Sydelle Noel is one of the most fascinating interview subjects I’ve had in a very long time. We were curious to speak with Noel in support of Daughter of the Wolf, in which the talented and in-demand performer appears opposite Gina Carano (as well as Richard Dreyfuss and Brendan Fehr) in the British Columbia landscape. Though her role in the movie is a key one, her discussion of an athlete’s mentality brings the conversation to her role as Cherry Bang on GLOW (make sure to check out the new season streaming next month!), as well as to her part in Marvel Studios’ Black Panther. Her answers were heartfelt and at times, a bit surprising, as she provided insight into her acting journey.
The following is an edited and condensed version of a wonderful and revealing phone interview with Sydelle Noel.
Brief Take: What did you enjoy most about working with Gina Carano on Daughter of the Wolf?
Sydelle Noel: Gina and I are friends. I received a call from her one day out of the blue: “I am making an action movie, how would you like to be in it with me?” And I was like: “Of course!” [laughs] Are you kidding me?! Of course! I’m in”. I know she does action movies as well. I know that she does most of her own stunts, and I trust her. When we filmed the action scenes, we even choreographed the fight sequences ourselves. We had an amazing stunt coordinator, but when she and I started collaborating, we came up with this amazing fight scene that the stunt coordinator was watching as we were going through it. And he approved and it’s really great to work with someone who knows their physical capabilities. Gina is a former UFC fighter, I’m a former track athlete. I’m very athletic, as well as Gina, so each take that we did, we knew what to do, and if we were going to go hard this take or take it easy depending on the angles. I know that Gina in the past has been put with stunt people, or actors who are not as athletic as her, so she feels that she has to hold back because she is terrified of hurting the others during a fight sequence, and with me, she’s like: “I’m just happy that you know how to control your body”. Most athletes, they know, like even with GLOW, once they show me something, I know how to execute it. Most people have to go like: “1, 2, 3”. You can show me what you want, if you show me, I know how to get my body to do that. And with Gina, she’s the same way, so we both knew exactly what we were going to do for each move and how far we could take it with each other. It’s great to have someone with whom you can do that physically and who is a great actor as well.
BT: In this film your name is Hobbs, and Hobbs and Shaw is coming out soon…
SD: I said that! When I booked this, I said to them “You know The Rock is in that series?” and they were like: “Ahhh, uh-huh yeah, okay”. I brushed it off, but I was like: “Hmmmm”. [laughs]
BT: Will you watch the movie and study up?
SD: When I’m there to watch The Rock, I’m there to enjoy the physical stuff, that’s what I want to see. And I hope, I hope, I hope and pray one day that I can be like The Rock.
BT: Your character arc and performance on GLOW is incredible, especially in this upcoming season. What was a favourite memory from the journey?
SN: First of all, thank you for that. Wow! This season is a [laughs] I’m not going to…how do I say things without…[laughs] Cherry is another emotional roller coaster. I know the second season was basically her job, this season, it’s her life. It’s not just the job any more, now this is her life. And I’m happy that the producers actually went as far as…women wanting babies and women not wanting babies and for men, because even back in the day it was very different. I’m glad that they actually put that to life for people to see, that emotional roller coaster that people can go through, starting a family and…I’m having trouble with what to say next… [laughs]
BT: Cherry’s arc is not one of the listed spoilers so it’s apparently alright for us to discuss it publicly.
SN: Cherry is very physical and she got pissed off about losing her job. So I remember even going to them last year, because I had that point in which I was like: “Does she want to have a kid or not?”. I think I even said it on a panel. I said that it would be great if there was a plot line in which actually the guy wanted the child more than the woman and the woman was more focused on her career. And they actually wrote it. [laughs] I like the way they wrote it because she’s torn, truthfully, she’s torn. I like this plot line because women in the entertainment industry and women in general go through that. Well, if I had a baby, I would have to stop work for…well, more than 9 months, or maybe a year, because even after you give birth, you feel like you have to deal with it, so it’s a lot. It’s a lot to go through for that 4, 4 and 1/2 months that we were shooting.
