Going Full Throttle With Comedy’s IT Girl..
Noureen DeWulf is best known for her role as sexy therapy patient Lacey in Charlie Sheen’s hit TV comedy, Anger Management. The series premiered in June 2012 to astronomically high ratings, quickly followed by global syndication, catapulting DeWulf onto the world radar almost instantaniously.
Born in New York City and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, DeWulf attended Boston University’s School for the Arts before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a Hollywood actress. Many follow this dream, but she actually made it happen a few short years after arriving on the west coast and knowing no one — a feat few can boast of!
Standing at 5’5”, this slight-of-build actress of partial Indian origin began her career in the Academy Award–winning film West Bank Story (2005). She later appeared in a string of television comedies, including NBC’s Outsourced, TNT’s Hawthorne, MTV’s Hard Times of RJ Berger and Lifetime’s Maneater.
DeWulf has also been seen in a number of box office hits, including Ocean’s Thirteen (2007, whose ensemble cast includes George Clooney and Brad Pitt), Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009, with Matthew McConaughey), and The Back-up Plan (2010, with Jennifer Lopez). Yup, she’s been busy, but not too busy to take time out to chat with me about all of the above and so much more. If you think you’ve got her pegged, think again
Read on . . .
THE “IT” FACTOR
When you first came on the entertainment scene, I personally didn’t realize that you were South Asian. I thought you were Mexican because you have such a striking resemblance to Salma Hayek. Do you get that at all?
You know, I have had it a couple of times. Sometimes I’ll get Penelope Cruz too, so that’s kind of funny. I take it as a compliment, so thank you!
Like these actresses, you are quite a favourite with men. When I Googled you, so many men’s sites came up, positioning you on one list or another. So you’re definitely on their hotness radar. In 2007, for example, you made Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 list as one of the most desirable women on the planet. So I have to ask: from your interaction with your male fans, what have you learnt about their perception of your “it” factor?
They tell me they like the way I look and my sense of humour because I’m not afraid to make a fool out of myself.
Yes, pretty and funny always seem to be the magic formula for men. The interesting thing is that you are also quite a hit with your female fans. They love that you are cute, sassy and have that girl-next-door persona that is really relatable. Would you agree that this surmises your likeability factor with your female fans?
I hope so! I hope that people relate to me. Sometimes people come up to me and hug me, and that makes me happy. So yes, I guess I’m relatable.
Three things that you believe exemplify having the “it” factor?
I can give you more than three! Talent and passion for what you do, and integrity is really important. The way you present yourself, and the kind of stuff you put out there. And not taking yourself too seriously is huge for me. I respond more to people who realize that nothing is that serious in life.
Who, right now, do you feel has the “it” factor in pop culture? One male and one female.
So hard to say. So many people are popular right now. It seems like our world is focusing on teenagers right now, so maybe Justin Bieber and Kristen Stewart.
Well, you’ve definitely got the “it” factor because your professional journey thus far has not reflected the challenges that many South Asian or ethnic actors I have interviewed over the years have faced. That is, being automatically typecast as the token “ethnic.” Kunal Nayyar is probably the only actor in the West who is monetizing his ethnicity other than Sofia Vergara, of course, and they are where they are (in part) because of it. But these are still rare exceptions to the rule and don’t guarantee permanence in Hollywood, despite their mega appeal today. Actors like Archie Panjabi, whose talent screams louder than her ethnicity, is where I’d like to see our community of actors get to in terms of Hollywood’s and the consumer’s perception — being seen as actors and not as an ethnicity. The climate of opportunity is changing now for ethnic actors in Hollywood, and you are an example of that change, having not been pigeonholed into ethnic typecasting at all.
I think it’s an exciting time we are in right now. The world is definitely more open and ready for actors of diversity. But you still don’t see hardly any actors of diversity starring in Hollywood films, or even having their own shows. So I hope it continues to evolve at a faster rate than it has in the past, which I believe is happening now for all of the reasons you just noted. We are definitely where we should be in terms of how we represent the population. It is something to celebrate every time we do see an ethnic actor who has received a level of success, but I don’t think we are as far as we should be. I hope the momentum continues to evolve.
