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‘The Legend of Korra’ Star Janet Varney on Voicing The New Avatar [Interview]

Just a few episodes into its inaugural season, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel, The Legend of Korra, is already standing tall as both a critical and commercial success, drawing a diverse audience several million strong each week on Nickelodeon. Set in a bustling city 70 years after the events of The Last Airbender, the series follows the headstrong Korra as she trains to become the next Avatar by studying airbending with Aang’s son Tenzin, competing in professional bending sports and fighting the criminal activities of the masked anti-bending revolutionary Amon. ComicsAlliance got in touch with Korra voice actress Janet Varney to get her take on what makes the show so special and what kind of work goes into bringing the character to life. Read the full interview after the jump.
ComicsAlliance: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got selected to voice Korra?

Janet Varney: I would love to be able to say that I was just minding my own business, puttering away in my backyard when a hummingbird buzzed over my head and dropped a tiny magic ball that opened up when it dropped into my hand, revealing a tiny scroll, that unfurled with the offer to play Korra written on it in silver calligraphy. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

… But really I just went through a normal audition process. Went in and read for it at Nickelodeon, got called back once or maybe even twice, including chemistry reads with a couple of actors up for Bolin and Mako, and in the end, PJ, David and I were the incredibly lucky ones to get our roles. Heaven!

CA: How familiar were you with the Avatar: The Last Airbender world before you started working on the show?

JV: I had been watching it on DVD, catching up on episodes– with no idea that they were doing a new series– when I got the audition for Korra. I wanted to get the part so much, I had to stop watching the first series during that process because it made me too nervous!

CA: The Legend of Korra cast records as a group, rather than separately, in most cases. Can you pinpoint any studio experiences that you think translated especially well in in this environment that may not have been possible otherwise?

JV: Hmmm… it’s hard to think of a specific time or incident, because it’s ALWAYS so great to have actors to play off of. I mean, I can definitely say that anytime there are scenes with PJ, David and I, it’s always miles better when we’re together, because we can riff off of each other and even see each other in the booth, so that we can direct our lines to a real person. It helps so much with the comradery between the three of us.

CA: Korra is a very physical character and calls for a lot of corresponding sounds during bending/fighting scenes. How “method” do you have to get for scenes that, for example, require you to sound out of breath?

JV: Oh, I completely jump up and down and move around and stuff. I’m sure it’s very amusing to anyone who’s watching me.

CA: The Legend of Korra has gotten some well-deserved attention for getting an equally positive reaction from a balance of both male and female viewers despite action-oriented animated series often starring male protagonists. What do you think it is about Korra that’s resonated so well with such a diverse fan base?

JV: I think Michael and Bryan have taken such great care to create a character that illustrates the point (pun intended) that great storytelling and great characters will appeal to everyone and that gender can have very little to do with it. Korra’s humanity – that is, her faults, foiblles, struggles… anybody can identify with that. And who among us wouldn’t love to be able to bend fire, air, water and earth? :)

CA: Do you think the broader entertainment industry might learn any lessons from Korra’s success?

JV: I think we’re seeing that already. Not necessarily because of Korra — obviously we’ve just recently premiered — but the timing of other really strong female characters out there in quality entertainment right now is a lovely indicator of where we are with that.

CA: How would you say you and Korra are the most alike personality/interests-wise? Alternately, what do you think your biggest differences are?

JV: Well, OBVIOUSLY I’m ALSO from a small tribe of waterbenders. Seriously, though, I share Korra’s impatience and enthusiasm about a lot of stuff. I also like to think -and hope I’m right!- that I have great, loyal friendships and that I’m very concerned about right and wrong in the world. And then as far as our differences… well, she’s just 100 times cooler than I will ever be.

CA: If you were a bender, which element do you think you’d control and why?

JV: It’s funny- the thing I know most is that I would, just like Korra, be the worst at airbending. For exactly the same reasons she struggles with it. Maybe I’d be a firebender. I always had a pretty serious fascination with fire. Luckily I’m not an arsonist!


CA: Korra has become a popular character among cosplayers since her debut. Have you ever felt inspired to rock some Korra fashions?

JV: I leave that to the experts. I’m too afraid everyone would be like “Oh, Janet. No. No, no, no. You got it all wrong. You look ridiculous.” Those cosplayers always amaze and delight me! Having said that, if someone came out with a line of Korra clothing, I would TOTALLY work it into my wardrobe, a piece here and a piece there.

CA: Korra is super close with her polar bear-dog Naga. Do you have any pets? If so, do you think they’d make useful spirit animals?

JV: I have two pets – a dog and a cat. And my dog Scott completely reminds me of Naga! My cat Lucca is also actually very dog-like. They also both love each other, so there’s a ton of precious animal moments happening at my house on a regular basis. I’m including a photo just so you can see what I mean.

And they DO make useful spirit animals — in that they make my house a home.

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