2013 LA Film Fest Interview
Jun 19, 2013
Photography by Jennifer Nies Web Exclusive
For a scene in the romantic road-trip comedy, Forev, Noël Wells re-enacted her second audition ever as an actress, one that she jokingly describes as traumatizing. The audition was for a Hebrew National franks commercial and called for an "all-American" girl to take a bite of a hot dog and savor it. Wells remembers: "I was like, 'I'm going to book this! I'm all-American.' I was so convinced." The audition required each actress to take bites of hot dog buns with nothing in them. "If you've ever taken a bite of a hot dog bun without anything in it, it's so dry," Wells explains. "You can't even chew it. So I was struggling to act like I was really enjoying this hot dog. It lasted for 30 seconds. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. And when they said, "OK cut, you can spit it out in the trash can," when I went to spit it out, [the can] was filled with hot-chewed buns and people's dreams just in the trash."
Wells' character in Forev, Sophie, dejectedly returns home from such an audition and seeks comfort from her apartment neighbor, Pete (Matt Mider), a casual friend. Both feel that their lives have stalled. When Pete halfheartedly proposes that they get married, Sophie agrees, but neither of them knows if the other is being genuine. The idea of marriage and its benefits gains traction as she joins him on a drive to Phoenix to pick up his sister, Jess (Amanda Bauer), from her college. Jess disapproves of her brother's decision to wed Sophie. After all, the two neighbors haven't even dated. Sophie and Pete are unfazed by Jess's disapproval, but after Pete's Jeep breaks down in the desert, they will have to confront their true emotions.
Forev is Wells' first lead role in a feature film. Currently, she's a performer at the Los Angeles Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. She's starred in numerous comedy videos, some of which have gone viral, such as Sequence_4.mov, an outlandish shower scene set to Britney Spears' "Toxic," and Siri Finds Out Steve Jobs Died. She's an expert in celebrity impressions, and one of her recurring original characters is Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl. Siri Finds Out Steve Jobs Died also stars her Forev co-lead, Mider. They both attended the University of Texas and met in Austin. Forev's co-writers/co-directors Molly Green and James Leffler also attended Texas, but Wells didn't meet them until she was in L.A. Prior to shooting Forev, Wells, Mider, and Bauer rehearsed and improvised scenes with Green and Leffler for months. The actors were given "Additional Screenplay Material" credits, and Wells earned an additional credit for designing the covers of the bootleg DVDs that appear in the film. You can see an example of her work on Forev's Facebook page.
The one-sheet poster for Forev emblemizes Sophie's regrettable audition with a close-up image of a bitten hot dog. When it came time to get the shot of the discarded hot dog buns in the trash can, the day's shoot was running out of time, so Green and Leffler had the rest of the cast and crew chewing on hot dog buns to fill the can, much to Wells' delight. Looking back on her real-life Hebrew National audition, she recalls that she felt she had to say something before she left, for the sake of her dignity: "I turned back to the guy who was running the session. I said, 'Well, that was degrading.' And he looked at me with shame across his face. He goes, 'I've been watching it all day'—Wells mimics his exhausted tone before breaking into laughter—and then I left. And of course I did not book [it]. They asked, 'Will you eat meat for this?' I don't eat beef, and Hebrew National are beef, but I was like, 'Fuck yeah, I will! I'll eat meat, whatever.' But in the back of my head, I was saying, 'No! Don't sell out!'"
Under the Radar met with Wells, Mider, Green, and Leffler on the first day of June to discuss Forev prior to its world premiere at the LA Film Fest as part of the Narrative Competition. Here is the portion of the interview with Noël Wells.
Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): How did you become interested in acting?
Noël Wells: I guess technically I've always wanted to be an actor, but I thought that was a pipe dream, or that I had to do something serious. I acted in middle school. I did community theatre, and I was obsessed with television, like comedy and Saturday Night Live. When I went to high school, I got really angst-y and went through puberty and was like, "I'm going to be an artist." So then, I went to film school, 'cause I figured that's the nice in-between, but through film school, even as I learned to do everything, I was like, "I still want to do acting." So I moved here after I graduated, and I started taking classes at UCB, 'cause I wanted to be in comedy, and that's where I am.
When did the impressions start?
