Janet Varney shares her journey as an actor, and dives into her life-changing roles on Stan Against Evil, and The Legend of Korra.
It’s been almost three years since the conclusion of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, and Janet Varney can’t believe it either.
“Isn’t that crazy?” she says. “I’ve just never gotten used to the fact that it worked out.”
A long-time comedic actress, Varney has appeared in various sitcoms throughout the years. She now stars on IFC’s Stan Against Evil, and has appeared on everything from How I Met Your Mother and Psych to a recurring role on You’re The Worst.
But even with her regular work, Varney says that the Hollywood grind prepared her for disappointment when it came to her biggest roles.
“Even if you’re an optimist, there’s some part of you that just tries to toughen up and be pragmatic and go, “This isn’t gonna happen. This isn’t gonna happen,”” she says.
“I really felt that way through the process of Korra because I knew Avatar, and I knew how wonderful it was, and I was so terrified.”
Self-doubt was a constant companion, Varney recounts. “I just kept thinking, at some point someone’s gonna go, “Oh, wait a minute. I don’t know why we had her in the room.””
Even when Varney landed the role of Korra (“I just couldn’t believe it,” she admits) she was unprepared for her inauguration into the series’ tremendous theater of enthusiasm. At the first table read, a Nickelodeon executive hugged Varney, took her by the shoulders, and said, “Are you ready for your life to change?”
“I was like, “What does that mean?” the actress recalls.
“And then when we did our first Comic-Con, there was just this sort of zero to 60 build.” Varney says. “We went from, ‘Oh, I think people are going to be into this. Hopefully they will be,’ to going to Comic-Con, to walking into a room of like 4,000 people.”
“I still get goose pimples when I [remember] that,” she says. “I get goosebumps. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
Varney’s sense of gratitude persists into her current project, Stan Against Evil. In the macabre comedy series, Varney plays Sheriff Evie Barret, a new face in an old town swarming in hilariously vengeful spirits.
It’s a role the likes of which she never thought of having, one that allows Varney to explore comedy, drama, and the art of the stunt.
“The whole time that I was doing the voice of Korra, I would always joke around saying that nobody’s gonna give me a job as an action star or a hero. I just do silly comedy,” the actress recalls. “Typically I’m put in high heels and a tight top, which is not my personality at all.”
So when Stan Against Evil creator Dana Gould told Varney that he was writing the part of Evie with her in mind, the news “kind of made me pee my pants a little bit,” Varney says.
“He’s like, “She’s a demon-fighting sheriff,”” she recounts. “And I was like, “I’m sorry… Why would you think I…?” He’s like, “I just know. You’re an action star trapped inside the body of a comedian.””
Varney says that she was “completely blown away” by Gould’s faith in her abilities, and the opportunity he offered.
“I really thought the only time I would get to do anything like that would be in voice over,” she says. “I just thought, listen, if that’s gonna happen, it would have already happened.”
In addition to stunt work and physical badassery, Varney says that Stan Against Evil has gives her the opportunity to inhabit “another kind of strong female character.”
“Certainly, [Evie] keeps getting put in situations where she can’t believe that she is in those situations once again,” she says. “But it’s a really, really great role, and I would say that, side by side, [she and Korra] are the two most kind of dramatically challenging roles I’ve had in my career.”
Like Korra, Evie is burdened with responsibilities both personal and epic. “She’s another kind of fighting evil,” Varney says. “[Evie is] fighting the supernatural evil of the world, she just isn’t equipped with any bending powers.”
And while gory humor and rapid-fire Easter Eggs may be the language of Stan Against Evil, but its message is one of deeper connection. The show “has a lot of heart to it,” Varney says, particularly evident in Evie’s relationship with the town’s recently widowed former sheriff — the titular Stan (John C. McGinley).
“I love doing comedy,” Varney continues. “But sometimes that exists at sort of the mid-level to the high-comedy level of craziness and I don’t necessarily get plumb the depths of kind of serious acting as often.”
“But I did in Legend of Korra, and I do in Stan Against Evil.”
For Varney, roles like Evie and Korra offer more than a chance to stretch her acting muscles. Though she gives them life, the Avatar and the Sheriff give something back to Varney as well.
“In LA, there’s this sort of like, “Oh, you’re an actor? Get in line,”” she recounts. The Legend of Korra and Stan Against Evil “really made me realize that that doesn’t have to be your relationship with acting at all. It can be entertainment. We all love entertainment, and we all escape into it, and we all learn from it, and we all have the catharsis of it.”
“Why am I pretending like my participation is something that I shouldn’t be honored to be a part of?”
“Korra was one of those jobs that really cemented that for me,” she says. “This is a tremendous honor. I love this. I’m passionate about it, and if my contribution makes something better, I can die happy tomorrow.”
And while Varney’s sense of not deserving the opportunity persists, she uses it now as an inspiration — not a cause for self-doubt.
“I want to feel like I deserved to be that character, and I want her to help me now.” she says. “And it sounds so cheesy and corny, hence the actor shame, but it’s totally real. Like, I have completely said, “I don’t want to do this thing. I’m afraid of it,” and I have thought, “I’m the voice of Korra, man. I can’t. That’s not an excuse.”
Stan Against Evil season 2 premieres on Nov. 1 at 10 p.m. on IFC.