Alison Brie (‘GLOW’) on working with material that is ‘constantly pushing boundaries’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Alison Brie has collected nominations from Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards for her performance as Ruth Wilder in “GLOW.” The actress, who previously had starring roles in “Community” and “Mad Men,” is hoping for her first Emmy nomination soon for Season 2 of “GLOW.”

Brie recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Kevin Jacobsen about the challenges of working on “GLOW,” the core relationships Ruth has with Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Sam (Marc Maron) and how she handles personal disappointment in her career. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: So Alison, I actually wanted to rewind before Season 2 to where you guys were nominated for 10 Emmy Awards for Season 1, including Best Comedy Series, and there were two wins for the show, for production design and stunt coordination. What was the response from the cast and crew as far as getting all that love right away for your first season?

Alison Brie: Oh my god. It was incredibly exciting. Everybody that works on the show puts so much into the show and I think it’s really reflected in all departments. It couldn’t be more well-deserved for Shauna Duggins, our stunt coordinator to have won the Emmy. She’s the first woman to win an Emmy in this category and what Shauna does, I feel like I say this all the time, a lot of stunt coordinators coordinate stunt people on shows to do stunts but Shauna teaches all of us to be stunt people and then coordinates the stunts that we do on the show as well as doubling Betty sometimes on the show and I have a great stunt double, Helena Barrett. So the two of them along with Chavo Guerrero Jr. do all of our wrestling training and coordinate all of our matches and choreograph them and double us sometimes and are also a great sense of moral support. They really bolster us in a lot of ways and also our production design team is totally incredible, by Todd Fjelsted. Todd is incredible and our show, top to bottom what’s great about it, the ‘80s are such a fetishized thing, I think, and what I love about “GLOW” is how well we keep it grounded and realistic even though it was such an over the top era. I feel like the whole look of the show, and our cinematographer, Christian Sprenger, was nominated as well for Season 1, he had so much to do with the show having a dingy feel to it. These are not characters who have a lot of money. These places that they’re going are not especially glamorous. It never feels really kitschy, fake ‘80s. I think it feels grounded and real and what we remember. I was a baby in the ‘80s but it kind of reminds of what I remember.

GD: So Season 2 certainly gave you a lot to do, a lot of really strong material, with Ruth really taking some initiative and directing the TV show title sequence, rejecting the advances of the network president, having her ankle broken by Debbie, having these interesting relationships with Russell and Sam. Was there anything that you were either excited or nervous about exploring with Ruth in this season?

AB: Not nervous about anything. Everything is so fun on the show and it’s such a treat that our writers are constantly pushing boundaries and challenging us with new and different types of material. That’s really fun. Talking to Liz [Flahive] and Carly [Mensch], our creators, about the show, they don’t want any season to ever feel the same. Season 1 was all about the girls training and discovering wrestling and what it is and then Season 2 is all about us making the show. So we’re in our wrestling character looks a lot more of the time. It’s a lot more behind the scenes production design, which was really cool. It was such a fulfilling season because already in Season 1, this show was an actor’s dream because we get to do really nuanced dialogue work and scene work with each other and then we have really broad comedy stuff and physical stuff in the ring. Season 2 took that to new levels on both ends. I feel like we did real deeper, more gut-wrenching emotional character work in Season 2 and then on the flip side we did an episode within an episode which couldn’t have been zanier, sillier, crazier and what a treat to see what these people have been making the whole season. You’re kind of living inside the show so to actually see what’s going on I think was really fun and such a blast to play Olga, yet another character on the show.

But always, my favorite scenes are the ones with Betty Gilpin. She’s so wonderful. She’s such an incredible actress and such a close friend of mine. Now, after working together on this show and shooting those scenes with her I just feel like we don’t overthink, I don’t have to think about anything. I can just listen and respond to her and we’re so deeply, intrinsically connected to our characters and their journey so in Season 2, getting to Episode 7 where they have this big cathartic fight scene with each other, releasing years of pent up resentments on one another, I think that was my favorite scene that we shot in Season 2.

GD: I wanted to get to a very big storyline in terms of her eventually breaking your ankle in the ring. I wanted to talk about the lead-up to that and what happens with the network president, which is a really dramatic and dark moment. I had read somewhere that the writers of the show had written a lot of Season 2 before the #MeToo movement happened, and it’s so fascinating how timely it ended up being. So when you were playing that uncomfortable scene, did it make it any easier knowing that Ruth would be rejecting his advances rather than giving in to them?

