Los Angeles-based actor Deanna Noe embodies a subtle form of emotional realism rarely glimpsed on the stage or screen. With a breadth of experience including everything from independent film to immersive theater, the Utah native has a profound gift for inhabiting characters who transcend societal norms of femininity, as well as for bringing depth and humanity to the most insidious antagonists. Self-identifying as gender fluid, Deanna imbues each performance with a daring yet nuanced complexity, ultimately defying audience expectation to endlessly riveting effect.
Originally from the small town of Vernal, Deanna first discovered their intense love of acting as a young child, and soon learned that it offered a sorely needed emotional outlet. “I grew up in a family where it wasn’t safe to show your feelings, and acting became a way for me to have some sort of freedom to express myself,” says Deanna. Raised in an extremist Christian household and forbidden to watch television, Deanna first fed their voracious imagination by obsessively reading serial spy novels, and later took to reciting lengthy and occasionally improvised dramatic monologues alone in their bedroom. Several years after graduating high school early and launching a modeling career in Salt Lake City, the then-20-year-old escaped to New York City—a life-changing move complicated by the fact that Deanna had recently given birth to a baby girl, the product of an abusive relationship. “For a long time I was just in survival mode,” Deanna says. “I never had that option of being a starving artist and getting by on nothing. I told myself that because I was a mom now, I wasn’t allowed to pursue a creative career—but somehow I kept getting pulled back in.”
Once they’d settled in New York, Deanna moved forward with modeling despite a strong aversion to the industry’s highly toxic nature. Still, they felt a certain resonance with more artistically elevated shoots that incorporated an aspect of storytelling, such as one editorial piece centered on a theme of gender-bending. As the lure of acting became undeniable, Deanna relocated to Los Angeles with their daughter and second child, a son. While working full-time and caring for their children, they began studying with esteemed acting coach Stephanie Feury and with film director Kim Farrant, and soon started building the repertoire of techniques that closely inform their work today.
Drawing from their deep-rooted curiosity about the inner life of each character, Deanna approaches every role with a finely honed balance of intuition and intellect. That alchemy of elements is especially potent in such performances as their recent turn as a sex trafficker, an undertaking that began with extensive research on the psychology of sex trafficking. “I started looking into why women become sex traffickers, and I found that a significant number had been sex-trafficked themselves,” says Deanna. “Knowing that, I was able to create a backstory for this woman and understand that her way of protecting herself from being victimized was to become the victimizer. I always try to find what the character’s wound is, and then tap into the parts of myself that might feel wounded in a similar way.”
As they’ve taken on an eclectic mix of film and theater roles over the past decade, Deanna has found a particular affinity for characters who communicate their vulnerability in unorthodox ways. “When I first got to L.A., I thought I’d be limited in my acting because I’m not a big crier—I’ve always been very guarded,” Deanna says. “But eventually I started asking: ‘Why should I feel the need to bring that into my acting, when it’s not true to how I am in real life?’” Since coming out as gender fluid and pansexual in 2017, Deanna has felt even more empowered to uphold an uncompromising emotional truth in their work—and ideally provide audiences with a little-explored form of cultural representation. “For most of my life, I struggled with the idea that I wasn’t feminine enough,” says Deanna. “But then once I came out, I started owning all these parts of myself that I’d felt ashamed of for so long. It’s been incredibly liberating and really opened up my sense of possibility, and I’d love to have a place in helping a different version of a woman’s emotional life to be reflected onscreen.”