Betty Gilpin: GLOW-ing Faces

Jun 30, 2017
Originally published on November 10, 2017 10:13 am

"I [like to] make a lot of weird faces," GLOW's Betty Gilpin said, explaining why in her acting career, she's felt boxed-in by roles that require her only to look beautiful. Her actor parents and theatrical upbringing contributed to her hyper-expressive face. "My mom used to play a lot of super character-y I was sort of raised to be a clown. Because of that, my jobs were fewer and farther-between, but the jobs I did get let me make bigger faces."

When Netflix's project based on the original 80s show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling came along, Gilpin saw an opportunity to put her training in the Theater of the Absurd to work. In her role as Debbie Egan, a former soap opera star whose wrestling alter ego is all-American hero Liberty Belle, Gilpin was allowed to be as big as she liked. "Wrestling really is kind of the highest form of theater. [The ladies of GLOW] really play to the mezzanine. They are making the craziest faces and shapes with their body. It felt very primal."

The ensemble cast of 14 women bonded over wrestling training before filming began. "We got to know each other wrestling in our pajamas basically a month before we started working together," she shared with host Ophira Eisenberg. Compared to the more traditional intimacy of a love scene, wrestling with someone is "intimate in a much better way," she continued. Despite falling in love with wrestling, Gilpin explained that it's a tough acting job. "It's pretty much the worst thing that you can do for your body. There's nothing fake about flipping over and landing on your back."

Despite the fact that Gilpin could probably take us down in a fight, we put her up to an Ask Me Another challenge. Betty played one of our favorite games: This, That, or the Other. Her categories were original GLOW Wrestler, Phish song, or Essie nail polish name!


On preparing the role of Liberty Belle
I watched a lot of 1980s Miss America and Daytime Emmy acceptance speeches. Even though they've got the Toddlers and Tiaras smile, their eyes are crazy. I tried to tap into that.

On her 80s hairstyle
I got a body wave, like a real perm. You know, people chose that for their lives. The smell of a perm is this special kind of Chernobyl-grave soup smell.

On how she fell in love with the jam band Phish
I think I was a WASP with a good childhood who was looking to outsource pain and grit.

Heard On Betty Gilpin: GLOW-ing Faces

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CECIL BALDWIN: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm puzzle guru Cecil Baldwin, here with guest musician Julian Velard. Now, here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Cecil. Before the break, our contestant Samuel won his way to the final round at the end of the show. We'll find out a little later who he will face off against. But first, it's time to welcome our special guest. She starred in "Nurse Jackie," "American Gods" and "Elementary." And she plays the female wrestler Liberty Bell on the new Netflix series "GLOW." Please welcome Betty Gilpin.



EISENBERG: Welcome, Betty.

GILPIN: Hi. Thanks for having.

EISENBERG: Thanks so much for coming to ASK ME ANOTHER. Now, you are a great actor in this great new series, but I am stunned to learn that your parents, who are both actors...


EISENBERG: ...Did not want you to go into the business.

GILPIN: No. Yeah. I come from a family of carnies, and they were not too excited about - I mean, they were always very supportive of me. But, you know, it can be a hard life. And they wanted me to have a not hard life. So they would bring me to, you know, their auditions and show me, you know, I'm in a room with 13 other guys who look like me and maybe they'll get the part. And - but the rule was I had to go to college first and graduate and study science and math as well as theater but yeah.

EISENBERG: Right. OK, so they're saving you from the rejection mostly...

GILPIN: Yes. Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...And how hard it is. And what do you get a college degree in?

GILPIN: Theater.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) OK.

GILPIN: With a focus on theater of the absurd, which is very lucrative.

EISENBERG: That's awesome.

GILPIN: It's so useful in real life. Yeah.

EISENBERG: And along the way, were they just like, OK, all right?

GILPIN: Yeah. Yeah. They eventually were on board.

EISENBERG: You've said that you like acting roles where you can make faces.

GILPIN: Yes. Yeah.

EISENBERG: What does that mean, exactly?

GILPIN: Well, I make a lot of weird faces. My mom primarily played super charactery (ph) parts. She was on "All My Children," and she played Esther, the kind of demented trailer hermit. And she stole Erica Kane's baby. And we got, like, death threats from prison, like. And, you know, in plays, she would play like the crazy maid and have like a limp.

