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Stunt doubles? No such luck for Betty Gilpin and the wrestling show 'GLOW'

"We were holding each other's armpits and butts before we knew each other's last names," says the actress who plays Debbie Eagan / Liberty Belle -- not that that's a bad thing.

Betty Gilpin was used to being in the presence of a group of women in waiting rooms at auditions and, yes, even finding some camaraderie in the process of going after the same role. But the set of Netflix’s “Glow” presented the first time she was in the company of so many women all working on one show.

“To have 15 spots and 15 women in the job was a huge change,” Gilpin said when she visited the L.A. Times video studio. “But so much ridiculous, insane fun. … It was such a beautiful change.”

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Inspired by the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), the ‘80s-set comedy is about a ragtag group of women who become the faces of a female wrestling show. Gilpin plays ex-soap star Debbie Eagan, who begrudgingly joins the fray as a way to upstage her friend-turned-rival, Ruth Wilder (played by Alison Brie) — with good reason. Ruth, a struggling actress who seeks out wrestling to make ends meet, had been sleeping with Debbie’s husband.

It was a role that Gilpin coveted from the first read of the script.

“I really thought that my audition process would be maybe, probably, statistically the only time I would get to have this character live in my life. I tried to treat it like a fling with this character. Instead of really trying to get the part, in a strange way.”

It was no matter that wrestling would be involved — mostly because initially, Gilpin thought that aspect would all be handled by stunt doubles. She quickly learned that hitting the mat would be part of her job. The women on the show trained for a month before production started on the first season, which is mostly light on intense wrestling moves.

“It was an amazing experience,” Gilpin said. “The first day we met each other we were in no makeup or hair and in basically our pajamas and we were like, I guess we’re somersaulting. It was kind of a feminist Montessori way of getting to know each other … we were like holding each other’s armpits and butts before we knew each other’s last names. It set a beautiful precedent for how we treated each other and knew each other.”

Not that it was entirely like riding a bike when returning for Season 2, which will roll out on Netflix in June.

“In Season 1, when we were training, we started with somersaults and ended with body slams and suplexes [a move in which a wrestler picks an opponent up off the mat and then throws them back down and lands on top of them],” Gilpin said. “And this year, they were like, let’s brush up on body slams and suplexes and keep building. We were like, whaaa? It’s way crazier.”

Watch the full conversation below:

"GLOW" star Gilpin says there's a "soul-level" connection between her and Brie's character despite their fractured friendship during a conversation about the role that's freed her acting from worrying about the male gaze.
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