As Evie Barret on IFC’s horror-comedy series “Stan Against Evil,” actress Janet Varney is one of the only female sheriffs on television.
And as Willard’s Mill’s last line of defense against evil, Barret is equipped with everything she needs to fight small-town crime and supernatural forces: the shiny star-shaped badge, the rusty fume-emitting squad car and—most importantly—the starchy polyester uniform.
“I have such sister compassion for women in uniform in life, principally, because now I know how incredibly uncomfortable those uniforms are on top of all the other things they’re dealing with that are far more important,” Varney told me during an interview at San Diego Comic-Con in July. “They are also often really hot. Just what the utility belt weighs … going to the bathroom is like, oh, you really have to need to, because it’s such a pain. Many of them wear two belts.”
Varney’s life as a poorly dressed TV cop has not only made her appreciate the real men and women in blue, but has forced her to closely examine the uniforms of other big- and small-screen crime-fighters, such as the threads of “Fargo” season three star Carrie Coon.
“With Carrie, did they just order a uniform, or did they design special pants that look like a uniform but more comfortable?” Varney wondered out loud. “That was the first thing I thought when I saw the sequel to ‘Jack Reacher.’ I was sitting on a plane, and Cobie [Smulders] came on the screen and was wearing her military fatigues. I leaned in so close to the TV and I was like, ‘That is Christian Lacroix. Those are beautifully tailored clothes that fit her body perfectly.’”
But there’s so much more to “Stan Against Evil” than functional, high-waisted brown slacks. Created by actor and comedian Dana Gould, the hilarious and legitimately creepy series follows Evie and former sheriff Stanley Miller (John C. McGinley) as they fight paranormal activity in a seemingly cursed New Hampshire town.
Let’s be honest, though—you’re all going to be checking out those pants.
“Or totally ignore the pants, because they’re so unflattering,” Varney quipped. “Just put your hand on the lower third of the screen the whole time. Or, better yet, just get a cut-out of Heidi Klum’s legs and put it on a little popsicle stick and follow me around with those legs for the entirety of the show.”
For more on the upcoming season of “Stan Against Evil,” which begins November 1 on IFC, check out the rest of my interview with Janet Varney below:
David Onda: What has surprised you most about the fans’ reaction to “Stan Against Evil”?
Janet Varney: I don’t feel like I’ve had surprises, because the reaction has been very, “Oh, we love these characters and we wanna know more about the town, more about the characters and their backstory and their relationships.” And that actually surprised Dana, because he was like, “I thought people would want … who cares about the characters? Here’s these fun, silly stories of jokes and genuine scares.” I think he sort of undersold himself and his own ability to have human emotions and create human characters that people would care about. We got so much feedback from people when our first eight episodes started to air. They love the “monster-of-the-week”-type thing, but I could have told him that people love Mulder and Scully’s backstories and the sort of long arc rather than just the one-offs. We do want the investment in the long-term these days as viewers. He was surprised by that, and I was like, “Dude, don’t be surprised. People love world-building. That’s what we’re all into right now.”
Onda: Does that change the way you play Evie Barett?
Varney: I don’t know that it changes the way I play her. What’s cool about the show is there’s real, genuine heart to it. Although there’s something initially incongruous about the fact that it’s the most absurd show I’ve ever been on, and also the most grounded and the most dynamic in terms of emotional relationships. It seems incongruous, but then you sort of realize that that’s what makes the other possible. “Oh, ok. This stuff can happen, but it stays interesting because of this stuff, and vice-versa.” It’s such a silly show in the same way “The Simpsons” is silly, which is great, right? My biggest compliment to something is to be like, “It’s so stupid,” and just keep laughing while I’m saying it. There’s so many moments like that because Dana’s a brilliant comedian. It stays entertaining and so fast-paced in that way, but because my character—and even truer of Johnny C., whose character is far larger and more cartoonish than mine—neither one of us feels like we’re working on a comedy. Our characters take everything seriously. Their reactions may be funny to other people, but it’s not wacky and kooky the same way other characters in other shows I do are. It’s fun to kind of walk away from the shoot and actually need to be reminded, “You know this a very wacky comedy you’re doing, right?” I’ll go home and be like, “Phew. A lot of heavy stuff Evie had to deal with today. Very emotional. It’s tough, man.” It’s really fun. It’s been a really different experience than anything I’ve ever worked on.