And, you know, I was sort of raised to be a clown and that - I loved being raised that way. And, you know, my mom would like moon us every day on the way to school. Like, we'd pull all around the house, and my dad would be like, here it comes. And we would turn, and my mom would be like - and we'd all be like, ahhh (ph). But we loved it.

So I then went to school and studied theater of the absurd, where you could make as many faces as possible. And then my first audition was for "Gossip Girl," where the rule is don't make one face. Like, just squint and, like, whisper the words and just say it like this and be confused but also sure of yourself.

And I did not get that part at all. Like, the feedback was always like way too big. She's crazy, like playing it insanely large. So yeah, I think my jobs were fewer and farther between, but I - but the jobs I did get let me make the bigger faces.

EISENBERG: The bigger faces.


EISENBERG: Speaking of which, so in this new series "GLOW," where you play Debbie Eagan, a former soap opera star who has been out of work since having a baby and decides to join this all-female wrestling league. This must have been the opportunity of a career to make some big faces.

GILPIN: Absolutely. I mean, I knew very little about wrestling going into it, but it really is kind of the highest form of theater. It's - there's like a Barbie coliseum feeling to - "GLOW" wrestling especially, which was a real show in the '80s. And those people play to the mezzanine. They are making the craziest faces and shapes with their bodies and pounding their chest. It feels very primal.


GILPIN: And - yeah, it was so much fun.

EISENBERG: So - right. The character that you play, Liberty Bell...


EISENBERG: ...That's a good character. What is that character's, you know, special characteristic of being a wrestler?

GILPIN: So in every wrestling match, there's a face and a heel - the good guy, bad guy.


GILPIN: My character is a face. Liberty Bell, the all-American hero. And then Alison Bree is Zoya the Destroya from Russia. So we're - it's U.S. versus Russia. Yeah. And...


GILPIN: ...I watched a lot of 1980s Miss America acceptance speeches and daytime Emmy acceptance speeches. And even though they've got the, you know, "Toddlers & Tiaras" smile, their eyes are crazy. And I tried to tap into that and to kind of have a hint of, like, Blanche DuBois and - yeah.

EISENBERG: And I was - I can't believe that you guys are doing your own stunts.


EISENBERG: Like, you have to - you got spray tanned for the role because the '80s - big hairspray, spray tan, spandex - but your tan had to get darker and darker as the filming went on.

GILPIN: Yeah because of all the bruising. Yeah. And I got a body wave, like a perm to be...

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

GILPIN: ...Yeah, real permed. People chose that for their lives.


GILPIN: That was a real lesson for me.

EISENBERG: You didn't like it?

GILPIN: Yeah. that was the first stunt. No, I mean, the smell.

EISENBERG: Oh, gosh.

GILPIN: I don't know if there are any recovering perm people here, but the smell of a perm. It is a special kind of Chernobyl grave soup smell.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. Yeah.


GILPIN: But yes, we also did our own stunts (laughter). Yeah, we trained for about a month with Chavo Guerrero Jr. of wrestling fame. And then we trained throughout shooting, so, like, five months total, I would say.

EISENBERG: I mean, you're wrestling with other women. Is that more intense or more intimate than, like, a love scene you did in "Nurse Jackie"?

GILPIN: It was intimate in a way better way than that.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

GILPIN: I mean, usually as an actress, you get to know your co-workers, you know, after you've been through two and a half hours of hair and makeup of, like, full Kardashian war paint. And, like, you're in crazy high heels and a costume tailored within an inch of your life. And wrestling, it was the opposite of that. We got to know each other, you know, wrestling in our pajamas basically a month before we started working together. And it was an incredible way to get to know somebody.

EISENBERG: Yeah, no kidding.


EISENBERG: And obviously, the physicality of it is, like, intense. Do you like it? Are you, like, there should be a wrestling workout?

GILPIN: Yeah, I love it. I mean, it's pretty much the worst thing that you can do for your body.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

GILPIN: You're - it's - even though it's staged or - they probably wouldn't even like me to say that - it's, you know, theatrical...


GILPIN: ...You're still slamming your bones and joints and muscles into the ground. Like, there's nothing fake about flipping over and landing on your back.


GILPIN: So while I loved it so much, my joints are, like, harmonized when I get out of bed in the morning. It's like (vocalizing).


GILPIN: But yeah, I loved it so much.

EISENBERG: And as a joke, someone brought Summer's Eve spray or something like that to the...



GILPIN: Yes, they did. There are...

