Wynonna Earp: Zoie Palmer on Jolene’s Return to Purgatory

Despite the fact that many Wynonna Earp fans have said they’d love to see a return of Zoie Palmer’s Jolene to Purgatory, we’re guessing not many saw that return coming during last week’s episode. In “Life Turned Her That Way,” written by Noelle Carbone and directed by Jem Garrard, Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) got trapped in the dangerous fog surrounding the Ghost River Triangle. She then found refuge in a cabin that turned out to not be so safe after all. Jolene, having been freed after Bulshar’s demise, had been hanging out in the cabin and was excitedly ready and willing to help Waverly’s descent to become a demon herself. 

Palmer, who recently finished shooting on Season 3 of the CTV/Hulu comedy series JANN, spoke with The TV Junkies about Jolene’s return. She shared the emotional toll it takes on her as an actress to go to all the dark places required for portraying Jolene, and what it was like working with Provost-Chalkley in some of the series’ most intense scenes. In addition, given that Jolene serves as a representation of the battles we all may face with mental health and depression, Palmer also shared what fans’ response has been like to the character since her first appearance back in Season 3.

The TV Junkies: I think a ton of Earpers are going to be absolutely shocked to see that Jolene returned. What did you think when you heard they wanted you back for Round 2 of this character?

Zoie Palmer: It’s a funny thing because she’s such an intense character. The place I have to go to get access to her is a challenge, for sure. I think it’s a challenge for Dom as well. That journey has been fascinating because there’s so much that’s just Dom and I. We’re always holed up in some type of place together. When you’re filming you’re in that for hours and hours and hours. It was just Dom and I for hours going at each other. It was very reminiscent of the first time, in so far as the dynamic, intensity, and being in a tiny space for a long time. It’s an incredible experience as an actor. 

Dom and I feel quite safe with one another, and you need that trust to be able to play this kind of thing with another actor. I have to come at her so hard that if there wasn’t a sense of comfort and trust between us, that’d be difficult. The Wynonna Earp set is such a lovely, beautiful set full of kind, genuine people. I immediately felt at home when I stepped back on. It’s quite a ride, that character. 

TTVJ: After being in such an intense place for hours on end playing this character, how do you go home at the end of the day and leave that behind?

ZP: Well, you’re just depleted. Both of us, at the end of the day, were just depleted. You’re doing take after take after take and going full-tilt so by the end of the day you’re like, ‘what just happened?’ We always have a big hug at the end like ‘we did it!’ The irony about it, despite what it looks like on screen, is that Dom and I go through this together as actors. Waverly and Jolene are in their place, but Zoie and Dom are in their place trying to navigate this together. It feels like a bit of a dance, and we’re both trying to really be open and connected in the way we need to be for the scene to work.

TTVJ: Did you give them a hard time though for making you shout in each other’s faces in the middle of a pandemic?

ZP: Obviously that was talked about because we’re all over each other at one point. We are tested like crazy, though. I just finished shooting JANN and it’s the same way, you’re tested regularly, kept in zones, and you’re only interacting with certain people. The masks are on until you’re rolling and put right back on at “cut!” Yes, we were all over each other, but we were tested like crazy in order to do a scene like that.

TTVJ: I assumed that all safety precautions were taken and testing had happened, but you can’t help but think that when you guys are screaming inches from each other’s faces. [laughs] 

ZP: Of course, you can’t not think about it. We did too, but they were very much on top of that.

TTVJ: While you have to feel safe with Dom in these scenes, I know the director is also there as well. Jem Garrard directed this episode and this block of episodes were their first time directing on Wynonna Earp. What was it like working with them to bring alive this second coming of Jolene?

ZP: Incredible! There was such a levity on set, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect in that scene. I think it’s so important when you’re doing a scene that is that intense that there is a bit of levity from the director. They’re coming at it in not always the same dire energy that we have to bring into the scene, and Jem did that in spades. We hit it off instantly.

TTVJ: This episode was written by your friend, Noelle Carbone. What did you think when you found out she’d be writing the episode with your return?

ZP: I was nothing but completely excited. She was being her humble self and was scared for me to read it, but she’s just extremely talented and getting nominated for awards right and left. I know her personally and have always been a fan of her work. So the minute I knew she’d be writing this script I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it. Shelley [Scarrow] did such a beautiful job with Jolene the first time, and I was excited to see where Noelle would take it. Shelley is also a beautiful writer. For me personally, I was thrilled Noelle was going to be writing it.

TTVJ: For as much as a potential Jolene return was talked about by fans, I honestly always questioned whether or not bringing her back would be the right move. I didn’t know how I could see her really coming back after everything Waverly went through the first time, but one should never doubt these Wynonna writers. How they brought about her return was perfect and really moved things forward.

ZP: That’s the thing, right? She could have just been gone, and I think Noelle and Emily [Andras] wanted to make sure that if she was brought back there was a reason. And it wasn’t just to do the same exact thing that we’ve seen. It was important that there was some growth to that character and dynamic and it wouldn’t be something that we were expecting. I think Noelle pulled that off beautifully.