BT: You were great in the gambling addiction scenes.
SN: Thanks! She’s deflecting, she doesn’t know where to do it. She’s lost her man. [laughs] And I knew it! I knew someone was going to have a gambling addiction and I didn’t know it was going to be me, but it gets her in trouble. And that happens when you deflect a lot, and that’s exactly what happened.
BT: What do you like most about the rapport with your on-screen husband Bashir Salahuddin?
SN: Bashir, he’s a great partner to have on set because he’s one of those partners that they will go wherever you go. I know sometimes that as actors, there are people that don’t want to take it to an emotional space. They don’t care about that and he’s the opposite. We converse with each other and talk through the scene, and look, at the end of the day, he’s like “if you take it here, then I’m going to go with it”. The same with me, I think that wherever he’s going to go, I’m going to go with it, I’m not going to hold you back. So it raises the scene, and this season, this season with him, he is absolutely amazing. I’m glad that they showed some of the emotional roller coaster of what a man can go through. [laughs] Even with Bashir, it was refreshing to see.
BT: Do you feel in the ring like Sydelle acting as Cherry acting as Junkchain? How do you tap into that?
SN: Yeah, I’m Sydelle acting as Cherry then acting as Junkchain, then also acting last season as Black Magic. As for the wrestling? That’s all us. I one hundred per cent do all of my own wrestling, even for season 2, when I was in the other show, Chambers and Gold, that was all me too. I did all of my own stunts, jumping over cars, like I did all of that. And I choose to do all of that, I want to when I’m on set, I want to do everything. But we train every season for close to a month because we’re planning everything ahead for the whole season. We have our stunt coordinator Shauna (Duggins) and Chavo Guerrero, whose uncle was really part of the GLOW team back in the day, and they really take care of us and they treat us like wrestlers. Because we’re wrestling and we’re wrestling on a television show, and then you have WWE Superstars and they wrestle for maybe 15, 20 minutes. [laughs] Essentially, when we wrestle on the show, we’re doing that for a few hours- because you have your wide-angle, you have your close-up. It’s so strenuous on the body that I tell these girls: “We’re not only actors any more, you guys are actually kind of different.” [laughs] Because these are girls that, they haven’t even done it before. At all. And now they’re body slamming girls and actually picking them up over their heads and doing these crazy backdrops, all of that stuff, jumping off the ropes, they’re a lot of things that I’ve never even done, even being an athlete.
BT: Tell me about working with the female ensemble on GLOW.
SD: We’re very fortunate to have this group of women where we all get along. I know that this was something that when I booked this role, I was like: “Oh, 15 women, that’s going to be…I think it’s tough”, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all, and we’re blessed to have a cast that we all support each other, and even our producers and our showrunners. We have meetings at the beginning of the season letting us in on what our characters’ arc for the season, and I was very happy because some of my input got in for season 3, so they really take your notes and your guidance to heart. They pay attention because some of our stuff really happened in life and the show.
BT: Do you watch your performances afterwards?
SN: I’m nervous watching myself. I don’t really like to watch myself. The things I do watch, it would be by myself or I may watch it with friends. But I’m nervous of what people think. Did I execute this scene correctly? Because at the end of the day, I want to make people watching it feel. Feel-whether it’s happy or sad – and have that moment with it. So I’m very nervous when things come out and my friends are like: “Sydelle, let’s go celebrate and let’s go see it”, and I’m like: “No, no”, and they’re like “Okay, I’ll go see it without you”. But it’s nerve-wracking for me, it’s nerve-wracking. I hope that whoever watches it enjoys what they see. I’m getting a lot of positive feedback from fans on it, so I’m doing something right I guess. [laughs] It’s a nerve-wracking experience. When Black Panther came out, I celebrated with a bunch of my friends. I never even told them that I was dying in it. That was a great experience to have to see that part in which I died, and also they were going off.
BT: What do you like to watch on screen and how do you like to do so?
