Fri. Jul 3rd, 2020

Interview: Betty Gilpin on ‘GLOW’ and how wrestling helped her see her body in a new light

As GLOW enters into its final season, many of its storylines need to be wrapped up. The cliffhanger of the season three ending left many fans, including myself, ready for season four to come out the very next day. Only a couple weeks into filming the last season, COVID-19 hit. Though fans will have to wait a little longer to watch the last episodes of this story, the stars of GLOW have been busy over the last couple years. You can watch Alison Brie in the Netflix film Horse Girl. You can watch Marc Maron’s new standup special. And you can see Betty Gilpin star in The Hunt, a performance which has been positively received by a wide array of critics. 

I had a chance to catch up with Gilpin during quarantine to ask her all things GLOW, including her favorite wrestling moves, the pain of being in the ring, and the importance of her Netflix series. 

How’s it going?

I’m good, how are you, Michael?

I’m doing okay. Are you staying safe, staying sane?

I’m staying safe. Sane is up for grabs. But yeah I live in New York but I’m here in LA because we were a week and a half into shooting GLOW and I’ve always been annoyingly anti-LA, but now that the entertainment business, smog, and traffic don’t exist, this isn’t too bad.

I also live in New York but am from LA and am back home right now. It’s definitely a different LA.

I know. It’s wild. Mother nature is very much like “hold my beer” in a glorious way.

Just jumping in. So did you know you wanted to get into the industry growing up? 

Yeah, both my parents are actors and did mostly theater. They were New York actors in the 80s and 90s, which at that point, really meant theater and Law & Order. I definitely knew it’s what I wanted to do from a very young age. But the rule was I had to go to college first. And I studied theater and did my Law & Orders while in college. 

GLOW has been going on now for a few years. What’s your favorite aspect of filming the show and being a part of it? 

I think our show is a very rare gift to an actor because it feels like two shows in one. Just tonally and character wise. In a week of work, I’ll play scenes that are very grounded and kitchen sink and dramatic and dark, and the next day it’s like vaudeville on crack in the wrestling ring and I’m doing a crazy accent with no pants on. You’re getting to stretch as an actor in all the different, crazy ways on many projects you’re dying to and people are asking you to pull it back. And for better or worse, no one is asking to pull it back on our show.

Is wrestling something you’ve gotten into at all? Ever turn it on the TV and watch it outside the show?

I do sometimes now. I have a definite real appreciation for wrestling now, as an art form and athletic feat. The things that they can do are olympic-level in professional wrestling that make us look like we’re in a toddler tumbling class. Originally, I rolled my eyes at it before GLOW. But now I see how many parallels there are between wrestling and theater. You know there are long, dramatic plotlines that span years. They deal with power and vulnerability. It’s very musical theater. Someone is standing in the middle of an arena in a tiny costume fighting for justice. That’s very Bernadette Peters.

Do you have a favorite wrestling move?

Suplexes probably look the coolest but hurt the most. A sunset flip is maybe my favorite because it’s the first move Ali and I got. Alison Brie and I have a real understanding with each other physically and trust-wise and it was a move our stunt doubles were trying to get. We were like “let us try it in the practice ring” and we tried it and got it and we were pretty smug with ourselves and so excited. Now, we’ve done it a million times on the show.

Yeah, actually how much do the stunt doubles do wrestling moves in the ring and how much do all of you do?

We do all of it. They are definitely standing there in our costumes in case one of us gets decapitated. You know wrestling is designed to do once for 20 minutes and we shoot it for 12 hours or 14 hours. There are some shots where it’s on Bash and you’re blurry in the background and it’s just from your knees down if you want to go stretch and ice and have your stunt doubles do this one before we put the cameras back in the ring. So that’s kind of when. And then there are two crazy moves that our stunt doubles did but that’s it. My bones creak and my muscles ache and I’ll never be the same.

That’s cool, though. It’s such a physical part and a physical show.

It’s funny doing jobs on the hiatus that aren’t as physical, and first I’m like, “This is the life. This is amazing.” I’m in a costume where I can eat whatever I want and I don’t have to risk my life today. I’m never going to risk breaking my neck. But by hour three, I’m like, “This is boring. I’m ready to risk breaking my neck.”

