Netflix’s GLOW, a successful comedy about women’s wrestling in the mid-80s, releases its third season tomorrow, which a lot of us around here are pretty excited about. With Spandex had the chance to talk with actor Chris Lowell, who plays Bash Howard, the troubled founder and producer of the fictionalized Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling at the center of the show. Lowell gave us his insights on the series, some hints of what’s coming in the new season, and explained why we probably won’t see him return to Veronica Mars.
With Spandex: How did you first get involved with GLOW?
Chris Lowell: When I initially got involved, I read the pilot and they were interested in having me come in and read for this character, and I completely misunderstood the tone of the show entirely. It’s what I can only describe as the single worse audition in the history of auditions. It was agonizingly off the mark. And I remember walking out and calling my reps and being like, “I didn’t get that one,” with absolute certainty.
What did you think the tone was going to be?
So Bash is not in the pilot. All I knew about his character was a fake scene they had written for me to perform. It wasn’t something even from an actual script, or an actual episode. I just understood him to be this rich Republican playboy. I was sort of playing it very, very sincerely. I basically went in and pretended to be like Robert Redford in All the President’s Men. Very grounded. Very straightforward, kind of. I remember the casting director telling me, “Think more like Biff from Back to the Future.” Something like that. “It’s time for me to leave. Thank you I’m gong to go just wallow in my own self loathing for the next 48 hours.”
But then Liz [Flahive] and Carly [Mensch], the creators of the show, had seen me in a play in Ars Nova called Jacuzzi, which was a very different character I think. But I think from that they were like, “If you you can play this character, then we think you can play Bash.” And that was it. Then I just really went into the show with a lot of reluctance. Not about the show, but about my ability to do this character appropriately.
I really think that the success of the character is due entirely to the environments and encouragements that were giving to me from Liz and Carly, and the other directors of the show, and the cast. I think they very quickly welcomed me into the fold and helped me figure out what this character was supposed to be and where it was meant to go. And where it was meant to fit in the show. And then we were off to the races. They threw me in the deep end pretty quickly, and then I learned to swim fast. And then, you know that’s kind of that’s it. Its been great ever since. I mean I love this character so much. I love this show so much. I don’t think that I ever had more fun on a job than I do on this one. I mean, I really, really, deeply get excited about working with these people and hanging out with these people. They’re really special. It’s a special gig. And I’m glad that I’m aware of how special it is while I’m still able to work on it. You know what I mean?
Yeah, totally. Did the writers let you in early on, on some of the things Bash is struggling with internally that are really just hinted at in Season 1?
You know it’s funny, It was more of a conversation than like a revelation. I remember asking Liz and Carly about that pretty early on because I just remember being… I just kind of had my own suspicions about it. I was like, “Is Bash… is he… is he gay?” He lives with his male butler who’s his best friend. He’s got those costume closets. He’s got no… I sort of was trying to understand what my relationship was meant to be with the girls on the show. What role am I filling here? Is there any part of my intentions with the show and with producing this women’s wrestling show in the eighties… Is there any part of it that’s predatory? That’s got some underlying motive beneath it that I need to know about, that I should be aware of?
We all agreed very early on that Bash is just a deeply die hard fan boy of this kind of entertainment. And that there is no underlying dark side motivation behind him getting in to it. He just really just loved it so much. And then I remember going into the second season and Liz and Carly telling me that one of the major things that was going to happen that season was that Florian was going to die of AIDS. And we all kind of tried to find… I mean one of the things that Liz and Carly do so brilliantly, and all the writers on the show do, is take some pretty huge issues and find a way to address them in a way that doesn’t feel too on the nose.
I don’t think that we ever say HIV or AIDS with Florian. Because I think it’s much more devastating to get a phone call saying that he technically died of pneumonia, and that we might have trouble finding a place to take the remains. I think that is such a devastating, interesting way of approaching that issue. Just sort of in a much more realistic, heartbreaking circumstance. And so Yes. I guess the answer is I didn’t realize it was going to become this journey for him. This fleshed out. This detailed. This kind of heartbreaking. It’s been a real gift to go on that ride. When I first started on the show I was playing such a cartoon character. And it’s nice to be able to do this really fun, over the top, large, broad comedy, and then also be given some very grounded difficult challenging acting work to also do. You don’t get to do both hardly ever I feel like. And I love that about this character.
I feel like that’s part of what makes this show so great, that all the characters sort of have that mix of cartoon and devastatingly real.
Yeah, exactly. And I think what Liz and Carly do so well is they switch so quickly from one to the other, that it shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t, it should feel clunky, but it doesn’t. It may make you feel like you’re laughing and having a good time and it’s all going smoothly. Then all of a sudden you get sucker punched in the face with a dose of reality or anguish or emotion. That’s, it’s a great way to roll out a story.
I’m curious, have you ever been a fan of pro wrestling yourself?
No, wrestling was just something that I missed in my youth. My little brother was a die hard wrestling fan. He would go to WWF matches, and he was obsessed with Diamond Dallas Page and The Undertaker, and all these characters that I totally missed out on. I’m definitely one of those people who looked at wrestling like it was fake boxing or something. I did not understand it. And then, truly this show has been like a profound eye opener for me. When you see what goes into one of those shows, it is stupefying. The athleticism, the sense of teamwork and movement and ballet that is also involved. Just coordinating a match. And then just the sheer exhaustion that it must bring upon everyone who has to do it. The girls on the show train a month before every season, just to get ready for what they have to do on the show. They do almost all of it themselves, which is also so freaking mind-blowing.
In playing Bash, did you take any direct inspiration from any of the guys involved with the original GLOW? Like David McLane, who started it, or the announcer, Johnny C?