SD: Well for me it’s like school, because not only am I watching a program, but I’m also studying it. I’m studying the actors, I’m studying what they did for me, and I wish that I studied theatre, but I didn’t. So for me it’s like my theatre in that I’m studying people. Some shows that I’m watching right now are Killing Eve – Sandra Oh is amazing and Jodie Comer as well, she’s amazing, the different levels they go to. And Pose, I know that there are a lot of theatre actors in Pose. And these movies that take me on this emotional roller coaster that I didn’t even know existed from back in the eighties, that I didn’t have any clue about. I watch a lot of TV, a lot of movies, it doesn’t even matter the genre, no matter the genre, I will pretty much watch it, because like I said, I’m going to study. I want to know, because when I potentially get these types of roles, I want to do my best.
BT: What would be an achievement on your own acting journey?
SD: Being the lead of my own action film—that’s the main goal. I would hope one day that I would get that call and get that I am number one on that call sheet and then straight action. But yeah, that would be the number one dream and goal.
BT: You are doing some writing as well. Could you give a little hint about your project?
SD: I can give a hint. Actually, I’ll give you my logline. It’s Dear White People meets The West Wing on the set of Split.
BT: Would you say that you are up for any sort of physical challenge?
SN: Oh, all of that. I try to stay ready as an actor by studying. I go, I shoot guns, I have hand-to-hand combat. I do all of that. I work with a lot of stunt people, because this is what I think happened: from working on GLOW and I think Black Panther, there aren’t a lot of African-American stunt women out there, and even on GLOW, they’ve had a hard time. Even if I needed a stunt person, to find my type, my body type, my complexion, everything. Because they have to match. And from working on Black Panther, it was very hard to find a lot of African-American stunt people. And I noticed that, so truthfully, I wouldn’t want a stunt person. I mean I don’t think that I’m going to jump off a building and jump out of a helicopter, but I do all of my hand-to-hand combat. I’ve been training obviously, since I have pretty much left Black Panther, I guess, I’ve been doing things that a lot of stunt people…because I want to be ready. I don’t want to be at that point in which I’m like “Ehhhh, I don’t know if I could”, or if I’m not ready and I need a stunt double. I do know that I want to learn horseback riding. [Pauses and then giggles] That’s one thing that I want to go for it. If there is anything that is out there, that I am going to get into and experience, because it’s coming up, you know, who knows?
BT: Do you feel confident with both the physical and the performance aspects of roles?
SD: The acting part is what terrifies me the most. The physical part, I feel like I have, but the acting part is what terrifies me the most.
BT: I think it’s coming through. You will soon as well.
SD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean working as an actor, I feel like in this business. This is what we’re looking for. I mean when I was running track, and when I was running in college, I had to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning for my morning workout. And when you were in college, you’d go to class and even then I’d have workouts. And then we’d have our main workout [laughs] and then you’d have to go lift weights. So essentially in college and then when I would do it professionally, I was rehearsing or practicing 8 hours a day, 8-10 hours a day. Whether that is running, plyos, lifting weights, stretching, rehab, massages, that’s everything and I put all of that into acting. I break down the script, I have my notes, I do my couch time, I study the character – what I think the character would be doing, and how the director thinks or the producers, I do all of that and then I’m released. I feel like as actors, we sort of have to have an athlete’s mentality, because to make it in a similar field, you’d have to be working out 8-10 hours a day. So if you’re not doing that with acting, I’m not sure what you’re doing because you have all these actors that are working almost every day. So if you’re just at home waiting for the call from your agent or your manager or whomever, you’ll be waiting for the call. I feel like you have to prepare for the call and think about what you’re going to do while you’re waiting. Are you writing? Are you studying? Are you watching programs? Are you self-taping, are you whatever, I feel like everything has to be something related to your craft. You can’t be living that way, or what you will be doing is waiting for that call instead of taking it into your own hands.
Daughter of the Wolf is now playing in select theatres and is available on VOD. GLOW season 3 begins streaming on Netflix on August 9. Seasons 1 and 2 of the show are currently streaming.