‘GLOW’ Preview: Alison Brie on the Bruising Experience of Making Netflix’s New Wrestling Comedy

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

You’ve heard of the red badge of courage that soldiers earn during wartime? Well, Alison Brie earned the wrestling-world equivalent — call it the blue bruise of courage — when she stepped into the ring for Netflix’s new wrestling comedy series, GLOW. Premiering June 23, the show features the former Community star as Ruth, a would-be actress in ’80s-era Los Angeles who finally experiences her first career break when she’s one of the first women cast in the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a real-life wrestling league that headlined a cult syndicated series from 1986 to 1990. (Read Ken Tucker’s review here.) “There were a lot of fingerprint-shaped bruises on my legs and butt,” Brie tells Yahoo TV. “One day there was a scripted scene where I was meant to have a large bruise on my butt, and I came into hair and makeup and pulled my pants down. The makeup artist went to make the bruise and said, ‘Oh, there’s already one there!’”

According to Brie, as well as the show’s creators, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, landing the role on GLOW was as big a battle as anything she faced in the ring. “Alison surprised us,” Mensch tells Yahoo TV in a separate interview. “We kept on saying, ‘We don’t know.’” Brie says there were “a number of phone calls” required for her to even come in and read for the part. “That only fired me up more,” she says. “It was amazingly satisfying to fight for something that I really wanted, and that people didn’t think I was capable of doing. I really wanted to prove everyone wrong, and that’s such a big component to who this character is.”

We spoke with Brie about her favorite wrestling moves and about performing opposite podcaster/comedian-turned-actor Marc Maron, who plays failed feature filmmaker Sam Sylvia, the director of the GLOW series.

Alison Brie as Ruth, center, and Betty Gilpin as Debbie in Netflix’s GLOW. (Photo: Erica Parise/Netflix)

Yahoo TV: So what was it about this role that encouraged you to pursue it so aggressively?
Alison Brie:
There’s a number of factors: I read the pilot, and it was so well written. The whole idea for the show was so interesting and different; the wrestling world has become trendy, but we’ve never seen it fictionalized in this way. I also really liked the tone: It’s comedy, but with a depth to these characters. Ruth in particular is a good example of that, because she’s a good person who does a really bad thing in the pilot episode, and then it’s a lot of work to overcome that. I liked the idea of playing a character who starts out at a major disadvantage.

Do you think of Ruth and her wrestling persona as being two different people?
I don’t think it’s as black and white as they are just totally different people — although, it is like having an insane alter ego, and when you’re in that mode, the things you say and do are totally uncharacteristic of that person most of the time. It’s a really interesting aspect of the show, watching characters try to sort out their issues or their differences outside of the ring in a very complicated way, and when they get inside the ring, where it can only be black and white. It is essentially make-believe. For me, playing the wrestling character in the ring, you cannot ever really let go of the stakes of your character outside the ring, even though everything you are doing is heightened. In this case, Ruth gets s*** on constantly, but in the ring she finds a character that’s quite powerful, and I think that’s able to fuel her in her real life.

Did you speak with any real-world wrestlers in preparation for the role?
We all talked at length with Chavo Guerrero Jr., who was our trainer and comes from such a long line of incredible wrestlers. His uncle, Mando Guerrero, trained the original cast of the GLOW show in the ’80s. So we talked with Chavo a lot about this, and he trained us not just in the physical aspect, but also the emotional part — the character and the commitment that you need when you’re in the ring more than anything. Because it’s real. It’s the real deal. There are real stakes and you could really get hurt. You have to fully inhabit that character in the ring, because that’s what gives you the balls to try and do these moves. We had some other professional wrestlers, like Kia Stephens [who plays Tammé], whom we’d grab little tidbits from. Kia wrestled for the WWE as Kharma, and she’s such a gentle, amazing person. It was invaluable having her around constantly.

What was it like learning the wrestling moves?
It was totally exhilarating, because I love to do things that kind of terrify me, and this is something that I would never have thought in a million years I would ever attempt to do. We moved at such a slow pace, at first, learning moves to ensure our safety. I was kind of like, “Come on, we want to get to the big steps!” And then as soon as you do, you’re like, “Oh, gosh, maybe we should go back to the somersaults.” [Laughs] But I learned that I’m good at getting thrown, and I’m good at getting body-slammed, which I think is a fun skill. The suplex very quickly became my favorite move; I can suplex someone and I can get suplexed! The head scissor is another fun one that I excelled at, but the suplex is my favorite because it’s a flashy move. When you talk to people who know about wrestling, it’s impressive. They’re like, “Oh, you really are doing wrestling!”

Does Ruth have a particular fighting style or signature move like the “People’s Elbow”?
She doesn’t actually end up developing a real signature move, but I think a lot of Ruth’s tactics have to do with size. I’m kind of petite, and a lot of the girls I wrestle are taller than me. So the strategy becomes about making yourself taller than them by jumping up on the ropes. I’m good at choking women against ropes and making myself taller than them!

I’m a regular listener of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, so I was surprised when he announced he’d be part of this series. What was it like working with him?
I was not surprised at all. Having read the pilot, I just thought, “Oh my God, that’s brilliant casting.” I cannot imagine anyone else playing this part. Marc is so good at inhabiting this character. He’s got a good hard edge to him that balances quite nicely with the large group of women on the show. It was fun to have his energy, because it certainly was a different energy from that of the 14 women on the show. Our characters become unlikely friends in the course of the season, and that was a fun dynamic to play, too.

When you watched some of the original GLOW broadcasts to prepare, what jumped out to you about the differences between wrestling then versus today?
The original GLOW is just bananas. It took me a couple viewings to kind of wrap my head around what was happening. It’s such a unique show, because it’s not just wrestling — they also did sketches and vignettes. And it’s so ’80s! It’s a whole different universe than what we’re used to seeing. Wrestling today is so polished, you know? They’re like acrobats. When GLOW was made, these women were not wrestlers to begin with, and went through a crazy boot camp to get ready. So it’s very raw and primal. There’s a lot of hair pulling, arm flailing, and screaming.

Also, it was interesting to see how far they would take their characters in terms of the things they’d say when they were in the ring, because they were pretty broad and often derived from… how do I put this? Wrestling in the ’80s was pretty racist. And that’s another thing about our show: [The original GLOW] really gave us permission to lean into stereotypes when playing our wrestling characters. But we also address that early on in a very real way, which I think is smart. There will be some very blatantly racist wrestling characters, and the girls love to deal with those.

How would you characterize Ruth’s journey through Season 1?
Basically, the issue that we see Ruth having in the pilot episode is her uphill battle for the course of the season. I think that the end is satisfying, but there’s a little bit of a cliffhanger; I wouldn’t say that everyone’s problems get solved. Ruth’s whole journey is figuring out who she is and how she can belong in this world, and I feel like the show itself is about all of these women finding their way. I hope it can be an empowering experience [for viewers]. Shooting the show is the most empowering thing I’ve ever done, and I hope that women can be inspired by the show. But I also just want people to laugh and enjoy watching it too. Hopefully, people are able to find characters that they connect to, and enjoy going on the journey with them.

GLOW premieres Friday, June 23, on Netflix.