While many horror fans know her as Evie Barret from Stan Against Evil, Janet Varney will channel the heyday of ’50s sci-fi this weekend when she plays the role of Paula Trent in the live stage reading of Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ahead of the live reading at Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival tonight at the Tarrytown Music Hall, Daily Dead caught up with Varney to discuss reteaming with Stan Against Evil showrunner Dana Gould for the live performance, and she also reflected on her role as Evie Barret and talked about playing a psychic version of herself on Fortune Rookie.
For starters, how did you get involved with this live reading of Plan 9 From Outer Space? Was it Dana [Gould] that reached out to you, or had you done this before?
Janet Varney: It was definitely all Dana. Yeah, he and I both, as well as many, many other people, just have such a love of that movie. I'm sure you agree, there's something so special about how bad it is, but how great it is. I'm not a person who wants to go see The Room every Saturday night at midnight. I know that's another favorite of many people. But for me, this movie is kind of the quintessential movie. I can't think of another movie this weird and this clumsy and clunky and weirdly written that still manages to just be adorable every time I see it. Every time we read it, I just never get tired of the absurdities there, and I love that you can still feel Ed Wood's passion coming through, even in the stuff that you're just like, "What was he thinking? What does this even mean?" It's just really special that way.
So when Dana said, "Hey, I'm thinking about doing that. I want to do a live read, but I want to inject some of my own perspective and I want to inject some of my own kind of meta type conversation about it." I was like, "I love everything you're saying. I don't even know what you're saying yet, but I love what I'm hearing."
When you have followed someone's career and you have loved their work on things like The Simpsons, and by then we probably already started doing Stan [Against Evil]. I knew it was going to be great, and so there was no hesitation on my part when he asked me to be a part of it. I wasn't prepared for just how funny and crazy what he added to it would be, but it's this whole narration that's just spectacular. It's exactly the kind of the conversation that you would want to have. It does have a very MST3K feel. It's just a lot of observations that you're like, "Oh my God, that was so beautifully put." Like, "You've so beautifully captured how absurd this scene is without completely taking what's lovely about it out," if that makes sense.
No, it totally does. Just watching the movie, I can see how well it would translate to a live stage reading. It's such an organic transition. Have you done a lot of reading with the group for this? Because I know Dana had said they've done this before, but this will be the first time bringing it to Sleepy Hollow.
Janet Varney: Yeah, I've been lucky enough to be a part of each one. I've done it all the times that we've done it. There's nothing about it that becomes tiring. I laugh as hard every time. I'm always so excited to see what weird new thing someone will do who hasn't done it with us before, what they'll bring to their interpretation of these ridiculous characters.
Yeah, because you just want to laugh along with everyone else. Do you practice this beforehand, or do you just kind of all get together and go through the script? Is there any kind of rehearsal process?
Janet Varney: Not really. I think Dana just has faith that he's assembled a group of people who are—again, I'm sort of drawing conclusions here and perhaps putting words in his mouth, but I think for as much as we're all just a bunch of children, he thinks that we're grown-ups enough that we'll show up and do what's required of us and be good at it and be funny, and he knows how busy everybody always is, so there isn't a whole lot of rehearsal. It's really more just like him wanting to make sure that he has set it up so that the script notes make sense and that the parts are already highlighted so that somebody who is funny and great, as busy as they may be, can just show up, be handed a binder with a script in it, and go to town.
And I think that would actually benefit the performances, because you're kind of experiencing it for the first time, at least in a while with everyone else, so then it gets that reaction that the audience is probably having at the same time. Do you get any chance to do any improv in there?
Janet Varney: Yeah, there definitely is. I think it's inevitable that someone misses a line. I remember when we did it in San Francisco, I think the year before last, one of the times that we did it at Sketchfest, I was wearing a dress and my dress, it had some sort of lace or some kind of crochet or something going on and it got caught in my binder. You sort of stay in the background seated until it's your time to go up to the mic and do your scenes with your teammates, and so I stood up and it became very clear immediately that I couldn't detach my binder from my dress.
And so while I was doing this scene, I think there was some light improv happening, while Scott Adsit frantically got down on his knees because it was the bottom of my skirt, which was like a knee-length dress, and was in front of the audience as I am standing dead center of the stage, he was trying frantically to unsnarl my dress, which became a whole bit unto itself because Scott is an amazing improviser. He's so damn funny that it turned into like a clowning act. It was like, "Oh, now we're French clowns because this thing has happened and instead of hiding it away, we're putting it front and center."
I think everybody who does the show is sort of game for that and is ready for that kind of thing at all times. There isn't going to be somebody who necessarily something happens that's unexpected—it's not like we would all wander off for five minutes and tell some other story, but I don't think we have anybody who would rap their finger on the page and be like, "It doesn't say that." So everybody's kind of ready to play.
Who do you play in the live reading?
Janet Varney: I play the sort of main gal, Paula Trench, which I can't believe I'm forgetting her character's name right now. Yes, yes, and just had a lot of stating the obvious or sort of saying that... She has a lot of lines that are very unfemininist, so I try to inject a little irony into those as I'm saying them. Yeah, it's a blast.
This kind of feels like a Stan Against Evil reunion because you're working with Jeffrey Combs and Scott Adsit and all these people that guest starred on Stan Against Evil, so it almost feels like Dana's getting the band back together. And then on top of that, you're going to Sleepy Hollow, and it's almost the 200th anniversary of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" story being published. Have you been to Sleepy Hollow before?
