Noël Wells – Mr. Roosevelt

October 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Actress and comedian Noël Wells, 30, has never been the type of person to wait for something to fall into her lap. Instead, she’d rather create her own material and make something happen for herself.

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.

I caught up with Wells in Austin this past March at the South by Southwest Film Festival where she hosted the world premiere of “Mr. Roosevelt,” which opens in San Antonio October 27.

Where did the inspiration for “Mr. Roosevelt” come from?

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.

What are the similarities between you and your character?

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.

Were you trying to do something unique with the genre and avoid clichés?

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.

Is part of the reason you wrote your own movie to star in because it just makes more sense to create the content yourself?

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.

What did you take from an experience like “Saturday Night Live” since you were on for only one season?

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.

Do you find the industry oversaturated today since there are so many more platforms for comedians to show off their material?

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.

How has “Master of None” helped you with your career and going to the next level?

“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.

Ana Gasteyer – entertainer

November 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Don’t put comedian/actress/singer Ana Gasteyer in a box. She wasn’t put on this earth to entertain audiences in only one specific way. Gasteyer, 47, will show her range as the first of four performers invited to participate in the Broadway @ Woodlawn Theatre Celebrity Series with XM Radio personality/host and pianist Seth Rudetsky over the next six months. During the November 8 show with Gasteyer, who is a “Saturday Night Live” alum and Broadway and TV/film actress, Rudetsky will interview her about her life and career. He will also accompany her on piano while she performs songs from her Broadway past as well as her debut album, I’m Hip, a compellation of some of her jazz favorites, released in late September. During an interview with me, we talked to Gasteyer about what we can expect from her show at the Woodlawn, her new jazz album and what kind of effect she thinks “Saturday Night Live” has on politics today.

Talk to me about the celebrity series at the Woodlawn Theatre. I understand it is going to include musical performances and an interview with you, correct?

Yeah, it’s going to be a really unusual, intimate and fun night of interviews and songs. Seth is incredibly quick-witted. To find a combination of someone that is funny and musical is unusual. They’re two brands that work so well together. [Seth and I] have been friends for a long time. We’ll sing songs from my record (I’m Hip) and from Broadway. It’s like an insider’s peek into the life we live out here in New York. It’s very weird and unorthodox.

So, since Seth is such a good friend, does he have personal stories about you that you don’t necessarily want him to include in the show?

Sometimes he does manage to do that, and I am mortified when he does. I have to tell him, “Can we not tell that one again about my mom? She’ll get really mad.” (Laughs) But it’s always fun to perform with him because he understands comedy really well.

You started on the stage before TV and film. Is it still as satisfying being center stage as it was when you, say, majored in theater in college?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve done a lot of Broadway shows, so, for me, it’s kind of a balancing act in my career. I did “Wicked” as recently as six years ago. [TV/film and the stage] have thrills of their own. They’re very different disciplines in many ways. They’re all necessary for an interesting career.

You recently released your very first album, a jazz album called I’m Hip, which features you singing songs from the late 50s, early 60s. What is it about that era you like so much?

I’m an entertainer, so that era is incredibly fun because it fuses together the two paths of my career. Nowadays I feel people look at you and tend to put what you do in a box, like you’re either a comedian or a Broadway singer or a jazz singer. The thing about this style and era is that it brings it all under one roof. Back then, entertainers were expected to really sell a song and have a great time and tell a story well and still be a really fun on-stage personality without acting. That’s why this era speaks so specifically to me.

Do you feel like you were born in the wrong era?

I definitely was. I think I’m an old-timey performer. It would’ve been a really fun time to perform [during the late 50s], particularly in terms of live music. I would’ve loved to travel around the country with a bunch of boys in a band.

I know the title of your new album is the name of a Blossom Dearie song, but what makes Ana Gasteyer so hip?

(Laughs) My desire to keep up with the kids.

Well, you have two kids, so do they think you’re a cool mom?

I think so. We try to keep it real. I mean, I think they’re pretty embarrassed by me at the same time. I always have to explain to them that I could be a lot worse.

Your “One Mint Julep” music video is great. What was the idea behind it?

It’s the first video we did from the album. The goal was to have a great time and sing a song from the era that I love. That’s definitely what the video does. I wanted it to be a really fun, highly-entertaining song that didn’t take itself too seriously.

