Un­likely as fans may find it, Ali­son Brie fits right in as a pro­fes­sional wrestler, writes Cather­ine Gee

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

Ali­son Brie is some­thing of a chameleon. To many of her fans she’s the prim, up­stand­ing 1960s house­wife of ad man Pete Camp­bell in the glossy TV drama Mad Men. To others, she’s the quirky-but-nerdy col­lege stu­dent An­nie in the cult sit­com Com­mu­nity or the voice of the com­plex ghost­writer Diane in the odd­ball an­i­mated com­edy Bo­jack Horse­man.

Now, by even fur­ther con­trast, she’s star­ring as a big-haired wannabe fe­male wrestler in GLOW, Net­flix’s new 10-part com­edy cen­tring on Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling, an out­landish, real-life all-fe­male wrestling league that ran on US TV in the 80s.

Brie leads a large en­sem­ble cast as Ruth, a drab bud­ding ac­tress who will try just about any­thing to suc­ceed in her cho­sen ca­reer — and that in­cludes adopt­ing ridicu­lous, mildly of­fen­sive per­sonas and pre­tend-fight­ing other women in pub­lic. On the face of it, Brie and her char­ac­ter seem like chalk and cheese but when asked which of the show’s large en­sem­ble of char­ac­ters is most like her, she says it’s Ruth.

“I couldn’t re­late to her more,” says the 34year-old, with no doubt at all. “It’s become a bit of a joke within the cast be­cause Ruth and I share some sim­i­lar type-A qual­i­ties. Ruth is a nat­u­ral leader and I was sort of team cap­tain on our set and just had that way of want­ing to know what’s go­ing on and lead­ing the charge.”

The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween Ruth and Ali­son, how­ever, aside from a perm, is charisma. Ruth is pre­sented to us as a fairly charm­less, mildly ir­ri­tat­ing keen bean who hov­ers en­er­get­i­cally around people who’d rather she wasn’t there. Brie, on the other hand, has the sort of en­thralling, ef­fer­ves­cent pres­ence that makes people flock around her. Sat in a lux­u­ri­ous west Lon­don ho­tel, not only does she look luminous, dressed in an el­e­gant stripe dress, but she’s also sharp as a tack and ef­fort­less to en­gage with.

As co-star Marc Maron, a co­me­dian known for be­ing grumpy, tells me later, “She was very dis­arm­ing to me in real life. I can’t stop her from charm­ing me, no mat­ter how hard I fight it.”

But much like her char­ac­ter, Brie had to re­ally fight for this part, de­spite al­ready be­ing a big­name ac­tress, and says that the pro­duc­ers were, at first, re­luc­tant to cast her. “I au­di­tioned again and again and it took a lot of calls on my agent’s part. I put my­self on tape and was just re­lent­less. We wore them down.”

For those who don’t re­mem­ber the Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling, which was broad­cast in the US on a Satur­day morn­ing from 1986 to 1990, it was kitsch and in­cred­i­bly cheesy, pit­ting women in skimpy cos­tumes against each other in the ring. It came at a time when the World Wrestling Fed­er­a­tion was hugely pop­u­lar and an enor­mous profit gen­er­a­tor — and so a fe­male ver­sion seemed like a log­i­cal step.

Much like in WWF wrestling — or WWE (World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment) as it’s now known — the fight­ing is fake. But that doesn’t make it easy. The cast spent a month train­ing with pro­fes­sional wrestler Chavo Guer­rero and the show’s stunt co-or­di­na­tor Shauna Dug­gins.

“Through­out the 3½ months that we shot this sea­son we con­tin­ued to train,” Brie ex- Mad Men Glow plains. “Our train­ing gym was right next to the stages where we shot scenes. And if you were not shoot­ing you were train­ing. It was a great way to bond all of the women to­gether as we learned to sup­port each other and cheer each other on. By the time we were shoot­ing the fi­nale, Betty and I were in the ring pitch­ing ideas. We would set our own goals, like ‘I re­ally wanna do a drop kick in this fight’.”

De­spite per­form­ing moves such as the cross body splash (one wrestler climbs the ring ropes, then leaps stom­ach-first on top of an­other), none of the cast sus­tained se­ri­ous in­juries. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t suf­fer. “We were bruised and sore all the time,” she says.

The se­ries is ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced by Jenji Ko­han, who is be­hind Net­flix’s other hit se­ries with a big fe­male cast, Or­ange is the New Black, and cre­ated by Liz Flahive, who also cre­ated Nurse Jackie, and Weeds pro­ducer Carly Men­sch. Given the tal­ent in­volved, an un­flinch­ing, re­al­is­tic por­trayal of women, flaws and all, was ex­pected, and that’s what we get. But, in fact, there’s less on-screen nu­dity than you might ex­pect. Which also sur­prised Brie.

“There didn’t end up be­ing as many lock­er­room scenes as we thought there would be,” she says. “I say that be­cause I had con­ver­sa­tions with Liz and Carly about the nu­dity be­fore I signed on to the role and it was sort of im­plied that there was go­ing to be a lot more. But I like



that they’re not just try­ing to cram a bunch of nu­dity in the show for shock value. It’s more com­ing from want­ing the show to feel re­al­is­tic. If you do see a woman chang­ing you just see her chang­ing. And it’s not a big deal.”

Both Brie and Betty Gilpin do have nude scenes, how­ever, and Brie’s takes place right at the start of the show. And when it came to film­ing the scene, the pro­duc­ers threw her right in at the deep end, film­ing it on day one. But, she says, it made wear­ing her leo­tard — which was nor­mal for the 80s but looks re­veal­ing by to­day’s stan­dards — all the eas­ier. “It was ac­tu­ally great,” Brie says. “I think it was very free­ing and a nice re­minder that I am re­ally com­fort­able in my body. I’ve never felt better than when I was work­ing on this show and go­ing through the train­ing that we were do­ing.”

In real life, Brie has since 2012 been with Dave Franco, the ac­tor fa­mous for come­dies such as 21 Jump Street and Bad Neigh­bours, as well as for be­ing the brother of James Franco. The pair got mar­ried in March, a day that Brie de­scribes as “won­der­ful”, hav­ing suc­cess­fully man­aged to keep it a se­cret from the press. “It was a pretty mel­low event and all of our friends and fam­ily know how we are and re­spect that as­pect of our lives,” she ex­plains.

Brie ap­pears along­side Franco, as his girl­friend in fact, in the forth­com­ing film The Dis­as­ter Artist, which is di­rected by his brother. As far as film projects go, they don’t come much weirder than this one, and it takes some ex­plain­ing if you’ve not heard of it be­fore. The film is based on a book that was writ­ten about the mak­ing a film that is both a cult clas­sic and known as the worst film ever made: The Room.

The Room was self-fi­nanced, writ­ten and di­rected by its enig­matic star Tommy Wiseau and re­leased in 2003. At the time it was billed as a se­ri­ous ro­man­tic drama, al­though Wiseau has since claimed that it is a black com­edy. It is a film so bizarrely aw­ful that it’s in­ad­ver­tently hys­ter­i­cal. Char­ac­ters ap­pear out of nowhere, the plot is full of holes, the di­a­logue is atro­cious (“I did not hit her, I did not! Oh, hi Mark”), and the sex scenes overly long and ex­cru­ci­at­ingly

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