Janet Varney: No, I haven't and I'm so excited. I'm so excited to go. I was really, really excited when this opportunity came up and Dana reached out because I haven't. And I'm not a fool, I know what October in New York and the Northeastern United States is like. It's beautiful and it's seasonal and I just think it's going to be so much fun.
Being a big Stan Against Evil fan, I have to ask about where season 3 left off.
Janet Varney: I just love those characters so much and I love the world that we were building. I mean, as with any job, you feel so lucky to have been able to do it in the first place. On one hand, we're just so grateful and so blown away that we got to make this extremely niche, strange, funny, wonderful show for three seasons. And then on the other hand, there is a real sense of, "Oh god," we all sort of felt like we were hitting our stride with season 3 because it is such a peculiar story and there's just so many things going on in it. There are people who talk about it like The Office really hitting its stride in seasons 4 and 5 and then kind of continuing on.
When you have shows like that and Seinfeld and other shows where you really feel like they've had the chance to develop the characters to a certain point and then sort of break the whole thing wide open, I think that's where we got to in season 3 and had we been able to make more, it just would've gotten better and better, so that's hard. Maybe one day, television being as weird and Wild West as it is right now it seems, maybe we'll get to do more, but for the meantime, I guess we have to sort of tuck that feeling away and just focus on being so proud of what we did do.
Before I let you go, I know you have some other stuff that you have going on. One thing that I'm really curious about is you're playing this version of yourself in Fortune Rookie, which I think is really fascinating. That's another IFC project too. Did you always have a fascination with tarot card reading and fortune tellers, and what made you want to become this fortune teller version of yourself?
Janet Varney: It's not like I've grown up going to see psychics or putting a whole lot of stock in a tarot card reading that someone might do at a party or whatever. But I've always been somebody who wanted—it's very Fox Mulder, but I wanted to believe. I just needed someone to give me evidence enough to keep my faith alive and that never materialized, so I'm one of those resentful paranormal lovers.
I actually did see a psychic here in Los Angeles after a friend of mine had what she deemed to be this very extraordinary kind of goosebump-inducing experience and I was like, "Well, if ever there's a time to test this out, it's now." And so I saw him and what came out of it was I became more fascinated by the idea that somebody that you've never met before with for the most part extremely questionable credentials, air quotes, tells you something that's going to happen to you and then you take it so seriously that you start trying to manifest that thing.
I just think that it is so strange and kind of creepy and amazing that you walk in and someone you don't know looks at you and says, "You're going to marry someone whose first name begins with an R." If you take that seriously, you might need somebody who's really great for you and you actually turn your back on that because you're convinced that you have to have find someone with an "R." That is some serious future tampering.
I just find that so interesting, and so I have long wanted to do something with the idea of psychics and Los Angeles, because the two of them kind of go together like peanut butter and chocolate. It's not a coincidence that Scientology is based here. There's a lot of really bright, really creative, really emotional, really insecure people who are trying to identify something that feels like it's foundational, right? Something you can hold on to because there's so many strange elements of the job and there's a lot of heartbreak in it. We really wanted to play with that, and so I do kind of play a more jerk version of myself.
But this idea that some random person I don't know tells me that they're a psychic in a bathroom and then tells me that I too am a psychic and that's all it takes for me to quit show business to become a psychic, because I think that's going to be easier somehow? That's a road that I go down, and so we get to explore all these different, weird Portlandia-esque people that are side gigging left and right, and we invent the Airbrb app where we're renting out their homes just for naps and using the bathroom and using the phone. These ideas of like, "Well, how am I going to scrimp and save and make ends meet in this crazy city of dreams?"
And then we have this through line, which is very meta, which is James Roday from Psych finds out that I have become a psychic and is immediately resentful because he feels like I'm somehow stealing his mojo, so he starts stalking me. It's very complicated, but it's really fun. It's really fun.
That is brilliant. Will there be future episodes of that or is that something you're working on?
Janet Varney: I hope so. Yeah, I've been so busy. Actually, my writing partners for different projects, Brandon Reynolds and Ryan Copple, we sold a different show to IFC, so we've been writing that show, which is about jury duty. Hopefully we'll make it onto the air, but right now we've just been loving building these characters. So, my hope is that when we get to a place where we're in good shape of the various other projects we have going on, that we can turn some focus back to Fortune Rookie and hopefully do a season two.
Well, I would love to see John C. McGinley on jury duty. I can only imagine what that would be like. Is there anything else that you have coming up that you'd like to share with our readers or anything that you can talk about that's coming up?
Janet Varney: The two things that are sort of perennial at this point are my own podcast, The JV Club, which I have done almost 350 episodes on. I talk to people in many cases, more famous and successful and interesting than I, about their awkward teenage years. It's just something we can all relate to. It just humbles everyone. You really discover very quickly that it's a time in our lives where hopefully when we get some distance from it we are both more forgiving of ourselves and also we have a sense of humor about it. It's been a really great way for me to get to know a lot of really wonderful people without prying into their personal lives at present. If you haven't listened to it, anybody who's checking out this interview can go anywhere, start anywhere. There's nothing topical about it, so if you want to go back and start with the Christina Hendricks episode one from seven years ago or whatever. There's nothing about it that doesn't feel germane to life.
And then the other podcast that I do is called Voyage to the Stars, and it's an improvised comedy that takes place in outer space, where a bunch of misfits have ended up on an alien ship and are trying to find their way home to Earth after going through a wormhole. I play the AI of the alien ship, so I'm not human and it's not clear how much respect I actually have for the human race.
To learn more about Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival and the live stage reading of Plan 9 From Outer Space, visit:
[Photo credit: Above photo of Janet Varney courtesy of Dolly Avenue.]