AB: It’s a very progressive idea for the time, to be honest. Shooting that episode was so interesting because they had written it before the Harvey Weinstein stories came out but then we were shooting it really in the midst of every day it felt like there was a new breaking news story about a man doing something terrible. Even that day, I don’t remember who it was, but some big story had just come out about an actor that a bunch of people on our crew had worked with. I certainly had very complicated feelings reading all these stories. I think everybody was feeling very… A lot of women that I was working with on our show talking to each other, it was a very emotional time and reading what other women had gone through was bringing up things from our own experiences, trying to ask myself, “How have I felt in certain situations? Would I have the strength to do what Ruth did? Did I ever?” That was another cathartic scene to shoot, to enact it and be empowered in the moment, was really fun. If anything, it was the opposite shooting it, because, I can’t think of his name, you’ll have to look it up and tell me, the actor who plays the executive in that scene with me, he was so wonderful and couldn’t have been sweeter to the point that truly in the scene we were like, “You have to be more gross.” Definitely he was incredibly respectful and asking for permission and we were like, “You have it! It’s okay!” So that was very refreshing and nice.

I love the way that they wrote that episode because the episode itself and the meaning of it and the most important scene in the episode is not that scene in that hotel room but rather the scene afterward between Ruth and Debbie discussing what happened and Debbie’s reaction. I think that was also a really complicated thing for all of us to read and Betty at first felt very, “Oh god, I hate that my character reacts in this way to you,” because obviously, Betty as a person would never react that way to a friend, but I think it’s important to show that side of the female perspective in a very accurate way to the time period because again, it’s such a strange moment of women really speaking up and using their voices and connecting and realizing that we’ve all had similar experiences and letting go of the shame of having had those experiences, our personal embarrassment with having put ourselves in those situations, which, of course, is not the truth. But I think for a long time, women were not able to cope with that shame. That scene is about Debbie coming to terms with the compromises she’s made in order to advance her career and not wanting to face a person who made the other choice. I think it’s a fantastic episode and I also always love how our writers do look at these types of storylines in a different way and it doesn’t feel like a message episode that’s like, “This is the MeToo episode.” It’s more complicated.

GD: Yeah, I love the nuanced approach to it. With how things end in Season 2 with Ruth and Debbie, after all they’ve been through, they’ve kind of forgiven each other or at least have made amends. We’ve certainly seen a lot of conflict between you two, but what do you think it is about each other that makes them still want to be friends even after all the drama they’ve been through?

AB: I think there’s a lot of love there. I think there’s a really deep love between these two friends and Betty and I have always talked about Ruth and Debbie being the core of the show, this will-they-won’t-they between these two characters, like they’re the core romance of the show even though Season 2 saw some new romantic ideas popping up for Ruth especially and Season 3 maybe even more so, for everybody. But I do think that Ruth and Debbie really challenge each other. They’re very opposite in a lot of ways so they sort of push each other. I think for Ruth, Debbie is a character who’s very bold and speaks her mind. She’s such an alpha and Ruth can use a lot more of that in her life and then for Debbie I think Ruth does have this strong moral structure, sleeping with Debbie’s husband aside, and her conviction in her art and the things that she does, I think Debbie wants more of that her life. They really are good complements to one another. I think it’s been proven with the two of them on this show that the two of them are intrinsically linked. Even Debbie seems to value her friendship with Ruth more-so than her husband, the fact that they’re able to get through this thing as friends. I do think the ankle break was a good thing because we needed to level the playing field a little bit. Although, some people might not think that that does it. Definitely going into Season 3 these two are on the road to recovery in their friendship and starting to move past the incident.

GD: Right, you’re kind of even. Another fascinating relationship for Ruth is the one she has with Sam. And in some ways it reminds me of another show you were on, “Mad Men,” and the relationship with Don and Peggy a bit.

AB: Oh! I was about to be like, “I don’t think Trudy and Pete…”

GD: This male-female relationship and they have their conflicts, there’s occasional hints of romance but it’s never fully gone there between the two of them. What do you think of the two of them and their working relationship?

