Writing and creating strong female characters is kind of Emily Andras’s thing. Anyone who’s been a fan of an Andras project knows her characters and writing are infused with strength, humor, and depth. That’s why when IDW approached Andras with Wynonna Earp (a comic written and created by Beau Smith), it was as if fate had laid a hand.
“I loved the character of Wynonna. She was so witty and funny,” says Andras. “I liked that she was kind of a loose canon, she was a badass, she shot first and asked questions later. I thought that was a female character who we needed to see on television.”
Even more than that, though, the idea of making a supernatural western and upending the genre with a compelling sister relationship at the center was what struck Andras.
“There’s something about the western where traditionally…it’s very patriarchal,” says Andras. “You think about a lot of men running around with guns, there’s a certain brotherhood, a kind of one-upmanship. I was interested in flipping that on its head and making it all women running around, taking each other on, riding that line between good and evil, helping each other, at the same time maybe some of them being in contention, so the idea of sisters really appealed to me.”
With complex and compelling female heroes, a fresh tone, and some of this year’s most positive representation – in the form of a budding relationship between Waverly Earp and Nicole Haught (WayHaught) – Wynonna Earp is something special. Wanting to uncover what makes Wynonna Earp stand out in the current landscape of television, we spoke with Andras about female heroes, sisterly relationships, representation, and why genre is one of the best places to find “badass storytelling.”
How did you go about creating this world and Wynonna’s history for television, and what was different about the story in terms of the comics versus the show?
The comic was an absolute gift. It’s always challenging when you’re adapting from one medium to another, and I can’t say enough about Beau Smith. He’s such a gracious person and just so open-minded about the fact that we were going from one medium to another.
The biggest thing was we needed to build a bigger world for her and needed to back up where she was. In the comics, she’s already a very established agent in the Black Badge Division, she’s an older woman in her late 30’s who’s kicking ass and knows what she’s doing and is really confident, and is very assured of her role in the Black Badge Division.
What were the elements of Wynonna and Waverly Earp that you felt were really important to bring to life?
With Wynonna, it was really critical to me that she was a woman that we, as women, recognize. That sounds so basic and so simple, but I actually don’t think you see a lot of that on television. Someone who tries to be a good person but sometimes fails, maybe looks a certain way but has a lot of self-loathing and a lot of doubt, and someone who has suffered from a really dark past — someone to whom life has not necessarily been kind, and I wanted to give that character a second chance.
She is not necessarily a good person, she has not necessarily made the best choices, and she continues to struggle with her flaws. But at the same time, I didn’t just want to make her some dude’s idea of a broken woman. I wanted her to feel like a real person. The thing I like most about Wynonna is that she is such a mess, she has made so many mistakes, but she continues to try. She continues to try and fight even when she’s terrified, even when she knows she’s made a mistake. That felt like a real hero worth cheering for.
With Waverly, I love the idea of someone who has taken a completely different tack to protect herself. Wynonna’s weapons are humor and supposed cynicism and wit and kind of coldness — on the surface, at least — where Waverly has tried to kill with kindness. She’s always done the “right thing” and what she’s supposed to and she’s always smiling and she’s always nice. I love the idea that that isn’t necessarily who Waverly is deep down, and now, on-screen, we can explore who she really is.
But I also think Wynonna and Waverly not-so-secretly want, on some level, what the other one has. They’re envious of each other. Waverly very deliberately would like to be the heir, she would like to be the hero, she would like to be the one to break the curse, to restore the family name, whereas Wynonna would love to know what it’s like to be liked, to be adored, to not have to fight so hard and guard yourself so much and be despised, and to escape the “bad girl” label she’s been stuck with since she was a teenager.
That’s what makes the sister relationship so complicated but also so delicious. It’s not always one thing or another. You can love and hate someone at the same time, you can want to protect them and be angry at them and that’s what makes those two characters, especially together, feel so genuine.
To what degree was that relationship the foundation of the show?
It was 100 percent the foundation. That is the true romance of the show, for me. That relationship — having that one person in your life who you will fight for to the death, even if they drive you crazy, that person who, on some level, knows you and trusts you, despite everything — is 100 percent the foundation of the show.
Many of the most progressive and inclusive shows right now are genre shows. What is it like to write and create for that audience?