EISENBERG: As a '80s joke or something like that?

GILPIN: Well, it started as a joke. There are a couple of moves that are true gynecological safaris.


GILPIN: You really...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

GILPIN: Yeah, it was a feminine handshake, I would say.


GILPIN: There's a move called the head scissor where - Alison Brie and I did it in the pilot. And I basically stand, and she just sort of throws her legs at me. And we realized that the key of the move was for her to place her personal area into my chin and swipe it across and then go down onto the ground. And then there's a move where I had to credit card her butt with my face.


GILPIN: Yeah. So the Summer's Eve was brought in as a joke at first, but then everybody started using it.


EISENBERG: And now they are sponsoring the show (laughter).

GILPIN: Yeah, that would be great. We went through, like, three cans.


GILPIN: We did.

EISENBERG: Have you thought, if you were a wrestler in real life, what your persona would be? If you would be a face or heel - is there that you think would be more fun?

GILPIN: I mean, they say in the pilot that the devil gets the best lines. They really do. The heels kind of have more fun. I mean, I don't know. My qualities are more understated. Like, the sarcastic apologizer isn't really, like, a cool wrestling character (laughter).

EISENBERG: I like that character. I think that character wins every time.

GILPIN: She just mumbled something.



EISENBERG: Right. But if you go in closely, that's when she gets you.

GILPIN: Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: So we have a fantastic ASK ME ANOTHER game for you.


EISENBERG: Are you up for your big ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

GILPIN: I'm ready.

EISENBERG: OK, fantastic. Betty Gilpin, everybody.


GILPIN: Hi. Thank you.

EISENBERG: So Betty Gilpin, we also found out that you are a huge fan of the band Phish.






GILPIN: That's right (laughter). That's correct.


GILPIN: Well - OK, I got into them my senior year of high school. And, you know, I think I was a WASP with a good childhood who was looking to outsource pain and grit.


GILPIN: And so I found the band Phish...


GILPIN: ...And would go to festivals and, like, sleep on broken glass and dirt and be like, I'm real. But I truly love their music, and I think they're carnival ghost people, and I really do love it. It's not for everyone, and I understand that. And some of their songs are very long. And that's OK.


EISENBERG: Well, we're happy that you're a fan because it inspired a game. We're actually going to play one of our favorite games, called This, That Or The Other. The game is simple. I'm going to give you a name. You tell me if it's a female wrestler from "GLOW," a song by Phish or a color of Essie nail polish.


EISENBERG: If you do well enough, Martha Burzynski (ph) from Newburyport, Mass., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

All right, here's your first name - "Sparkle."

GILPIN: Phish song.

EISENBERG: That is correct.



GILPIN: "GLOW" wrestler.

EISENBERG: That is a "GLOW" wrestler, yeah.


EISENBERG: She wore a skunk-like headpiece and zebra-striped leotard.

GILPIN: And there is a wrestling move called stink face, where you press your butt into someone's face.


EISENBERG: They have very creative names (laughter).



EISENBERG: How about power clutch?

GILPIN: Power clutch. Is that Essie?

EISENBERG: That is a nail polish. That's right.


EISENBERG: It's a deep gray-green.

GILPIN: Oh, yeah.

EISENBERG: How about "Suzy Greenberg"?

GILPIN: Phish song, one of my favorites.

EISENBERG: Yes, that's a Phish song.

GILPIN: Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah, very good - or a very, very respectable pink nail polish.

Princess of Darkness.

GILPIN: "GLOW" wrestler.

EISENBERG: Of course it is.




EISENBERG: So I love this description. Apparently, she would attempt to brainwash opponents with black magic, but it often didn't work as intended.

GILPIN: That's amazing.

EISENBERG: That's it - think we've all tried that. All right, this is your last clue. So far...

GILPIN: Oh, God.

EISENBERG: ...Perfect.

GILPIN: Thank you, thank you, thank you...


GILPIN: ...Thank you.

EISENBERG: Last one is "Fikus."

GILPIN: Phish song.

EISENBERG: Oh, you make that sound like it's your favorite. That is a Phish song.

GILPIN: Yes. It's not my favorite. It's a slow one.


GILPIN: Thank you.


EISENBERG: Betty, you got all of them right. You and listener Martha Burzynski have won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes. You can see Betty in the Netflix series "GLOW." Give it up one more time for Betty Gilpin.

GILPIN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLOW THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.