Nickelodeon’s epic fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel The Legend of Korra recently came to a close after ten years. The show broke new ground, challenged stereotypes and inspired new generations of artists, writers, and musicians.
Janet Varney is the voice artist who portrayed Avatar in The Legend of Korra. She is an actress, comedian and host of the JV Club Podcast, wherein she interviews women in show business about growing up, adolescence, and life in general.
At the end of this interview we have a special give-away where you can win an exclusive poster signed by Janet Varney herself! You’ll find it at the bottom of the page…
1 – You’ve done a lot of comedy, from Rifftrax and The Thrilling Adventure Hour, to the HBO series Entourage, as well as co-founding and organising SF Sketchfest. The Legend of Korra seems very different other projects you’ve worked on (though there’s still a lot of comedy). What was it that attracted you to the show and to the character?
This is always a question that makes me laugh, because it implies that I can pick and choose my projects. Maybe one day! I just auditioned for Korra the same way I do for most of the jobs I get. I just happened to get extremely lucky with that one- particularly since it’s one of the very best things I have ever been a part of! If I could have picked ONE show out of a hundred to be cast in, Korra would be that one.
2 – Avatar and The Legend of Korra have a great range of female characters who are strong, complex, well rounded and well written. This is still something rare in the mainstream unfortunately. But, have you seen roles for women in TV change since you were watching as a kid, to now when you are working?
I definitely think things have been changing, and while we still have a long way to go, I believe we’ll get there. But even when I was a kid, I do feel there were strong, interesting female characters. Although to be honest, now that I’m thinking about it, that might have been more in books than on television. (Grimaces)
3 – Nerd and Geek culture conventions have taken off big time in recent years, and you have been very enthusiastic whenever you’ve attended. You’ve seen first hand the kind of affect the show has had on people; has the response to the character and the show affected you in any way?
It’s completely changed my life! I say that without hyperbole at almost every panel I do. I am so humbled and so moved to be a part of something so special that has touched so many people so deeply. I consider it a total privilege to be entrusted with the heartfelt feedback I get from fans when I’m out there- and if I can serve as some sort of ambassador for the real geniuses behind the show- Mike and Bryan, then I’m very happy to do that.
4 – Mike [DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko] were the creative team behind Korra, but as the show went on, did you have an affect on how they wrote Korra as she grew and you got to know her? Did you feel, by the end of the series, that you could step into Korra’s shoes (or boots) and know what she would do in a given situation?
I think that’s a question for Mike and Bryan, at least the first part! And as for the second part… well, I think we all got to know Korra pretty well by the end of the series and yet she continued to surprise us. Which is the mark of a developing, complex and interesting character.
5 – The internet was in celebration after the Book Four finale, where Korra and Asami begun their romance. One of the refreshing things about their bond was that, despite being initially ‘rivals in romance’, they never turned on each other. How do you think Korra and Asami’s relationship will affect the way audiences see female-female friendships and romances going forward?
I LOVE IT! I loved it from the beginning. I think anytime we can show people – young and old – that the kind of pettiness we all are capable inside us (we’re all just adorably human, after all) can be pushed aside for deeper, more grounded and lovely feelings like respect, trust, and loyalty.
6 – Related to the previous question, there’s a lot of diversity of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality on the show which, again, seems sadly lacking even in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi. How important do you think it is for young people to be able to see themselves in the characters they see on screen? Do you think the positive reception will encourage writers to be more open to emulating it?
I think it’s vital. Art should reflect its creators and its consumers and everything in between. I was laughing with a friend of mine who has a very racially diverse background, and we were saying the people of the future will be so puzzled by how “TV was just full of white people” back in our time.
7 – The episode Korra Alone won The People’s Choice Award for “Best Television Episode” in IGN’s Best of 2014 contest. The episode deals with a lot of heavy themes, such as trauma, PTSD, and Korra searching for her identity. How did you feel about such matters that are so often thought of as “grown up” issues being dealt with in this show?
I think it’s just a mark of how amazing Mike and Bryan are in that they recognize that there are very real issues that people of all ages become acquainted with either directly or peripherally and that there are ways to address that stuff that help people understand and more importantly to feel understood in the midst of these challenges.
8 – The JV Club podcast has been going since 2012 and has now had over 150 episodes. Has getting such insight into the experiences of other women in the industry (and the world in general) changed the way you view yourself within it?
Absolutely! It has really made my relationship to this industry much more positive, because I feel very much a part of a community of amazing women who are all trying to be the best versions of themselves right along side me.
Now, after the serious questions, I hope you won’t mind some slightly more light hearted and even sillier ones.
9 – Of the other voice artists working on Korra, who were the most like their characters? Was Mindy Lee Sterling as fearless and fierce as Lin Beifong? Was PJ Byrne as goofy and optimistic as Bolin?
I think most people would agree that PJ is a lot like Bolin in terms of his buoyancy, his adorableness and his friendly outgoing nature. I love him!
10 – If there was any item or gadget from the show you could own, what would it be?
Anything Asami has made!
11 – What sort of advice do you think Korra would give to the next Avatar?
Don’t try to do everything alone!!!
12- You’ve mentioned Doctor Who in some recent JV Club episodes; do you watch the show, if so, do you have a favourite Doctor?
I haven’t been watching Dr. Who lately but I am a dyed-in-the-wool David Tennant girl, forevermore amen.
13 – If this was a MASH game and you had to pick three locations from the Avatar world to have a mansion, apartment, shack or house, where would you pick?
Ooh!! The Spirit World, The Water Tribe (snow!), and Air Temple Island.
All our thanks to Janet Varney for agreeing to this interview! If you love The Legend of Korra, give the JV Club a listen, and, of course, get hold of the DVD box sets of the show!
The competition for this giveaway is now closed.