The half-hour, 10-episode Netflix comedy series GLOW, from co-creators by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and executive producer Jenji Kohan, is inspired by the real-life story of a 1980s all-female professional wrestling league, called the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. As a group of very unique women come together and learn to trust each other while also learning how to body slam, they find their place in the world among each other, all in the name of creating a low-budget cable TV show. The series stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron, Sydelle Noel , Jackie Tohn, Britney Young and Kia Stevens, who all give terrific and memorable performances.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Alison Brie (who plays Ruth Wilder, an out-of-work actress that takes on wrestling as a last-ditch effort to keep her career afloat) talked about why GLOW was everything she never knew she’d always wanted, how quickly she fell in love with the character, being very game for the physical aspect of the series, how exhilarating it is to do the wrestling scenes, the story’s political and social undertones, how powerful it is to work with so many women, in front of and behind the camera, and her excitement for possible future seasons.
Collider: First of all, I have to say I love this show and everything about it!
ALISON BRIE: Thank you! That’s so wonderful to hear!
What was it about this series that made you decide to say, “Yes, I’m all in!”? Did you have a secret desire to be a wrestler?
BRIE: You know, the wrestling thing is everything I never knew I always wanted. I will say that the concept alone really sold me. It was not terrifying, at all. The headline was that Jenji Kohan was producing it, and I’m such a fan of Orange is the New Black and of other projects she’s worked on. And then, you hear it’s for Netflix and they do so much amazing, innovative television, so when you also hear that it’s about a women’s wrestling show in the 80’s, you know it has to be the best possible version of that to have all of these other people involved. And then, when I read the script by our creators and showrunners, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, I was just singularly obsessed with getting a role on the show. The concept fired me up and got me really excited, and then the writing in the script got me really terrified at not being a part of it. I was like, “Oh, my god, this has to happen!” I liked the idea that it was a comedy, but the writing was so nuanced and had such depth and emotion to it. I like that the characters were going through real dramas in their lives, and then it gets to be set against the wonderfully playful backdrop of wrestling.
This seems like one of those roles that actors dream about because it uses so much of you to pull it off. At what point in the process did you find yourself falling in love with this character and that you would have been willing to fight anyone to the death to play her?
BRIE: Immediately! As soon as I read it, I immediately connected with Ruth, and I’m sure a part of that is because I’m an actress. It really is a dream role. You get to flex so many muscles, literally and figuratively, in the type of work that is being done on this show. I really wanted to do something different and do some things that seemed unexpected for me, and a lot about this show really resonated with me. Also, I had been reading a lot of pilots. It was pilot season and I had decided, in my mind, that I wanted to do another show, but the bar had already been set so high, having working on Mad Men and Community, that I was really particular. I was looking for something really specific, but I didn’t even know exactly what that was. When I read this, it just checked every box.
Could you ever have imagined that you’d be doing action scenes as a wrestler?
BRIE: Not as a wrestler, no. The physical side is a big part of what drew me to the project because I am very into fitness. I’ve been working out with my personal trainer for years, and if I had a couple of auditions for an action movie, here or there, we would think, “Oh, that’s so cool! We could really kick our training into high gear!” It was a fantasy of mine to be able to work on some kind of action movie, but I just never thought it would come in the form of a show, let alone a show about wrestling.
I was very impressed with your one-woman wrestling showcase in the ring, in Episode 6, when Ruth was trying to convince Debbie to work with her, as hero and villain. What was it like to have to throw yourself around like that? Was that more or less difficult than actually wrestling with someone else?
BRIE: It was really fun! It was really exciting! Every episode, it was always fun to see the new challenges that the writers would set for us. They would write stuff in, like an Audrey Hepburn impression or singing a Barbra Streisand song. They had no idea whether or not we could do those things. They were just laying the gauntlet with every episode, and we would learn new skills. That was one of them. Getting that script, it was very exciting because it feels very Ruth. She was trying to prove herself, as usual, doing this one-woman wrestling showcase, if you will. It was maybe a little more difficult than actually wrestling, where you have a partner working with your body and helping propel you in different directions. At the same time, we learned a lot, in wrestling, about how much control you have to have over your own body, all the time. When someone is doing a move on you, you really are a major player in what your body is gonna do and where you’re gonna end up. So, it actually wasn’t that different.
