Betty Gilpin (‘GLOW’) on Debbie being ‘so many different people inside her own head’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Betty Gilpin earned her first Emmy nomination last year for playing Debbie Egan, a.k.a. Liberty Belle, on the Netflix comedy “GLOW.” With Season 2, Gilpin has the material to possibly earn another nomination as Debbie became a producer and came to blows with Ruth (Alison Brie).

Gilpin recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Kevin Jacobsen about how Debbie would react to getting award nominations, the increase in difficulty with the physical stunts in Season 2 and how she relates to Debbie’s journey of finding her self-worth. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Betty, you were nominated for your first Emmy last year and you’ve been nominated at the Critics’ Choice Awards, our very own Gold Derby Awards and as part of your ensemble cast at the SAG Awards. My first question is, how do you think Debbie would have reacted to this level of acclaim?

Betty Gilpin: I think she’d probably turn into a monster (laughs). I think she would be out on the town with Rob Lowe on the top of a building just really living her life in a sequined onesie, just screaming and forgetting that she told the babysitter she’d be home by 1.

GD: You certainly haven’t had this level of accolades in your career before “GLOW” so what have these past few years been like as far as being on the red carpet and being at such an esteemed event like the Emmys?

BG: It’s funny, I’ve been making my living as an actor for, I guess, 13 years now, since I was 19. So to have this fun twist happen, it’s so exciting but I’m so glad it didn’t happen when I was 19 ‘cause I feel like I would be totally swept up in it and terrified and maybe become a monster and now I feel like it’s this fun crazy pageant I get to go to and I feel so grateful but I also have things in mind like my dog and nuclear weapons (laughs).

GD: Speaking of the Emmys, I wanted to talk about some of the stunt work on the show which actually won an Emmy last year for the first season and going into Season 2 of “GLOW,” your character and the rest of the wrestlers go from amateurs to having their own TV show and it really mirrors what you guys probably went through as a cast where a lot of you were amateurs at that kind of physical stunt work and now in Season 2 you have a good base of knowledge, I would imagine. Did you feel that there was an increase in difficulty when it came to the stunt work in Season 2?

BG: There was definitely an increase in difficulty. Shauna Duggins became the first female stunt coordinator to win an Emmy ever and she is basically our Grace Kelly, Mr. Miyagi. We’re so lucky to work with her. We also work with Chavo Guerrero Jr., who’s a pro wrestler and our wrestling sensei. Season 1 started out with pretty rudimentary forward rolls and a very safe body slam. We went in with kid gloves and had a very Montessori stepping through these moves experience and by Season 2 they were like, “Suplex her now. Do it. We don’t have time to talk about your feelings.” It was much faster and more extreme which was so much fun. As a theater nerd, I had never played a sport ever so this is my first sport and I now understand the appeal.

GD: Also, Debbie in Season 2, I think she could’ve gone in a number of different directions as a character and we ultimately see her become a producer of the “GLOW” TV show so before the season started and as things were going along, how much input did you have into what direction to take your character in?

BG: Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the creators of “GLOW,” they had these ideas in their head long before Season 1 even started and I had said to them, “What if there was a kind of ‘9 to 5’ aspect for Debbie’s storyline of her finding empowerment in work?” And they were like, “We’re on it. We don’t need your input.” (Laughs.) But yeah, I think that they so brilliantly write Debbie as finding her power in wrestling and finding ways in which that bleeds into her finding her power in her professional life and in her personal life and then ways in which she is still a complete mess. I feel like Debbie is so many different people inside her own head and one of them is a powerful woman with a briefcase and one of them is just a sobbing pile of mascara and one of them is Liberty Belle, just completely insane.

GD: Debbie’s relationship with Ruth is certainly complex and has some real baggage but it seemed like things had leveled out for a while until we get to the point where Ruth denies the network president’s sexual advances and Debbie finds out and she’s not really there for her and tells her she should have had sex with him in order to save the show and ultimately we see her in the ring with Ruth and she intentionally hurts Ruth and breaks her ankle. So what do you think Debbie is thinking in that moment and also how did you react to that reading it on the page?

BG: I don’t think Debbie was like, “You should’ve had sex with him.” I think she says, “You should’ve flirted your way out of it and kept the flirty ball in the air to make him think that there was a possibility, to not make a scene,” which, I’m so disappointed in Debbie for saying that she should even do that. When I first read that scene I was very disappointed and angry and I didn’t wanna do that scene. I was, “This is anti-feminist and I’m upset,” but I realized we need to tell all sides of this story and I think it’s a window into how strong Debbie’s confidence is but how low her self-worth is and I think that her seeing that Ruth made that decision made her replay in her head moments where she didn’t think that was an option to say no or walk out. I think that Debbie’s good at treating herself with respect in some ways and in other ways she has so far to go. So I think that that really stirred up anger and self-hatred and then she just channeled it right at Ruth and lashed out. Did she intentionally break her ankle? Who hasn’t broken an ankle by accident? (Laughs.) I think she was in a Liberty Belle rage spiral and Ruth’s ankle happened to be in her hands.

GD: Some of Debbie’s anger with that, do you think if this was maybe set in the present day as opposed to the ‘80s that Debbie would’ve had a different reaction or maybe it manifested in some other different way, to the decision on Ruth’s part to not go along with the sexual advances?

BG: I certainly hope that Debbie would have a different reaction. I really hope so. It’s really interesting. They wrote this episode before the MeToo movement before any of this was even public and it just goes to show how long this has been going on.

