Betty Gilpin (‘GLOW’) on Season 3 being ‘a love letter to theater’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Betty Gilpin returned for a third season of Netflix’s “GLOW” this past TV season. The actress has earned two consecutive Emmy nominations for Best Comedy Supporting Actress for her role as Debbie Eagan, a.k.a. Liberty Belle.

Gilpin recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Sam Eckmann about her relationship with Alison Brie, what it was like to work with Geena Davis and her response to getting multiple Emmy nominations. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: I wanted to just start out with I think my favorite moment of the season, one of the most fun moments from Season 3 was when all the women decide to switch their wrestler characters and take on different personas. You, of course, take on Alison Brie’s Zoya character. I’m just curious, it’s an absolute blast to watch everyone do that, so do you know how that idea got started and was it as fun as it looked to take that on?

Betty Gilpin: It was crazy fun. I was nervous at first. Ali Brie was really gung-ho about it and I was scared ‘cause I’ve done plays, for instance, where, as a rehearsal exercise we’ve done a read-through where we switch parts and it never ends well. Actors are way too neurotic for that. I don’t know who thinks that’s a good idea, so I was picturing us all spinning out about, “Oh, should I play it like that?” Then I remembered the job I was on, that we are an exploding circus of Muppet insanity on our show and that it’s also just such a love-fest. We were just crying laughing together and that was one my favorite “GLOW” days ever. Ali and I just could not stop making each other laugh, which is always the case. I don’t know how they came up with that idea. I have known our showrunners, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, for a long time, a decade ago as playwrights in New York and Season 3 is really a love letter to theater in a lot of ways and the ways in which you make yourself crazy when you’re doing the same show over and over and over again. So I think it was sort of an homage to that, when you feel so insane that literally any variety is a welcome gift.

GD: I think it speaks to something that the show does really well which is no matter who the character is, no matter if they are a lead or a smaller part in that ensemble of women that everyone gets to really pop and you got scenes with Cherry, who you don’t always get scenes with, but no matter who it is, everyone just really pops and gels together. Does that translate into the on-set vibe that goes on?

BG: Yes, totally. I think that maybe everybody feels this way in a certain job where you’re like, “Oh man, I’m really being asked to do 5% of what I can do,” and I know that I will miss that so much about “GLOW,” that we’re being asked to do 100% of what we can do physically and creatively. Every other day in a week on-set for “GLOW” I’m doing these grounded kitchen sink scenes and then a day of work where I’ve got blue glitter up to my eyebrows and I have five ideas of cross-eyed faces to make and insane voices and I’ve been watching Russian accent YouTube videos leading up to it. It’s like a creativity potpourri on speed in a blender.

GD: The Russian was great, it was fun to watch. Speaking of that physical stuff, I think I read for Season 2 you might’ve had a concussion during one part of it. That stuff, does it ever get easier three seasons in? Do you find yourself more comfortable with certain aspects of it?

BG: It gets easier in that your skill level goes up. It’s a little like skiing where it’s good to learn when you’re little and now as an adult, I know too much to go skiing. I know how much that fall would hurt, and I feel that way in Season 4 now. Like, “Yeah, I know how to do that move. That somersault looks like it’s gonna hurt.” I will say, just as a trust exercise, now that we know each other better, that makes wrestling easier because we really trust each other. It’s so strange, I was just looking at pictures of Ali Brie and I wrestling together the first day we met and how scary that is, flipping into someone’s arms, “Do I know their middle name? Do I know where they live?” And now Alison and I know every single thing about each other. She has all the secrets. So I feel very comfortable backflipping into her arms ‘cause I know she’ll catch me (laughs).

GD: The series this season switched locations and we’re presenting a Vegas show now. One of the cool things about that not only was a change of scenery but that Geena Davis was now with you. You got a lot of scenes with her, probably more than most people. It’s a really cool image of two women in business trying to play this boys’ game in the ‘80s. What was it like working alongside her and getting all those scenes with her?