What does it feel like to do the wrestling scenes in the ring, with the make-up, the hair and the leotards, and did you have a favorite wrestling sequence?
BRIE: It was totally exhilarating! It’s exciting! There’s so much adrenaline and the crowd is going. I never thought I would enjoy getting booed, as much as I did. Anything goes in the ring. That was the only time when we would really improvise. We almost couldn’t control the things coming out of our mouths, when we were in character in the ring. I think my favorite match was actually the very first fantasy sequence that’s featured in the first episode because that was our first experience with that. We had been training with (fight coordinator) Chavo Guerrero Jr. for a month, learning how to wrestle, and we had been working on the choreography for that match, specifically. That was our first time showcasing something in front of an audience. Our audience was a group of paid background actors, but still, they were excited. We had stunt doubles who would block the matches and moves for the camera, so that they could get the camera positions right before Betty [Gilpin] and I came in and did the moves. When we got in the ring, you could feel the whole audience relax a little like, “Oh, okay, now the actresses are going to shoot the scene, and the fun is over.” We went right into a head scissor and it was wild. It was pure adrenaline. There’s nothing like it!
This show is one hell of a good time, but it also has definite political and social undertones that sadly still apply just as strongly today as they did in the 1980s. Was that something you knew would be there, from the beginning, and was that part of the appeal of doing this?
BRIE: You know, it wasn’t something that I really thought about, when I first got the role. Obviously, the show is a real feminist story. I knew it would be about female empowerment, and that was really exciting to me. Having some distance on a period show, I think you can really delve into those kinds of political topics in an in-depth way, and a lot of that reverberates today.
Clearly Ruth and Debbie have their own pre-existing baggage, coming into this, which makes for a very interesting dynamic to watch. What was it like to have somebody like Betty Gilpin to go through this with, and to get to work with this ensemble?
BRIE: It was incredible! Betty is an incredible actor. She has so much depth to her. It feels like her emotions are just always boiling right under the surface and she’s able to tap into them so easily. I really learned a lot from working with her. With the women on this show, it’s lot of faces that people haven’t seen before, and everybody comes from very interesting and different artistic backgrounds. Kia Stevens is an actual pro-wrestler. She wrestles as Awesome Kong, and on WWE as Kharma. Kate Nash is a singer. She’s a famous pop star. It was very cool to work with so many women who are bringing such unique ideas to the table. Everybody really came with a strong point of view, and that’s reflected in just how different all of the characters are on the show.
Aside from a mostly female cast, there are a number of female writers and directors, at a time when people are demanding to hear from more female voices. How did you find the experience? What was it like to be a part of all of that female energy?
BRIE: It was wonderful! It’s a really powerful thing when a group of women come together and work together to lift each other up and support each other and exchange ideas. The set also couldn’t have been more comfortable. It was a really safe, inviting space. We were really encouraged to follow our instincts, inside and outside of the ring. I think that’s especially important, on this type of show, where we were taking such big risks with our bodies, all the time.
When Ruth auditions for GLOW, it’s at a time in her life when she’s completely desperate. If this hadn’t come along for her, where do you think she would be?
BRIE: Gosh, I don’t know! I do think she would draw the line at porn. It does seem like she’s on the verge of moving home. I think that’s where we’re finding her. She would maybe move back to Nebraska and headline Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the local Blue Barn Theatre.
Have you talked about possibilities of where Season 2 could go, or thought about what you would still like to get to explore with this character?
BRIE: For me, I have no idea! Betty and I sometimes fantasize about what would happen in Season 2, but I think most of it pertains to wrestling. All of Season 1 is leading up to them shooting the pilot of this show, which is essentially the very first episode of GLOW. So, I can only imagine what we’ll get into, as the ladies are shooting more episodes. I want to get in the ring and learn more big moves. I think that would be really fun.
GLOW is available at Netflix on June 23rd.