MY LIFE AS A FAKE
Unlikely as fans may find it, Alison Brie fits right in as a professional wrestler, writes Catherine Gee
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
I LIKE THAT THEY’RE NOT JUST TRYING TO CRAM A BUNCH OF NUDITY IN THE SHOW FOR SHOCK VALUE
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