BG: Obviously it was incredible and also, I think a pretty meta nod towards that time period where I think Debbie in Season 3 is at a crossroads of, “Okay, I could keep going down this path of trying to actualize and becoming this strong, ambitious, career-focused woman that I didn’t think my life was gonna take that turn, I don’t really have any role models to look up to in my life that have gone down that path and that makes it scarier because this path is murky and cloudier and grayer but I think there might be a magnificent version of my life at the end of that path. Or, I could marry this rich rancher and treat producing like it was a nice little affair part of my life and now I’ll just put my feet up and have him do the business and I file my nails at home, depressed.” And I think you see Debbie teeter between those two things. I think especially in 1986, society’s voice is very loud encouraging you to do the other one. I think Geena Davis is such an example. She was a starlet in the ‘80s and I think the business was probably telling her very loudly, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world and that’s who you are,” and she was like, “Yeah, I’m also a literal genius and Olympic archer.” I think she just was so genius in forging this path of, “I’m going to use this gorgeous shell as a Trojan horse to further all the ideas that my brilliant brain has.” God, she’s an inspiration. It was so intimidating but I hope that for Debbie too. I hope that she can, in Season 4, keep pursuing the career and version of her life that isn’t that she’s gonna expire in a year and should close the shades. I do realize I’m saying this in front of a closed shade. It’s not lost on me (laughs).

GD: It’s interesting ‘cause as you say, a lot of her arc this season is these frustrations with not being able to be taken seriously as a producer even though the men around her are taken seriously. That relationship you mentioned with Tex, the rancher, I did wonder, do you think part of the feelings there that she develops for him is she almost sees what she wants to become, like this is kind of what I could do if society treated me as a man?

BG: Absolutely. I think it’s kind of a dual attraction where I think at first, when you’re feeling lost and unsure in your own life, this man has a crush on her and sees her as this memoir chapter version of herself where she’s arm candy and I think Debbie is tempted by that, like, “That feels nice. This feels less complicated than being ignored in a business meeting and having my toddler scream at me. Feels nice to have this guy think I’m this floating sexy person and maybe I should be that floating sexy person. That sounds a lot simpler.” But I also think you’re totally right that part of her attraction is that she sees him as this thing that she wants to be and I think probably she tells herself, “Oh, I just am attracted to him,” but I think she’s really like, “I wanna be him,” and then executes that ruthlessly.

GD: Yeah, absolutely, and I will say, the results of Debbie’s frustrations with her career, I think you get some of the best telling people off lines. I love when you tell off the flight attendant when she brings you the pin and you’ve just had it, and then when Bash’s voice is soar and you have very strong vocal cords. It just feels so satisfying. Do you know how satisfying that’s gonna be when you read the script?

BG: It is very satisfying but I think our writers do a very good job. They don’t make feminist propaganda wish fulfillment. It’s not like woman gives speech, everyone’s in awe and claps and then says this and everyone agrees. While Debbie gets a lot of moments of some great one-liners there’s also so much time spent not being heard and feeling invisible and I think the writers really tell beautifully this story that this is still 1986 and it’s not like Debbie’s just gonna rise effortlessly to the top of the corporate food chain. It’s like we get to see these little victories and we know these characters well now so we know how much those little victories mean to them but right after she tells off the flight attendant, then she goes home and her husband tells her that she missed her son walking and then she’s alone in this hotel room. I think that in actualizing in 1986, Debbie’s really making a deal with the devil almost that she’s having to give up this other part of her life that maybe in 2020 she wouldn’t have to be giving up. How she finds time to do her eyeshadow still, I really don’t understand (laughs). That’s the part where I’m like, “There’s a hole in the time-space continuum” and in Season 4 we’re gonna find out she’s a time traveler.

GD: Always dressed to the nines, you get fabulous costumes.

BG: Yeah, it means I have to come to work at 4 o’clock in the morning (laughs).

GD: I was curious too because you wrote a really, really awesome article a couple years ago for “Glamour” talking about self-confidence and finding your power which came along during “GLOW” and in this season, Debbie is going through some things and she has sex with a lot of the younger guys at the hotel and you have this sex scene where there’s nudity and not even with an actor who’s a regular that you have rapport with. I’m wondering what do you do as an actor to get yourself comfortable with that kind of vulnerability?