It’s amazing and I never want to leave…Wynonna is such a progressive, insane, imaginative show, it would be hard to go back to doing something more conventional, to be completely honest. I feel like I’ve been so spoiled by the fans and the storytelling. I really have to give the network credit. There was nothing I pitched them this year — from gender issues to sexuality issues to crazy creatures to gore to weird sex stuff — that they said, “That’s too far for us.”
Something that’s now becoming a well-known secret is that for years, genre has been at the forefront of progressive storytelling…Because it involves worlds that are extreme or not quite human, it’s actually the best forum to talk about what it is to be human, what it is to be a woman, what it is to be a man, what it is to be a family.
It speaks to the fact that genre audiences are intelligent. They’re sophisticated, they’re used to big concepts, big shifts in tone, philosophical things, and they’re good with pace. They’re not intimidated by complicated storytelling so there’s so much more room to really examine these interesting issues.
Speaking of progressive storytelling: Has the response to WayHaught surprised you, or was it something that you expected, to some degree?
I love the LGBT community. These are my girls. I showran Lost Girl for a long time, I know how passionate this fanbase is and how important it is for them to see themselves represented on television in a way that is really respectful, and frankly how rare that is…And honestly, once I saw the dailies of the very first scene where Nicole walks into Shorty’s, I knew we had something special. But I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been completely blown away by the response. I could not believe the response that Nicole Haught got in a two-minute scene.
Her name is Nicole Haught, which is pretty funny and pretty wink-y, but I feel like the character’s such a genuine person that I really was so delighted that people embraced the spirit in which it was delivered, which was romantic, interesting and not exploitative. I want you to cheer for this couple, I want you to feel like this feels like a real relationship we’re following, a real romance.
But I also had no idea — remember, this series had been shot in its entirety come January — so given the year that 2016 has been for that community, it’s taken on interesting meaning delivering WayHaught just because 2016 was such a complicated year for female characters and in particular for lesbian characters on television. So I think we’re seeing a lot of response in a more general sense to this last year of television and we arrived at a time when people wanted to just have a nice romance.
I think your dedication to positive and meaningful LGBTQ representation is evident in the way that this story was set up and came about — why was it important to you and what elements of this story did you feel were really important to nail?
It’s honestly always going to be important to me…100 percent that is a community that is not being represented on television in the same way that it does exist and flourish in society right now.
I liked the idea that Waverly was not 12 years old, I liked the idea that whatever is happening to her and wherever she’s going to fall on the LGBT spectrum, that she is in her early 20’s and I’m not sure it has ever occurred to her before that she might be gay or bi or what have you.
There were a couple of other things that were really important to me. I really wanted Nicole to just be a lesbian, full-stop, who just didn’t have a lot of angst about that. I like that Officer Haught knows exactly who she is and what she wants, but at the same time, she’s the furthest thing from predatory. She’s confident, but she’s not aggressive. She’s a lovely, good person who just happens to like girls and really likes being a cop.
One last thing that was important to me and was incredibly important to Dominique [Provost-Chalkley] and Kat [Barrell] is I wanted it to be a real relationship. I wanted it to feel respectful and earned. When you see straight couples on television, not every one of those relationships is the same, and the same is true of queer relationships. Not every lesbian relationship should feel the same. It’s about the people involved, the two women involved and who they are as people, and I feel like conflict and drama should come from who they are as characters.
In Episode 10, we get a hint that this world is a lot bigger than we originally thought. As we approach the end of Season 1 and in a hypothetical Season 2, is that something we’re going to explore?
I certainly hope so. If not this season, I sure hope we have the chance to do that next season. When you’re world-building with such a complicated mythology, we needed to centralize it, so we developed the idea of the 77 revenants of Wyatt Earp’s original outlaws. But in the comics, what makes them so joyful is that there’s this paranormal division fighting and battling all sorts of creatures and I love the idea of the Ghost River Triangle as an area that has a lot of weird, supernatural shit going down and maybe not all of it is bad.
So stay tuned — we definitely hint towards some really interesting revelations about the area as a whole. And yeah, give me a couple more years and I’ll give you some werewolves. Are you just asking for werewolves? Yes. Werewolves.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.