UGA grad Sydelle Noel revels playing Cherry Bang on ‘Glow’

Sydelle Noel as Cherry Bang on Netflix’s “Glow.” CREDIT: Netflix

This was posted on Monday, July 10, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

University of Georgia graduate Sydelle Noel, like thousands of actors in Hollywood, was seeking that big break, that role that could propel her into the spotlight.

Over a dozen years, she spent a lot of time as a hostess at restaurants to make ends meet while compiling a modest acting resume with guest roles on shows such as “Private Practice,” “Lincoln Heights” and “Bones.”

Then a friend last year, while writing a show about wrestling, received a competing script for a show dubbed “GLOW” – the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. He noticed a character in it that sounded perfect for Noel, a former track star at UGA seeking a role that could show off her physicality.

“He told me, ‘I think I may lose you to this show. The role is perfect for you,’ ” Noel said in an interview Friday.

Indeed, it was. The producers picked her to play Cherry Bang, the tough-talking but ultimately soft-hearted wrestler/trainer on the Netflix drama, which is set in the mid-1980s. The ensemble show features a desperate schlock movie producer (played with delightful self-righteousness by Marc Maron) working to create a female-wrestling TV show using a diverse array of women hired to portray handy stereotypes of the day. (Examples: “Fortune Cookie” for the Asian girl, “Beirut the Mad Bomber” for the Indian woman who looks kind of Middle Eastern and “The Welfare Queen” for a black character.)

So far, the first ten episodes released June 23 have received almost uniform critical and viewer acclaim (an 81 on Metacritic out of 100 and a 7.7 score from viewers so far.). The pedigree was there from the start: “Orange is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan and “Nurse Jackie” writers Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch.

“This is every actor’s dream,” Noel said. “This was an answer to my prayers.”

“GLOW” provides Noel with a nuanced character who was a stunt woman in blaxploitation films in the 1970s but had not had any real work once those opportunities dried up. She already knew Sam, the producer. In fact, she had also slept with him in the past but is now happily married to a fellow stuntman Keith, who also plays a referee for the wrestling matches.

“Most of the time on TV, you see the husband and wife bickering,” she said. “To have a loving couple that supports each other, to have the husband as the supporting, cute cuddly teddy bear, is refreshing. He’s not intimidated by his wife and supports her 100 percent.”

Early on, Bang shows vulnerability when she reveals she had a miscarriage a couple of years earlier. Later, Sam ups her salary and gives her the job of lead trainer but, since this was the mid-1980s, her rapper wrestling character Junkchain is relegated to second-class status in the ring.

Indeed, two white women – Alison Brie’s annoying yet oddly endearing Ruth and Betty Gilpin‘s steely yet vulnerable former soap star Debbie – are the show’s primary female leads for now. Noel, nonetheless, gets third billing among the ladies.

Her character can be hard on some of the women – especially spoiled brat Melrose (Jackie Tohn) – but has a fun scene with Gilpin after her character Debbie sleeps with a strapping male wrestler named Steel Horse.

“You think she is going to rip Debbie a new one but instead, they talk like girls,” Noel said. And amusingly, Noel bums a smoke before they run an uphill 5K. Welcome to 1985. “I didn’t want to offend smokers out there so I spent two weeks practicing,” Noel said. “First time I tried, a friend of mine who’s a smoker started laughing. ‘You’re holding it like a joint!’ I don’t even smoke weed!”

The practice worked: “My friend said, ‘Your smoking scene was perfect.’ I was so happy.”

Noel herself knew zip about wrestling going in. But she Googled every video she could find of the original GLOW girls from that time period and watched a documentary about them available on Netflix: “GLOW: The Story of the Georgeous Ladies of Wrestling.” “These women poured blood, sweat and tears and put their lives on hold for this show,” she said. “They broke bones. Some are in wheelchairs. It’s a good documentary.”

She was also proud of the fact she did all her own stunts. And she loved her outfits, which she said looked suspiciously like her mom’s old wardrobe. (Amusingly, her mom is trying not to binge watch the show but watch an episode a week. But Netflix makes it hard to watch just one and she was already up to episode five by last Friday.)

The ladies during an early test run of the show. Noel is second to the left. CREDIT: Netflix

Noel grew up in Hollywood, Fla., which is a far cry from the legendary Hollywood. She came to UGA on a track scholarship and enjoyed her time in Athens while competing in heptathlons. “It was one of the best times of my life,” she said. “I still have my track girl friends. I even enjoyed the football games. Going to a Georgia football game is ridiculous. I swear you could rob a bank in Athens during a game.Everything shuts down. You even have cops on the sidelines drinking beer. The campus is totally wrecked but the next day, it’s completely clean like nothing ever happened.”

She recalls taking a theater class and the teacher telling her she was good at it. “But I was focused on track,” Noel said. “Acting wasn’t even in my mind frame.”

Then senior year, she had a serious stress fracture in her groin that cost her a shot at the Olympics. “It was wear and tear on my body” doing hurdles and long jump, she said. “I took time off but no matter what I did, I kept feeling it.”

With no track future, “I fell in a hole for a bit,” she said. After graduation, she lived in Atlanta but did very little. “I was literally on my couch eating Cinnabons and watching TV,” Noel said. “I didn’t even step into a gym at all. Didn’t do anything.”

Her agent convinced her to leave the couch and go into sports modeling. That brought her to Los Angeles in 2005 and got into acting for real.

She truly appreciates this “GLOW” opportunity after spending so much time awaiting a breakthrough role. At the same time,  the impact hasn’t quite sunken in. “I’m numb to the fact. I’m getting emails from people I haven’t heard from in years. Watching ‘GLOW,’ they’re surprised I was in it. They’ve seen my billboard in Venice, Italy. Wait, what? I’m taking it all in one day at a time.”

The show has not been renewed yet but Noel is confident it will be back. “My reps keep telling me they hear nothing but good things,” she said.

And you’ll be seeing her on the big screen as well: “Glow” helped her book her next role in 2018’s “Black Panther” movie.

GLOW


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