You recently met Martha Stewart on ”Late Night with Seth Meyers” and did a funny bit where you fake apologize to her for your “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of her. Was that the first time you actually met her?

No, I had met her a few times, but this time was very memorable and fun because she was up for the challenge. Back when I was on “SNL,” she was pretty big about having me come around. She always understood imitation is a form of flattery. She’s always been gracious about it.

Have you ever run into anyone else you’ve spoofed before?

I’ve actually met all of them—Celine Dion, Hillary Clinton, Joan Rivers—at one point or another.

As a comedian, was Joan Rivers someone you looked up to in the industry?

She was like heroine for those of us who grew up under her influence. She had a great sense of humor about herself. She was self-deprecating, appreciative and kind.

It’s been 25 years since you graduated from Northwestern, and they just invited you back to lead their homecoming parade. I’m guessing you might be the funniest alum to come out of that school even though I’m sure Stephen Colbert would disagree.

Well, Colbert and Seth Meyers were both there, so I’m not sure I am the funniest. Chicago is the birthplace of improvisational comedy, so it had a huge influence on all of us and what we became. It was incredibly fun to go back and celebrate with my classmates. I was so proud.

You parodied Hillary Clinton during your time on “SNL.” How much influence do you think a show like that has on politics today?

The job of the show has always been to reflect back what’s funny about the state of politics. It’s getting messier and messier now, so there is more to make fun of. Hopefully, that’s in a positive way, but I’m not so sure.

It’s more than likely that Clinton is going to run for President in 2016. Do you think the actresses that are playing her now on SNL have more pressure on them than you or Amy Poehler did?

I don’t think any actor goes in hoping to have a voice in an election. I don’t think it’s in our agenda. Our job is just to have fun and be entertaining.

It’s the 10 year anniversary of “Mean Girls.” Did you ever think that in only a decade, this comedy would become such a classic?

It’s crazy. It’s really exciting. I mean, I think part of it is because it is set in high school, and everybody likes to make fun of high school in movies like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Heathers.” They do have this timeless quality to them. It’s nice to be a part of that for people.

Ana Gasteyer w/ Seth Rudetsky, $75-100 (Use promo code 25OFF for $25 off your ticket price), 7:30 p.m., November 8, Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg, (210) 267-8388, woodlawntheatre.org.

Kevin Nealon – comedian

February 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

Best known for his stint on “Saturday Night Live in the 80s and 90s and for his role on Showtime’s “Weeds,” comedian Kevin Nealon has been a staple in the comedy world for nearly 30 years. During a phone interview with me, Nealon, 59, talked about where a show like “SNL” fits into the current TV landscape and which of his former SNL cast members he thinks could make a comeback to the show today.

You’ve never really stopped doing stand-up comedy over the course of your career. What is it about the craft that has kept it part of your life for so long?

It’s just something I have a passion for. I did it during my years with “Saturday Night Live.” I did it while I was doing Weeds.  It’s what I did even before any kind of acting work.

Is stand-up still as fun as the first time you did it or have you managed to squeeze all the enjoyment out of it over the years and get it down to a science?

I’ll never have it down to a science. It’s a lot more fun in a different way because it’s not as angst ridden. I’m not pacing and sitting on the toilet an hour before I go on.

Will you be watching the Oscars this weekend?

Yeah, I will be. I love watching the Oscars. I’ll probably be Twittering during it.

You’ve starred in a couple of movies with Oscar winners – Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management,” Nicole Kidman in “Just Go With It.” Did you ever think Jonah Hill, the guy who sucked on a breast for the duration of his screen time in another of your movies “Grandma’s Boy,” would now be labeled an Oscar nominee for his role last year in Moneyball?

(Laughs)  You know, I never did. When he was in “Grandma’s Boy I had just met him. I had never heard of him before. He went on to do a lot of great work from there. It’s great to see that.

Since leaving “Saturday Night Live in 1999 the show has gone through a lot of changes. Do you still watch?

I watch it once in a while. I’ll DVR it and then fast forward through it, especially if I hear it was a good show.

I do the same thing. I rarely watch it live anymore. I’ll just get on Hulu and flip through the skits.

Yeah, I don’t think anybody watches it in real time anymore. It doesn’t have to be live.

Where do you think the show registers in today’s TV landscape now that cable is such a big player when it comes to original content?