Mindy Kaling is the only one who has gotten her own show (The Mindy Project) to date.
Right! Yet there are so many talented others that deserve a chance to be showcased like Mindy also.
Amen to that! Let’s talk about your career now. I want to navigate through your journey from the onset, so let’s go to 2005, when you launched in Hollywood as Fatima, the lead in the Academy Award–winning short West Bank Story. How did this role come about and why did you choose to take it on?
Well, I moved to Los Angeles in 2003. I didn’t have an agent or a manager at that time, nor did I know anybody, but I did have some self-belief. With that, I began my journey to become an actress in Hollywood. Soon after arriving, I saw a casting notice for West Bank Story where they were searching for someone to play this girl, Fatima, who sings and dances. I sent in my photo and I received a call. They said they wanted to audition me, so I went and auditioned. Then I received another call where they wanted to see me dance and sing, so I did that. I remember it was one of my first auditions and there was a line outside the building of girls who looked the part. I waited outside and they called us in one by one. It was very low-budget. Then when I found out that I got it, I was very surprised.
This was your first film and it got the Academy’s nod.
Yes! We ended up winning the Oscar in 2007. The film actually circulated through a hundred film festivals and I went to several of them. They flew me in for the Dubai Film Festival. I also went to Sundance, to Aspen for the HBO Comedy Festival, and several in California. You know, it was very prestigious for me to be involved in a short film that won an Oscar. And it definitely had a positive affect on my career because how many actors can say that the very first film they starred in won an Oscar? Honestly, some of the things in my career are very surprising to me in retrospect, but I feel lucky that I have gotten the breaks that I have.
Give me an example.
You mentioned Mindy Kaling. Shortly after West Bank, I starred in a show that she wrote for herself, but I ended up playing her character. Steve Martin produced it.
And where did this lead you next?
I got a little bit more known and started doing movie appearances and a lot more comedy. I did The Comebacks, [and] parts in feature films and a lot of TV pilots, which ultimately led me to the point where I am now — a series regular on a prime time globally syndicated show (Anger Management). I definitely went through the grind to get here.
So there was no easy road to success even though you weren’t faced with ethnic typecasting?
No easy road. I earned my place in Hollywood!
Serial success in acting is partly due to knowing your type as an actor. You have definitely learned that early on in terms of your comedic persona, garnering roles in big-banner comedy features like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and The Back-up Plan. How did you figure out so early on in your career that comedy was your type? Or was it just something that happened organically because those were the roles that casting agents were giving you?
I think it’s a combination of the two. I respond more to comedy than I do to drama. I think that’s because I like to watch comedy and that’s what I am interested in. So, although I do love to watch dramas like Homeland, Downton Abbey and Revenge, I’m personally good at what my heart responds to — comedy. So, to answer your question, yes, it’s a bit of both — them (casting agents) validating what I already know about myself (that I’m a comedic actor).
Looking at your filmography, I saw that you had a quick appearance in the multi- A-lister Ocean’s Thirteen. Do you get nervous acting in projects that have so many big actors with huge résumés?
I was really nervous because I have such high respect for my craft, and I know what it takes to get to the place they have gotten to, which is rare. I know what it took me to get here, so I can only imagine what it would have taken them to get where they are. My nerves are due also to the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen when you get on set, or what personalities people will have on any given day. For Ocean’s, I remember auditioning for the casting director. Tons and tons of people were there. They signed the paper and waited in line, as I did. I did a lot of improv during my audition, and I remember that they weren’t sure which character they wanted me to play, but they did call me back to play a model in the casino in the final analysis. I ended up being in one scene in the film with Bernie Mac. It was awesome, as there were hardly any unknown actors in the film. It makes me laugh because it was such a small part but everyone remembers it!
