Janet Varney's 8 Movies & Shows that Keep the Surprises Comin'

janey varney

There is nothing predictable about Janet Varney. Sure, early-on, she had to endure roles like “(Unnamed) Party Girl” in Halle Berry’s 2004 romp as Catwoman. But this Tuscon native is better known for spoofing her gorgeousness in edgy TV satires like Burning Love (as WNBA coach Carly), You’re the Worst (boozy foil Becca) and IFC’s horror-comedy Stan Against Evil. Season three of the latter just started, with her smalltown sheriff Evie battling more scary spirits alongside fellow demon-buster John C. McGinley.

Then there’s Fortune Rookie, the new IFC.com web series in which Varney, as herself, gets so sick of acting she turns to reading palms (badly) for cash. SNL alum Fred Armisen and a hilarious James Roday of Psych make cameos.

Even back in high school, Varney—raised by her agnostic father and Mormon mother, who divorced when she was young—bristled against type. “I was absolutely not a cheerleader,” she says, laughing at the thought. “I went through a pretty hard-core Goth phase. I wore, like, dog collars and stuff.” Plus, the Kierkegaard ‘n’ Sex Pistols-loving rebel was, and remains, sexually “fluid.” Through it all, Varney—known to legions of parents for voicing as titular teen warrior Korra in the beloved animated hit The Legend of Korra—says she grew up in “happy and free” fashion.

Right now, the woman is happy but on a tight sked. Between wrangling comics for SF Sketchfest (the San Francisco comedy festival she cofounded), booking her weekly Maximum Fun podchat show (past guests include Sarah Silverman and Christina Hendricks) and poking fun Mystery Science Theater 3000-style at campy flicks like Footloose at live events, it’s a shock Varney found time to for a chat. Is she the proverbial Type A? “Oh, my God, no! I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV.” Here are some of her favorite titles she loves for, yes, their unpredictability:

Adaptation (2002)
Good luck nutshelling director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman’s this follow-up to their equally trippy cult classic Being John Malkovich, Random ingredients: A depressed screenwriter (Nicolas Cage as Kaufman), an orchid thief, a famous investigative writer (Meryl Streep), romance, murder, a weird new drug and a deadly alligator. Suffice it to let Varney say: “This is movie making I didn’t know was there.”

Casting JonBenet (2017)
A documentary with a brow-raising twist: Director Kitty Green tells amateur actors in Colorado she’s making a movie about the unsolved murder of famed local JonBenet Ramsey, has them reenact portions of the case, then asks them who they think is the killer. “The movie’s so artful and strange and mixes so many genres and perspectives.” Adds Varney: “That American tragedy was dragged through the trash, but here it’s deconstructed by an outsider in a really thoughtful way.”

Harold and Maude (1971)
Director Hal Ashby’s lingering black comedy about an unlikely romance between a young man (Bud Cort) and a 79-year-old livewire (Ruth Gordon) is “definitely one of my all-time favorites. When I first saw it, I remember thinking, What am I watching? This is so exciting!” Ashby and another favorite director, Robert Altman, “really broke film’s format and put it back together in a new way.”

Night of the Comet (1984)
This cheeky apocalyptic tale—a comet devastates Earth, leaving a ragtag group of survivors, including several tough women, to fend-off zombies—made millions off a $700,000 budget. “I was really young when I saw it, and I was blown away. It’s such a great, goofy world-builder. I remember thinking, Wow, movies can be cool.” Note: Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman have both credited Comet for influencing their work.

Notting Hill (1999)
The fairytale romcom following the romance between a divorced British book store owner (Hugh Grant) and an American movie star (Julia Roberts) keeps delighting Varney. “I just watched it the other day again with a friend. It’s so clever and charming it is. I kept saying, ‘Look at the writing, isn’t it great?’ I hope I didn’t ruin it for them!”

Soapdish (1991)
This Tootsie-esque showbiz satire, with Sally Field as fading daytime soap opera star Celeste Talbert and Robert Downey, Jr. as her scuzzball producer out to replace her with his secret squeeze, deserves more acclaim, says Varney. “Do not call it a guilty pleasure. It is a great movie. I absolutely love it. It’s so clever and funny.” Kevin Kline, Cathy Moriarty, Elisabeth Shue, Carrie Fisher and Whoopi Goldberg also star in this screwball gem.

Scott & Bailey (2011-16)
Cagney and Lacey, you have been usurped! In this Brit procedural, “awesome” female police detectives Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) and Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) juggle tricky crime cases with dishy personal drama over 33 episodes. “What’s surprising about this show is that the fact that the heroes are women is incidental. They’re strong, they’re vulnerable and humanly not perfect. I’ll say to the screen sometimes, ‘I can’t believe you did that!’”

Twin Peaks (1990-91)
“I was obsessed with the original in high school. So many twists and turns and huuuhs?” Speaking obsessions, “I had pictures of Sherilyn Fenn in my locker!

Download the Caavo TV & Movie Guides mobile app to add Janet's selections to your own what-to-watchlist today.


By John Griffiths

Photos courtesy of Sechel PR