only its portrayal of several complicated female characters, but also giving the TV landscape some much needed LGBT representation in what has been a tough, tough spring for queer women. To further discuss the importance of having characters such as Waverly Earp and Nicole Haught on television, Provost-Chalkley and Barrell recently joined The TV Junkies as part of our Queer Representation on TV series. The actresses open up about building these characters and this story alongside Wynonna Earp showrunner Emily Andras, why they are so proud to bring these characters to life, the responsibility they feel for the relationship and their approach to interacting with fans.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: Why is it so important for a show like Wynonna Earp to give us two diverse characters such as Waverly, a young woman who is starting to question her identity, and Nicole, who is already very confident and sure of herself?

Dominique Provost-Chalkley: I feel very fortunate to be representing a girl that’s in a period of discovery. I feel that isn’t spoken about enough. I think it’s actually very common for people to feel emotions and be questioning their sexuality, and regardless of the outcome with Waverly I think it’s very important to be addressing that specifically. As a young girl or man it’s something we shy away from because you want to fit in or people would be embarrassed to speak about it, where as it should be spoken about more openly. In a series like this it’s a perfect showcase and maybe it can inspire people to address what they are feeling. In Waverly’s case it could potentially bring her a lot of happiness so I feel very proud to be representing that.

Katherine Barrell: I think one of the lovely things about Nicole is that she’s unapologetic about who she is. She’s very, very confident. I’ve never been fortunate enough to play a character as sure of herself and confident as Nicole. I do think those types of roles, specifically for women, are getting a lot better and there’s definitely a lot more out there. I think in the past few years we’ve made some massive leaps and bounds on the types of female characters we’re seeing on TV.

Regardless of Nicole’s sexuality, just her character in general–she’s a woman working in a traditionally man’s field, she’s in a new town and she makes the best out of every situation she’s in. She’s positive and she doesn’t get bogged down worrying about things. I feel like Nicole would be a very solid friend to have because she’s very even keeled, doesn’t get upset about things and just takes them as they come, deals with them and moves on. Being able to play a character that is so confident and sure of herself and positive about things is really refreshing.

DPC: What’s really nice as I’m watching the series back is that we have such strong characters on this show. In the WayHaught relationship you’ve got two very separate sides of the coin which is really lovely. You’re representing two very, very different types of people and they come together and take the best from each other. I think Nicole Haught has a lot of characteristics that Waverly admires. Regardless of them being together, she can actually draw a lot of things from her and embody them herself.

KB: Objectively looking at the story I feel like Waverly would see Nicole and see this pillar of strength and security. So it makes sense to me that she’s drawn to that while she’s going through this huge self discovery because Nicole is so solid. I would want to be with Nicole because she’s solid, steadfast and safe. She just feels like a rock. It’s not to say she doesn’t have her own insecurities, but that’s why it makes sense that these characters have found each other. I think what Nicole lacks in her life is that fun, carefree spontaneity. It’s not that she doesn’t want it, it’s just that she doesn’t have it. She doesn’t really have any friends and is in this new place. Waverly is this beautiful breath of fresh air and levity in a very serious job and new place. I think it’s Waverly’s spirit and quirkiness that’s so refreshing to Nicole and finally she’s found a person she can be silly with.

Syfy
Syfy

TTVJ: Were you guys prepared for how enthusiastic and passionate fans were going to be, especially given that we’ve not seen a ton of screen time as of yet between these two characters?

KB: I wasn’t. No. I think one of the things about Wynonna is that we came along at a really great time with what has happened on some other shows. There’s definitely this hunger to see more representation on screen and it coincided with some other shows losing their LGBT representation. The hunger the fans have and hearing their voices that they want to see that on their screens so they are going to find it and champion it. It was a perfect storm in a way that we came along at the right time, where it was coinciding with other things happening in the media and there was a fanbase that was eager to support and wanted to be heard. It provided that platform to start talking about these things again and keep the conversation going. But no, I was not prepared for the fever of the fandom that was coming and it was beyond my expectations!

DPC: I feel exactly the same. I never expected it to be this amount of response but we’ve embraced it from all angles. Emily gave me a quick rundown that maybe we would get some LGBT fans and to be aware of that, but not to this extent. I had no idea that we’d have such wonderful fans following the WayHaught relationship.

What’s been so great about this relationship that Emily has created is that it’s been dealt with so well. It was extremely important for Kat and I from the beginning that we didn’t want it to be in any way gratuitous or popped in there as the token lesbian couple. We needed it to be addressed in the correct way. I never had any fear because Emily Andras is so wonderful and I have such faith in her. What’s really nice is that it was such a slow burn so the fans are so excited as they go along for the payoff at the end, and I feel very proud of the way it was addressed. I think that’s part of the reason why fans have gotten so behind it.

