SNL’s Noël Wells Talks Forev, Profanity and More

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Noël Wells is wrapping up her first season as a featured player on Saturday Night Live, but she won’t have long to exhale. Presently in talks for some supporting roles in a couple of movies, this summer she’ll also be busy writing and enjoying rekindling relationships put largely on hold for the last nine whirlwind months.

Wider distribution of an indie effort shot in 2012, meanwhile, will give viewers a taste of Wells’ long-form talents. In co-directors Molly Green and James Leffler’s Forev, a shoe-gazing comedy that inventories twentysomething folly, Sophie (Wells) acquiesces in shrugging fashion to the joking marriage proposal of Los Angeles apartment-mate Pete (Matt Mider), and then sets out with him on a road trip to Phoenix to go pick up his sister (Amanda Bauer) from college.

In advance of Saturday Night Live’s season finale this coming weekend, Paste had a chance to chat with Wells about her film, her favorite profanity, umlaut absolutism, the impression she thinks everyone should be doing, and more.

Paste: Forev gives off the loose-limbed vibe of assembled collaborators, which is the case. How did you all meet?
Noël Wells: I met Matt at Esther’s Follies (a vaudeville/improv theater in Austin), where he was working as an usher after he’d graduated from college, just as a summer job. We did a sketch show together there and made a bunch of videos, but then he moved to Chicago directly afterwards and I finished school. We happened to move to Los Angeles at about the same time, and we just started hanging out again. We would write together every week, and then he later introduced me to Molly and James. It was kind of like a musketeers thing—we were all in L.A., in similar places, and we all wanted to make something happen, and we teamed up.

Paste: What was the physical production cycle like, how many days did you shoot?
Wells: We shot over six weeks. We shot over a bunch of weekends, and then there was one week where we shot I think nine days in a row. Molly and James crossed all their Ts and double-dotted every I, so things went off relatively without a hitch. They also had us rehearse scenes before we went out there, so we basically went being very prepared. The hardest thing about the shoot, I think, was that it was the desert, and so it was hot and miserable—especially being in a car.

Paste: Forev definitely provides an illuminating glimpse into dubious twentysomething decision-making, where impulsivity can cause you to kind of trip headlong into some weird situations. I’m not asking you to call yourself out, but did it summon forth any memories of dubious decisions of your own?
Wells: Umm, trying to break into the entertainment industry seems pretty dumb. (laughs) That seems very impulsive. I’m sure there have been a lot of boys I’ve chased over the years that has been fueled by alcohol and stupidity. But that’s kind of how things happen—sometimes you have to do something really stupid, and sometimes it works out, and sometimes you fall flat on your face.

Paste: Regarding that chase and pursuit, then, were you really into movies and even performance as a kid, even prior to studying them in college? When was that switch flipped?
Wells: I feel like the switch was always on, but I had my eyes closed. I was always performing. I feel like I grew up being babysat by a television, and all I ever wanted to do was be in movies, direct movies, make movies, but it took me a really long time to be honest with myself about it because my background is that my family was very poor. And so that type of stuff seemed like a pipedream, until I got to go to college and I realized, “Wait, I can actually do this.” Before that, I just anticipated, “Just get a job and survive, be able to eat.”

Paste: How has the transition to Saturday Night Live been?
Wells: As compared to what? (laughs)

Paste: (laughs) As compared to a moon walk. …I guess at the heart of my question is the fallacy that everyone at that show was a huge class clown or something growing up, when it’s much more varied than that.
Wells: I think people at SNL are more generalists than people realize—they can do a variety of different things. There’s no [one who’s just a] comedian on the show. A lot of people assume that we all do stand-up comedy, and that’s pretty much not the case, either. As a kid, I think people would have described me more as a goofball, or being energetic. But I always loved parodies; I loved spoofing things. For all of my class projects, I somehow turned it into a commercial parody or put on plays. My whole thing was seeing things from a big picture, from beginning to middle to end: making a costume, doing voices, writing a script, making it all happen. But as far as transitioning to SNL, the roles are a little more delegated, and there are so many people with different talents on the show, so you have to figure out how to make your talents fit the mold. So that’s just been the biggest transition for me—trying to figure out how my voice fits in and trusting my instincts. Normally, whenever I’m trying to please the show it doesn’t really work, but whenever I do me, it lands, and I’m always surprised, like, “Oh, they hired me—I forgot.”

Paste: Is there a favorite impression that you have?
Wells: I have so many impressions it’s hard to pick one, but I think my secret weapon—and I may have to wait a really long time to ever get to do it—is I have a Holly Hunter that I love doing. It’s a real big crowd-pleaser every time I do it, which is kind of surprising. I assume that nobody my age knows who she is or are not as familiar with her, but the second I start doing it they’re like, “Oh, yeah!” I’m surprised more people don’t do Holly Hunter. To me it’s like a Christopher Walken impression. (laughs) Everybody should be doing a Holly Hunter!

Paste: Forev could be very loosely categorized as a road trip movie, even though it doesn’t cycle through an enormous number of outlandish characters. Have you ever had any memorable road trip moments, particularly in the American Southwest, which I feel like invites a lot of strangeness?
Wells: I’ve done some, but most [have been] pretty short drives. But driving Texas to L.A., I did go to the Grand Canyon for the first time. My car was so packed full of stuff, we had to use two people to close the back trunk. But I remember thinking, “Oh, we have to go do this,” and the sun was setting and we parked the car and ran over to this ledge and the second I saw it I was blown away. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed in my entire life.

Paste: You take an “additional screenplay material” credit on Forev, and Sophie’s hot dog commercial audition scene is based on something that really happened to you, right?
Wells: Yes, although I was a little bit more uppity in the audition in real life. I spit it out in the trash can and saw all those other hot dog buns and felt immediately so disgusted. So right before I left the room I put one foot out of the door and turned back, looked the camera operator in the eyes and said, “Well that wasn’t degrading.” And then he looked at me with shame and looked down and said, “I’ve been watching it all day.” That was my first commercial audition in Los Angeles, which I find very funny.

Paste: He was scarred in his own way, then. Sophie deploys the phrase “dickbag” a couple times, which is kind of awesome. In real life, do you have any go-to hybrid curse words of your own? Or what’s your favorite profanity?
Wells: I always jokingly with my boyfriend say, “Oh, fuck my butt!” and then I try and use it in regular conversations and nobody thinks it’s funny, so I should probably just keep that one to myself. (laughs) But I keep trying to make it happen.

Paste: One for me is “fuck me in the goat ass,” from an old Adam Sandler sketch, and, yeah, that one seems divisive as well.
Wells: Oh, so we’re similar. Nobody likes butt-fucking, I guess. People just need to relax a little bit.

Paste: Wrapping up, are you an umlaut absolutist?
Wells: I’ll be honest, up until about nine months ago I was an absolutist—to me, my name without the dots looks naked, or like it’s just spelled wrong. But since getting on SNL and being asked about it all the time, and with everybody not knowing which letter to put it over and also just knowing that I’m causing everybody a lot of pain and suffering—that’s made me relax my standards a little bit. I will always have two dots over my e, whether or not the world will accept it. But I’m trying to become a little bit more laid back about it.

Forev is available now on Blu-ray and DVD, and available on iTunes and all major cable VOD providers on May 15. Click here for more information.