Wrestling her way into the ring

In Glow, actress Alison Brie perms her hair and plays wrestler Ruth Wilder.
In Glow, actress Alison Brie perms her hair and plays wrestler Ruth Wilder.PHOTO: ERICA PARISE, NETFLIX

It took actress Alison Brie four reads before she was cast in Glow, Netflix's new comedy about an all-female wrestling league

NEW YORK • At one point, Alison Brie was co-starring in two very different shows, but playing somewhat similar characters: She was Trudy Campbell, the strait-laced but ambitious housewife in Mad Men; and Annie Edison, the strait-laced but ambitious student in Community.

Now that those shows have ended, it is time for her to stretch her legs and flex her muscles, quite literally.

In the new Netflix comedy series Glow, Brie stars as Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress in 1980s Los Angeles who, unable to find screen roles, enlists in the casting process for a new all-female professional wrestling league: the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, with Jenji Kohan (Orange Is The New Black) as executive producer, Glow also stars Marc Maron, the comedian and podcaster, as the league's down-on-his-luck director.

Brie, 34, may seem, superficially, like the proper, put-together television characters she is best known for. But she is unafraid to take risks and now she has learnt some wrestling moves - and gained inner confidence - in the process.

"All the women in the show, we really were cheering one another on," she said of the Glow experience. "We're all walking much taller and holding ourselves differently in day-to-day life."

Did you choose to do Glow as a deliberate pivot away from the characters you had played in Community and Mad Men?

Annie and Trudy were the same side of the coin, in terms of being very polished and calculated, although Annie was a little more messy.

I was really craving getting my hands dirty and doing something with a bit more edge.

My agents called me and said, "There's a new show they're making for Netflix. Jenji Kohan's producing it. It's about women's wrestling in the 1980s."

And I was like, "This. Is. The. Show." And then, of course, they didn't want to cast me in this at all.

Why were they not interested in you?

I think, like a lot of people, they had a very specific idea of my skill set. And I was hellbent on proving them wrong. It actually really fired me up. I think I read four times for this show. At every stage, the stakes felt like they had never been higher. I felt so much like the character, Ruth.

Was it very satisfying when you did get the role?

After we had shot everything, our line producer came up to me and said, "When they cast you, I thought: 'Look at that little thing. She's not going to be able to wrestle.' But you really proved me wrong. You're so strong." I was, like, thank you. The truth comes out, finally.

You and your castmates spent several weeks in wrestling training. What was that like?

It's fears you didn't even know you had. "Oh, yeah, I am kind of scared to do a full flip in the air and then slam onto my back."

It is a lot about trusting your partner. When you are in the ring, their life is in your hands. Their body is in your hands. But challenging those fears and overcoming stuff in an instant, on a daily basis, gave me so much confidence.

Was this the first time you had permed your hair?

No way. I had perms in the late 1980s, early 1990s, because my aunt was a hairdresser and my mom was constantly changing her hair. One year, my mom, my sister and me got matching perms. The perm smell was a very nostalgic smell for me.

When the hair guy was about to do it, he was trying to warn me. I was like, "Oh, I know this smell."

Did you talk to your mother about the 1980s?

My parents got divorced when I was five and they both raised me. My mom was working two jobs, she put herself through school and got her master's degree, and was trying to date when I was a small child.

I remember, from the clothes alone, there was this aspect of women trying to emulate men - shoulder pads and all that stuff.

What I like about this show is, women are infiltrating this place that was usually reserved for men - the wrestling ring - but they are not trying to be men. They are women and they are proud to be women.

Did Glow make you a wrestling fan?

I never watched it until this show. But now, obviously, I have a very deep and profound respect for it. It is like real-life superheroes.

I never realised how many people I knew who have been secretly very into wrestling. And then they are like, "Whoa, so can you do a power bomb? Did you ever get to do a pile driver?" I'm, like, calm down. And, yes.


•Glow is available on Netflix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Wrestling her way into the ring'. Print Edition | Subscribe