Performers Of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of September - Katherine Barrell By Aimee Hicks (October 31, 2018, 10:01 pm)
Article was written by Aimee Hicks, Donna Cromeans, and Zandarl. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRIter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.
The mettle of a performer lies in the way they can dive into any situation thrown at them and make it real and believable no matter how fantastic the situation. It is so much harder than one may think, especially in genre shows where they can have everything up to and including the kitchen sink thrown at them. Not every performer can handle the pressure of such uncertainty. But those that can are always favorites of the writers because they are free to go all in with those characters with wild abandon. The writers on Syfy's Wynonna Earp are extremely lucky with the cast they write for, but one performer is so versatile that the writers can give her anything and know it'll be even better than what they wrote. That performer is Katherine Barrell who portrays Sheriff Nichole Haught. Her versatility and extreme talent were beautifully showcased in The Other Woman (3x10) and it won her the title of SpoilerTV's Readers' Choice September Performer of the Month. A title that she is extremely deserving of after the brilliant performance she delivered throughout this episode.
Barrell plays Nicole Haught as a cop who tries to do her best and keep a degree of professionalism but can be a bit goofy at times. In the scene with BoBo in captivity, she once again tries to make a quirky remark, but it falls kind of flat. She quickly tries to cover her embarrassment and displays a type of geeky awkwardness when it's evident Nicole realizes no one heard or got her joke. But then, when sent on a mission in search of Doc for Waverly, she is all business and self-assured befitting her title of sheriff.
There is no sign of her awkwardness or geekiness when she enters the bar, in search of Doc. She walks in with a confidence of a cop remaining non-plussed when she finds Doc (Tim Rozon) is not brown-bagging booze, but his latest beverage of want and need, blood. She maintains her stoicism throughout a subtle but effective questioning about the mysterious “Maeve” in Waverly’s photo and why Doc isn’t seeking help from Kate or even Wynonna. She quickly takes control of the situation when Doc declares he’d never do anything to hurt Wynonna and informs him he is going on a mission with her. The only time Barrell allows Nicole’s composure to slip, ever so slightly, is when Doc reveals that the Maeve in question is one of the Perley’s and the journal they seek is likely at the Perley homestead. Her quick look around the bar and lowering her voice conveys her shock and surprise, but she is still wise enough to not reveal any more information than is necessary to the bar patrons. Doc reluctantly agrees but informs Nicole he’s not himself and offers her his gun for protection should his vampiric thirst cause him to cross a line. As would be expected of the always prepared and efficient Sheriff Haught, she refuses his gun. With an almost resigned look on her face, she shows empathy towards Doc but also shows she's prepared by carrying wooden bullets. She makes it clear that despite her loyalty to Doc, she's ready to get the job done.
While the earlier scenes show Barrell displaying all the qualities that have made Nicole Haught a fan favorite, it is her work playing the possessed sheriff that contributed greatly to her earning this honor. It's a challenge for any performer to play dual roles, but the even greater challenge is to portray them as characters possessing the same body and the same time. Barrell is more than up to the task. When Nicole and Doc enter the cabin, it soon becomes evident that Doc doesn't have the temperament to deal with a 15-year-old girl whose spirit has been trapped in fire for over a hundred years. Enter Sheriff Haught, who calls upon her experience working with teen girls who kneels at the fireplace to talk to Maeve on her level. That's when the fun begins.
The change in Barrell's Nicole is heard before it is seen. Her voice rises in pitch and has a shrill tone to it. Her body language changes from the alert and on-guard sheriff to the relaxed slouch and posture of a 15-year-old. And like the spirit breaking free from her confinement Barrell allows the newly possessed Nicole to break free. Her giddy excitement at being free is palpable and then she reacts like a teenager when she learns that she's not the only supernatural being in the room. She doesn't hesitate to pull whatever trick she can to get Doc to kill Nicole, so she can stay in her body. She giddily taunts and teases him by cutting Nicole's finger and waving it in front of Doc. Barrell truly, and expertly embodies the voice and emotion of a teenager in this first possession scene.
Crazy eyes are a lot harder to portray than one may think. Every single scene that showed Nicole possessed required Barrell to portray two characters at one time. She had to maintain some elements of Nicole while showing Maeve's erratic teen-like behavior. It was the ultimate juggling act and she pulled it off so flawlessly that while it looked easy it had to be a challenge to portray.
At this point of the episode, Maeve was starting to lose control over Nicole as the fierce Sheriff fought back. Maeve had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so she again tried to goad Doc into biting Nicole and effectively killing her which would allow Maeve to take ownership over the body. When Doc got close to Nicole's neck there is this elated look of excitement in Barrell's eyes showing Maeve's pleasure at the idea of having a body after so long. Then when Doc pulled back Maeve started to lose control. At this moment Barrell's performance was so precise and well-timed that it was extremely impressive. With almost every breath she was doing this rapid transition where the audience could see Nicole slip back in for a split second before Maeve wrestled back control. It was fascinating to watch because it was so precise that something like that should have been impossible. Barrell is so intimately comfortable with Nicole that she was easily able to let Nicole slip out of Maeve and do it in a way where the audience could tell the difference. Absolutely brilliant acting. Then as the scene ended she pulled Maeve back into control and there was a very different demeanor to the character. She showed how frustrated Maeve was becoming with Nicole fighting back and Doc not giving her what she wanted.