The thing about “Saturday Night Live is that it’s such a unique show and has held up for so long. It’s had its peaks and valleys. Certainly now there is more competition with cable. But I think “Saturday Night Live is sort of a mainstay for certain people and generations. It has just about everything you need. It’s topical. It has music, comedy, and the hottest hosts. It still has a winning formula, I think.

In the entertainment industry, we are seeing a lot of actors who are getting older come back to what they know best. For example, Bruce Willis just did another “Die Hard movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back to doing action movies. From your class at “SNL,” who do you think could successfully make a comeback to the show today? Or has the comedy evolved too much?

I think from my original cast probably Dana Carvey or Adam Sandler or Mike Meyers or David Spade.

Is it interesting to see when people leave that show how some of them find success in the film industry and some just can’t seem to break through?

You never know who’s going to come out of that show with heat on them. It’s something that is still so unpredictable. But you know who the likeable people are and who is talented and who has a pretty good chance of going further.

The last “Saturday Night Live-based movie was “MacGruber in 2010, which didn’t do very well at the box office. Before that was in 2000 with “The Ladies Man.” Do you think “SNL-inspired movies are a thing of the past now?

It’s hard to know because they’re taking a sketch and trying to make a movie out of it. We had actually written a movie for Hanz and Franz called “The Girly Man Dilemma.” Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was co-producing it and co-staring in it. Sony paid us to write it. I wrote it with Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel and Dana Carvey. It was a really funny movie. It was actually a musical. It never got made because Arnold got cold feet. He had just come out with “Last Action Hero,” which kind of parodied himself. He had six other movies on the docket he had to choose between. I think it could have done well.

Since it would’ve been Hanz and Franz’s first foray into feature films, were you and Dana willing to work out and give your characters some natural muscle mass or did you still plan to stuff your sweatshirts?

(Laughs) Oh, we would’ve totally stuffed.

Have you started to have any “Weeds withdrawals now that the show is over?

(Laughs) Not yet. I’ll probably show up at the studio later this spring and be like, “Oh, that’s right. It’s over.” It was a good run and really fun to hang out with all the people there. But I think it ran its course. You can only smoke so much pot.

MacGruber

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe
Directed by: Jorma Taccone (debut)
Written by: Will Forte (“Extreme Movie”), Jorma Taccone (“Extreme Movie”), John Solomon (“Extreme Movie”)

It’s no secret that for the last 18 years film adaptations of “Saturday Night Live” skits have been as embarrassing for the long-running TV show as an Ashlee Simpson hoedown. From the pathetically unfunny gender-bending of “It’s Pat” to the irksomeness of Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher in “Superstar,” not much of anything has worked since the original “Wayne’s World” hit theaters in 1992.

That might be the reason it’s taken “SNL” a whole decade to try again. The show’s last attempt was transferring the Courvoisier-drinking radio show host Leon Phelps to the big screen in 2000’s dreadful “The Ladies Man.” Ten years, however, seems to have made a world of difference. While it doesn’t mean much to call “MacGruber” one of the best “SNL” movies ever made (for obvious reasons), it’s still rather funny even on its own merit.

In “MacGruber,” comedian Will Forte stars as the title character, an American war hero whose impressive military resume is second to none (it includes 16 purple hearts, three Congressional Medals of Honor and seven presidential medals of bravery!). Laying low in Ecuador after the murder of his fiancée by his archenemy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), MacGruber is called back to action when Von Cunth (the name loses its luster after the third or fourth joke kind of like Alotta Fagina and Felicity Shagwell in the “Austin Powers” franchise) steals a nuclear warhead with plans to blow up Washington D.C.

After a major mishap with his first team of renegade soldiers, MacGruber enlists Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and his wife’s best friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) to help him avenge his fiancée’s death.

Based loosely on the 1980s TV show “MacGyver,” which followed the adventures of a resourceful secret agent working for the government, MacGruber doesn’t sport as many miscellaneous objects one would imagine him to have at all times. Instead, most of the gags in “MacGruber” come in hard rated-R form from multiple crass sex scenes to the occasional Ramboesque ripping out of a throat.

What makes “MacGruber” the most enjoyable, however, is how aware it is of its own stupidity, which often times makes for the best parody. While the movie might feel like a dragged out “SNL” skit at times, in this instance it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jokes might hit more often than not in first half and veer off in the second, but you can count on MacGruber to always have a few tricks up his plaid-patterned sleeves.