Y’lan Noel on ‘The First Purge’, ‘Insecure’, and Realizing He Loves Action Scenes

     October 3, 2018

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From franchise creator James DeMonaco and director Gerard McMurrayThe First Purge (now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand, with bonus features) is the origin story for how an idea that was introduced by the New Founding Fathers of America, in charge of the country’s political landscape, led to a dangerous social experiment to help communities vent their aggression by making all crime, including murder, legal for 12 hours, on one night a year. You can also now own The Purge 4-Movie Collection (available on Blu-ray and DVD), which includes The PurgeThe Purge: AnarchyThe Purge: Election Year and The First Purge. 

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Y’lan Noel (who plays Dmitri, a man more anti-hero than hero that survives by dealing on the streets until he realizes that it’s up to him to save the community he loves and the individuals who live in it from the NFFA) talked about what it’s meant to him to be a part of The Purge franchise, his reaction to fans dream-casting him in the title role, if there’s ever a Blade reboot, that he’d love to do more action in films, getting to play the hero and the villain in the same character, the Purge moments that he experience on set, how his character might fare in a team-up with Frank Grillo’s character from the previous films, and which scary movie most scared the hell out of him. 

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Image via Universal Pictures

Collider:  As an audience, we’ve gotten to know you through both Insecure and The First Purge, which are very different projects. As an actor, what’s it been like for you to take on two high-profile projects like that, that show very different sides and different aspects of you and what you can do? 

Y’LAN NOEL:  It’s been a privilege. Insecure is such a revelation because we get to see us being represented as super dynamic and regular, and not like extreme tropes or stereotypes, which is really cool. And then, being in The Purge, in a franchise that huge, although it’s anxiety inducing, is really cool because it resonates with people, internationally. But then, from an acting perspective, what I want to do with my particular career, is that my favorite actors are character actors – Gary Oldman is my guy, I love him – and I just want to play roles that are completely different. I don’t want to be able to be boxed in. The experience is that much more fun when you’re playing something that’s outside of who you are. And with the preparation, the questions that you get to ask are so much more savory and juicy. That’s how I fell in love with acting. I could let myself go. I’m excited to do more of that. 

As soon as The First Purge came out, people immediately started talking about how great you would be in a reboot of Blade. Did you see that people were basically dream casting you as a bad-ass? How would you feel about taking on that role, if the opportunity were to arise?  

NOEL:  That would be amazing! I definitely saw it .To answer your question, yes, I saw it. That was hard not to see. It’s cool to be acknowledged, in that way, and Blade is huge. Anything of that nature, to be dream cast in, I feel fortunate. It would be something that I’d have to take serious. That, or anything like it. 

Had you ever thought about trying to be a part of one of these comic book or superhero films, prior to that, or was that first time you were like, “Yeah, I could do that”? 

NOEL:  To be honest, it was a real-time revelation, doing the action. I was like, “Why haven’t I been thinking about this?” I hadn’t, to be honest. I’d been thinking more about dramatic roles and even comedic roles, but I hadn’t really thought about action movies, in a serious way. I guess you always think about them because we’re inundated by them, these days, and they’re fun to watch, but I didn’t know how much fun they were to shoot and to be within the world of. I had fun doing the stunt choreography and the action, with the machine guns. It was all like a dance. It was in those moments where I was like, “Wow, this is really cool!” I had a pep to my step, walking back to set from the trailer and past the producers. It affirmed that I could do that type of stuff. I come from an athletic background, so it was a merging of me wanting to be a serious actor with also, at one point, wanting to be a serious athlete. It was cool to have those two worlds come together. 

That’s really cool! One of the things I liked most about your character is how, in another story, he might’ve been the villain or the antagonist, but when you throw the Purge into everything, he realizes that he’s going to have to protect his community and the people that he cares about, which turns him into something of a hero. What was it like to get to play the villain and the hero, in the same character? 

