Betty Gilpin on Playing a Pro Wrestler in Netflix’s ‘GLOW’: ‘It’s Like Couples Therapy’

Betty Gilpin
David Studarus for Variety

The daughter of actor parents, Betty Gilpin has wound up channeling the medical profession — in recurring roles as Dr. Carrie Roman in Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” and as researcher Nancy Leveau on “Masters of Sex.” But she trades in her lab coat for wrestling tights in Netflix’s “GLOW,” which revolves around a troupe of women grapplers.

What attracted you to the role of Debbie in “GLOW”?

I related to Debbie a lot. Debbie is a former soap opera actress who felt like she was using only 10% of what she could do as an actor. The world she was in valued things about her that were going to expire, like her looks, and as they’re expiring she’s in a place of ‘What will the world value me for? The Barbie-ness is fading.’ I think at that moment she finds her inner rage, and that power is far more valuable than Barbie Bucks.

How did you prepare for a role like this? 

We did a month of wrestling training with Chavo Guerrero Jr. of WWE, and then we trained throughout shooting — five months total. [Co-star] Alison [Brie] and I did all the moves you see in the series. Being the taller, curvier person to Ali, I did a lot of lifting her, throwing her. We learned body slams, head scissors, sunset flip.  …  It’s really a trust exercise. The victim is doing just as much work as the aggressor. It’s like couples therapy; everyone should do it.

Tell us your initial meet-cute with acting? Did you have an early mentor?

I had many mentors. I grew up watching my parents do plays. The actress Jade Smith-Cameron was in the first play I did and she was so kind to me and made me feel like even though this profession can be scary, it still always involves magic if you let it. And watching Edie Falco be the quiet power she is was really inspirational.

Everyone says they have a book in them. What would your book be about?

My book would be about a person that I feel I am on the inside, which is like a combination of Elaine Stritch and Shirley Temple. So maybe it’s like if Shirley Temple was 102 years old … and a drinker … and was posted up at a nightly cabaret show in Tulsa — the dark cabaret side of Shirley Temple. And she has to solve a [criminal ] case, so it’s a thriller.

Things you didn’t know about Betty Gilpin

AGE: 30 BIRTHPLACE: New York ALMA MATER: Fordham University FAVORITE SPORT: Wrestling FIRST QUESTION SHE’D ASK ON WAKING UP AFTER HAVING BEEN CRYOGENICALLY FROZEN FOR 100 YEARS: Was Donald Trump alive for his downfall?

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