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Q&A: ‘GLOW’ stars Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin on filming their cathartic fight scene

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Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin of “GLOW” break down Season 2’s key moments as Season 3 cues up for late summer.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It’s “The Bad News Bears” with synced periods. On “GLOW,” the Netflix series that presents a fictionalized account of the 1980s show “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” a ragtag band of 15 women and a couple of men try their best to make it in the world by faking it in the ring.

Alison Brie plays Ruth, who started out Season 1 by destroying her relationship with best friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin) when she slept with Debbie’s husband. Both play actresses who were cast on GLOW and have battled it out on and offstage ever since.

The second season of “GLOW,” created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, dropped almost a year ago. But when Brie, whose character plays Russian villain Zoya in the ring, and Gilpin, whose Debbie is the all-American Liberty Belle, meet up at the Netflix offices, they quickly remember everything they loved about the second round.

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You’ve talked before about how empowering it’s been for your characters and for you as women to learn how to wrestle. How did that evolve during Season 2?

Gilpin: I think the characters wrestling and us as actresses on this Netflix show have this weird parallel. I feel like both Debbie and Betty are sort of recognizing how much they’ve grown and where they still need to grow and find strength.

Your character, Debbie, grew stronger and fell apart at the same time.

Gilpin: Yes, while she is gaining in empowerment in certain aspects of her life, the rug has been pulled out, and underneath are rage maggots.

LOS ANGELES, CA APRIL 17, 2019: Portrait of Betty Gilpin, left, and Alison Brie, right, at Netflix
Portrait of Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie at Netflix in Los Angeles on April 17, 2019.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

There were a lot of insane moments this season. Do you have a favorite?

Gilpin: The scene where Zoya and Liberty Belle are in the ring, when Debbie has done cocaine –

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Brie: And, spoiler alert, there’s an injury.

Gilpin: I also love those wrestling scenes with Alison because it’s so clear that Ruth and Debbie love being with each other and playing off each other.

Brie: And they’re good at it. So there’s always a heartbreaking level as these friends are still trying to find their way back to each other. We’re not sure if they’ll make it.

After the injury, the two got into a huge fight in the hospital room, airing a lifetime of grievances.

Gilpin: That scene was really fun to do too, in a disturbing way.

Brie: And a great release for both of us, with everything we’ve built up as the characters over two seasons.

Gilpin: It’s been so much avoiding eye contact, and giving Ruth little knives under the table, and also reaching out for her and needing her but all in a very veiled and suppressed way.

Brie: And for me it’s been constant bowing while backing out of rooms.

Gilpin: So to stand and look at each other and scream at each other was so wonderful.

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Is breaking an ankle equal to cheating with your best friend’s husband?

Brie: We’re hoping that it is. I do think that is our show’s attempt at leveling the playing field, where something needed to happen, but it was also a tool to force the conversation.

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Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

There was no sophomore slump with the season. Everything just went deeper.

Brie: What always surprises and excites me is the way our writers find new ways to look at women and women’s issues in a way that doesn’t feel ‘issue-y.’ We have, essentially, a MeToo episode in Season 2, which was written before those articles even came out. You can look at all these different aspects of life as a woman, life as a woman in the ’80s, life as a woman in the ring without it being a message episode and still being a comedy.

The big surprise there was when Ruth tells Debbie what happened to her [in a hotel room with a male executive], and Debbie’s response is fury — at Ruth.

Brie: And that scene makes the episode. That’s what it’s about, not what happens in the hotel room.

Gilpin: Debbie knows she would not have made the same choice and stood up for herself and walked out [like Ruth did], and she sees in Ruth a different level of self-worth than Debbie has for herself, so Debbie reacts violently towards her, and negatively, and doesn’t take care of her friend in the way that she should. I think that’s going to be part of Debbie’s journey, valuing herself more.

Alison, part of your journey was directing an episode in Season 3 [premiering later this summer]. Was that your first time directing?

Brie: Yes. It was a dream. I loved it so much and feel slightly addicted already to the feeling of it.

Gilpin: I watched someone discover a craft that she is supposed to do in life. I can’t think of anything I’d be worse at; I’d be sobbing into a trashcan. Ali is one of my favorite directors I’ve worked with, for sure.

And your directing also paralleled your character getting a chance to help direct the show within the show.

Brie: It’s very meta.

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‘GLOW’ on Netflix continues to blend humor with heart
Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie in “Glow.”
(Erica Parise / TNS)


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