KB: I totally agree Dom. I think proud is a really good word to use. I’m so proud watching! I watched Episode 9 and was so happy in the way things unfolded and the way it turned out. I felt like it was really genuine, tender, beautiful and honest. That was really important to Dom and I, and from the beginning we said it has to be real, genuine, truthful and we took a great amount of care. Regardless of gay or straight, relationships, love and emotions is all in the same pool of feeling. It’s beautiful what’s happening between Nicole and Waverly because on the flip side we see Wynonna with Doc and her flirting with Dolls where there’s this sexual turmoil in her world in seeking comfort but not having stability. On the flip side we see this other relationship that is beautifully juxtaposed to what she’s going through that is so pure, innocent, truthful and shy. It’s been beautifully written and laid out.

Syfy
Syfy

TTVJ: Given that people are so enthusiastic and so into the WayHaught pairing, how do you tame people’s expectations and interact with them on social media but also not lead them on? Even now after they seemed poised to start a relationship together?

KB: Relationships are not easy and nothing comes without a cost. It’s not like all the sudden Nicole and Waverly are going to walk into the sunset. Just like every real life relationship, they still have their challenges and we don’t know at this point if this is something that will just last a couple months or a week or be something that will be around for awhile.

As actors it’s really hard because I know what’s happening but what do other people know? It’s a delicate balance of wanting to keep people engaged but not wanting to give anything away. It’s hard and I really struggle with it. I think one time I did write a tweet saying Nicole is coming back and don’t freak out. You do get really protective of your character and your fans and you want them to be happy. That’s it. You just want the fans to be happy and it’s hard sometimes when they’re not, but you can’t say anything.

DPC: I think Kat dealt with it really well and it’s really important to just engage with the fans in the way that you can. Really more than anything give them the confidence that I thought would be OK but without giving any spoilers away. It’s so important for us to keep the mystery of the show and it’s all part of the fun in the long run. Anything that did come my way I just subtly hinted at things but without giving any spoilers.

TTVJ: So much of these characters’ essence was probably already there on the page and developed when they were given to you. What was your approach when you got the script and did you find yourselves adding anything to these characters?

DPC: With Waverly I felt like I got a really good sense of who she was when I read it. I feel like they really knew what they wanted from Waverly. At the beginning I was nervous that she was going to become too much of the comedy relief and not address some of the deeper flavors. But you have to have faith and trust in the writers and as the series progresses you do find that she has so many depths. That’s why I was so excited when I found out that Waverly was bi-curious or bisexual at this point. I actually didn’t know that Waverly was bisexual and I read the episode when Nicole Haught came into the bar and I called Emily and said ‘Oh my god whoever wrote this scene is an absolute genius.’ Not only does it bring another layer to Waverly as a character, it’s also just a fantastic thing to address and showcase, and what a wonderful way to do it in such a fun, light and beautiful way. As with any character, there’s development that happens naturally but I was pretty sure of who Waverly was from the get go.

Syfy
Syfy

TTVJ: What do you think we can do better in terms of presenting LGBTQ characters on screen overall?

KB: I think keep making them three-dimensional characters that happen to be gay. That’s it. They are just another character on the show and that’s their sexuality. We’re definitely at a time where we need to be pumping up the representation but that’s the feedback I’ve gotten on Nicole. Wonderful people just saying thanks for making her a real person.

That’s what I loved about Episode 7. It would’ve been so easy for Waverly to break up with Champ and then Nicole to come to the rescue in Episode 7, but that’s not what happened at all. They didn’t even see each other. Nicole had a whole episode with Wynonna and they worked a case together because Nicole’s a real person and not just there to be the LGBT representation on the show. It’s wonderful that her and Waverly are representing that, but I think it’s the way to further the television environment and make it more diverse, to make sure everyone feels they are represented where they can turn on the TV and see themselves. We need to make sure that these characters are not just there to be the representation.

TTVJ: One of our favorite things about it was that she is doing things outside of her relationship with Waverly. She’s having a relationship with Wynonna, holding a job and doing all this other stuff.

KB: Obviously Waverly is a massive part of the show, so that’s why for me it was so important to see a little bit of Nicole when she’s not with Waverly. I was afraid that Nicole was going to become the token lesbian and that was all she was going to get to do.

DPC: It’s great because when you look back you can really see she’s a fully formed character. Hats off to you and to Emily.

KB: To Emily! That’s how I think we can keep going in the right direction with being inclusive so that all the fans who watch these shows can see themselves up on the screen. Sexuality is a secondary character point. What’s first and foremost is who is this person?

DPC: I feel very fortunate with my upbringing because my mum and dad were extremely open minded and exposed me to all different minorities and encouraged me to embrace all different walks of life. So I grew up seeing it as normal, but TV is such a great showcase and we’re in 2016 so it should 100% be seen as normal. It shouldn’t just be on certain shows that we have LGBT representation, it needs to be across the board. People need to start realizing that it should be a normality.

KB: I hope one day we get to a place in TV where we don’t even question it. I really hope five years from now no one even blinks an eye.

 

Thoughts or comments? Share them below! Read more from our Queer Representation on TV series here.

Wynonna Earp airs Fridays at 10 p.m ET on Syfy in the US. In Canada, episodes air Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CHCH. All episodes will also stream live on CHCH.com in conjunction with the Syfy and CHCH broadcast airings.

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