Well, it’s because you were in a movie that had so many heavy hitters in it so the visibility, even though you were in a small role, was huge. I’m curious, when you get on set to shoot, what’s your thing?
I kind of just try to vibe off of the people I am working with. Every situation is so different, so I just try to remember why I am there. It’s much easier when you just focus on your work.
One of your great skills is doing accents. Is this an innate talent or a trained one?
(Laughs) It’s just in me. I’ve been doing accents since I was little. When I would meet people, as soon as the person turned around, I would imitate them.
Do you feel the ability to do accents is in part why you have the opportunity to audition for so many different types of roles, and gives you that competitive edge where you’re not being typecast ethnically?
I think so. It’s definitely helped me. In West Bank Story, I played an Arab girl with an Arab accent. In Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, I had an Indian accent. If you want to play diverse characters and not be typecast, you have to be able to think diversely. It’s that simple!
And diversity brought you to your most well-known role as the enigmatic Lacey in Anger Management. How did you bag that role?
I first heard about it through a friend of mine, who sent me a text and said the character in this new Charlie Sheen show she felt I would do really well in comedically. I was like, “Okay, I have got to look into that and see if I can do auditions for it.” Simultaneously I asked my manager about it, and she said that it was already on her radar. So it seemed like divine timing was on my side so far. Actually, a lot of people reached out to me about Lacey. I wasn’t sure whether I should be insulted or that it was meant as a compliment (Laughs). So I went into the audition, which by the way, had such a diverse casting from beautiful blondes, beautiful Hispanic actresses, even great actresses from different TV shows that had been cancelled. So I went in and read for the producers, during which time they put me on tape, and my tape was circulated. Charlie saw my tape, and a couple of weeks later, I got a call that I got the part.
OMG! How did that feel?
Amazing! I mean it’ll be a moment that will stay with me for my entire life. I have never had 10 episodes of a show that I was a regular in. I have always been on other people’s shows, so for me, this was huge. I was just so happy!
All actors say that comedy is the most difficult thing to do. How did you bring Lacey to life? And how did you keep her from becoming stale since you’ve never had to do consistent engagement before this opportunity arose?
Well, the writers are really great. They go that extra mile to understand what each of us thinks is funny and infuse these elements into each of our characters so as to make us authentically funny. They have really gotten to know me, and I think they have started to write for my organic sense of humour.
What do you think about what your character has become?
I think Lacey is really funny. I think people who are out of control are extremely funny on certain levels and that’s what I try to create in Lacey. So for me, pushing her as far as I can push her without taking it out of people’s comfort zone is a fine balancing act. I adjust how far I can push her, but my goal is always to push her as far as I possibly can.
I think that’s why the character is so likable in her strangeness.
Yes! She’s got everything going for her but she works against herself because she has no sense of self. She can’t control herself on any level, and I think that’s great comedically speaking, and so fascinating to play.
Now that you have gotten to this stage in your career where you’re no longer doing appearances but rather, are a series regular and very well known in your own right, is it going to be TV always for you or are you planning to move into features again?
I would love to do feature films. I would love to have my own show. I would love to do both in fact! It is possible to do both if you are super lucky.
What type of roles would you want to do?
I don’t know. (Pause) Bigger parts I can fit into. If I could play opposite some of these actors who are doing such great comedy these days, if I could get to that space, I would be so happy. But I would also be so happy to be on another show after this one. My TV dream would be to have my own show.
That’s why you’ve gotten to where you are today, because you are so open-minded and you keep your options open. I think that’s crucial in your field
Yes! I want to have standards, but I don’t want to be rigid. It’s a hard balance to strike. I have definitely done a few films that I wish I hadn’t done, and I have definitely lost out on others. You never know which way it is going to go, so all you can really do is your job, and to the best of your ability, and be hopeful it all turns out for the best.