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Image via Universal Pictures

NOEL:  Oh, man, it was the best. We categorize people as villains or heroes, but Dmitri is more like us than we think, where he’s just a walking contradiction. He’s just someone who we get to see, in real time, decide to act against his own hypocrisy. He’s called out, and then, within the same movie, he responds to the hypocrisy that Nya (Lex Scott Davis) talked to him about. He maybe acts quicker than most of us, but I feel like all of us are a mixed bag. Sometimes we have heroic qualities, and sometimes we have villainous qualities. In moments like this, when our back is against the wall, that’s when it’s truly revealed who we are. 

The Purge franchise, whether it’s the films or the TV series, has some iconic imagery and moments that really stand out, as you go on these crazy thrill rides with each story. What was the moment or moments on set, where it felt like you were really part of a Purge movie? 

NOEL:  As soon as they start filling random areas with smoke and filling the street with smoke, and then they do this thing where they wet the roads to help the road pop on camera, and then they set the trash can on fire, that obviously helped me paint a picture. We shot in Buffalo, which is the perfect background for a horror movie. No disrespect to Buffalo, but it was just so eerie. There was never anybody outside. We were shooting at night, but there were just tumbleweeds. I don’t even know if it was a psychological thing, but I felt like I saw tumbleweeds, all the time. It was a perfect background for a Purge film. People start putting the masks on, and then you’re like, “Okay, it’s time to go.” 

When you’re doing big fight scenes, do you get caught up in the moment and have to remind yourself to act while you’re doing them? 

NOEL:  Yeah. The thing is that you put yourself in those extreme circumstances, which is what The Purge is really good at doing, and you don’t have to act so much. You just have to breath and take in what’s around you, and hopefully, the camera picks up the fact that you are really having a panic attack or a nervous breakdown, or whatever it is the character’s going through. They’re really good at making sure the actors feel like they’re actually in that circumstance, if that makes any sense. 

When you’re shooting a movie where there are people dressed as Klansmen and white supremacist mercenaries, can you all have a chat over craft services and sit down for a meal together, or do you try to steer clear of all of that? 

NOEL:  I definitely tried to steer clear of that. It’s silly, though, because the irony was that we dealing with really great people. Prior to putting the costumes on, we’d talk to all of the stuntmen about our lives, and about all types of stuff. And then, as soon as that got going, you would just remove yourself. It definitely spoke to the horror of what those things represent. 

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Image via HBO

I would love it, at some point, if we got see a movie where your character and Frank Grillo’s character, from the second and third films, team up. I think that would be really bad-ass. What do you think that might be like? Do you think they’d get along, or do you think they’d have to go their separate ways from each other? 

NOEL:  Oh, man, we’ve gotta see them butt heads ‘cause that would be the best thing to see. Two separate scholars of these films, butting heads, is something that we’d have to see. It’d be interesting to see if there’s any way to find them teaming up and being associates, and doubling down on the bad-assery. That’s something that we’d also have to see. But, we’d only earn it by seeing what it is that they could do against one another.  

You’ve talked about being scared of scary movies. What are the movies you’ve seen that have really scared the hell out of you? 

NOEL:  You know what? The movie that scared the hell out of me was The Blair Witch Project. I can’t remember another movie that scared me the way that one did. I had just moved into another house, where we didn’t have blinds, and we had a big field around us that was just open space. When you don’t have blinds, you can see outside, but you’re also ridiculously aware of the fact that people can see right in and see you. And I didn’t have blinds into my room. As soon as it got dark, I just felt like I was in The Blair Witch Project. Also, the symbol from The Blair Witch Project is very similar to the fan that sat right above my bed, and I would stare up at it, when I struggled to go to sleep at night because of sleep apnea. So, it was a weird time. For three weeks after seeing The Blair Witch Project, I didn’t get a lot of sleep. 

I can understand that. The fear in that movie seems so real. 

NOEL:  Yeah. With the handheld camera, it was shot like a documentary. I haven’t watched it since, so I don’t know how it holds up, but that was the one. Most other times, I’m the guy on the roller coaster who laughs at the person next to them, and that how I am in scary movies. I look at the person next to me to see how they’re responding, and that’s where I get my entertainment. But, The Blair Witch Project was the one. I was the victim there.

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