I was an only child, and I moved around every other year, so I would go from school to school to school, but then I also watched a lot of TV over the summers, because I was an only child and a latchkey kid, so I would memorize television, I would memorize commercials, and then I would go to these new schools and be like, "I can do an impression of you," or a teacher or the television. So it was just a thing that I picked up. I could do cartoon voices as a kid. I didn't realize that I could do something with it until I moved to Austin. I was like, "I can do all these impressions of singers." I saw that there was a show called Esther's Follies having auditions—it was a political satire show—and I auditioned for it with all these impressions, and I was like, "Yeah, I'm real good." And they said, "Yeah! We don't have a spot for you know, but over the summer...." So I didn't go home as a freshman in college, I stayed over the summer because they told me they would give me a job. And then June 1st, I went to them, "I'm here!" And they were like, "Oh, shit." I was so stupid that I thought they were going to give me a job. And basically, "Oh yeah, um, you'll be an intern, and we'll pay you a hundred dollars a week to do five shows every week." I made so little money all summer. And I found out everybody got paid so much money. I very quickly endeared myself to the lady that owned the show, and she was in it. I helped her and she'd always forget her lines, and I'd always be there. She'd say, "Noël, what's my line?" And so I basically became a part of the show. I've always really liked Saturday Night Live, and I guess then was like, "I want to be a sketch comedy performer!" after being in that show and endearing myself and doing it for two-and-a-half years. It was a political satire show. I was a magician's assistant. I did Britney Spears and a bunch of other really corny things.
Also, I did Shakira a lot. I was obsessed with doing Shakira, and when I graduated high school, a girl that I barely knew said, "I found a Shakira Barbie, and I thought of you, and here's your graduation present." So I have a Shakira Barbie she bought for me because I used to do my singing impressions of Shakira. Yeah, I perfected my impressions though life.
One of my favorite videos of yours is the MTV awards. Did you write and produce all of that on your own?
Yeah, since June 2010, every summer I've been making tapes for SNL to try and get on the show. I made that one last year. That's how my YouTube started, I made my first tape, and I thought, "Oh, I just want to show my family and friends." I was still in Austin. I put it up, and everybody was really supportive, and I said, "Oh, I thought I would take it down." It got picked up by a bunch of girly comedy blogs, like, "Look at this girl doing impressions." So, that's what that was. There's a writer in Austin that I worked with at Esther's Follies, Steven Baranowsky, and every year I would call him and say, "I want to do these people, if you have any ideas, can you brainstorm on stuff?" So, some of the jokes, we came up with together, but more and more, as the years go by, I just write it completely on my own. And that was the first one I did just on my own.
Do you know anyone else who does Joanna Newsom impressions?
No, I don't. I do impressions of singers because you sing the songs, and I love Joanna Newsom, so it was just a natural thing.
What did you use for a harp?
I Photoshopped that. I just got a picture off the Internet and pretended to play the air, and then just put that there.
That Michele Bachmann video, did you turn that around in just a day?
The one I shot yesterday, or the day before yesterday?
I woke up in the morning, saw the resignation speech, and I was like, "Oh my God, why didn't I watch this yesterday?" So I wrote a really quick thing, and then I contacted my friend Adam, who lives down the street, and I said, "Hey, if I bought some poster board, can you film me doing this?" We had a little Olympus digital camera, we shot it, and then I went and edited it before we had a photo shoot in the afternoon. I just did it in three hours.
How did you get the background?
I just green-screened myself, and then I took the background from her video and Photoshopped it in. If you watch her resignation speech, it's even funnier than what I wrote.
What are you working on now?
I am a performer at UCB, and I do shows all the time. I work for Cracked.com. I edit videos. Matt and I do videos for them too, so we're always writing stuff like that, writing pilots and movies. We're always working on a million things.
If someone likes Forev and wants to see you at UCB....
I'm on a house sketch team that performs every third Wednesday of the month. We have a brand new sketch show. And then, in between that, there are also bit shows. You can check out the website. You can click on my performer page. Sometimes they link them to my page, so you can see what I'm gonna be performing in, sometimes they don't. You'll just have to follow me on Twitter.
Forev had its world premiere at the LA Film Fest on Saturday night as part of the fest's Narrative Competition. The film screens again at the fest on Wednesday night at 9:50 p.m. and Friday night at 9:50 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium 14. Click here for tickets.
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