Absolutely! All you can do is your part. What has been your favourite role to play so far and why?
Right now I am really into Lacey. I just really love everything about her. Especially that she’s a fashionista, so I get to wear all those fabulous clothes, being that I’m totally into fashion myself. Love that part of my job (Laughs).
Your most challenging role?
When I was cast in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
You found it challenging to play someone from your own culture? You were so brilliant in this role. Tell me why it was so challenging.
Oh, thank you! Well, because originally, the character had no accent, so when I auditioned for it, I did it with no accent. Then they said that if they were going to go my way, they really wanted to make sure that there was no question as to why Mathew McConaughey’s character didn’t hit on me when he is such a womanizer. So they thought I should have an accent.
How would an accent negate attractiveness? In fact, accents can be quite sexy.
I have no idea!
I went back and read in a couple of different accents with the director. I did a British accent and an Indian one and we all agreed that the Indian one was the funniest, and since this was a comedy, we went with it.
So where did the challenge come in?
I really struggled with the authenticity of a girl in her 20s in America having a strong Indian accent. I asked myself if such a girl really existed. I just had a conflicted dilemma around this issue.
I see, yes. You’ve got a point. So how did you handle it?
We were shooting in Boston, so I went to visit my brother at Harvard, where he was studying at the time. While I was sitting waiting for him, three Indian girls walked into the coffee shop, wearing beautiful clothes. I remember thinking that they looked just like my character in the movie, Melanie. Then one of them opened her mouth and I heard the biggest Indian accent ever. I felt so happy because it was a great moment for me to feel like this person that I had created in Melanie, a 20-something fashionable Indian girl living in America who had a thick Indian accent, did in fact exist.
So you got your validation of authenticity.
Yes! Now I could play her! Because that’s the biggest thing — you want to always make sure that you are not just coming out of nowhere when creating characters. I wanted to make sure that this character was and is a real type, and that I wasn’t just doing an accent for the sake of doing an accent. Sometimes that’s the biggest thing for me, to make sure that the part that I am playing, people are going to either relate to or know someone who is like them. Even if it’s a silly comedy, you have to make sure these are grounded decisions and they make sense.
You’re absolutely right! I have to tell you that it was this particular role that I saw you in where I thought you were such a great talent and wanted to interview you.
Yes! Ever since then, because when a South Asian with no accent in real life can do an authentic Indian accent and not overdo it but still be hilarious, you know they are talented. Especially in comedy, where oftentimes people think they have to overdo it in order for it to be funny but end up being caricaturist instead. I think you had the exact balance to make it memorable.
Oh, thanks, Raj. I’m glad my decisions for the character did in fact work out!
Your dream role?
There are so many dreams that I have. I want to do an action film (Laughs). I want to star in a big comedy. I want my own show. I want to do a scary movie (Laughs). I don’t know. There are so many things I want to do.
And because these aspirations are an active part of your dream pool, they are in your conscious mind, the perfect place for them to be in to actualize!
I hope so!
I know so! What do you have up your sleeve for the rest of the year, and going into 2014, that you would like to share with our readers?
I just finished an independent film called 10 Habits Of Highly Successful People. It stars Eddie Jemison, who was in Ocean’s Thirteen as well, Robert Foster and myself. It’s a dark comedy — a cross between The Office and American Psycho (Laughs). Then I have a supporting role in a Paul Rudd starrer called Baking Together directed by David Wayne, who has an amazing comedic mind.
When will these be out for public consumption?
I’m looking for these to come out in the next year. And hopefully continue on Anger Management, and whatever else comes my way.
Anything regarding your career that you look back on and say, “That was the moment that really changed the course of my career”?
THE PERSONAL LIFE
Yes, of course! So you got married, lady, to superstar goalie Ryan Miller no less! I guess you rated high on his hotness radar, huh?
(Laughs) That’s funny! And he on mine!
Touché! How did you guys meet? The story.
We were set up, actually, by a director.
Yes. I was on another series called Maneater, and I was set up with Ryan by the director, who is friends with his dad.
Arranged marriage! (Laughs)
(Laughs) That’s funny!
So what was the first date like?
It was awkward but also not awkward. I don’t know. I kind of knew when I met him that I might be with him for a long time.
How did you know that he was the one?
I’m not sure. Because he lived in Buffalo, and still lives in Buffalo, it was so hard. I think I was fighting against myself for a long time because our distance was so far, you know? I don’t know, I just knew — something inside me. But I’m very like that. I have these feelings, you know?
I absolutely know what you mean, babe. I’m also an intuitive Piscean. What would you say is the magic that kept you going, considering the distance? In fact, which still keeps you going since he lives bicoastally?
We kind of share mutual admiration for each other in a very humble way, if I can say that.
Of course you can; that’s lovely and so right to say.
I definitely think respect for each other’s careers is one of the things that really keeps us together. I admire his work and am a fan of his, and vice versa. He had seen a film I was in before we met. I am probably his biggest fan. And I hope he is mine.
The proposal, did you expect it or did he surprise you?
Kind of a combination of being surprised and knowing that it was coming. I kind of felt it coming.
Was it what you wanted it to be?
It was so casual. Everything in our relationship is kind of casual, and I kind of enjoy that.
Distance is a real challenge for many couples today, especially couples that are in very demanding careers that keep them apart so much, as yours and Ryan’s do. How do you make that connection stay consistent and workable?
Well, we spend the entire off-season together. We have a relationship where we aren’t together all the time, so we know no difference since it’s always been that way. I visit him as much as I can during the season, and obviously text and Skype.
What’s the sexiest thing about your man for you?
I would say how good he is at being a professional athlete. That’s pretty sexy.
Totally sexy. So that’s your thing?
What’s the most romantic thing he has ever done for you?
Fair enough. And if it’s what I think it is, it should have a lock and key on it! (Laughs)
What would be a perfect day in the life of your incarnation as Mrs. Miller?
Maybe riding bikes to the boardwalk and going to a nice dinner. Simple.
That sounds lovely. You know, a lot of people would think that people in your position would have these massive ways of describing the perfect day because you have the wherewithal to actualize them, but oftentimes when I ask this question, public personalities come back with the simplest answers.
He and I can do a lot of stuff, but that’s not really what I value.
What do you value?
Authenticity. The little things.
An actor and a sports athlete; I am so curious as to what your house looks like.
(Laughs) Well, I took charge of it. I’m pretty much in charge of the decorating.
A lot of my friends say that my home looks like a spa. It’s very tranquil.
I’ve got a lot of khaki. I like to describe it as a French model on vacation (Laughs). I like the glamour of Paris — hotels like Le Meurice and all that — so I try to make it very glamorous. But then I keep it kind of toned down so it doesn’t make other people crazy (Laughs). I love glamour, but I like it to be comfortable as well.
Kids? Plans yet?
I definitely want to have a family, but I have to wait for the right time. Maybe in a couple of years.
If God came down and said that he would grant you the ability to customize your children, what traits and characteristics in Ryan versus you would you choose?
I would choose a lot of him, probably 80 per cent.
What characteristics are there in him that you feel you would love your children to have?
His athleticism. I like to hang out around him, so I figure I wouldn’t mind hanging out with a few smaller versions of him either (Laughs).
I totally understand. You’ve got to give yourself some credit, though, dear — you have a lovely personality, and a lovely aura and energy about you. It would be great to have your children have those too, no?
Yeah, I mean it would be fun if they were, you know, funny.
Yes, it would! I want to ask you about the woman that you are. Who is she?
I think I am a work in progress. I feel better about myself the older I get.
How about right now?
I feel good being me.
Because I feel like I am one of a few lucky people who are able to make a living off of their dream. The more I live, the more I have realized how privileged I am. It never escapes me that I am lucky.