Might sound like a cheesy question, but is there something special about being in the ring? Some feeling you’ve started to realize while wrestling?

It makes me almost emotional retroactively about how I had used and thought about my body. Doing something so powerful and functional with my body, it makes me think back to all the times where I wasn’t incorporating my body into my character or I was avoiding looking at my body in the mirror because I was just thinking about its flaws, not all of the things it could do. You know, I had a rescue dog for a long time and I remember the first time I took him up to my parent’s house in the country. And he lived his whole life in a cage, and letting him go free in a field for the first time, and just seeing him just take off and see his full potential. That’s what wrestling feels like. Oh, my body has just been dormant, waiting to throw people and stomp this whole time, and I’ve just been ignoring it. Or cramming it into high heels. What a lame way to treat my body. 

How does it feel to hit the mat like that? Does your body feel like it’s being crushed over and over?

That’s exactly how it feels like. It’s like your body is being crushed over and over. I remember the first time. It’s called a bump when you land on your back. It’s one of the first things you learn. You just tuck your chin and throw yourself backwards onto the ground. I remember the first time I did it. I went, “Oh I did that wrong. That hurt.” And Chavo Guerrero Jr., our wrestling coach, was like, “Oh no you did it right. It hurts.” Now we’re better at saying, “Okay I’m filming this sequence, I can do this move 10 times and that’s it.” In season one, we would just do it over and over and over again and just be immobile the next day. There are certain scenes that I remember in GLOW where I’m like oh we shot that the day after a wrestling sequence and that’s why I can’t turn my head to the left.

Why do you think GLOW is a great show to watch, especially for those that haven’t seen it, during quarantine?

Oooh. First of all, I think it’s the perfect show to watch in quarantine for many reasons. It’s very joyful. There’s something about, I’m finding this in quarantine that I’m watching lots of things that take place in a different time period. It depresses me less when it feels removed. I’m watching a lot of old Hitchcock movies strangely. And I think our show taking place in the 80s, at least to me there’s something less sad about watching something in a removed kind of dream time. I think that because of the way Jenji Kohan does her television shows and the way Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch are showrunners. It’s just the amount of women on screen in any given episode, you’re going to find yourself somewhere in there, or maybe you’re a combination of these three people. I just think it’s a very unique, increasingly not unique thankfully, way to watch TV. It’s so interesting watching things even from 10 years ago, and wow you’re thinking that’s so dated now, there’s only one woman! And we have arguably too many women, in the best way. 

It is an incredible show in that way. It’s such a positive thing for the industry as a whole. Here’s just a super large question. What does the show mean to you? Why do you care about it as you’re going into the last season?

I mean, career wise it’s so beyond anything creatively I ever thought I’d be allowed to do on such a public scale. I really spent a decade doing plays in New York for 60 asleep 80-year-olds. Being on a show of this caliber and getting to do those scenes, I never thought I’d get that opportunity. Personally, the things that Debbie deals with, and sort of viewing her life as a kind of fork in the road in the way she views herself as a woman and an actress. And do I listen to this business and society when it tells me the things that are valuable about me are the things that are going to expire? Is betting on myself too risky? I feel those things, too. And I think that the way Debbie treats GLOW, like the show within the show, as a sort of little biodome to rehearse a braver self. I have definitely done that with GLOW,the Netflix show. And it’s totally changed my life. It feels so insane that it’s coming to a close. I hope that all those lessons the show has taught me will last. I feel emotional thinking about our last season.

Okay, so let’s say post-GLOW you wake up in the morning, a positive start to the day, and you’re going to work on a project. What would be that dream project where you couldn’t sleep the night before? You couldn’t turn it down?

Hmm. I mean I think GLOW has really spoiled me in terms of getting to bring a million ideas to set every day and not having to force it into the writing. I think that any character where the woman and their brain is externalized in the writing. In this sentence, she’s this version of herself and in this sentence, she’s this version of herself, and you’re sort of seeing all the different scales of who she is. In the writing, though. Up until recently, we’re so used to seeing “supportive wife” or “sexy neighbor” but now there’s this trend of female characters just having their brains turned inside out and you’re seeing all these different colors of who they are in the performance. Really, anyone who is unstable and having fun. That’s what I like to play.

Season 3 of GLOW is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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