There’s a moment in the first trailer for Netflix’s upcoming pro wrestling comedy GLOW that sets the tone for the entire project.
“This can either feel dinky, or it can feel epic. So let’s give ’em what?”
The show, from Orange Is The New Black executive producer Jenji Kohan and based on the very real 1980s women’s wrestling promotion that featured Donald Trump storylines long before WWE, could stick with blood and tits, but it gives us something much more. GLOW, premiering June 23 on Netflix, follows an out-of-work actress who finds one last shot at fame on a weekly show about women wrestlers. It’s a fictionalized retelling of the production of the original show, and partially inspired by the incredible 2012 documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
I had a chance to watch the series from beginning to end, and even as a jaded wrestling fan and stalwart supporter of the original GLOW, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. I sat down with show co-creator Liz Flahive as well as co-stars Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, to figure out how one of the cheesiest, lowest common denominator wrestling shows of the 1980s ended up as, in my opinion, one of the best shows Netflix has ever put together.
With Spandex: I wanted to tell you I was nervous already, but then I sat down and watched GLOW and I ended up watching the entire thing in one sitting.
Alison Brie: Oh my God!
Betty Gilpin: All ten?
Gilpin: Oh my God!
I started watching it at about 11 o’clock at night and I was like, “I’m just going to watch a couple episodes and go to sleep,” and then about 04:30 AM I was like, “I’m going to order a breakfast platter.”
Gilpin: The story gets better and better.
Brie: Oh my God, I have chills. That’s so cool.
It’s so good.
Brie: Thank you! Aren’t they, like, spectacular?
My day job is to write about people in their underpants pretending to fight. So I wanted to say, I can’t believe you guys turned cheesy ’80s wrestling into prestige drama and comedy. How in the world did you do that?
Liz Flahive: I don’t know, that’s just what we wanted to do. Carly [Mensch], my co-creator, and I watched the documentary and that was sort of our way in, and the thing that was so surprising to us was just like just how deep we felt it was for all these women, and the actual sort of connectivity and the community and physicality. And there just seemed to be so much there that was so much more than what you sort of prejudged it to be. I was not a wrestling fan growing up, I was not a wrestling fan as an adult, and I feel like we came at it from a totally different way because our brains worked differently. We’re theater people.
It’s hard to be a wrestling fan sometimes.
Giplin: Well no, I’ve actually not found it very difficult now that I am one. But in terms of GLOW it’s such its own monster, its own being. And because the women who were on GLOW were not … you watch the documentary and you realize they were not wrestlers. They weren’t necessarily into wrestling when they got this job, or even welcomed by the community. But that is kind of why wrestling is such a great backdrop for any show, but this is like, an amazing behind the scenes of looking at the inner workings of these women who are choosing to run full force at something that is kind of rejecting them and they’re being rejected by the world at large. They all just really have something to prove and have fight in them and that made the characters really exciting to play.
Earlier this week I talked to Britt Baron and she told me how funny it was that in the first episode of the show it’s about actresses showing up to audition for something that they don’t totally understand and then ending up as pro wrestlers, and how weird it was that she essentially showed up to audition for GLOW, not really knowing what it was and then ending up a pro wrestler. So I guess, how did you get involved in the show? I mean, did you kind of know what you were getting into? Or had you heard of it?
Brie: Well, I got a call from my agents like, “Okay, here’s something you’re gonna love. Jenji Kohan’s producing this show. It’s about women’s wrestling in the ’80s.” And that’s like the quick pitch and I was like, “I’m in! Dead. Send it to me.” You say “GLOW,” I hadn’t heard of it. A quick Google search and I was like, “This is totally insane.” First of all, it couldn’t be more ’80s, and I love a period piece.
It’s like a women’s wrestling Hee-Haw.
Brie: Right? It’s sketch comedy, they’re rapping, their characters are larger than life. So that already I was like, “This is so intriguing, so unique and unlike anything I’ve ever heard of, especially lately.” And then I read the script and it was just so incredible, the writing was so good. It’s sort of what you’re saying where that was unexpected. Like the broad strokes of what the show could be is exciting anyway but when the writing is of such high quality and the characters are so complex and interesting that’s what just made me lose my fucking mind!
Gilpin: I had worked with Liz and Carly on Nurse Jackie —
Shout out to Nurse Jackie. [high-fives Gilpin] Shout out to Nurse Jackie. [high-fives Flahive]
Brie: I wasn’t on that, but I want a high-five.
Shout-out to Annie Edison and Trudy Campbell and Diane Nguyen!
Brie: [high-five] Yeah, yeah, fuck yeah!
Gilpin: We’re in like real wrestler mode since we’re really competitive all the time.
That’s good, you should just be wrestlers all the time.
Gilpin: We were friends [from Nurse Jackie]. So I remember we were out to dinner, or we were having drinks before someone was going out of town, maybe you?
Flahive: I think maybe it was me, because I kept moving.
Gilpin: And you and Carly mentioned to me, “Oh we’re working on writing a script on women’s wrestling in the ’80s,” and my brain immediately started scrambling. Like, erase it from your mind because it seemed too good to be true. And they were just telling me as friends what they were working on. And then I auditioned and sort of YouTubed GLOW a lot, and then got into YouTubing wrestling more and more.
I hear it’s a rabbit hole.
Gilpin: It is a crazy rabbit hole!
Flahive: It takes you weird places.
Gilpin: It takes you very weird places and the suggestions that YouTube gives you are surprising.
