clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Legend of Korra actor Janet Varney reflects on everything she grappled with in playing the Avatar

Korra could never be Aang, and it’s easy to forget it

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

The Avatar series is more sprawling and accessible than ever. When Avatar: The Last Airbender ran on Nickelodeon in the mid-2000s, it played out episode to episode, season to season, and in a vacuum of social media commentary. The Legend of Korra premiered when Airbender was a legitimate young-adult phenomenon, yet challenged every preconceived notion of what the Avatar universe could be, taking full advantage of a few years of downtime.

But now, in the year 2021, a newcomer could experience every ounce of Avatar storytelling — from the shows to the comics and the spinoff books — in a month. Or someone could start with Korra and go back to Last Airbender like it’s a prequel. Anything is possible, and everyone will have a different read on how it plays off itself. But in conceiving Korra, Janet Varney, who lent her voice the character, could only start at the beginning, and empathize with the emotions of the moment.

In an conversation included in The Ultimate Aang and Korra Blu-ray Collection, a new bundle that packages Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra together for the first time, Varney talks to her Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast cohost Dante Basco (the voice of Zuko) about the dimensions of Korra that became essential to bringing her to life across four seasons. For anyone who binged the series for the first time when it popped up on Netflix last year, it might be easy to overlook Korra’s character details or underestimate the struggles she faces. But for Varney, they provided the grounded character traits that allowed her to process Korra as a person.

“We have this Avatar who is the polar opposite of Aang,” she says in the exclusive video clip above. “She is a horrible airbender, and all of the things about her personality that go with not knowing how to airbend.”

Even at the time, it was difficult for some fans to empathize with Korra as she faced, arguably, even more challenging ordeals than her predecessor, Aang. But Varney hits on one important detail that’s really only emphasized in one early scene in the series: “She found out she was the Avatar very young.”

Watch the full clip above, and find the full segment in The Ultimate Aang and Korra Blu-ray Collection, arriving on Dec. 7.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon