The cast of “GLOW” was learning how to wrestle as Americans were learning how to get used to the idea of Donald Trump in the White House. For Betty Gilpin, the latter event gave her work a bit more meaning.
“When I heard the way that the president talks about women, I realized, ‘Wow, it’s going to take certain men a much longer time to think of us and our bodies in a different way,’” Gilpin told HuffPost. “‘So it’s my job to change the way I think about my own body because I can’t wait for the world to catch up.’”
The actress stars as one-time soap star Debbie Egan in the Netflix series alongside Alison Brie, who plays her former BFF Ruth Wilder, a desperate actress found to be sleeping with Debbie’s husband. Eventually, Debbie finds herself part of the gang with an All-American wrestling persona, dubbed Liberty Belle, after crashing Ruth’s try-out for a women’s wrestling TV show. Surrounded by wannabe actresses and wrestling enthusiasts alike, each playing their own stereotyped characters in the ring, she learns how to be a woman who fights.
HuffPost recently spoke to Gilpin about “GLOW,” which was based on the ’80s TV show of the same name, an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Read on for a look at the emotional benefits of wrestling (”I merge more confidently on the highway”), what’s really going on between Ruth and Debbie, and how fit 5-foot-3 Alison Brie really is.
I’ve read a lot about how you guys had done your own stunts, which are great. Was there ever a point in production where they were considering bringing in stunt doubles?
So when we say we did everything, we mean we were able to do everything, and did it, and they would do a take with me and Alison’s stunt double, or Alison and my stunt double. Just because wrestling is designed to do once for 12 minutes, and we would shoot for 12 hours, and they were afraid of breaking the actresses.
You’ve talked a bit about wrestling through the lens of traditional gender dynamics, where women aren’t taught to take up space and develop strong bodies, but this summer has brought us both “GLOW” and “Wonder Woman,” and people are writing about what it means that Wonder Woman’s thigh jiggled on screen. Do you have hope that this is the start of a trend in representing women characters?
Yeah. The way we think about our bodies is completely changing. For me personally, when I heard the way that the president talks about women, I realized, “Wow, it’s going to take certain men a much longer time to think of us and our bodies in a different way. So it’s my job to change the way I think about my own body because I can’t wait for the world to catch up.” So I, yeah, I used to take exercise classes where the most amount of weight you would lift was three pounds, because you don’t want to bulk up and the worst thing you can do is to be “muscular.” We weren’t building muscles for function, we were building them to be tiny little advertisements. Now I’m swinging 30-pound ketel bells because I want to be able to lift Alison Brie over my head. And Ali Brie can deadlift, like, 200 pounds. And she’s tiny. It’s crazy what she can do ― she can do, like, 12 pull-ups. It’s insane. I think that it’s our job to sort of band together and say, “OK, what are the ways the male gaze has seeped into your brain, and is affecting the way you treat yourself. Let’s work together to eliminate that.”
Do you see yourself bringing that attitude to future sets?
I hope so. It’s bled into my own life, personally. I merge more confidently on the highway. I had to switch doctors recently, and I would’ve just made up an excuse or apologized, and said, “I’m so sorry, but I have to do this,” but instead I just was like, “I found a doctor that I like better, so please fax over my records.” And I never, ever would have done that before “GLOW.” So I hope that the same goes for future projects. I start filming “Isn’t it Romantic” tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll walk in with my shoulders back.
At the heart of “GLOW” is a story about female friendship, and I thought another show might’ve made that she-slept-with-my-husband plot point very one-dimensional ― all mean glares between the two women who find themselves forced together. But “GLOW” does it differently. How did you pull that off?
Well, I think that Ruth and Debbie are people that have both lost their way a little bit when we first meet them, and sort of lost touch with what it is they want in their lives and they are not able to use their full capability as actresses or as women in the world. So when this thing happens, it makes them realize it’s indicative of a much bigger problem of how they’ve been living their lives. And it also makes them realize, “Oh, the person who really knows me and really values me is the person I can’t speak to now, is the person I’m so angry with.” So it’s kind of like this bomb goes off and the only people who are left are Ruth and Debbie and they’re the only people they can’t talk to. So wrestling offers itself perfectly as ― it’s like rage therapy. But also it’s couple’s therapy. They’re putting their hands on each other and supporting each other, and being as wild and as loud as possible with each other, and then, you know, the quiet of real life sets in.
You’ve said you’d watched some ’80s wrestling shows to prepare, but then your character connects to wrestling through the lens of soap operas. Did you feel a need to brush up on your soaps, too?
I watched, oh, gosh, what is that show? Robin Wright is on it. Robin Wright is like 2 years old in this show and is the most adorable ―
Yes, “Santa Barbara,” yes. So I watched the clips online and a bunch of other ones, “All My Children.” They were full on. They were in full drag makeup and very upset with each other.
What was your original perception of wrestling, before hearing about “GLOW,” and how did it change from then?
My original perception of wrestling was not a very positive one. I didn’t understand it at all, and I thought it was kind of silly and ridiculous. But as I got to know it, it was sort of like how people used to talk about musicals, to me, when I was younger. I loved musicals because I felt like, breaking out in song makes so much sense to me because it’s the stakes of how you feel inside! Sometimes daily life doesn’t match the high stakes that you feel! And I feel like that is wrestling. Wrestling actually makes sense to me. It’s story-driven, it’s character-driven, sometimes the way that you feel is screaming to the mezzanine, it’s not quietly discussing something. So once I realized how character- and story-driven wrestling was, I was fully on board.
What was the scariest move you had to do?
Probably the first time I just did a front three-quarter flip. One of the first things we learned was “don’t tuck, or you’re fucked.” If you don’t tuck your chin, you will break your neck. So there are many moves when you’re flipping over and you’re not quite sure how far from the floor you are, and those first couple moves, you’re like, “Is my neck about to break?” But the cross-body smash, when I jump from the ropes onto Ali Brie, that was pretty scary the first couple times I did it, too.
Where do you see Debbie and Ruth going in Season 2, assuming there will be one?
I wonder if they can ever be friends again fully. I think that their connection is so strong and they need each other to such an extent that I hope they will find a way back to each other, but I think it’s going to take a long time. I hope that while we’re waiting for that to happen that they sort of look inward and ask themselves questions like, “How did I let myself get so lost?” and “This isn’t who I dreamed of becoming when I was 8, so at what point did I start treating myself like other people treated me?” And I hope that the empowerment that they find in wrestling bleeds into their daily lives, as well.
Do you think we’ll get flashbacks?
Oh, I would love to see ― I think Debbie had crazy club days where she was just, like, doing coke with Scott Baio at a Santa Monica snow-themed club. So I would love some flashbacks.
“GLOW” is now streaming on Netflix.