Alison Brie (‘GLOW’): Ladies wrestling is ‘like high-intensity, physical improv’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

After long-running roles on the comedy “Community” and drama “Mad Men,” Alison Brie is finally hitting the awards circuit as 2017 draws to a close. She recently received nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Awards for the new Netflix comedy “GLOW.” Brie stars in the leading role of Ruth Wilder on the ladies wrestling series set in the 1980s Los Angeles. She is also a co-star in two of the hottest films currently in awards season — “The Disaster Artist” directed by James Franco and “The Post” directed by Steven Spielberg.

Before those nominations were announced, Gold Derby senior editor Daniel Montgomery recently hosted a webchat with Brie, which you can watch on the video above. Our complete interview transcript is also available below.

Gold Derby: Alison Brie, you star in the Netflix series “GLOW” as Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress who decides to join a professional wrestling circuit. Were you familiar at all with the real “GLOW” before this opportunity came about?

Alison Brie: No, not at all. Not at all. But that was the first thing that I learned about the show, and even before I read the script, I was looking it up online, so the first call I got was, “Jenji Kohan is producing a show for Netflix about a women’s wrestling show from the ‘80s. Google ‘GLOW.’” And so I looked it up and started watching YouTube videos and then that led me to the documentary, which is now on Netflix, so I got a taste of it immediately and was like, “Oh my god, this is incredible.” I guess I was just a little bit too young to have watched it in the ‘80s. It was only on for four or five years, but I was a little bit like, “How did I never know about this?”

GD: Since you started watching those original clips of “GLOW,” professional wrestling in general, are you now a fan?

AB: Yeah, oh my god, absolutely, more than a fan. I just respect it so much now that we are having to break down moves and learn how to do them. The athleticism required for wrestling is incredible, and it’s also the performance aspect of it, too, is so much different than I think I imagined in my mind. It’s like high-intensity, physical improv, kind of. It’s two people really communicating in a ring and being so committed to their characters and then going on to exhibit these crazy physical feats one after the next. It’s so exciting and exhilarating. All the “GLOW” girls, before we started shooting Season 2, we went to a big pay-per-view event for WWE at the Staples Center here in L.A. and we lost our goddamn minds. It was the coolest thing to be at such a huge wrestling show and I think it was just so exciting on so many levels, because they’d all start out and we’d be like, “I can do that! I can do that! Whoa, can’t do that. I cannot do that, but that was fucking crazy.” Oh sorry, I’ll try not to swear.

GD: Swearing is fine.

AB: Oh, okay (laughs). It was fucking crazy!

GD: There have been some real life pro wrestlers who have appeared on the show. Did you get to meet any at that wrestling show or since, who you’ve gotten input from?

AB: No, we didn’t really meet anyone at that show, which I thought that we would be it just was such a huge event that we didn’t meet anyone then, although the camera guy who was filming the WWE event came over to us at one point and was like, “Ladies, I love your show. I’ve never seen a more accurate portrayal of wrestling on television.” And we were like, “That means so much to us, camera guy!” (Laughs.) I’d like to assume he watches a ton of wrestling. He shoots the matches. But we met a lot of the original “GLOW” cast members, who actually were at that WWE event as well, and that was really exciting to meet them and hear a little bit about their journey on “GLOW.” Some of them were like “I relate to Ruth. It took me a while to find my wrestling character,” and things like that. So that was unexpected and very exciting.

GD: Of course the series is very physical. You and a lot of the other characters are learning to wrestle from scratch. Ruth of course starts as not an actress for wrestling. How much training did you do and how much of the stunt work did you do yourself compared to what was done by stunt actors maybe?