GD: The relationship between Debbie and Ruth is really the deepest relationship on the show and you and Alison Brie really are working on an intimate level, not just emotionally but physically in terms of throwing each other around the ring. So you’ve really been through a lot together. Have you ever that kind of a bond with a fellow actor before?

BG: The bond that Alison and I have is pretty intense. I love her so much. No, I’ve never had a connection like this and the opportunity to play so many different levels with especially a female co-star. Usually, it’s “the girl.” We don’t usually get scenes with each other as ladies this much, let alone to play on this many different levels. I think that Ruth and Debbie, as much as they’ve been hurt by each other, the show within the show, “GLOW,” offers the perfect excuse to be close to each other and be with each other because they really know each other more than anyone else in this world and I think they’re both very lonely in different ways in their own lives and wish that they could turn to their best friend and say, “Here are the ways I’m hurting.” The heartbreaking thing is that the person that’s hurting them most is each other.

GD: You also had a great episode this season with Kia Stevens, who plays Tammy, the Welfare Queen, where you explore being a working mother. What was it like just working with Kia on that and also are there other members of the ensemble that you want to work more intimately with in the future?

BG: Yeah, Kia Stevens, I think she’s unbelievable. I went to theater school where I rolled around on the floor and cried about my childhood and did Shakespeare monologues for four years for $10 billion. I was like, “That’s what you need to do to be an actor” and then Kia’s like, “Oh, it’s my first time acting but I’ll give it a go” and then blows us out of the water. She’s incredible. I love that episode so much because I think these women feel safe within the show that they’re making, “GLOW,” and try on these stronger identities in the show, “How can I empower myself? How can I be a stronger person?” And then you’re also seeing behind the curtain their weaker, sadder, darker, messier moments that they probably don’t want to be a part of the TV show about their lives. I think that Episode 4 is such a good example of that, seeing ways in which they’re superheroes and ways in which they are disappointed in themselves, I think particularly for Debbie.

GD: Debbie is a character that is constantly exploring new territory where she’s really figuring out who she is, she’s negotiating her way into a producer spot, she’s using her body in a way that she never really has before. Have you also felt yourself evolving alongside her as a performer through this experience?

BG: 100%. I’m also realizing I forgot to answer part of your question about other members. Yes, I wanna do a version of Episode 4 with every single person in the cast. Thinking about getting more intimate with these girls, if the brain is a house, we know each other’s basement and attic and we couldn’t get to know each other better (laughs). But I would love to act with every single one of them individually more. Yes, to answer this question, I feel a parallel track with Debbie’s empowerment journey. My high school theater teacher told me that I was a good actor from the neck up and from the neck down I was scared Betty. As much as that hurt my feelings at 15, it was completely true and continued to be true for a long time. I was just not in my body and very self-conscious and believed the business when it told me that my body’s value was to pose and try and look small in the wide shot and audition for my next job. Using my body in this weird, crazy, borderline dangerous way in this job has been a training process for my brain of, “Okay, you’ve been telling yourself that your worth is this and it’s not.” I’ve been using myself head to toe in characters from now on. Let’s hope that lasts.

GD: I wanted to really briefly touch on “The Good Twin” episode as well, which was a real fan favorite episode of Season 2 where we essentially see a broadcast of “GLOW,” complete with little sketches and music videos and all sorts of fun stuff. What was it like to just be acting as your wrestling persona, Liberty Belle, the whole time and just the whole experience of doing this little one-off episode?

BG: It was off-the-rails wild. I have really spent a decade being told, “Okay, let’s do it again and just take out this choice, this choice and this choice. Make it smaller. Keep it simpler.” And to have an entire episode where we just kept getting bigger and bigger and wilder and weirder, we would do a take and be like, “Okay, they’re gonna come in and tell us that was insane and we’re going to acting jail.” And then they’d come and be like, “Great, you know what? Ramp it up.” “Okay? We want a Season 3, right?” Ali and I couldn’t stop laughing. The scene where the twin comes in and finds me in the shower, I ruined such amazing takes on her part because I was choking laughing. It was so much fun.

GD: Circling back to the Emmys real quick, I should note that you were the only cast member of “GLOW” nominated at the Emmys last year and I think I and a lot of others might hope that that increases a bit for Season 2. Are there other performances in Season 2 that you observed on-set that you think are really worthy of that kind of Emmy consideration?

BG: Yeah, Alison Brie I think should win all of the Emmys, all of the awards that exist, Marc Maron, I mean, everyone. Just nominate everyone (laughs). Working with Alison, it feels like we’re doing 10 different scenes at once and holding each other’s hand while shivving each other under the table. I could do this job with her forever.

GD: So how things left off in Season 2, the ladies are heading off to Vegas to do their show there so it’s another big transition point into a new season and I know you guys just wrapped up production on Season 3. Is there anything at all you can tease about what we should expect even just on a broader thematic level?

BG: I haven’t been asked this question yet. Even though I’m in Vancouver I feel like anything I say there’s gonna be a neck dart, a Netflix neck dart will take me out. We’re in Vegas, things are crazy, we’re making the show, we’re doing it as a floor show in Vegas. I think I’m allowed to say that. I will say, there is a person who joins our cast this year that will blow your mind.

GD: Intriguing. Thank you so much, Betty, and break a leg at this year’s Emmys.

BG: Thank you so much!

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