Oh. Big time. Big time. Yeah, I mean I obsessed over the documentary. Have you seen the documentary? Clearly, you’re referencing David McLane. Honestly, what I loved about watching David McLane is that I think he also is so genuinely a die hard fan boy of the sport of wrestling. I think he just, when you watch him do these announcements, you can tell he was the most awed audience member of anyone. He really just loved it, and I love that about him. I love that kind of that purity that he sort of always had, and that radiated from him when he was announcing matches. And then I also kind of worked hard to come up with a voice for Bash when he’s doing his announcements. That’s like it’s own weird… That’s the outfit he gets to put on. Just like, that announcer voice.
And frequently one of my favorite things that Liz and Carly have me do when we’re shooting those wrestling sequences is that they just give me a bunch of note cards and let me just write out a bunch of stupid puns and say whatever I want. I’m just kind of free to ad lib a lot of those sequences. It’s, it’s very fun to see how much of that ends up in the final cut. I’m flattered by it.
So what’s it like being one of two male actors on a show with like fourteen female stars?
I’ve been really lucky to work with and for women for the majority of my career. For me it’s kind of business as usual. I hope that’s something that more people get to say. I was on a Shonda Rhimes show for a year, starring and written by women. And then The Help, which is a film about women and written by a woman. For me, I’ve just been very lucky to kind of be in that environment for a long time now; for most of my career. It’s my favorite environment, frankly. All my best friends growing up were women, I was raised by women. I think it’s just like a landscape that I feel much more at ease around. This show is no different in that regard. It’s amazing to watch, to be on a set that is full of encouragement and positivity and a real sense of family. Working together as a team. I love it. There’s no easier way to say it. I feel very blessed to be one of only two guys on a show full of these brilliantly talented actors and writers and cinematographers, and first AP’s and directors who also happen to be women. And it’s very cool.
How would you say the move to Las Vegas for Season 3 changes the feel or the tone of GLOW?
I think it’s a pretty dramatic change. I think Season One is about this rag tag group of misfits coming together, none of whom are wrestlers, learning how to wrestle. And Season Two is about making a television show. It’s all about networks, executives, ratings, editing, story lines and schedules and time slots. I think that the third season is much more about the journey of an actor after opening night. When the glow has worn off. You’re just having to maintain a very demanding lifestyle for an extended period of time. The toll that takes on a performer, I think, is something that I personally really connected with. I think the stakes in this Third Season feel so high for everyone.
The questions that people are asking, and the life choices that they’re struggling with, I think are very, very real and very relatable. Just deeply human. I just found myself really falling in love with all of the characters on a much deeper level in this season. Because I think they really explore the difficulties of being a performer, doing a show. I think it’s just a, it’s kind of a beautiful love letter to actors. And the other thing they do is showcase Vegas in a way that I don’t think we get to see very often. And what I mean by that is, I always think of Vegas as like the city where everything goes. You can do, you can be whoever you want and act however you want. It’s just kind of a total bacchanal at all times. Watching this and realizing how the state of homophobia in eighties on the strip, the two faces that people have to have when they’re on and when they’re off. I really just found it so fascinating. I think they really deliver on the promise of a unique point of view of Vegas. They don’t hold back on the spectacle also. Which I think it, makes it a real fun watch.
That totally makes sense. Let me take a detour and ask a question that’s not about GLOW.
Lay it on me.
One of the aforementioned female-centric shows that you’ve been on was Veronica Mars…
That’s funny. I actually don’t think Veronica Mars… I mean, the irony of Veronica Mars is that was a whole show about a woman in a man’s environment.
That is a good point, yeah.
You know there’s not a lot of women on that show. It’s really Kristen [Bell] and a bunch of dudes; which I also think is kind of the point. Is that she sort of like this power house that keeps taking down the sort of, that has to keep drop kicking the male gaze left right and center.
But back to your point.
Right So, Veronica Mars recently returned on Hulu, and I was just curious if you think there’s any chance we’ll see your character, Piz, return to that world at some point in the future.
I don’t think so. And in a way it breaks my heart because I’ll take any excuse to work with Kristen Bell and Ryan Hansen, Rob Thomas, and Dan Etheridge. I just love all those guys so much. But at the same time, I had a very fun talk with Rob when they started, when they were ramping up to do Season 4 of Veronica Mars. He and I both laughed over the reality that this character has kind of run his course on the show. I don’t know that there’s much to do be done with Piz at this point. I think a real central focus of my character in the first place was to break up the big romance between Veronica and Logan. Having done that… I mean frankly when he called me to do the movie I was so flattered because I just thought that everyone hated my character so much that I was like, what are you thinking, bringing me back? But again, like I said, if they’re able to figure out a way. If I get the opportunity to work with any of those people again, I would do it in a heartbeat. Just because that’s a great environment to come and work at. That’s one of those jobs where you show up and you go, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to be here right now. It’s insane.”
Since we can’t really say much that’s specific about Season 3 of Glow yet, is there anything you want to say just to encourage people to check it out? To sell it to people who are not already won over. If there’s anyone left like that out there.
That’s nice to say. I think I would just say that if you watch the show already and want to get a much deeper understanding of these characters, then this is the best season to do that. If you have never seen the show, and are interested in a deeply unique perspective of a time and place and moment, then this season I think does the best job at capturing it in a way that feels deeply researched and full of empathy. That’s what I love about it so much. I really was so moved by the performances this season. Really kind of took my breath away to watch.
Yeah, I haven’t seen any of the new season yet myself, but I’m excited to.
You haven’t seen it yet? Holy Cow.
No, I didn’t get the screeners.
It’s stupendous. They really kind of like kick you in the teeth with the storyline that they come up with. Also, there’s so much fucking nudity in it, it’s ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous how naked people are on this season. I don’t think any of us was ready for it.