After gaining an online following by developing her own sketch and parody videos for her YouTube channel and performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, Wells did just that when she was hired as a Saturday Night Live cast member in 2013. Although her time on SNL lasted only one season, she went on to co-star in the first season of the critically acclaimed Netflix comedy Master of None alongside Aziz Ansari.
Now, Wells, who was born in San Antonio in 1986, attended Memorial High School in Victoria, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, is debuting her first feature film as a director and screenwriter. In Mr. Roosevelt, she plays Emily Martin, a down-on-her-luck comedian who returns home to Austin when she gets some sad news. During her visit, she stays with her ex and his seemingly perfect new girlfriend and is forced to come to terms with the fact that her life is not going as planned.
Noël Wells: [From] little anecdotes of my life that have happened over time that I’ve been collecting. Everything in the movie has happened to me in some sense, but everything in the movie is completely fictionalized.
C: What are the similarities between you and your character?
NW: She’s an amalgamation of these little quirks and ticks [I have], but she’s not me. When I was writing [the script], maybe she was a little more like me, but as you start doing the character it becomes something else. I do think I have a little bit of her combativeness when people cross her and she jumps down their throat.
C: Were you trying to do something unique with the genre and avoid clichés?
NW: This whole movie was me taking the indie film trope of coming home after being away for a little bit and finding ways to flip it on its head and making it a little more absurd. I think comedically, you want to push back on whatever came before.
C: Is part of the reason you wrote your own movie to star in because it just makes more sense to create the content yourself?
NW: Yeah, I think that’s how my whole career has worked. You don’t see all the things I’ve made before, but the only reason I have any career is because any time I’m not working, I am making my own things. You can’t just sit around hoping it’ll fall into your lap. It’s inevitable that I would make things. I find that the most satisfying.
C: What did you take from an experience like Saturday Night Live since you were on for only one season?
NW: It was a definite goal to be on that show. It was really sad [when SNL didn’t renew my contract]. The second that I found out, I had all this grief. But there was something in the back of my mind that said, “It’s going to be fine.” I got there because I make things and have a voice. The whole world thinks I just lost a job and what a loser I am, but they just don’t understand who I am or what I’m going to do.
C: Do you find the industry oversaturated today since there are so many more platforms for comedians to show off their material?
NW: Kind of. I don’t want to put a judgement on it, but I think whatever comedy is right now, it’s a cool kids’ club. It’s very in vogue and has become a trend. I think comedy is an underdog endeavor. It’s supposed to elevate people out of something darker. I think the idea of being cool right now is actually the opposite of what is funny.
C: How has Master of None helped you with your career and going to the next level?
NW: Master of None was so good and now people are like, “Oh, Noël can do that!” So, it just makes it a little easier. You get called into more rooms. People are willing to collaborate with you a little more. They’re just more receptive to hearing what you have to say or looking at the projects you’re working on. I was so nervous when I got hired [for Master of None]. I was so anxious that I was going to do it wrong or that I was going to get fired. But working with Aziz [Ansari] and having it be so collaborative and seeing how good it came out made me realize I am on the right track. You just have to find the people that work the same way you do. It was very rewarding. I was able to take that and funnel it into this movie.
Mr. Roosevelt opens at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North (618 NW Loop 410) on Friday, October 27. Wells will be in attendance October 28 for a screening of the film at 7:45pm, followed by a live Q&A, VIP afterparty and other surprises. Tickets are $25 at drafthouse.com.