Onda: When looking back at the first season of “Stan Against Evil,” what are some of the moments that have defined Evie?
Varney: Strangely, the eighth episode, which is the final [season 1] episode where you kind of need to know what’s going on up to that point. That’s one of my favorite episodes, because it has this “Groundhog Day” element to it. That’s a really fun concept that’s been around forever, and obviously “Groundhog Day” did it so well that now we call it a “‘Groundhog Day’ thing.” It’s been in existence for so much longer than that, but that’s the highest compliment you could pay that device: “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day’!” It’s called “Level Boss,” because Dana associates it with video games, where you make a certain mistake and you die and you have to start back at the beginning of that level until you continue to do things right so you can move forward. That’s sort of how that episode is structured. I really like that one, and that’s a really good example of crazy s**t happening, but also being a legitimate struggle and ending very dramatically with Evie trapped in the 1600s.
Onda: What are you most excited about in the second season of “Stan Against Evil”?
Varney: I love the guest stars that we got this season. They are rad. Steven Ogg, from “Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul” and “Westworld,” does a great episode where he may or may not be a were-pony. Part pony, part man, but also were-pony. If I had access to some of the backstage footage of him being involved in the pulling of his own pony tail through his own jeans … people were crying, they were laughing so hard. I hope there’s a blooper reel that somehow we can leak to people. Patty McCormack, who was an Oscar nominee as a child for “The Bad Seed,” is Hollywood royalty. She came on and I just want to be her. That’s it. I just want to be Patty McCormack. I want to spend every year aging the way she has. She’s just glorious, and what a pleasure to work with. Dave Koechner plays my ex-husband, so we see who Grace’s dad is this season. He’s perfect. I’m only disappointed for Evie, because you do have that reaction like, “Really? Him? Evie, don’t make me lose respect for you. What has happened here?” He’s so funny in it. There are a couple others. There’s a lot of crossover faces from other stuff in fandom.
Onda: How does Evie grow in this upcoming season?
Varney: The stakes are raised for [Evie and Stan] with our personal relationship. Through the mechanics of this second season’s arc, and the fact that he has to figure out a way to rescue Evie from several hundred years ago, he posits the idea that he could use that same device to change history and bring his wife back. But that would change everything. He’s keeping a secret from Evie, she’s trying to figure out what’s going on, and then everything kind of comes to a head and they’re really tested on a super-deep level. And, again, this is happening on a show where I walk away going, “I guess I love acting,” which I kind of forget about when I’m just horsing around. But I don’t have the same relationship to it that I did when I was learning Shakespeare in college. This last season, I had a couple of young girl moments where I walked away feeling this reinvigorated love for the work. And I say that as somebody who’s had a lot of actor shame, as someone who’s like, “I’m an actor. Don’t judge me.” And because I produce a comedy festival, and because I write and all of that stuff, I’ve seen the relationship that actors can create in a bad way sometimes with the rest of the people they work with. I just want to be a good representation of, “Actors are great! They’re not what some people might think they are.” This year, I really thought, “I’m kind of proud to be an actor.” This is a weird moment. I don’t have to hide it any more. I feel even dumb saying it, but it’s the truth.
Onda: I’ve literally never thought of that before. I didn’t know “actor shame” was a thing.
Varney: Both my parents were high school teachers, and they were beloved high school teachers, so I constantly meet people through my dad’s life where they’d be like, “Your dad changed my life. He’s the reason I became a lawyer. He’s the reason I started writing. He’s the only reason I stayed in school.” He’s like the “O Captain! My Captain!” teacher. I think, for me, anything I do in this business that has some sort of impact that feels positive—like “Legend of Korra.” Even doing “Burning Love” and having people say, “Thanks for playing a gay person who wasn’t a huge cliché.” Any of that feels like, “Ok, good. I’ve had a positive social impact. I’m not just horsing around.”
“Stan Against Evil” returns to IFC on November 1 at 10 p.m. ET. Click here to set your DVR.