DEBORAH ANN WOLL [RELICS AND RARITIES]
INTERVIEW BY JUNE SUEPUNPUCK
Actress Deborah Ann Woll is most recognized for her work as Jessica Hamby on HBO's True Blood, Karen Page on Marvel's Daredevil/ The Defenders/ Punisher, and most recently, host of her own Dungeons & Dragons show, Relics & Rarities. However, in real life, she is even more complex than the strong female roles she plays on the big screen.
Although fearless when taking on challenging acting roles, we discover that Deborah Ann is quite private, a bit shy, and still learning how to embrace herself in the raw. Through this intimate interview and editorial, we explore the many styles of her personality that she wishes to celebrate: the every day/approachable Deb, the whimsical & playful Deb, and the strong & soulful Deb. By tapping into these parts of her psyche, we see that there is a lot less mystery to behold and far more magic to unfold when it comes to this natural beauty.
Read on for the highlights of the interview with Deb or listen to the full podcast episode under the Soulful Style column BY JUNE SUEPUNPUCK BELOW:
June: I know you and I talked about this before, but I feel like it's important for people to understand that just because you’re a beautiful actress on a red carpet does not necessarily mean that the confidence chip is always with you and that you were born with it. Can you tell the audience a little bit about your experience with confidence?
Deb: Confidence. I’m still having experiences with confidence. In many ways, too, when you're on the red carpet it means that everyone is looking at you, and everyone is judging you. Even with social media today, we're all getting a little bit of a sense of that. When you're on display, it has this way of making you second guess and become really self-conscious about yourself, and I think in a lot of ways, less brave. Cause we don't want to put ourselves out there and then be slapped back. You know? So Yeah, I would say my whole life I was much braver when I was a kid... and I think a lot of my life has been, ‘How do I get back to being that kid?’ When I was like 11/12 years old...right before things got terrible (for all of us), you suddenly become self aware. You suddenly go, ‘Oh, people are looking at me when I do things and judging me and having thoughts’, whereas before that you're not really concerned. You just do what’s fun! And someone has to tell you don’t hit other people because they won’t like it cause your brain, literally, doesn’t know how to do that. So you know, there's the negative sides of it, like hitting and biting and all of the stages that kids go through that you work on. But then there's the positive side of it, which means you sing at the top of your lungs and you dance like no one's looking because you don't know. Like kids at a wedding are the best because they have no self-consciousness and they go wild and they have so much fun.
It's so hard as an adult to find that kind of freedom and that kind of confidence.
June: So is D&D kind of your way of tapping into that part of you?
Deb: Definitely. D&D feels like make believe the way I used to do it when I was a kid. It's really free. But it's got some structure to it, which is good for the adult in me who need some rules to help keep things on track... Ya know it’s interesting because I play make believe for a living as an actor. I think that had a lot to do with wanting to remain that 11 year old kid. But there's something about that [acting] because all of the themes are very adult and pretty much make believe, but with grown up concepts, ideas. So it's satisfying at a certain level, but it doesn't quite feel like play in the same way that it did as a kid when you were a Ninja Turtle running through the sewers. So D&D fills a whole other spectrum of that, which is very much childlike. So when I play D&D I don't do overly political worlds. It’s very much like there are evils in the world and you are good adventurers and you are going to go and solve the problems. I am enough drained by our real life, complex problems and thinking about those all day and trying to do what I can about that, that when I go to play and do D&D, I really do want it to be that childlike sense of ‘I am a hero and things are not hopeless. I can save the day. I can complete the quest.’
June: You love D&D so much that you even had your own show called Relics & Rarities, where you were the DM (Dungeon Master). Could you talk about your experience with that because I think you wrote all the games. Is that right?
Deb: Yeah I wrote the whole thing. I created the world. We had an incredible team of production crew. (Laughing) I made an infamous 50 page lookbook with descriptions. They tease me about it every time I go to Geek and Sundry. So I gave them a ton of inspiration and it was sort of my first time being the creator at the beginning. You know, as an actor, you're a brick in the wall. Now you want your brick to be colorful and interesting and strong and hold the wall together. You don't have any say in what the wall looks like, or how it goes together or how they light it or anything. So that's that's its own experience. And I very much enjoy that experience. But this was my first time designing the wall. That was really exciting. And the thing that I discovered was that specificity and enthusiasm goes such a long way. So I don’t know anything about set design or lighting design or special effects or any of those things that that our crew was in charge of, but if I could communicate specifically and with enthusiasm what I was going for, they took it and they ran with it and they did things with it that I could never have done myself or imagined it to be possible. So when I walked on set for the first time...it's like someone crawled in my brain and took all the imagery and all the feelings that I wanted and somehow made it physical.
June: Was your 11 year old self walking in being like, ‘Ohhhh my dreams have come true!’
Deb: Yes! It was It was crazy. It was really amazing. I have zero complaints about that collaboration. They were so on point with it.