Brie: I love that on Instagram now that all the suggestions if I just go to the search there’s always wrestling videos. Which I just love, like, “Oh, you know!”
Gilpin: Yes, from Nurse Jackie and GLOW my YouTube suggestions are like, “Would you like to watch a luchador fighting, or somebody lancing a cyst?” Or like doctor stuff, it’s disgusting! So, yeah, I just went down the wrestling rabbit hole and realized I wanted this show more than anything ever.
That’s amazing. And since you did that you guys ended up working with a lot of pro wrestlers, I mean especially you two. You guys worked with lots of real-life pro wrestlers, you were training John Hennigan in the pilot.
Gilpin: John Hennigan was great.
So what was it like going from prestige TV to suddenly being in a ring with, like, Chavo Guerrero?
Gilpin: I definitely had preconceived notions of what a pro wrestler would be like personally. I grew up in a house of boys, I have two brothers so I watched a lot of ESPN that I didn’t want to watch, and nothing annoyed me more than the commentators who were former athletes who were like, “when I was …” Just the ego just annoyed me to no end, and I was like, “Oh God, a pro wrestler is gonna be like insane coming into a show about women. His head’s going to explode.” But there is so much trust and vulnerability involved in wrestling that all of them have the sweetest dispositions, the most open hearts. They’re so excited to teach you about this thing that they love. I mean Chavo held us like tiny little babies and we held him like a tiny little baby. It was just like a baby holding human centipede.
Brie: Kia Stevens as well, who acts on the show.
She’s a comedic genius!
Brie: Isn’t she! Just a natural! And it’s so funny, I get such delight out of watching the moments where early in the season where Kia’s playing Tamee who knows nothing about wrestling, and the way she moves in the ring is so funny to me. But doing our wrestling training with Chavo and having Kia there was invaluable, because she again was so gracious, so patient with us, and it was so spectacular to get to wrestle opposite Kia during our training, and learn by watching her and feeling how she moved and you really never feel more taken care of. You know there’s nothing scarier than wrestling.
And her characters are usually so scary!
Brie: Yeah! But she just, we would all vie to get in the ring with Kia because you feel really safe. The scariest thing is working with each other. None of us wanted to hurt each other as we were learning. So we were all terrified but Kia was like, “I know I’m not going to hurt you, and I’m gonna show you. I’m going to hold you really tight in this headlock, I’m going to attack you in the right way, I’m going to move your body into this body slam so you know what’s coming.” It was really lovely.
But exactly personality wise … You know, Chavo did make us fall in love with wrestling. He took baby steps with us so that we really developed a strong foundation and at the same time we’re learning about the philosophy of wrestling and the mentality of being in your character, and kayfabe and all that stuff. Then getting into the big moves where now you have to just flip, there’s no in-between, so go. But because we had built up this drive for it, I think no one hesitated. In fact, we certainly had moments of getting emotional, but I think it was because we so wanted to get the moves right. It was like, “I’m doing it again!” Everyone’s like, “You can’t jump off the top rope today for this episode.” “Let me just try it!” “No, no, no, no. Insurance says no.”
Gilpin: But Chavo was a great ambassador too, because we did bring in real wrestlers for a few episodes, and I think also when they realized he was part of our crew and we weren’t trying to take down wrestling, we were telling a story about these girls becoming wrestlers …
Brie: And learning about wrestling in earnest.
Gilpin: Yeah, and that we wanted the wrestling to be legit, and we wanted these actresses to wrestle, and that was part of our goal for the whole show. I think that changed things, too.
One thing I really appreciated about GLOW is that it breaks a lot of trends. So much prestige TV is, here’s a troubled aging white guy and he’s got problems but ultimately you’re gonna care about him, that’s every TV show. And GLOW has Marc Maron. Marc Maron kind of plays on that trope but he’s never the hero of the show. And the cast is 14 super strong women, so what was it like building a good women’s wrestling TV show about women?
Flahive: I mean, I feel like our goal was to create great characters that you wanted to watch, and then once you wanted to watch those women you’d be so much more invested in their wrestling personas. So that was a big goal for us. Because as writers we’re just care machines, we want you to care about these characters and I feel like if you care about the women behind the wrestler, what’s going to happen when those wrestlers get in the ring? You’re just going to have a different experience, and that was exciting to us.
Gilpin: To me, the more I learned about wrestling it sort of felt like an allegory of what it feels like to be an actress, where you feel like you’re wrenching out your soul and using your body in the most powerful way possible and using every cell of you and reading your childhood journal out loud and then you look up and the audience is a bunch of men watching it as porn.
That sounds sad.
Gilpin: It is! It’s really sad but I think that our goal is to prey on that, and then those men will watch the next episode and the next episode. You’re not one of these men, you’re beautiful! But you can’t help but have the narratives of these women and their troubles seep into their brains. But yeah, I think wrestling … Some of the [original] GLOW episodes I was like, “Oh look at her character, she’s so into it; that’s a crazy storyline that they came up with! Oh, that guy is being so gross watching her.”
Flahive: And I think just to say in terms of the original GLOW and our GLOW, we love it and we’re deeply inspired by it, but I think when we started out like way back when we really wanted the creative freedom to make our own characters, and make our own wrestling characters and I feel like that was … we want people who love the original GLOW to have lots of feelings brought up when they watch this, but that it is its own.
GLOW premieres on Netflix on June 23rd. We recommend you watch the entire thing at once. 10 episodes is still shorter than WrestleMania. Order a breakfast platter.