Thursday, November 28, 2019

Janet Varney Talks Working on 'Legend of Korra', Including Korrasami

If one were to look in the closet of artistic hats Janet Varney has worn throughout her career it’d be packed. Examining a few: Host of her own podcast. Star of a beloved animated series. Co-writer of a digital comedy TV series. Co-Founder, Co-Producer, and Co-Creative Director of an annual festival.

In Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra series (2012-2014) her titular cartoon counterpart was a super powered multitasker able to wield and control all four Earthly elements; Varney can’t control waves or float on clouds, but it’s easy to see her and her character Korra share some real world commonalities with the many projects she’s juggled at the same time.

Before, during, and after that series Varney has stayed quite busy; last week The Beat was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with her, in a phone interview, about her many projects including the upcoming SF Sketchfest (Jan 9-26), Legend of Korra (including Korrasami!), and her favorite holiday films (including Scrooged!).

Below are extracts of The Beat's super interview with Varney, in which the actor talks about her time on The Legend of Korra. Make sure to read the full interview on!


The Beat: [...] For four seasons you got to voice a teen transiting into young womanhood on Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra cartoon series. As Korra, was it fun to jump back into that adolescent mindset but in this expansive fantasy universe [Michael Dante DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko] created?

Varney: Oh absolutely! I would have been excited to be any part of that show at all; the fact that I got to voice Korra was just so shocking and wonderful and kind of unbelievable. It was a very funny coincidence because I had just started doing the podcast and so when I got the part it felt a little bit serendipitous because I was very much steeped in all of our teen experiences already. I was like, “Oh cool! This is a weird dovetail into me connecting with something else that I’m working on.”

I remember the first season — and by the way I don’t ever read feedback online because I definitely am like, “I’m not good at weeding through mean things for some nice things, so I just let people tell me nice things in person.” [laughs]

But I remember the first season people would be like, “I love the new show, but I was so use to Aang, and Korra is really frustrating me. What’s her problem?” I felt really connected to Korra in that way when I would defend her which is that I would say, “Imagine if you were in her position and you were a teenager and all of this was thrust upon you.” You don’t understand your mortality when you’re a teenager; it seems like we either feel like we’re the most helpless person in the world or we’re the most powerful. Or we’re trying to front as if we are powerful and as if we do have control of situations when we don’t. So everything that she did that I think was frustrating to fans initially, and some people were fine with it, was just the humanity of it and that’s what I loved about her; I loved that she had to go through that and go on that journey.

TB: Korra as a series certainly wasn’t afraid to shy away from moments of darkness – Zaheer bending the air out of The Earth Queen. Tarrlok blowing himself and his brother Amon up. When you were getting those scripts, while working on the show, were you and the cast ever shocked at how far the creative team was willing to push the envelope of this so called children’s cartoon series?

Varney: Well I think shocked wouldn’t be the word — I think really impressed. I think the show comes out swinging with this really fantastic new piece of this universe that Mike and Bryan created, and the sophistication of the big city and all of that kind of stuff; then it brings us a level of maturity with Amon, the first villain, that really sets itself up for the progression of things escalating with the drama, and the action, and the tough stuff right through the forth season just with that first season alone.

So I think I was never surprised, but I was always impressed. I think the rest of the cast felt the same way just in terms of, like you said, not pulling any punches — really trusting in the fans to get the most out of the storytelling that was happening and understanding that sometimes you have to go to dark places to find that light.

TB: Fortunately the show wasn’t just filled with darkness. It featured the much adored romance between Korra and her eventual girlfriend Asami [voiced by Seychelle Gabriel]. What was that storyline discovery like for you as an actor? While working on the show did you ever get to talk to Mike, Bryan, or Seychelle about it and how big of a deal it was?

Varney: Yeah! We did get to talk about it; it was really great. I absolutely adore Seychelle, and we worked so well together, which is true for the whole cast. As a person she’s a fearless, progressive, funny, sympathetic person, and I’d like to think in my best days I’m the same [laughs].

So, when Mike and Bryan — they actually did pull us aside while we were recording at one point. [It] was something they didn’t usually do; they didn’t usually tell us a ton about what was coming up in seasons ahead or in episodes ahead. While it might seem dramatic to pull your actors aside to talk about a love story — the reality is where cartoons were, and just the fact it was Nickelodeon and stuff like that they had to be mindful of and sensitive to the fact that this was breaking new ground in some ways.

[That’s] not to say there hasn’t been LGBTQ+ stuff called out in anime or in cartoons before but this was a high profile one, and so they wanted to share where the story was headed. They did sort of ask — not for our blessing cause’ those guys really know what they’re doing and they’re fairly uncompromising in that way, in a good way — but they just wanted to let us know and see what we thought about it. I think both our eyes teared up and we were smiling so hard our cheeks hurt, so they got a pretty good sense right away that we thought it was really wonderful. We were so excited to see the story go in that direction.

TB: Having voiced Korra, how does it feel to know her and her friends adventures are continuing and still capturing fans imaginations in new [Dark Horse] comics [released] well after the series has ended?

Varney: Oh I love it! I’m such a fan of Irene Koh‘s illustrations, and she as a person is really remarkable — she did an episode of my podcast as well actually! So just getting to see things were they picked up and really I think it was the right thing to do just saying “Hey! Guess what? We’re going to pick up exactly where we left off.” Versus, “It’s been two years and Korra and Asami blah, blah, blah…” You know?

I was excited, and I’ve actually had the honor of being a part of some Dark Horse events at various Comic Cons where we’ve read passages from the book and done giveaways and trivia and all kinds of stuff to do with all the various books including the Poster Book and including the Airbender books that proceeded Korra. So, being connected with that world even as the cartoon itself has ended has been such as privilege.

TB: My final Avatar related question for you is Mike and Bryan are currently hard at work on a live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender for Netflix. If you could make a cameo on that show and portray anyone from a live-action bender to a random village person is there anyone you’d want to be?

Varney: I mean listen if they want to put some mega makeup on me and have me peddle cabbage juice I would really be on board for that, but probably there’s someone better suited for it than I! [Laughs] But that being said — Yeah! Anywhere they wanted to bury me I would be more than happy to do that. I don’t know that they know that, so I’m not sure they’re going to be calling me to roll a cart across the street, but I definitely am excited to see what they do and that they get to really be at the helm of this right? Because as we all know they had like nothing to do with the live-action movie and it showed.


Read The Beat's super interview with Varney on!

To keep up with Janet Varney make sure to follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Her regularly released podcast, The JV Club, can be found in multiple places such as Maximum Fun and Apple. The digital series she helped create, Fortune Rookie, can be found on places such as IFC’s website and YouTube. SF Sketchfest, of which she’s helped develop and run, has just released it’s 2020 lineup. SF Sketchfest 2020 highlights include Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants 20th Anniversary panel and Nostalgia Personified: "All That" Edition with Nickelodeon legends Danny Tamberelli and Lori Beth Denberg!

More Nick: Netflix to Host Open Casting Call for Live-Action 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Series!
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