AB: We did about a month of training, four and a half weeks I’d say, before we started shooting the first season, and then we just did another month of training before we started to shoot the second season, which we’re in production on now, and we train with Chavo Guerrero, Jr., pro wrestler, legacy. His uncles, his father, his grandfather, all pro wrestlers and he’s incredible and so patient and gracious with us. We also have two stuntwomen, Shauna Duggins, who’s our stunt coordinator, and Helena Barrett, who is my stunt double. They help stretch us out and break down the moves for us, so for Season 1, it was a lot of basics. It was a lot of really starting from the bottom, now we’re here (laughs). Sitting on the mat and feeling the mat and getting a minimal idea of what back bumps feel like and then doing back bumps to big pads that are cushy and protective and things like that, and then slowly building on top of that into larger moves. Some of the girls have described Chavo as Mr. Miyagi from “Karate Kid” because it sort of what like, we were waxing on and waxing off, like we were sitting on the ground doing this for so long, getting a feel for your whole back hitting the mat at the same time, and then next thing you know we’re doing front three-quarter flips onto our back and we’re like, “How did we know that?!” And he’s just like, “You’ve known all along.” (Laughs.)

But in terms of what we do on the show, all the women, we all do our own stunts on the show. It was something that was really important to Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, our creators that we all do this training and all the actresses on the show really have a willingness to learn the wrestling and to go push it and just go after it, because so much that’s going on between the characters happens in the ring. So I think it just would’ve been such a headache to have to be constantly cutting away from people’s faces and then there’s just a closeup shot of me heavy breathing as if I just did a big move. It’s so much more authentic to have us doing those moves. I do wanna give credit to Helena Barrett and Shauna Duggins, who doubles Betty Gilpin. They double the two of us and they were essential in not only our training but also just stepping in to give us a break if we were shooting a huge wide shot from far away and we’ve been wrestling for the last five hours. They would come in and do some of those wider shots and wrestle, so you might be catching glimpses of their work on the show as well. And also just when we’re shooting reaction shots or things like that they would always step in and do the moves for us, so that was really essential and became kind of a tag team in our own way of, “I need a quick break. Are you sure this is not an essential shot? Okay, okay. Go do it. Go do it.” But it really was a point of pride for Betty and I to learn all the moves, to know how to do all the moves, for all the women on the show, and I would say 95% of what you see is us.

GD: And working with Betty Gilpin, your co-star on the show, you’re not acting together as two actors normally do but you’re wrestling together in these scenes. How is that collaboration different than a normal scene partner kind of dynamic that you’ve had in the past?

AB: Well I think, first of all, we’re so lucky in that we truly adore each other and we talk all the time about how difficult the process would’ve been if we didn’t get along and didn’t feel so connected. Something about wrestling that is essential is nonverbal communication in the ring, and trust. Really trusting your body in this other person’s hands in a very literal way, I think that helped Betty and I, and all the women on the show, to create a very deep bond immediately, especially since we all did our training together as group. We really trust each other and are able to be very vulnerable in front of each other and for Betty and I, I think it has just helped us to add so many layers to the characters and to the performance because Ruth and Debbie as characters have such a complicated relationship, and even though we find them often in Season 1 in a moment where they loathe each other and can’t even really look each other in the eye, they still have to be physically intimate in the ring and still really protect each other, so I think it became one of the coolest things about playing these characters, is getting to play their dynamic outside the ring and inside the ring and all the complications that go along with it.

GD: As you mentioned, you’re in a large ensemble cast, predominantly women, all learning this skill together and acting together and it’s Jenji Kohan who made “Orange Is the New Black,” another show with this incredible ensemble of women. What’s the ensemble dynamic like on set?

