Meet Kathrine Barnes, a gifted and creative actress who co-stars in the much awaited BET+ sitcom “Average Joe” with Deon Cole, Tammy Townsend, Cynthia McWilliams, Malcolm Barrett, and others. As “Arina,” also known as “The Chameleon,” a former KGB assassin who came out of retirement to take on dangerous threats in Pasha Lychnikoff’s realm, Kathrine captivates viewers. This dark comedy, which is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, centres on Joe Washington (Deon Cole), a blue-collar plumber who becomes embroiled in a perilous web after learning about his father’s secret existence. Kathrine, a former dancer, has appeared in films and plays with credits including “Queer As Folk,” “Candy,” and “The Glorias,” among others.
Can you tell us a bit about your character, Arina, in the new series “Average Joe”? How would you describe her personality and background?
I could talk about Arina all day long. I love her. She’s a former assassin for Nicolai Dzhugashvili’s crime family, and we meet her again in the present where she’s working as an elementary school teacher in Atlanta, GA, 8 years after she lost her daughter. I think she’s got this innate weirdo energy that was probably stifled when she was young through ballet and KGB training in Russia, but it still comes out here and there. Oddly enough, I think it makes her both great with kids and an exceptional assassin. I think she’s doing this interesting, subconscious balancing act between nihilism, freedom, and a little bit of self-destructiveness. That being said, she’s always the smartest person in the room without question. Nonstop chess while everyone else is playing checkers energy. And there’s nothing she won’t do for the people she loves.
“Arina” is nicknamed “The Chameleon” and is a former KGB assassin and enforcer for the Russian mob. How did you prepare for such a complex and intense role?
The long version is filled with minutiae that I’m sure almost no one wants to hear, but the short version is I spent a lot of time working on her various languages and accents, I did hours of stunt training (and hours recovering from stunt training), I daydreamed constantly about her life and relationships, and I read the first half of Eat, Pray, Love. I know I’m late to the party (so was Arina, per the script), but I like that book so much more than I thought I would and I’m going to finish it someday. I swear.
What attracted you to the character of Arina and the overall storyline of “Average Joe”? What made you want to be a part of this project?
The fact that they offered it to me LOL. Seriously, I’ve been at a place in my career where I haven’t had much agency over the roles I play (other than the ability to say no), so it feels like a miracle that a part came up that I would have actively fought to audition for had I not been reading for the show already. People have been telling me I should play a Russian assassin since I was like, 14 years old. I’ve been a physical performer all my life, and I’ve always loved playing with language and accents. That serendipity, combined with some really juicy stuff Arina has to work through, the insanely talented ensemble and crew, AND getting paid to be there? Absolute no-brainer.
The series is described as a dark comedy. How does it balance the dark elements with comedic moments? Can you give us a glimpse into the tone and style of the show?
The first 5 episodes are out now and I think they do a great job right off the bat of balancing the levity with the intensity. I’m talking about the very first scene after the pilot’s cold open. The entire world of the show is like a punchline at your dad’s funeral, but the funeral is extra tragic and the punchline makes you laugh harder than you have in a while. In “Average Joe”, the humor isn’t there to let you off the hook from experiencing its intensity; it’s there to highlight the reality of what a rollercoaster life can be, and how loss is made all the more meaningful by joy.
“Average Joe” boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including Deon Cole, Tammy Townsend, Cynthia McWilliams, and Malcolm Barrett. What was it like working alongside such talented actors? Are any memorable moments from the set?
Those 4 actors are out of control, and so are Michael Trucco, Pasha Lychnikoff, Ashley Olivia Fisher, and Ashani Roberts. Every minute of working with them was memorable and valuable and made me a better performer, and I have dozens of spoiler-filled stories I can’t share just yet. But I remember my first day working with the American guys so vividly. I hadn’t really introduced myself yet because I was pretending to not be as starstruck by all of them as I was, so I was off on the periphery doing some sort of weird physicality without realizing it while chatting between takes because I’m a theatre kid and I’ve stopped trying to act like a normal person at work. I think Barrett caught it first and was like “What’s going on here what do you do what’s wrong with you?” (or something along those lines), and I turned beet-red and was like “Erm so I run an experimental movement theatre company and have no self-control” and they were like “aha, yeah that makes sense” and then immediately welcomed me into the ensemble. That camaraderie, support, and love never stopped.
As a recurring character in the series, what can viewers expect from Arina’s story arc? How does she fit into the larger narrative of the show?
You can expect the stakes to intensify, and quickly. We’ve had some Russians doing Nicolai’s bidding on the show up to this point, but none of them can hold a candle to Arina. She is notorious, she has superhuman skills, and she’s uniquely motivated. She is a very real and proximal threat to everyone in her path, and you’ll just have to keep watching to see who gets in her way.
The series is set in the world of Pasha Lychnikoff’s character. Can you tease any intriguing aspects or conflicts that viewers can look forward to?
I’d actually argue that, although my character is dragged into circumstances orchestrated by Pasha’s character (Nicolai), we’re both diving headfirst into Joe Washington’s world. His friends and family are the predominant players in the game Nicolai and Arina set up. We make and break the rules, but we’re on their turf, and that home-field advantage isn’t something to be underestimated. The thing is, you’re still dealing with ruthless Russian mobsters and an unstoppable mom on a mission. The game isn’t gonna be pretty.
“Average Joe” is set to premiere at the end of June 2023 on BET+. What do you hope viewers will take away from the show, and why should they tune in?
Like I said, we’ve got 5 episodes out right now and the audiences are INTO IT. At this point, I just want people to see what our amazing writers, directors, actors, and crew have cooked up. The show is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It does an amazing job balancing its polarities, keeping you guessing, horrifying and delighting you, and really making you think about whose side you’re on and why. I want people to leave these episodes imagining what life is like for our characters and having conversations about what they themselves might do in these circumstances. And I would like for people to think twice before they set a contemporary country song as their ringtone.
How has your experience working on “Average Joe” differed from your previous projects? Has it presented any unique challenges or opportunities for you as an actor?
I’ve talked a little bit about this before, but I had never been in more than 1 episode of anything in my career before I got this job, so the unique challenges were microscopic in comparison to the opportunities it presented. Mostly figuring out how to not be fired from my day job and the added weight of feeling more responsible than I ever had for peoples’ well-being if I were to get sick or not show up fully prepared. I finally got to learn what it felt like to be a consistently working actor, to make my living from my art, and to wake up every morning totally overjoyed to go to work. That’s the actual dream. And, on top of that, I got to spend 3 months really investing in the same character and working on so many different skills in a way I had never been able to do with an onscreen role before, while at the same time, I got to learn that sometimes you have 15 things other than your character to think about in order to get the job done. It was just as nourishing and thrilling as I always hoped it would be. Often more so.
Lastly, what are your future aspirations in the industry, and do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with your fans?
I aspire to all of it, baby. I want to act professionally until I drop dead onstage at age 125. I want to do big-budget ensemble films and small avant-garde arthouse pictures. I want to be a part of things onscreen that really unsettle audiences and that no one has ever seen before, and I want to do some work that is familiar and fun, and comforting. I want to work with and be in conversation with the greats. And I want to really feel like I’m exploring new depths of the craft until my very last day of work. The ambition knows no bounds. For now, this is my last interview before SAG-AFTRA officially goes on strike, so I will be picketing and rallying and being loud about the only acceptable way forward being one where my next job is covered under a theatrical contract that fairly supports creatives’ lives and futures because SAG-AFTRA, the WGA, and the AMPTP have come to dignified respective agreements. Thank you to my 7 fans for your support while that develops.