“I’d like to call on the powers of my three favorite Americans: Ronald Reagan, Larry Bird and Jesus Christ himself!”
As star-spangled wrestler Liberty Belle on Netflix’s GLOW — this summer’s best new TV show — Betty Gilpin is strong, beautiful and more than happy to punch you in the mouth.
But she also plays Belle’s real-life alter-ego, Debbie Eagan, a struggling actress in the midst of a disintegrating relationship.
In real life, Gilpin is self-deprecating, pointed and quick to drop a reference to power ballads or Human Centipede.
We recently spoke with our favorite woman of the summer about spandex, her pro-wrestling fitness routine and the one dating mistake every guy makes
Betty Gilpin (5 images)
On playing an angry character ... “I trained at Lincoln Center, in theater programs, working on Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams. I was going to uncomfortable places every day. Then I go on TV and film auditions, and they don’t want actresses who go to uncomfortable places. It was about having a fake surface level, walking and smiling and wearing an adorable novelty hat. It’s exciting to go to dark places! It’s more natural and makes me feel alive.”
On the joys of wrestling ... “We had a month and a half to lay the groundwork. You obviously bond physically and athletically with the other actors — and wrestling is the ultimate trust exercise. And rage therapy. And emotional ropes course.”
On training ... “First of all, wrestling is NOT fake. It’s staged and choreographed, and extremely difficult and very painful, even when it’s done right. I had this exercise montage in my head, where we’d be throwing up, doing push-ups on top of a mountain with a power ballad kicking over our heads. But it was really about ‘come as you are’ and using your own body to its own capability. It had a lot more to do with confidence and bravery.”
On a second season ... “I’d love to see more wrestling in a second season. With Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde, there are so many projects where women are physical and powerful. I feel altered by this experience. When you feel empowered by something, sometimes it stays in a bubble. Maybe this is a symptom of getting older, but this experience [has been] so formative. It feels like trickle-down empowerment.”
On that spandex ... “The novelty wore off after a few weeks. I’d notice we’d be having serious political conversations off-camera and be dressed like half-naked drag queens.”
On the mistake all men make ... “My character Debbie, it would have been easier [to step away from her philandering husband Mark] if there wasn’t a baby in the picture. I think many women relate. She was never fifty percent of the relationship. Mark treated [Debbie’s] passions as adorable little hobbies that she’d grow out of by her late 20s. He treated her like a character in his memoir, rather than a lead in her own story. I think that’s a rite of passage for a woman [to realize that]. I’m not Chapter 12 in your book. We’re two different books walking around. [Pause] Um, books don’t walk, so ignore that metaphor.”
On her excellent Glamour essay “What It’s Like to Have Pea-Sized Confidence With Watermelon-Sized Boobs”... “One of my favorite parts of this whole experience. Acting can feel like showing the world your most vulnerable side, or saying your fears out loud. And that doesn’t always come across in editing. To say something that meant so much and [yet made me] very nervous, to not have my house burn down in response was nice! I’m not my fully formed warrior self yet. I’m not the credits-rolling-100%-strong-woman who has no questions about her existence.”
On working with other women ... “There’s still a lot I’m scared about. My only choice is outsource strength from women around me, and be open about the things that scare me. And be there for other people who are scared. (Laughs.) I guess it’s like a human centipede of strength.”