THE WRIGHT STUFF

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: David Zaugh

Skyler Wright shows killer instincts in Showtime’s most-watched series Dexter: New Blood.

Hunkered down on Nantucket during the depths of the pandemic, Skyler Wright never could have imagined that dying her hair green would help catapult her acting career. Having worked as a professional actor since the age of fourteen, Wright had been trained to keep her appearance exactly as it’s depicted in her headshots for the benefit of casting directors. But with the gears of Hollywood grinding to a halt and with the tedium of quarantining on the island riding high, the twenty-three-year-old Nantucket resident decided to truly let her hair down.

A week after dying her brunette locks aquamarine green, her agent called with an audition for her out of the blue. Skyler sheepishly signed on to the Zoom audition from her bedroom in Nantucket to read for a part on an undisclosed show being shot outside of Boston. The scouts ended up wanting her for the role, pending one request: “Is Skyler willing to keep her hair green?”

Since landing her role in the Showtime series Dexter: New Blood—a smartly written thriller about a serial killer starring Michael C. Hall that returned for a ninth season this past November after an eight-year hiatus—Wright’s public profile has exploded. “It’s surreal,” she said earlier this spring. “I wake up every morning, make myself coffee and look at my phone…and it’s so bizarre the amount of engagement I get on social media alone.” Indeed, the morning after her character Chloe debuted in episode four of Dexter: New Blood, Wright was shocked to discover that she was the eleventh most-searched name on IMDb’s database of 2.2 million actors.

In retrospect, perhaps that shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, given just how successful the series has been. Dexter: New Blood drew the highest number of viewers in Showtime’s thirty one-year history, beating out such household names as Homeland, Shameless and Billions with eight million viewers each week—effectively thrusting Skyler Wright to the top of an industry that she had been clawing up since middle school.

“I started my career on Nantucket doing community theater and shows with the Theatre Workshop,” Wright said. “I was eight or nine when I started. I remember telling my mom when I was around twelve or thirteen that I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.” Wright’s mother, Amber Cantella, thought there was no reason for her to wait. “She basically said, ‘OK, for eighth grade I am going to take you out of school and homeschool you,” Wright recalled. “‘We are going to spend two months in New York City and you are going to be an extra on movies.’” Wright worked behind the scenes on movie sets, auditioned for countless roles and enrolled in acting, singing and dancing courses at New York University, Berklee School of Music and other distinguished performing arts institutions.

After graduating high school in Duxbury, where her family relocated from the island to be closer for auditions in the city, Wright moved to California to be fully immersed in the entertainment industry. In 2019, she decided to return east to pursue theater in New York City, but then the pandemic hit. Fleeing the eye of the COVID storm in New York City, Wright moved back to Nantucket to quarantine with her family. Like everything else, acting opportunities quickly dried up. She bartended at the Tap Room and Dune, while she auditioned for roles in films such as Don’t Look Up and Julia over Zoom. Then came that serendipitous call from her agent to audition for an unnamed show in Massachusetts.

Filming outside of Boston in the middle of February 2020, Wright arrived for her first day on the Dexter set and immediately had her head covered in silicone and plaster to make a mold of her face for her body double. “What am I getting myself into?” she thought, as the plaster hardened around her skull. But that was only the beginning. Taking advantage of Massachusetts’ winter conditions, director Marcos Siega shot all the show’s outdoor scenes first. Thus, on her very first week on the job, Wright was driven out to a cabin in the woods where she immediately spotted her stunt double having green hair extensions put in. “We want you to be as comfortable as possible,” Wright remembered Siega saying when they first met on the set, “but whatever stunts you feel comfortable doing, I want you to do them.”

The next thing she knew, Wright was being tied to a harness to film her—Spoiler Alert!—death sequence at the hands of actor Clancy Brown. “It was a pretty intense first scene to shoot,” Wright recalled. In the highly charged moment, Wright’s character Chloe—a poor runaway who gets held hostage by Brown’s serial killer character Kurt—runs at her captor, tears of fear streaming from her eyes, only to be shot in the face by a hunting rifle. Performing the stunt herself, Wright was violently yanked to a mat on the ground by ropes tied to her harness to simulate the arresting power of the rifle. It would prove to be one of several scenes that challenged Wright in ways she never encountered before as an actor—both on and off the set.

Wright’s career has flirted with a number of big breakout moments, including her first major cinematic casting in The Forger with John Travolta in 2014, but nothing has elevated her stature like her work on Dexter. “I didn’t realize until recently just how many eyes are on me,” Wright reflected. “It’s been both cool and daunting.” Overnight fame has come as a double-edged sword that Wright is still trying to get a handle on. “The second people get some recognition from the public, they get less humanized,” she reflected. “I think I’m trying to bridge the gap because my actual life hasn’t changed that much. I’m still the same girl behind the bar five nights a week. I’m still sending in audition tapes. There’s just so much that changes in the way that people perceive you, but the actual person doesn’t change very much.”

A significant amount of the unwanted scrutiny Wright has received on social media has come in response to a brief nude scene she performed in the show. “That led to thousands and thousands of comments and DMs from people talking about or scrutinizing my body and my weight,” Wright said. “A lot of them are compliments, but they’re not always taken as compliments. Even if it’s some creep in his mom’s basement trying to tell me that I’m hot because I’m chubby… no one really likes hearing that.”

As her public profile skyrocketed from zero to a hundred, there has been little time for Wright to prepare for these complicated implications of celebrity. “It’s the dehumanizing factor of being on TV,” she said. “All of the sudden it hit me that ‘yes, this is an amazing experience and I loved every second of it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s been all butterflies and rainbows the whole time.’” Wright credits the support of her parents, boyfriend, close friends and licensed therapist for helping her grapple with the unforeseen mental and emotional tolls of her success. She hopes to use her emerging platform to raise awareness around mental health and positive body image while continuing to support the causes close to her heart such as protecting trans youth, racial quality and gender equality.

Meanwhile, though her character Chloe might have been killed off the show, her career in showbiz is very much alive. Since moving back to California, her primary focus has turned to music, recording an album she wrote while quarantining on Nantucket. She describes her music as “somewhere between pop, R&B and a little bit of rock.” Her pursuits in acting also remain in full force, with more calls coming in to her agent and new projects underway that were still too top secret to talk about at press time. As for her hair, Wright is keeping it green, at least for the time being. “It’s funny that something that could be considered so insignificant has changed my career and my life so much,” she said, “and now it’s just become such a part of who I am.” Yet no matter what her hair color may be, Skyler Wright clearly possesses those intangible gifts, what author Tom Wolfe would have described as “the right stuff,” to continue riding this rocket ship to stardom.

Hair & Makeup by Barbara Lamelza.

Listen to our interview with Skyler Wright on the first episode of Season 2 of the Nantucket Sound podcast, premiering Friday, April 22.

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