Actress, director, and producer, Katherine Barrell is a woman of many talents — but above all, a creator.
The multi-talented Katherine Barrell is a genius comedic actress, owner of her own production company, expert vintage shopper and ex-leather goods maker! Katherine is best known for her role as Nicole Haught on Syfy's Wynonna Earp. Read on for a peek into her multi-faceted life and discover what she’s been up to lately, how she keeps it all together and why creation and reinvention are so vital.
You’re an established actress, but also a producer/director. What interested you most about exploring various parts of the film industry and doing more than acting?
I believed strongly in creating my own opportunity and I’ve always had a little bit of business sense. It also came out of the fact that acting work was inconsistent for the first few years of my career, and I didn’t want to wait for someone else’s permission to do what I loved to do. I just loved the idea of creating my own work and the entrepreneurial aspect of it. Because I am the creator, I have full control. It’s also great to be able to use another part of my brain.
Which came first, the desire to be an actress or a director?
I actually wanted to be a film director before I wanted to be an actor. In my grade 8 yearbook, I wrote that I wanted to be a director but the path to directing at that time was just so unclear. As a young woman I didn’t see any role models who were female directors at the time, whereas going to theater school was a more obvious path. But I love doing both now and I don’t think I can just pick one. I think acting and directing are natural evolutions of each other.
It’s an interesting time to be a female in the film industry. Have you seen progress being made?
I’ve definitely seen so much progress especially with the #MeToo movement and everything that’s happening with diversity casting. Media is so readily available that changes are happening much quicker in the film industry. People are constantly observing and watching, whether it’s through traditional media or social media.
What would you like to see change even more?
I want to see more women behind the camera. Ultimately the people who are creating the content are the people who are writing, directing, and producing the stories. If we have women behind the camera telling female centric stories, it'll come through much more truthfully. We are 50% of the population so making more authentic content for women makes total sense. It’s hard to create a story that you haven’t lived an aspect of yourself, so that’s why we need more female creators because we see the world differently.
You do a lot of work in the comedy sphere and you have excellent comedic timing. What attracted you to this genre?
I love doing comedy, it’s definitely my favorite! I find comedy to be more challenging than drama, and that’s what attracts me to it so much. There’s so much more nuance in comedy and there’s just a lot more fun and energy on set along with its incredible challenges. Comedy is a lot about timing, rhythm and working with other actors. A lot of people can do drama well, but personally I find it takes a skilled actor to handle comedy.
You recently moved to LA from Toronto—what prompted the big move?
The big move was two-fold, one because my partner has a green card and we wanted to stay in the states to fulfill the requirements. But it was also to give myself a chance in the market down here. Now that I’m established in Canada with a resume and things under my belt, it’s a lot easier to try out the American market. It’s also a time in our lives where it was kind of now or never, so here we are.
We heard that you have a new production company; could you tell us a bit more?
I recently rebranded my production under the name Blue Eyed Bandit, a platform where I can do my own work and keep creating my own films. I had a company with my business partner several years ago but he passed away. In wake of all of that and after much reflection, I went out on my own and rebranded. It’s a place for me to continue to be creative and make content that expresses my own voice.
Is there any meaning behind the name “Blue Eyed Bandit?”
It’s about my dog Bernie; his original name is Bandit and he has one blue eye. I also chose this name because when registering for an incorporation, I had to go through all these name checks to see if anyone else has it registered. Blue Eyed Bandit was unique enough to be incorporated.
Mr. Aigner was a man of many talents and business ventures, and everything he did seemed to tie back to his love for craftsmanship. For someone with a lot of different skills, what’s your common thread?
The idea of creating something from nothing is very exciting to me. I’ve always been somebody who needs to be on my feet, working with my body and hands. I love actively creating or living in the skin of another person and creating a story on screen. My brain also works in so many different directions, almost to a fault sometimes. Because I take on so many things I can be quite scattered. But trying out all these different things and learning different skills really satisfied me. I don’t think I could ever hold down a 9-5 job, and I never have. Whether it’s making things physically or with my mind by creating a character, I just have to be constantly creating or else I’d go insane.
Speaking of having many talents, can you tell us about the time where you were making leather shoes and bags?
It was during the time that I needed to supplement my income as an actress. I decided to learn a completely new skill—it’s very typical Katherine. I was interested in learning the basics of leather-working because I was drawn to the timeless aspect of the craft and working with my hands. There weren’t many places to learn about it except maybe design school, which was a very long and expensive path that just wasn’t feasible at the time. Instead, I found this guy on a leather-working forum who was looking for an apprentice for making 18th-century-style boots for Civil Ware reenactors. With the leather-working skills I learned, I started making leather bags completely by hand and custom-made to order. Even though I had sold a bunch of them, it took so many hours to make and so much material that my profit margin was very low. But it was really fun and taught me a lot about business and promotions. Eventually I had to stop when a small Toronto store approached me to make a line for them. I had to decide if making leather bags was going to become my full-time gig or continue to pursue my love for acting. Obviously, I chose acting, but I really enjoyed making leather goods.
From far left: Angela crossbody, tassel lariat, woven hoop earrings, and vintage '70s Etienne Aigner trench coat.
We heard you are an avid vintage shopper. What do you look for when selecting pieces?
I love shopping vintage for the home, especially finding old furniture pieces and refinishing them. I find the idea of giving something old a new life to be beautiful and special. When I shop vintage clothing, I have a hard time with fit because I’m really tall and my proportions are not that of women 60 years ago. But I’ve always had a more classic aesthetic and certain things never go out of style so I invest in those pieces instead of buying fast fashion. I like the idea of buying into history and purchasing something that’s so well made that it can stand the test of time. I definitely look for quality and craftsmanship when selecting my pieces.
Is there a favorite vintage item that you bought recently?
Vintage pieces have a soul almost, an object that’s been through so much and has a story behind it. I bought a dress here in LA two years ago that I thought was going to be my wedding dress. It was from a museum sale and was a long-sleeved '60s dress with gold and silver embroidered flowers and glass beads. I didn’t end up wearing it for my wedding but I still have the dress and I’m waiting for the right moment.
To create the Old Hollywood feel of this shoot and Katherine’s love of all things vintage, we styled her in three different retro-inspired outfits. There’s a representative for each decade from the ’50s to ‘70s (including one of our very own Etienne Aigner vintage trench coats from the 1970s), paired with our modern accessories from our new collection. See? Everything old really is new again.
Katherine will debut Blue Eyed Bandit and several of her short films over the next few months. To learn more about her work, visit katherinebarrell.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @katbarrell.