Absolutely. Are you a typical Pisces?
I think so, yeah.
I get that from talking to you.
I am a very go-with-the-flow kind of person.
May I tell you what I think of you from the times we’ve met?
Please do. (Nervously curious, Laughs).
Well, I think you question a lot about yourself and the things that you do. I believe that you are a very open and accommodating personality and do consider opinions other than your own. There is a calm flow and movement in your personality, which is really quite beautiful and welcoming. Since I’ve also met your husband when we went out for dinner the last time I was in Los Angeles, I can see the alignment between you both since he also exudes a similar demeanour.
Oh, thanks, Raj. That’s so nice of you to say!
You’re welcome, dear! Let’s say for a moment you were not Noureen DeWulf. What would your opinion be of her?
That’s funny! I think I would like her (Laughs).
I would want to be my friend.
Great answer! What’s your best physical feature?
Your strongest personality trait?
Favourite fashion accessory?
Toss between a cuff that I have and a new pair of Gucci shoes.
Your guilty pleasure?
Your most valued possession?
Your biggest fear?
In yourself or in others?
Your happy place?
Tell me something most people wouldn’t know about you.
I can cook. Does that surprise you?
Okay, then how about the fact that when I was in high school, my part-time job was teaching swimming and I was a lifeguard?
That surprises me. Describe a day off work, when it’s all about you.
Going to one of my workout classes, a hike — I love hiking. Meet my
girlfriends and have a fabulous dinner — invite them over. I love to hang out with people and have a good time.
I want to ask you the self-identity thing, especially since your position affords you a public following. Although you were born into a Muslim family, you have spoken publicly about not following any particular religion per se. And this makes me wonder, what was your upbringing like? Since it seems that it wasn’t that of a conventional Muslim family, or maybe it was and somewhere along the way you developed your own personal perspective.
Yeah, it’s the latter. I had a pretty traditional upbringing. My parents are from India. I grew up in a pretty traditional home. I wore Indian clothes sometimes; really very American Indian. I just kind of had to make my own way.
That’s the journey of life, right?
When I chatted with you during your cover shoot earlier this year, you told me that you are a very spiritual person and that’s how you define yourself. Define being “very spiritual.”
I really vibe towards being and staying connected. I strongly believe that our thoughts manifest our life. I always go back to the idea that God has a plan and there is a reason for everything but that we manifest our destinies. That’s spiritual for me.
I love your perspective. I’m aligned. In our community, our identity is so tightly woven to our culture, and our culture to our various religions. Many people, from my experience over the years, find it challenging to carve out their personal identity from that of the whole because we are taught from the onset to value the whole above all else. How, if at all, have you carved “you” out of the whole thus far?
I think it’s not really carving myself out of it; it’s knowing who I am inside of all of these cultural contexts.
Totally! For all those women still struggling with self-identity issues, what would you say to them?
I would say, “I get you, girl!” It’s hard to be a woman. I think the one thing that helps me accept who I am is accepting other people the way they are, and to try and find a lot of beauty in a lot of different things also. I think the more you can do that, the more you can find yourself.
It’s usually a lot simpler than people think, isn’t it?
But the journey there usually is not.
That’s true. The future is?
First Published In The Health & Wellness Issue, Summer 2013. www.AnokhiMedia.com
Photography by Vincent Lions/Judy Inc
Produced by Hina P.Ansari
Stylist: Jessica Albano
Hair&Makeup: Robert Weir for Tresemme Hair Care
Dress: Greta Constantine, $895 CDN; Ring, Belle Noel, $39 CDN
Photo i, ii, iii:
Dress, T By Alexander Wang, $290 Cdn
Shoes, Sophia Webster, $675 Cdn
Bracelet, Kenneth Jay Lane, $125 Cdn
Still from “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”
Still from “Anger Management”
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Skirt, Finders Keepers, $129 Cdn
Shoes, Sam Edelman, $175 Cdn
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