The next scene showed Maeve back to enjoying her time in Nicole's body. Barrell tapped into the character of Maeve to deliver a really fun scene. From trying to cut Nicole's hair to flashing Nicole's bra, Maeve was having a serious bout of fun with being in Nicole's body and Barrell seemed to be enjoying the craziness of it all. She really went for it with no hesitation or reserve. It is no surprise that she is so good at this. Multiple times Nicole has been shown as drunk and every time Barrell is hilariously brilliant. She's one of those actresses that is so versatile that something like this just flows out of her.
In this same scene, after Maeve possesses Jeremy (Varun Saranga), Nicole is back in control. Barrell shows Nicole confused and a bit scared as she comes out of the stupor. Nicole's fear is palpable as she tries to rapidly process what has happened to her. Barrell really brings to life the fear of the unknown in what Nicole is experiencing. It is terrifying for a person to lose awareness only to come to and find themselves half undressed. She only allows Nicole a moment to deal with the confusion before she snaps back into control. She does this when Nicole rapidly tries to button her shirt back up to get back in control of the situation. A moment later Nicole is possessed by Maeve again and in an instant, Barrell makes the transition back to portraying a petulant teen spirit. The very nature of the story required her to transition between these characters instantaneously and she pulled it off.
Once Maeve is back in control of Nicole's body it is clear that she is going to do whatever it takes to get a body. Barrell plays Maeve as more reckless and wilder than earlier. She is flippant and dismissive of Doc and Jeremy being able to figure out where she hit the journal. Then, the moment Doc figured out where the journal was Maeve lost her big bargaining tool and all that is left is Nicole. There is a rapid shift in her tone. There is no frivolous antics going on anymore and it's all serious. Barrell shows the rapid transition within Maeve where anything goes. The moment that Maeve puts Nicole's gun to her head there is this brief spark in her eyes that shows Nicole perhaps coming back to the surface.
Barrell manages to show this gradual coming to the surface of Nicole until Nicole expels Maeve at the last possible second. She tosses Nicole back into the chair and it is clear how exhausted Nicole is from the strength it took to wrestle her body back. Given how much Barrell put into this scene the exhaustion may have been less acting and instead a real glance at how much it takes out of a performer to be the physical and just "on" throughout the filming. The back and forth transitions and the throwing around of her own body like a ragdoll had to of taken a toll. She is to be applauded for how much of herself she gave to deliver this powerful performance.
Nicole had been through so much this episode being possessed, then almost burned alive. So, it was no wonder her emotions were raw and on edge as she escaped the burning cabin. But, what she found outside pushed her over the edge. Not only had Doc succumbed to his vampire desires and killed a firefighter, but he'd also killed Charlie (Sebastian Pigott), the innocent everyone liked, especially Nicole's friend Wynonna. Barrell dug deep and unleashed an almost feral rage at Doc pulling her gun on him and ordering him to leave town because he'd just lost his last supporter. Her fury was so forceful, not only in her quavering voice, but her entire body was shaking in anger, so much so her hands shook as she struggled to pull her weapon. When she pointed the gun at Doc with shaking hands, there was no doubt that she would truly kill Doc the next time she saw him. Having spent most of the episode with the almost lighthearted moments of being possessed, this depth and despair emanating from Nicole was Katherine Barrell at her best.
The episode ended with Nicole watching over Charlie's body. Barrell showed not only Nicole's anger at Maeve at this moment but also her heartbreak over not being able to do anything to save Charlie. Wynonna is someone that Nicole has come to care about as not only a friend but as the sister of the woman she loves. Barrell made sure that the audience understood that telling Wynonna that Charlie was gone was going to break Nicole's heart as much as it was guaranteed to break Wynonna's. There is a vulnerability to Nicole at this moment. She has been put through hell in this episode and losing an innocent on her watch is a hard thing for her to accept. Barrell shows Nicole's exhaustion in this scene but shows that the need to protect the citizens and those she cares about is what is keeping her going at this point. Despite the exhaustion, there is fierceness in her eyes and her voice. There is also a great deal of sadness because she also feels like she lost Doc who she had so adamantly fought for. When Jeremy asks Nicole about Doc, Barrell conveys a look of confusion and disappointment. She shows that Nicole genuinely is struggling to reconcile her feelings about Doc. It is a poignant moment of acting that really showed how much Nicole had been through throughout the hour.
Katherine Barrell is a force to be reckoned with. This was an extremely demanding episode for her both physically and mentally and she delivered a perfect performance. It was a true tour de force performance. Honestly, though, it's not at all a surprise. Barrell has been a powerhouse performer from the moment she first stepped into frame in her first episode of Wynonna Earp and she is no stranger to a SpoilerTV Performer of the Month title (July 2017). A lot of people don't realize how hard it is to get a character's personality to reflect through the screen and impact an audience. Yet that's exactly what she did from the very beginning. She made people fall in love with Nicole from the very first second much like Waverly did.
That's another thing about this episode, in most episodes Barrell's main scene partner is Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Waverly) and they have the most beautiful chemistry, but in this episode, they barely shared a minute or two of screen time. While it is like watching living art to watch these two perform together it is also a testament to both actresses that they are powerhouse performers no matter who they are paired up within a scene. Barrell spent most of this episode with Tim Rozon and Varun Saranga and the three of them delivered some brilliant performances. She clearly has a high comfort level with them because a performance like she delivered in this episode requires scene partners that can be unequivocally trusted. It is a testament to her that even in the absence of her regular scene partner she can still deliver a powerful memorable performance that will not be forgotten anytime soon. She is truly deserving of the title of SpoilerTV Readers' Choice Performer of the Month for September.
While all moments of Katherine Barrell's outstanding performance were not covered in this article, feel free to discuss your favorite scenes in the comments below.