AB: I like that comparison. I’ll take a Don and Peggy comparison, absolutely. I think they challenge each other, too. In some ways, they’re like oil and water. Ruth and Debbie are so explosive, obviously, in their relationship and in terms of them bringing good stuff out of one another, that’s true, but also there’s jealousies as we saw in Season 2, these resentments, these other things that have been building up. With Sam, I think there is a more pure thing where they do bring the best out of each other. Sam clearly has been inspiring Ruth to take on directing, to try to do more of that type of stuff, put herself out there a little more in terms of her work and taking charge. She softens him up a little bit, in spite of himself, I think. He really likes her even though he’s not used to that kind of positive can-do attitude being anywhere near him. I think because Ruth and Debbie are always so at odds, Sam is kind of Ruth’s closest friend. Even though Ruth is so in the doghouse for a lot of Season 2, Sam constantly surprises Ruth and ends up being this incredible support system for her. In Season 1, he drove her to get an abortion. He still is the only character to know about that. They do really connect on a deeper level and I feel like the thing about the romance of them is I think from the very start that neither of them would ever think that they would think of the other one romantically. I don’t think that Ruth is Sam’s type at all. Ruth is so much thinking about work. She’s hardly thinking romantic stuff anyway. Their connection is very surprising to both of them.

GD: They’re some of the most fun scenes to watch between the two of you.

AB: It’s really fun. I love working with Marc and he’s so natural in the scenes. It’s also really fun to act with him ‘cause there’s no bullshit, which is how the characters are with each other.

GD: Since we’re an awards website I was actually hoping to get your perspective on an Emmy-related topic, because you received nominations at the Golden Globes, SAG awards and the Critics’ Choice Awards last year for Season 1 and I think a lot of people thought you would get an Emmy nomination. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up happening, but the show was embraced in other ways, of course. And sometimes actors can be disappointed or angry when those kinds of accolades they expect to get don’t happen. So I was curious, first of all, just what you do when something you expect might happen doesn’t end up panning out, whether it’s an award or maybe even a part that you might’ve wanted, and how you sort of proceed as an actor?

AB: Interesting question. I don’t think there’s anger involved. There can be, certainly, situations where there’s disappointment and for me, I usually just embrace the disappointment immediately and then let it go. In this case, for “GLOW,” of course I was disappointed last year and maybe will be disappointed again this year, but the show was nominated. I was so excited that Betty was nominated. We had 10 nominations across the board for our work, so that was able to balance out personal disappointment in support of the full team and just being really happy that the show was acknowledged. So few shows are nominated at all so the fact that the show itself was nominated, I was able to use that as a personal win and be proud of the people that I work with. When it comes to roles, I definitely take time to mourn stuff. Some hurt more than others. Sometimes you’re up for something and you go, “Oh, I’m up for that? I didn’t think I would be right for the role” and then when it doesn’t go your way you’re like, “That makes sense!” Other times you really are hoping. I’ve certainly shed tears over parts I didn’t get and things like that. I feel like that’s fine. Like I said, I like to just embrace, like, “I feel terrible,” cry it out and then move forward. Otherwise, I feel like you could carry the resentment for too long. When it comes to the awards stuff, this is an award website, I don’t wanna belittle anything at all because it is such an honor that “GLOW” is included in this type of stuff and I’m very grateful for the Golden Globe and SAG nominations but I do think it’s easy to get caught up in all of it. We all have teams of people that are talking to you about that stuff constantly. You get in this system where you’re campaigning for things and things like that. It’s easy to get caught up in it. It’s nice to have a reminder that that’s not the reason that we got into this business, hopefully. The work is the thing and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that I do on “GLOW” and the work of the people I work with, the work that they do, and just to be a part of the show that I love so much. So that’s sort of the thing, you know? 

GD: Definitely. I think that’s a really healthy perspective. Just as we’re wrapping up, we just heard that Season 3 of “GLOW” is dropping on Netflix on August 9th, very exciting. Is there anything you can tease about what we can expect now that the ladies are heading to Vegas?

AB: Oh my gosh. The ladies are in Las Vegas. I haven’t had a real prep talk about what I can say or not say so I’ll try not to say too much. It definitely feels totally different from any other season that we’ve done. If Season 2 felt more emotional, Season 3 I think is even more so. The stakes have never been higher in some ways. People are tapping into some really deep stuff, which is very cool. It’s also a bit sexier of a season. There’s a lot more sexual activity. I’m not speaking personally but for a lot of the character it’s very Vegas. The girls are going out. They’re making money regularly so their wardrobe is getting a bit glitzier and stuff like that. You see a lot of different sides of the characters.

GD: That sounds fantastic.

AB: Pretty vague but a good pitch. It’s an awesome season. I’m really excited for people to see it.

GD: We’re all very excited here at Gold Derby for that. Thank you so much, Alison and best of luck for you and the show at the upcoming Emmys.

AB: Thank you.

More News from GoldDerby