Betty Gilpin on the 'ridiculous, insane fun' of 'GLOW' and the absurdities of past auditions

"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 really wanted the role of Debbie Eagan on "GLOW," the Netflix series about the launch of women's wrestling on television in the 1980s. The character is a former soap opera actress and new mom whose husband sleeps with her best friend, Ruth.


"I don't know how many auditions I've been on, but I've had a lot of close calls and heartbreaks. And when I was auditioning for 'GLOW,' it was hard to get that out of [my] head," Gilpin said. "So many times it's felt like, 'This is the one. This is me on the page, all my dreams are coming true like in the movie montage of my life.' And then it doesn't happen and your agents are like, 'We have a request for you to audition for a diarrhea commercial.'

"I just immediately wanted it so badly and felt so connected to this person that I was like, 'Let's walk back our expectations on this,' " Gilpin said.

Gilpin not only earned the role, she earned a supporting actress Emmy nomination for it as well, contributing to the ensemble comedy's impressive 10 nods for its first season. (Its second season is available to stream.)

The actress talked more about what it's like playing in the "GLOW" universe when she stopped by The Times for a video interview. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

What role did the wrestling aspect play in setting a foundation for the cast?

It was an amazing experience, really. Usually, when you meet your costars, you've gone through two hours of hair and makeup and it's the first day and you're presenting the final product … in crazy costumes tailored within an inch of your life. And [here], we did a month of wrestling before we started shooting. The first day we met each other, we were in no makeup or hair and in basically our pajamas, and it was like, "I guess we're somersaulting today." It was kind of like a feminist Montessori way to get to know each other. We were holding each other's arm pits and butts before we knew each other's last names.

"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.

Was that the first time in your career you've been in the presence of so many women on one show?

Yeah. I mean, I was used to being in the presence of that many women in waiting rooms for auditions — all auditioning for the one girl part. Most of my best friends in New York are girls I met in waiting rooms being like, "None of us are ever getting this. They've got an offer out to, you know, 'Toddlers and Tiaras' girl No. 5." So, I sort of had unity then in there being so few spots. And now to have 15 spots —15 women in the job was a huge change, but so much ridiculous, insane fun. It's crazy. Every day is crazy.

A set is, in my experience, sitting at a chair trying not to make too much noise. And the male lead is like, "Well, the reason I can't remember my lines is that the air conditioning is crazy" and throwing stuff. And I was like, "Oh, God, he's mad again." And this set was like, "Tell me about your childhood," over and over with 14 different people, and it was such a beautiful change.

What did you think of the handling of the Ruth-Debbie relationship? Because it could have been a very one-dimensional cat fight.

It's funny that there's only really one or two scenes where you see them as friends before their friendship explodes. And so you sort of learn about their friendship after it's over. And I think the glimpses of the dynamic of their past, it reveals … these women are connected on a soul level that's not so easily disposed of. Their friendship ran deeper than Debbie's marriage did. Even though what Ruth did was horrible, I think that you know Debbie wasn't faultless in their friendship. A lot of ladies understand being friends with an alpha friend who maybe is so in their own world that they forget to ask you as many questions as you ask them. And I think that was probably their dynamic, that Debbie was kind of like in the clouds a little bit and Ruth was lonely and struggling, and I bet Debbie could have been there more for her.

What's the weirdest audition you've gone on?

Oh, boy. I auditioned for "Alien vs. Predator 2," and there was no scene. I just had to enter a room but pretend I was by a pool, mime disrobing, and then I had to look up and see the alien. And then in take two, I just mimed disrobing and look up and see Predator. And that's when you just place your dignity in a little bucket over there. I didn't get it. And that tape exists somewhere, and still I'll be falling asleep and I'll be like, "That tape is somewhere!"