AB: (Laughs.) It’s a blast. It’s loud, would be the very adjective I would use. It’s very loud. It can be overwhelming for some. I’ve never had more fun. We get silly, we lose our goddamn minds on a daily basis if we’re all on set together it’s like constant bits and jokes. At the same time, we really did all bond so well during training that it feels like a team. And I have never done sports in my life, so I’ve never been on a sports team. I’ve never felt this kind of camaraderie in a group where everybody is constantly building each other up. It’s so supportive and I always joke that even in scenes, I’ve never been on a set like this where we’ll finish doing scenes that involve no wrestling, just acting, maybe I have a big monologue in a scene or something, and we finish my coverage and the girls all just cheer and are like, “Woo! Great scene! Great scene!” High fives, pats on the back. It’s such a funny approach to acting, like acting in a sports team with your girls. I know that any one of these women would go to bat for me. I’ve never felt part of a tighter group in that way, and because the show is also run by women, Liz and Carly, and our producers, Jenji and Tara Herrmann, there is just this very cool, comfortable, light but yet empowering feeling on set where it’s our set. It’s the women’s set. It really belongs to us and we take ownership of it and of the ring and of everything we’re doing, and that has been so cool.

GD: While training for Season 1 and now Season 2, these wrestling moves, was there one that was hardest for you to pick up or that you trained for, like a particular move that was hard to get?

AB: Honestly, a regular back bump is the bane of my existence. We talk about just taking a clothesline and taking your own bump, which is literally just falling onto your back in the ring, and it’s such a tricky thing, because when you fall the wrong way, it hurts. And you get this ringing in your head that’s like, “Oh my god,” and you did it to yourself and it’s so interesting to me that that’s one of those things where I feel like it comes and goes. There are days I feel super great at it, rarely, and there are other days where I’m totally scared to do it. And that’s a funny, interesting thing about wrestling. We did a month of training and we continued our training while shooting the whole first season and then obviously coming back for Season 2 we feel stronger. We remember a lot that we worked on last season and physically our bodies remember it, but it is still just this journey. We’re all still very green, very new to wrestling, so there just are good days and bad days. There are days you feel really strong and capable and fearless and there are days when you’re like “Oh god, the clothesline’s coming. I don’t wanna do it.” (Laughs.) It’s such a basic move but I think a lot of the girls feel the same, too, that that’s that one move that we’re always like, “Goddamn, I wish I could nail it every time.”

GD: I can kind of imagine that because with a back bump you’re just trying to override the body’s instinct to protect itself and just fall flat on your back in a way that’s safe.

AB: Yeah, don’t put your arms back and break your wrist. And front bumps I would say are similar, where it just goes against your instinct. You’re looking down at the mat and thinking, “Okay, I’m just gonna let my whole body fall full force onto this mat. Don’t reach out your arms to protect yourself, ‘cause that’s how you’ll get hurt.” I think in a lot of ways we’ve had to retrain our minds in terms of that kind of stuff. So much of our preliminary training was learning how to fall, learning how to fall the right way when you’re doing things. It’s like you think it’s more dangerous, but actually the way to protect yourself is to do things the way they tell you, to fall as one piece.

GD: One of the things that your character learns is how to embrace being a villain as part of her wrestling persona. As an actor yourself, is that something you’d also enjoy, getting a chance to break bad more often in the roles that you play?

AB: Yeah. I would love to. I definitely would like that. It’s so fun to play Zoya in the ring. I’ve just never felt so exhilarating as hearing 200 background artists booing me, was like the greatest feeling, so maybe that was me tapping into, “Oh, I like this. I would love to play a villain.” I think with Ruth, I have been getting my hands dirty more than ever before and certain things that she’s done as a character and also playing this stuff in the ring, and it does make me crave playing edgier characters, yeah.

GD: And now that you have the experience playing Zoya in the ring, maybe if “The Americans” is casting, needs another Russian spy for next season, you’re all set.

AB: Definitely. I’m ready to go. Tag team between both shows, perfect. Netflix won’t mind (laughs).

GD: (Laughs.) Another thing they actually have in common, of course, they’re both set in the 1980s and there are some other shows right now that are set in the ‘80s. What’s interesting is with this show it never feels like a caricature of the 1980s. It feels much more nuanced in the wardrobe, the hairstyling and the music. What’s it like inhabiting that period?

