BRING IT ALL ON

The ’80s-set Net­flix wrestling com­edy ‘GLOW’ en­ters the TV ring with fe­male power

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - BY YVONNE VILLARREAL

In­side Net­flix’s deluxe new of­fice space on Sun­set Boule­vard, Ali­son Brie and Betty Gilpin, the stars of the stream­ing ser­vice’s up­com­ing fe­male wrestling com­edy “GLOW” are deep in con­ver­sa­tion about the power of women de­mand­ing to be heard. With good rea­son. ¶ It’s a Wed­nes­day and con­ser­va­tive ca­ble news host Bill O’Reilly has just been forced out of Fox News after a se­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions. As the blitz of tweets and breaking-news alert pings pro­lif­er­ate out­side, the greater con­text of the de­vel­op­ment has the ac­tresses rapt. ¶ “It’s a real fem­i­nist mo­ment, again, in this coun­try,” says Brie, best known for her roles on “Com­mu­nity” and “Mad Men.” ¶ The turn of events brings an added layer of poignancy to the ac­tual pur­pose of this con­fer­ence room gath­er­ing: to dis­cuss their fe­males-shouldn’t-be-un­der­es­ti­mated com­edy. ¶ The se­ries, which pre­mieres Fri­day, is in­spired by the real Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), which pro­duced a syn­di­cated pro­fes­sional

women’s wrestling TV pro­gram that ran from 1986 to 1990. Brie plays Ruth Wilder, a strug­gling ac­tress in L.A. at the end of her rope who finds her way to an au­di­tion for what even­tu­ally be­comes a fe­male wrestling show. Gilpin plays her friend, ex-soap star Deb­bie Ea­gan, who be­grudg­ingly joins the misfit posse of body-slam­ming women.

The show em­braces the in­her­ent camp value of its sub­ject and era with frosted lip­stick, ham­mer­locks and even glimpses of a Thomas Guide. But ad­ding some weight to it too is so­cial com­men­tary on the bat­tles, pres­sures and in­equity women faced then (and now).

The girl-power theme of the se­ries not only comes on the heels of the record-breaking box of­fice suc­cess of “Won­der Woman,” which has brought in more than $444 mil­lion world­wide, but it also ar­rives at a time when fe­male nar­ra­tives — and the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial un­der­tones in­vari­ably linked to them — have come into sharp fo­cus in Trump’s Amer­ica.

“I feel our show is fem­i­nist junk food,” says Gilpin, whose other cred­its in­clude “Amer­i­can Gods” and “Nurse Jackie.” “With all the stuff that’s go­ing on in the world — after I watch the news, read the news, and lis­ten to my podcasts, at the end of the day, am I re­ally go­ing to watch an episode of mur­der and time travel? With this, you sit down and you watch women find em­pow­er­ment.”

Cre­ated by long­time friends Liz Flahive (“Home­land”) and Carly Men­sch (“Or­ange Is the New Black”), who worked to­gether on “Nurse Jackie,” the idea to ex­plore the lives of women in­side and out­side a wrestling ring took shape after they watched “GLOW: The Story of the Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling,” a doc­u­men­tary that chron­i­cled the kitschy phe­nom­e­non.

“We both had com­pli­cated re­ac­tions,” Flahive said dur­ing a break in pro­duc­tion, “which is al­ways a good sign for a story that pulls you in and you’re like — ”

“At­tracted and re­pelled,” Men­sch fin­ishes. “It was a fam­ily of women in all dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes and col­ors, bond­ing to­gether in this team. But it also felt kind of ex­ploita­tive in how porn-ad­ja­cent it was.”

That night, they emailed Jenji Ko­han, whom Men­sch had worked with on “Weeds” and “Or­ange Is the New Black” and is no stranger to in­clu­sive, com­pli­cated por­tray­als of women.

“They emailed with great en­thu­si­asm and I im­me­di­ately watched [the doc­u­men­tary] and felt it was a great char­ac­ter piece,” says Ko­han who signed on as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer. “I love that it re­ally walked the ra­zor’s edge of ex­ploita­tion and em­pow­er­ment.”

The real hur­dle would come in se­cur­ing the rights from Ur­sula Hay­den, a former GLOW wrestler (“Babe, the Farmer’s Daugh­ter”) who has op­er­ated the com­pany since 2001.

“There was a bit of un­easi­ness be­cause I wasn’t sure where this was go­ing to go,” re­calls Hay­den, on the phone from Kernville, Calif.. “I wanted to make sure it would be done GLOW style. They as­sured me that it would be.”

Hay­den ul­ti­mately served as a con­sul­tant on the se­ries and has been pro­mot­ing the show’s pre­miere on her so­cial chan­nels and on www.gor­geous­ladiesofwrestling.com.

Re­call­ing sub­se­quent pitch meet­ings with ex­ec­u­tives, Flahive and Men­sch say they de­scribed it as “A League of Their Own” meets “All That Jazz.”

