Discovery: Sydelle Noel

By
Photography Williams & Hirakawa

Published June 20, 2017

SYDELLE NOEL IN LOS ANGELES, MAY 2017. PHOTOS:WILLIAMS & HIRAKAWA/ART DEPARTMENT. STYLING: DEBORAH FERGUSON. HAIR:SASCHA BREUER FOR STARWORKS ARTISTS USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE. MAKEUP: NICOLE CHEW FOR ART DEPARTMENT USING MAKE UP FOR EVER.

Until her early 20s, Sydelle Noel had one goal: to make it to the Olympics. She had attended the University of Georgia on a track scholarship, competing in multiple events including the heptathlon. After graduating, she ran professionally for several years, narrowing her focus to the 100-meter hurdles and the long jump. Then she suffered a stress fracture and her track career ended prematurely.

“As an athlete—especially if you’re a child athlete into high school and college—you train so hard,” explains Noel over the phone. “You don’t even have that mind frame of, ‘Well, if I don’t make it in this, I’m going to do that.'”

But Noel’s story has a happy ending—or, more accurately, a happy new beginning. Next year, she’ll appear in Marvel’s Black Panther, directed by Fruitvale Station and Creed’s Ryan Coogler. On Friday, her new television series, the funny, poignant, and at times ridiculous Glow, will debut on Netflix.

Produced by a formidable team that includes Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch, and Jenji Kohan, Glow is a fictional account of the formation of a forgotten mid-’80s television phenomenon: the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Noel co-stars alongside Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Kate Nash, Gayle Rankin, and Chris Lowell as Cherry Bang, an actor whose career never quite went as planned, despite a few promising early moments. At the beginning of Glow, Cherry is enlisted by an old contact—a washed-up director named Sam (Marc Maron)—to join his new wrestling show and help train the motley crew of ladies he has assembled. 

HOMETOWN: Hollywood, FL.

AN UNEXPECTED PATH: As a kid, I really didn’t think acting was possible. I thought it was chosen for people; it wasn’t a career that I fathomed. I grew up wanting to be an athlete. At first I wanted to model as well, but I got sidetracked by sports.

[After my injury] I was in a hole, and my hole was pretty much at home on my couch every day. I didn’t lift a weight. I lost my muscle. I didn’t do any type of workout for almost a year because my workout consisted of running, so it was just another reminder of, “Well, I’m not doing that anymore, so what’s the point?”

For a full year, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t really express that to people, which I probably should have. I just stayed to myself. Sometimes, when you’re in that depression, you just want to stay there and you don’t want to be bothered.

Then my sports manager was like, “Do you want to do some sports modeling?” That’s when I moved to California, and that’s what led to acting. I found my other goal and that’s what got me out of my hole.

INTRO TO ACTING: Modeling led to commercials and being featured in television shows, but then I was like, “Why am I not talking? What are those people doing?” I was like Cherry: “I want to be the star. I don’t want to be in the background.” I started taking classes—I took theater classes in college as well. I started studying up on it. I interned in a casting director’s office. I was a PA on commercials and music videos. I knew of the business, but I didn’t know what it entailed behind the scenes. I wanted to know as much as I could so that when I was ready, I’d be really read, and I’d know all aspects.

FIRST SPEAKING ROLE: Private Practice. It was a coincidence, because it was a guest star where I played a track athlete who had, just like me, aspirations of going to the Olympics. She had a heart condition, which prohibited her from fulfilling her goal. It was almost therapeutic for me. When I read the sides, right away, I got emotional. Most of the sides were, “You can’t run,” and to tell a track athlete they can’t run anymore—you’re taking their hopes and dreams, everything away from them. When I got into the room, I had an emotional breakdown, which was somewhat what I needed. The words that the character said were words that I needed to say and didn’t at the time. I remember the casting director giving me tissue, and going, “Oh my gosh, are you okay?” And I was like, “I actually am. I’m glad I got to do this.” I walked out not thinking anything of it, and not even two hours later my reps called and I’d booked it. I was like, “Guess I’ve got to do that again.”

BUMPS ALONG THE ROAD: I was let go by my old manager and that same day, I got an offer for a film called Retake. I did the film, and at the wrap party the casting directors were like, “What’s going on with your representation? We need to work on that. Send us a list of five agencies and five managers that you would like to be with. Don’t go crazy—be reasonable. We have a couple that we have in mind.” So I sent them a list, and they literally set up meetings for me, and that’s how I got my team. I was very lucky to have casting directors be like, “We’re going to help you.”

