Noël Wells always seems to be searching for humanity. From her impression-heavy YouTube channel, her stint on SNL, and her role as Rachel on Master of None, Wells’ comedy is equal parts satirical and sympathetic. It’s observational without being insulting. Her latest project, Mr. Roosevelt, a semi-autobiographical movie that she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, made its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival this year. Wells plays Emily Martin, a struggling comedian in Los Angeles who has to make an emergency trip back to her hometown of Austin, Texas in the wake of a tragedy.
We got the chance to talk to Wells about what it took to bring her vision to the big screen, the limitless snark of the internet, and giving her characters the benefit of the doubt.
As a first-time filmmaker, what was the process in bringing Mr. Roosevelt together?
It took a long time. I had the idea of this character in college and then over the years I’ve been kind of struggling to figure out the best story to take this person on an adventure. I did a draft a couple of years ago that I sent out to my representatives and they were like, “It’s fine, but it’s a little all over the place.” But then once I figured out the central idea of why she’s coming back, which is for Mr. Roosevelt, then all it took was me actually just rewriting the script towards that — which is hard because it’s hard to write for some reason. Then, once I did it and I sent it off, everything moved very, very quickly.
There are lots of movies about relationships and breakups, but this idea of a former couple forced back together for a shared tragedy, and the awkwardness that ensues, didn’t seem like anything that’s been done before. What sparked that idea?
Well, I think the overall character journey for her is somebody who doesn’t know how to connect with people, and doesn’t really know how to let her guard down to be included in those sorts of groups. She’s going off and being ambitious. It’s all about her. So, then her coming back and then having all these things kind of happen. It’s kind of how I think about the world, and what I think is kind of wrong with the world, is that we’re all sort of here with ourselves and it’s hard to hold hands. So, it’s easier when there’s a tragedy. And when bad things sort of happen everybody, they let their guard down and we come together as people, so I think that was the perfect vehicle for her.