June: Speaking of collaborations, we’ve been talking about collaborating forever and ever. I mean, we’ve known each other since 2013! I think that’s why it was so exciting to work on the A BOOK OF editorial because we were just buds hanging out making art together for this shoot. And what was cool is that since I know you so well, I knew styling-wise what you would like, and I could also pitch to the team, a theme talking about the different sides of Deb. So please share with us, what are the different types of you we see in this editorial?
Deb: The normal every day Deb I think, appropriately, is the least engaging of them all. I think that was something I think we wanted to do on purpose because so much of what I do in my everyday life is like what we were talking about before, which is that it’s a little reserved, it’s a little shy, it’s a little scared to make a statement. Because people, whether you want them to or not, will look at you and judge you by what you’re wearing or the choices that you’ve made...how you look… and that has always sort of scared me. I think at a certain point I was so scared of that, I just said you know what, I’m not gonna play the game. I’m gonna dress very simply. I don’t want you to even notice I’m wearing clothes, other than the fact I’m not naked, and that’ll be my way of kind of avoiding the issue. But what it has led to is, while I look fine, I don’t feel like I have much identity in my everyday look. And if I change it up even a little bit, I feel like it’s too much. You know my tolerance level has really tightened. There’s a very thin spectrum where I feel comfortable and even just putting on a heel and think ‘Oh, that’s too much’ or a necklace and ‘Now what is that saying?’ I get very nervous. So it’s been an interesting journey talking about it with you and having you help me broaden my horizons a little bit.
So when we talked about the other aspects, I'm much more capable of stepping outside of myself when it's for a role because no one is going to judge you. They’re going to judge the part. And you’re like, ‘Great! You can judge the character all you want. As long as it doesn’t rub off on who I am then we’re great. It's much easier to play in that arena ‘cause there’s a safety net. No consequences. So we talked about rather than going strictly with characters that I like, if we could make it more personal and say what are the aspects of my personality that I wish I played with more and let out and celebrated...not just in my actions everyday, but literally in how I look and how I present myself. So the first look is what we called ‘whimsical,’ which is our way of saying 11 year old Deb….
June: Yes! And it was so exciting and I was nervous because you sent me photos and some inspo and I was like okay I can kind of see what she’s going for, but I was thinking what is the adult version of 11 year old Deb.
Deb: The thought was when you go in your mom's closet or your dad's closet and you take out their clothes and you put your tutu on with her shawl and his work boots and a tie around your head….you do the layer thing, You layer up like crazy and you don't care whether colors go together or not. I think I was telling you the story, but I had a petticoat that was bright pink. And then I had a blue circle skirt. So I would put the circle skirt on top of the pink petticoat and dance around to Damn Yankees or something like that, and kick my legs so I could see the colors. Always in Broadway musicals they have a multi-colored thing and that was such a fun, pure, dance-like-no-one-is-looking moment of my life. And I was like, let's do that! Let's do layers and colors and poof. I think you got it just right.
And then our other personality was definitely strong vintage. I do love that kind of mid century look and some of the drama that you could have then. I feel like in this day and age, we love things like a no makeup, makeup, or those kinds of looks. I am the first to person to jump on that. I never wear makeup. I dress in jeans and t-shirts. I very much love the down to earth authentic self, but it has taken a little bit of the fun out of glamour. I miss that a little bit. And I think when I was a kid, you know, playing around in my bedroom and playing dress up, I would listen to someone like Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday and I would hear this incredible, soulful- really a glamorous sound. And there's incredible images of those women with the light coming down on them and their microphone, and it's so strong. So I wanted to put on something elegant and Alex did that incredible hair with the sweep to it...and I wanted to find that same self confident glamour. That I can be glamorous without trying to say ‘I think I’m pretty or I think I’m this…’ Ya know, I wouldn’t want someone to look at a picture like that and say, ‘Oh she thinks she’s all that.’ And that’s a bit of the fear with some of those looks, but I just wanted to really own it and say it’s ok for an hour on a Sunday afternoon to feel beautiful.
June: So what would you say to the younger audience who might be aspiring actors and actresses? What piece of advice would you give to them?
Deb: I guess I would say this is true in the work and in your life, is that you and your opinions matter. So a lot of times when you’re starting out, it’s easy to go, ‘Yes! I will take any part. I'll come up any day’, and you kind of take your own feelings out of it and you do whatever has to be done for the other person. And, yes, to a certain extent you should be available and open and things like that, but if you’re going home because your mom is sick- don't cancel your flight for an audition. Do what, in your heart, feels like the right thing to do for you. Your needs matter as much as the needs of the production. And I say that coming from a position of the kind of person who might change their flight, despite their sick mother, for an audition. (So if you're an egomaniac, don't listen to me) But if you're like most people, and you want this, and you're you're a good person...don't forget yourself. Keep yourself in the mix, you know, especially with young women there's pressures to do nudity or not do nudity. You make those decisions based on what you think they want, rather than how you actually feel about it. So whichever side of that decision you fall is perfectly acceptable. Just make sure it’s your choice.