AB: Oh, it’s so fun. I love the ‘80s clothes. I love the way that our show does the ‘80s. There are a few ‘80s shows right now and I do feel like they’re all exploring a different side. “Stranger Things” is really tapping into that nostalgic ‘80s, the Spielberg, “ET” ‘80s, and our show has obviously got a bit more neon and drugs (laughs.) Which were also very popular in the ‘80s. It’s fantastic. I gotta give a lot of credit to our art department, who makes everything feel very real and even our DP, Christian Sprenger, shot Season 1 and he I think really set the tone of the show looking a little grittier and feeling kind of old and ‘80s and not being too oversaturated in that fake poppy ‘80s that you sometimes see. It sort of feels like what we think of as the ‘80s but I think it’s important in our show to feel like we’re actually living in the ‘80s and it’s not a caricature of the era and also our costume designer, Beth Morgan, who has done such a great job creating this landscape of ‘80s wardrobe across all these different female characters, and that’s the great thing about having so many women in the show is that you get to see the rock ’n’ roll hairdressers and the punk teen and the preppy valley girl and things like that, and Ruth obviously is such a minimal type of person, but what does that look like in the ‘80s, and Debbie who has money. It’s just so fun to see that on the show. All the different outfits are kind of incredible.

GD: In addition to “GLOW” this year, this fall you have roles in “The Post” and “The Disaster Artist,” both of which are considered awards contenders but otherwise really couldn’t have less in common. Is it exciting to be able to celebrate both those films as they’re coming out really close to the same time this month?

AB: Yeah, it’s incredible. It’s kind of a crazy time because we’re shooting the second season of “GLOW” so I’m just in literal heaven working on my dream job and then to have these two movies come out, I feel so proud to be a part of both of them. One of them directed by my brother-in-law, stars him, and my husband, Dave Franco, and that movie is so special and unique, I think, in telling a story about this movie that’s such a cult favorite and really also just taking a look at people following their dreams and Hollywood and obviously I can relate to that whole story of wanting to follow your dreams and be a success in your art that you’re creating. And then on the flip side, obviously, working with Steven Spielberg is a dream come true and I can check it off my bucket list as well as working with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and about 20-30 other brilliant actors. It’s such a strong ensemble cast. That actually is something I would say connects both of these movies, very strong ensemble casts across the board, everyone doing incredible work, and “The Post” I feel is such a vital movie right now, talking about freedom of the press and exposing the government and things like that, I think it’s very prevalent.

GD: One of the other roles you’re best known for, of course, was in “Community.” And fans always rallied for six seasons and a movie for that, and it got the six seasons. Do you think you would ever be interested in doing a movie sometime down the line if the opportunity ever arose? There are tons of revivals out so you can never really rule that sort of thing out.

AB: That’s true. Everything is kind of coming back around. I think I would be open to it, but it would just have to be the right thing. I think so many things are coming back around and some of them you’re like, “Yes, I’ve always wanted more of this!” And some of them you’re like, “Huh. Now there’s more of that.” I guess I would want “Community” to be in the former. So I think that would just depend on Dan Harmon, depend on the material and if we could really get the whole group together, then I would be on board.

GD: Or if in 25 years maybe David Lynch wants to take a crack at it.

AB: I mean, I wouldn’t say no to that. Wow, just the possibilities (laughs). The darkest timeline.

GD: Oh yeah. Honestly if there were ever a sitcom I would think David Lynch could direct, I think he would fit in surprisingly well on “Community.”

AB: Wow. Yeah, I would not have thought of it myself. Now that you said I can’t get it out of my mind. That would be crazy (laughs).

GD: Well I wanna congratulate you on “GLOW” and “The Post” and “The Disaster Artist” and Season 2 of “The GLOW.”

AB: “The GLOW.”

GD: Or just “GLOW.” I attached the definite article to that for some reason. I think it was because I had said, “The Disaster Artist” and “The Post,” I was just kind of in that.

AB: It’s fine. It’s fine. Nobody noticed. Nobody noticed. We’ll edit it out. We’ll edit it out.

GD: Well congratulations again, and thank you so much for talking to me today.

AB: Absolutely, thank you. This was great.

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