“I think we boomeranged be­tween sound­ing like es­o­teric grad stu­dents who talked about ex­ploita­tion and em­pow­er­ment and the im­age of women putting on shoul­der pads and equat­ing that with women go­ing into bat­tle,” Men­sch says. “And then just geek­ing out over like, all these women liv­ing to­gether as a fam­ily, learn­ing skills.”

They also framed it from a lens of be­ing on the cusp of hav­ing the first fe­male pres­i­dent.

“It’s taken on this kind of shadow now,” says Men­sch. “It was about, ‘Now the time is per­fect for women’ to ‘Now we need shows about women.’ You’ll be watch­ing it in a dif­fer­ent con­text, which may change how you see it. I don’t think it changed how we built the sto­ries, though.”

Craft­ing the world of “GLOW” re­quired co­pi­ous re­search. The pair, who wanted to cre­ate new char­ac­ters rather than base them on the orig­i­nal GLOW per­form­ers, read bi­ogra­phies of fe­male wrestlers from the ’40s and ’50s, such as “The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Mus­cles, Di­a­monds, and the Mak­ing of an Amer­i­can Leg­end” about fe­male wrestler Mil­dred Burke.

They came up with 14 fe­male char­ac­ters. Co­me­dian Marc Maron is the lone male — he stars as Sam Sylvia, the can­tan­ker­ous di­rec­tor charged with turn­ing them into wrestling stars.

The show’s trainer, Chavo Guer­rero Jr., whose un­cle trained the orig­i­nal GLOW wrestlers, also be­came a valu­able sound­ing board. The writ­ers sat with him for

hours, in­un­dat­ing him with ques­tions and us­ing him — in ad­di­tion to stunt co­or­di­na­tor Shauna Dug­gins— as a guide when writ­ing the scenes where the wrestling would serve as a sto­ry­telling mech­a­nism.

“We’d say, ‘We want her to look like she was re­ally ner­vous about do­ing this move that maybe in­volves leav­ing the ground and then, in two hours, she fig­ures it out,’ ” Men­sch says. “That’s as much as we say, and then they would walk us through some op­tions.”

The show’s in­her­ent phys­i­cal­ity could have eas­ily led to a land of stunt dou­bles. But the pair were in­tent on cast­ing ac­tresses will­ing and able to hit the mat. They started scout­ing gym­nasts and former ath­letes — in­clud­ing Kia Stevens, a pro wrestler (“Awe­some Kong”) — but didn’t limit them­selves to that pool.

They ad­mit, though, be­ing skep­ti­cal of Brie’s abil­i­ties.

“Full dis­clo­sure, and she knows this, we were like, ‘She’s too pretty, there’s no way she’s go­ing to be right for this,’ ” says Men­sch. “We were to­tally snobby,” agrees Flahive. And to­tally wrong. Un­der bright lights, Brie is gussied up in a metal­lic one-shoul­der leo­tard, her hair twirled and teased into a faux­hawk. She’s at the cen­ter of a pink-roped ring, in­side the Hol­ly­wood Pal­la­dium on Sun­set Boule­vard, where film­ing of the Sea­son 1 fi­nale is un­der­way on a win­ter day. She bounces off the ropes, strad­dles her op­po­nent’s neck, and rolls around the mat.

“It’s an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing when you’re in the ring,” Brie says dur­ing a break from shoot­ing. “And it bleeds out into ev­ery as­pect of life. I’ve never walked taller. It’s like I am walk­ing around with this re­ally cool se­cret, which is, ‘You have no idea what I’m ca­pa­ble of.’ I had never ex­pe­ri­enced that be­fore. It’s the most in­vig­o­rat­ing thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Gilpin echoes the eu­pho­ria: “I felt like I could lift a car.”

The cast trained at a makeshift gym at River­front Stages in At­wa­ter Vil­lage about a month be­fore pro­duc­tion be­gan — and con­tin­ued through­out the film­ing of the first sea­son.

“Wrestling was the first time I thought, ‘My leg is the thing that func­tions in this way to do this move, to get from A to B,” says Gilpin. “In­stead of, like, ‘My body’s pur­pose is to suck it in so the male showrun­ner thinks it’s at­trac­tive.”

Even the wed­gies — and there were many — be­came sym­bols of for­ti­tude.

“The cos­tume folks would say, ‘Do you want us to tape your leo­tard to your butt?’ and I’d be like, ‘I want the wedgie!’ ” Brie re­calls with pride. “I never felt prouder of my body or cared less about peo­ple see­ing my body.’ ”

Erica Parise Netf lix

“IT’S AN IN­CRED­I­BLE feel­ing when you’re in the ring,” Ali­son Brie says of her role in the new Netf lix se­ries “GLOW.” “And it bleeds out into ev­ery as­pect of life.”

Erica Parise Netf lix

BETTY GILPIN is an ac­tress turned wrestler in “GLOW.”

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

BETTY GILPIN, left, and Ali­son Brie say play­ing wrestlers in the new se­ries was ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

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