TTVJ: I am curious how Jolene was able to dye her hair blonde and get a navel piercing. [laughs]

ZP: I was shooting JANN and am blonde there when this came up. They could have wigged me I suppose, but because Jolene is who she is, it’s not crazy that she has some interest in reinventing herself. I almost wonder if her hair doesn’t just naturally change colors by itself. She has such an energy in her where I’m not sure she’s in a salon getting her hair dyed. I think it just kind of happens. 

The navel ring? I have no comment. [laughs] I got my navel pierced when I was 16 years old. I went with a friend to get her navel pierced. I was just going for support and had no intention of getting pierced. We got there and she got scared and said she couldn’t do it. I said, ‘Come on! Just do it!’ She was in full panic so I said, ‘Listen, I’ll do it. Then if it goes OK for me, you can see it’s fine and you do it.’ So I got up there, got mine done, and then she jumped up there and got hers done. I don’t think she has hers anymore. 

Some characters I think to have it in and sometimes I don’t. I think there was a scene in Lost Girl where I accidentally forgot to take it out one time. I never take it out on my own time, but no one sees it. I’m not running around in crop tops, right? But it’s been in there since I was 16 years old, and I don’t even have an opinion about it, but it’s been there so long that I feel weird about taking it out. So Jolene got to be a navel-ringed demon. There you go!

TTVJ: That’s nice. It represents a time that you were a good, supportive friend.

ZP: At least there’s a story to it! [laughs] It was high school at lunch and we ran quickly to the place during lunch, got our navels pierced, and that was that. Here I am all these years later, but I could never walk around in a crop top and navel ring now. It’s ridiculous that I have it. I know that. 

TTVJ: Who do you think would win in a battle of Jolene vs. your Lost Girl character Dr. Lauren Lewis? Does the crazy demon come out ahead of the science and smarts?

ZP: I think it’d look like Jolene would win and then, Lauren would come up with an idea that figures out her achilles heel. Lauren did all sorts of things to The Morrigan (Emmanuelle Vaugier), remember? I think Lauren’s brain certainly exceeds mine and she’d come up with a really unusual, creative way of taking Jolene out. It’d be difficult because Jolene is smart too, but her need and drive is so strong that it takes her smarts out. Lauren can stay clinical even when she’s emotional.

TTVJ: “Jolene” is a pretty important episode for a lot of Wynonna Earp fans because of the fact that it deals with mental health and depression. What’s the response from fans been like to you since that episode aired?

ZP: It took me completely by surprise. You never know how an audience will respond to anything and I just assumed the response would be ‘we hate Jolene.’ I think they do, but there’s an understanding that it’s a representation of something. I don’t know that Dom and I went in with the idea of it representing that, but you can’t miss it once you see it. For me, anything that gets at a topic that’s often buried because of shame is something I have a big interest in unearthing. I don’t think shame belongs almost anywhere. It’s poisonous. Anything that gets shoved down and not talked about can only ever get worse. It never gets better from that place. 

This episode has brought that to light a bit more. Nothing but good can come of that. A lot of people really feel alone and depression is a very isolating illness. This has allowed people to say ‘I feel like that too,’ and feel like it’s OK to say and talk about it. It’s beautiful. 

The character that I play is awful in a lot of ways, but I have to play her from a place of empathy. I can’t play a character that I hate so I had to find why her need was so strong to matter.

TTVJ: Mental health issues or depression certainly isn’t something you defeat one time and then you’re done forever dealing with it. It’s a constant battle. So it made total sense that Waverly would have to face down Jolene again. 

ZP: All of us have a version of Jolene in our lives telling us that we’re not good enough, we don’t matter, and no one would care if we weren’t around. We have that voice and story we tell ourselves so any way we can keep bringing that up, in a way that makes people feel safe to talk about, then I’m all for — even if I have to be the Jolene! 

TTVJ: Well, you really went for it! So much of what Jolene says in this episode is just TERRIBLE. But you really went all in and the performance was amazing.

ZP: Thank you. It was so important to me to make her real and three-dimensional. Noelle gave me so much. It was all there for me and I just had to fill it up. She did such a beautiful job that my job was to give back to her what she gave me. She would get the dailies and if she was nervous to give me the script, I was 100% nervous to give back my performance. I care about her so much as a friend, and have so much respect for her as a writer, that I felt vulnerable. She’d have an idea in her mind of what she’s looking for, we talked about it beforehand, and she gave me no end of time filling me in on how she saw it in her head. So I felt a lot of pressure from myself, never from her, to deliver something that represented what she was trying to write. 

TTVJ: You just wrapped shooting Season 3 of JANN. Is there anything you can preview about what’s to come in that season?

ZP: We really get into some of the family dynamics that we left off on. My character finds out that she and Jann don’t have the same dad, and I made a fool of myself meeting him for the first time last season. We revisit that storyline a little bit. I think they really have taken every character and pushed their storyline. The arc of Cale (Elena Juatco) is brilliant this season and you’ll see a side of her that no one expected. Elena is such a talented actor and is really being given this season to show some stuff. It’s really cool.

Wynonna Earp airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi.