Comedian Noël Wells chooses to live by the aphorism that honesty is the best policy, but reaching that simple realization has not been a simple journey for the multifaceted entertainer.
On Wednesday, the 30-year-old releases her directorial feature, “Mr. Roosevelt,” in which Wells plays Emily Martin, a struggling comedian who returns to Austin, Tex., upon learning her beloved titular cat is terminally ill. In doing so, Wells’ lead character is forced to confront her thorny past, an introspection not unfamiliar to the film’s author.
Unexpectedly departing from “Saturday Night Live” in 2014 after just one season, the Texas native was feeling set back in her self-esteem and career trajectory, but Wells quickly refocused her energy to more personal projects, which ultimately led to the completion of “Mr. Roosevelt.”
“Honesty is the most important thing about human existence and communication,” says Wells. “If you’re honest with yourself, you’re going to find darkness and you’re going to find you’ve hurt people.”
Wells casts her doe-eyes toward the camera at a New York photo studio, playfully drawing in her chin and touching both hands to her knee. It’s understandable how the entertainer’s youthful exuberance would earn her the qualifier “quirky,” a term she’s come to dislike.
But being typecast as the lovably comical girl-next-door is not how Wells envisions her professional future. In the wake of her unexpected exit from “SNL,” last year’s shift in American politics and the recent deluge of sexual assault and harassment allegations surfacing in Hollywood, Wells approaches her craft with a reignited passion.
“I would lose my s–t when people were wronging me,” she explains. “But lately I just have a firm reaction [toward that behavior] versus tolerating something for long periods of time. Having these things be exposed makes me feel less insane. It seemed like nobody else could see it, but now that it’s brought to light, I just want to do my work.”
In addition to scriptwriting, her work largely includes singing and songwriting, a newly tapped creative outlet. Following last year’s polarizing U.S. presidential election, Wells discovered the guitar and began to teach herself how to play. “I felt a level of despondency and I had to start making things that felt like a direct line to how I was feeling,” she remarks.
The new singer-songwriter has been performing her “lullabies for adults” to small crowds, admitting there’s a “deep darkness” to each song. But it’s not all doom and gloom for Wells, who views comedy, like that in her semi-biographical film, as a “way for us to transmute the pain and hurt we’ve experienced or done to other people and turn it into a positive.”
Unpinning her brunette locks, Wells casts her head downward at the studio’s smooth concrete floor. A palpable wave of reflection falls over her face. “I feel a lot,” she says unapologetically. “It’s always been a balancing act from bizarrely high levels of optimism and deep, dark despair. That’s the tale of a comedic person.”
Exemplifying her words, Wells’ demeanor once again becomes lighter, a smile returning to her face. “The film, I hope, is an optimistic version of myself,” she says. “People should be a lot more honest in expressing both the dark and light of themselves. We need to give each other the space to do that because it’s the only way we can grow and evolve.”