Sydelle Noel is a name you need to know. The actress and former track star has made some major moves that have allowed her to appear on shows like the CW’s Arrow and in one the highest-grossing films of all time — Black Panther. But on June 29, she will be back to playing her breakout role as Cherry on Season 2 of the Netflix hit, Glow. And while some might say it’s “that one show about women wrestling,” Noel says it’s deeper than that.
“It’s all about women’s empowerment,” she said. “You literally see a group of multicultural women getting together that you typically wouldn’t see get together and become friends, and it’s a sisterhood. And yes, wrestling is there, but it’s not what the show is all about. That’s almost like the back burner of everything. It’s more about, you know, the ups and downs of what you’re going through in life and finding friendship in a person that you didn’t necessarily think that you would be friends with.”
We talked with Noel about Season 2, embracing natural hair in all of her roles, and how she went from Uber driver and babysitter to the Dora Milaje, and Cherry in the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
MadameNoire: With Glow and Black Panther, the characters you’ve portrayed have required a certain level of athleticism. As a former track star and fitness model, how has that all paid off and helped you get these opportunities?
Sydelle Noel: It’s helped tremendously. I mean, truthfully, when I started owning my athletic side, like my athletic body, my toned self, that’s when I started booking more. I know when I first got into this business it was like, “Oh, she’s too muscular, she’s too tone.” And so I was always stuck in my head like, “Ok, should I get skinny? Should I lose my toned side? Do I need to lose all this?” And it wasn’t until I got with some good reps who were like, “No, own that, we like that side of you” that it changed. And truthfully, that’s what I more so want to do. I want to do roles that are more physically demanding. I really want to be physical when I’m acting. Glow was the perfect role for me for that. And then to finish Season 1 and then go right into Black Panther, that was just another dream. I literally had it on my vision board to be in a Marvel movie and it happened. And again, being in the Marvel movie, it was a physically demanding role. So it’s about always being ready, always going to the gym. I work out pretty much six, sometimes seven days a week. Right now I’m doing two a days because I have a photo shoot coming up [laughs]. I’m going hard right now.
As far as Season 2, what can we expect from Cherry? Because she was facing a possible exit at the end of Season 1 to make things happen with her career on TV.
In Season 1 you saw Cherry being the bad a–. She was more so the mother figure. The coach of the ladies always getting stuff done. Season 2, it’s an emotional roller coaster for Cherry. She’s a little bit more vulnerable because she finds out things that she didn’t know of herself. And you’ll get to explore the Chambers & Gold. All I can say is you’ll see a little bit more vulnerability from Cherry in Season 2 than you did in Season 1.
I know that you are natural and you have been lucky enough to play characters who wear natural hair: braids, curls, and a bald head. How important has that been to you as someone who gets to embrace such a look off-screen and on?
I’m embracing that. Because I mean as a child I had natural hair and I hated it growing up because I went to a white school and you know, I got picked on for wearing braids. And then, of course, like every other Black girl, I permed my hair. So even when I first moved out here to California, I rocked a perm, and then I did the big chop. Well, I wouldn’t say big chop [laughs], because I chopped off the perm as it grew. And then I started natural, and then all of a sudden, you know, Glow came and I was just like, “Oh, okay!” I was wondering how they were going to have my hair and we have a great hairstylist on set. Her name is Theraesa. She showed me examples and she was like, “I really liked these braids” and I was like, “I love the braids!” I was like, let’s do it. So I’m really excited for that. And then, of course, Black Panther came and they took all my hair and I was like, “‘Ooooooh [laughs]!” You know, that’s a big thing for a Black woman. Our hair is like everything to us and it’s almost like our safety net. But it was a relieving experience to have my hair taken from me. It was exhilarating almost. I thought I was going to be crying and like, “Oh my gosh, what did I do?” But I got hit on more. I embraced my look. Before when I had natural hair I had to twist my hair at night. It takes no time being bald [laughs]. And then when I went to Arrow, I was wondering how they were going to do it because I was in the growing back phase with my hair. Come to find out, I think I’m the first Black girl on Arrow to have my hair natural.
It’s so funny in this industry because even being a darker complexion, when your hair is straighter, you’re more acceptable, but when it’s kinkier you come off more sassy. It’s crazy. However my hair is, what I’m doing, that’s what I try to do for roles. I try not to change it unless it’s like some crazy thing where, you know, like Black Panther, I need to shave it because I was Dora. But however my hair is going, whichever direction, whichever hair length, I try to keep that in the role that I portray as much as possible.
I also wanted to ask you, you had a really deep story that you shared in your Instastories about the importance of putting it out there, your dreams and desires. Matthew 7:7. Speaking things into existence through prayer and a vision board. Your friend wrote down all the things you wanted for your career, and like you said, it all came true. So how have these breakthroughs kind of impacted your faith?
Yeah, that was crazy. My friend called me and was like, “You know, like what we prayed for actually happened.” And I didn’t even realize until she sent the actual note that she wrote because we both put it on my vision board and she put it on hers as well, and verbatim, it came true. And I feel like it’s one thing wishing for something, but I feel like you can’t just say, “I want to be an actress.” I feel like you need to be very specific in what you want because you can be an actress, but what you’re doing as an actress may not be what you wanted to be. Like I said, I literally said I wanted to be in a show that’s physically demanding and I wanted to be in a Marvel movie. Those are very specific things, and it actually happened. There are actresses acting and they’re not really doing what they want to do. I also know there are times where we struggle as actresses and actors in general and you just want to work, period. But I took jobs as an Uber driver. I was a babysitter. I was a hostess. I did all that because I knew the direction I wanted to go so I wouldn’t audition for things that necessarily weren’t for me. Truthfully, there’s another person out there, and that’s definitely for them, and they would want that role more than me while I’m just doing the role to survive and get another check. So I would literally put exactly what I want on my vision board. It’s not even a board right now. It’s literally a hallway. If you walked by my wall, you would see pictures, you will see everything, and it’s exactly what I want. I’m very specific in my dreams and what direction I want to go and I would say that to everybody. Like I tell my friends, when you’re doing the vision board, be specific. You can’t just say I want this, I want that, because it’s truly the direction you want to go. So I mean, I truly do believe in faith. I grew up with that. I went to church every Sunday. I was Catholic. I’m Catholic, so I still go to church. I still pray. I’m a true believer in faith all the way.
To see the things that you wanted for yourself coming to fruition, even though it didn’t happen overnight, knowing what you had to do to get to this point, how has that journey made the success so much sweeter for you?
I want to say I guess I’m more humble about it. It didn’t come easy for me. I mean there were times where I didn’t know how to pay my rent. There were times that I was really, really struggling and, you know, had to call my mom and be like, “Hey, I don’t have my rent this month.” So I don’t take that for granted at all. And I mean, I’m so happy that I have Glow and I want it to go for, you know, season after season. But I’m also one of those people that, everything is not set in stone. Glow can disappear, you know, next week. I hope to God we do get a Season 3, but everything is not guaranteed. So I’m very humbled. I’m always looking for the next job because I want to keep this going. I want to keep this momentum going. So I don’t take anything for granted and I’m still going to work hard as if I didn’t even have Glow. I’m still auditioning for the next role while we’re on hiatus. I want to keep going. I don’t want to stop now. I got a taste of it, now I want more.