BG: Oh gosh. It’s so funny, in the time where there used to be yoga classes or something, whenever the teacher is like, “Raise your hand if you don’t feel comfortable being touched,” I’m always like, “There are people who have boundaries still?” I’m totally boundary-less. It gets knocked out of you in theater school. Nudity is like item number 10, like, I’m talking about if I’m at a dinner party with you, we’re talking about the darknesses in our childhoods by the second Aperol Spritz, nudity is really no problem and I think that’s a real gift of being an actor. Especially for awards stuff, there is a real smoke and mirrors aspect of being an actor outside of actual scene work where you’re putting on the mask and you’re putting up this illusion of who you are and then the actual work is so guttural and boundary-less and when it goes well it’s like all that exists is you and your scene partner. Maybe not in the sex scene, those are weird, but you get to really connect with someone on a level that feels almost ghosty and strange and beautiful and really cathartic. It’s strange seeing people now that I’ve done scenes with, all different kinds of actors, later in our lives and careers when logistically we haven’t seen each other in a while and then seeing them now I’m like, “Oh, I know a part of your brain very well and you know a part of my brain very well. I’m not too sure of where your apartment is now.” That’s such a strange bypass of certain boundaries that I like and how I earn health insurance is by passing boundaries (laughs).

GD: One of those actors who you have great chemistry with and I’m always fascinated by your relationship with onscreen is Alison Brie as Ruth. The dynamic between their relationship is just so interesting because they both fundamentally hurt each other along the way in their friendship. What is it like working with Alison ‘cause you seem very close and do you think there’s hope for them to regain the level of friendship they were at before all of this?

BG: I am always a Ruth and Debbie stan, as the kids say. Alison Brie and I talk every day. I’m gonna know her forever, so working with her… in preparation for this interview I was just skimming through Season 3 ‘cause it feels like we shot it three years ago, like, “What happens again?” And I was sending her all these screenshots, “Remember this day? Remember this day?” Maybe someday when I’m old and wizened and my tits are in my shoes I’ll be like, “You know who was terrible to work with? This person.” Because there are times where when you’re working with someone who you don’t totally trust or know, like, “Oh, are they gonna blame not knowing their lines on the air conditioning? What’s gonna happen today? Are they in a bad mood?” It affects your work. You feel less like, “Ooh, I’m gonna try that weird idea,” because you’re like,” Let’s just get through this day. This person is a sociopath.” It happens a lot. It happens a lot.

Thankfully our set is not only a sociopath-free set but Alison being the lead of our show just sets this tone from the top down that we’re here to be joyful and specific and really tell this story. I think there’s a version of our show where the actors are winking at the camera, like, “This guy, right?” It’s not what we’re doing. That is because of Alison. I think she’s like, “Let’s really play these characters authentically and really find the best version of our show,” and it makes me come to work with 1,000 ideas ‘cause I feel joyful and safe. I think Season 3 in particular, they get to treat their friendship like this kind of weird affair, like a showmance almost because they’re in Vegas and they’re doing this show and they’re away from their circumstances and they’re the only people that really know-know each other. I think Debbie’s a little like, “You know what, I just won’t think about the fact that she had sex with my husband right now. I’ll have this hamburger with her and giggle with her ‘cause I love Ruth but I also hate Ruth but I just won’t think about that part now.” I think that lie she tells herself or repression starts to dissolve a little more as the season goes on, sadly, ‘cause I love when they’re together. Get over it, Debbie!

GD: It’s very fun to watch. Before I have to let you go I just wanted to ask because you have been nominated for both seasons in Supporting Actress and the only actor from “GLOW” to get nominated at the Emmys thus far and you could pick up a third this year, who knows. What does that continued recognition mean to you to be singled out like that?

BG: It’s the most insane… I think that I, unlike Debbie, just had my sights set so low in order to protect myself. I was thinking recently that four years ago I tested for a pilot called “Y’all in the Family” and when I didn’t get that part, I was in a coma of tears. I couldn’t breathe crying on Wilshire Boulevard and the same for parts where now I look at it like, “Thank god I didn’t get that part!” I’d be typing in the background filming in Antarctica for 10 years being like, “We’re tracking him!” So the fact that I’m being recognized for a show that I would have murdered a pack of doves for is so insane and surreal and feels like it’s all gonna come crashing down, maybe in a really cool quarantine scandal. But it’s wild and beyond my teeny tiny five-year-old in the back of the theater dreams and it’s insane. Thanks, guys.

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