JOINING GLOW: I heard about Glow a few months before I auditioned through a friend of mine. He was in the process of writing his own wrestling show, and his reps gave him Glow as, “I just hope whatever you’re writing is nowhere along the lines of this.” Right away he saw Cherry and told me I needed to read it. He was like, “I’m writing you a role for my television show, but I feel like because they’re ahead, I’m going to lose you to this.”

When I read it, I was like, “I need this in my life.” I told my reps after: “Whenever this comes out, I better have an audition.” Then, lo and behold, a few months later, I got the audition for Cherry. I didn’t hear anything for two weeks. I was like, “I could’ve sworn I did a great job.” I didn’t understand what was happening. Then I got the callback. I went in on a Friday morning, and by that evening, my reps called me back, and they were like, “Jenji, Liz, Carly—they all love you. Be prepared to test next week.” Monday came, and my entire team was on a phone. I was thinking that they were about to tell me the whole process with testing, and they were like, “They’ve straight booked you.” I damn near fell out my chair and started crying.

DISCOVERING A HIDDEN HISTORY: I had no clue G.L.O.W. was a real thing. I was too young. I usually don’t tell friends about my auditions, but I told a couple of people, and one of them was like, “You mean Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling?” He kept going on. He was like, “You need to go on YouTube and look up clips.” But I didn’t watch anything until after I went in for my callback.

When we got the roles, Jenji and all the producers sent us the documentary about G.L.O.W. [GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling]. It was so popular for four or five years, and then it just went away. The documentary is on Netflix now, and it will have you in tears. These women put their heart and soul into that project. They didn’t really have any training; they were just doing it—hurting themselves, breaking arms. Years later some people are in wheelchairs. It’s an emotional story and it had me crying.

TRAINING TIME: Before we started shooting, we had a month of training. Chavo Guerrero Jr.—he’s a pro wrestler and it’s in his bloodline; his dad was a wrestler too—was our wrestling coach. He taught us everything, from the basics to jumping off the bands. It’s difficult because it’s crossing that fear factor for you: doing a flip in the air and landing on your back and knowing that you’re going to be okay. That’s terrifying. But I was determined to do whatever for this role. We all had such an amazing time learning.

ON SET BONDING: There are 14 of us [playing wrestlers]. We are all genuinely friends. We share a WhatsApp group and we text almost every day. On set, we did Secret Santa. I got Rebekka [Johnson]. I was the picture-taker on set, and I made a collage of all of our best pictures and I gave her a book. I’m told she keeps it on her coffee table and she loves it. [laughs]

CHERRY’S FUTURE: Cherry is the mom; she takes care of the girls. She’s the one that came from the stunt background, so she’s the one teaching the girls the moves. I would like her to stay in that area, but I think her goal is to be an action hero, which is my goal too. I’d like to see her live out her dream to be an action star and then fight with the whole, “Do I want keep doing this? Or do I want to spend time with my girls and wrestle.”

THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF WRESTLING: When I was auditioning for Black Panther, they wanted to see if I could handle the stunts. I had to learn a routine with a staff. I flew in and landed close to 6 A.M., got picked up, went to set, changed, brushed my teeth, downed a shake, and then I was in the stunt room. I learned a routine with a staff within a matter of two hours. I had an hour break and then Ryan [Coogler] and the other executives walked up to me. I did the routine that they showed me, and then they were like, “Okay, what else can you do?” I box a little, so I did a bit of shadow boxing, and then I pretty much did all of the moves I learned on Glow. [laughs] I was throwing myself on the floor, and they were like, “Woah.”

RYAN COOGLER, ANGELA BASSETT, AND BLACK PANTHER: Ryan wants to know your opinion of your character first. For my character, we had a sit down, and he asked me a few questions. Before I even got the role, they needed to know how athletic I was, but he also wanted to know everything about me, and what I thought about my role. He’s not one of those directors who says, “This is it, and that’s how it’s going to be.” He wants to know what you think as well, which I absolutely love.

I was in awe of Angela Bassett. I told my friends, “I’ll probably fall on the floor.” When I first saw her, I held my composure, but when she wrapped, I went to her trailer, knocked on her door, and had to tell her how much she meant to me. We had a nice conversation. I told her how much I adored her, and that she’s one of the reasons that I’m acting, and I know all of her work. She’s so beautiful and so down-to-earth and funny and athletic.

SEASON ONE OF GLOW WILL BE AVAILABLE FROM THIS FRIDAY, JUNE 23 2017, VIA NETFLIX.