New Netflix show GLOW wrestles to ring the changes in sport
It's back to the 1980s for on-demand female-only wrestling drama GLOW. Gemma Dunne ducks under the rope to meet the cast
If you're yet to be introduced to the glittering world of women's wrestling, Netflix's latest nostalgia-tinged dramedy is a must-see. GLOW - short for the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling - is set to transport viewers back to 1985 Los Angeles, where Jane Fonda-esque spandex, big hair and body slams are rife, all in the name of all-female professional wrestling.
Inspired by a low-budget programme of the same name (a TV hit for the US in the late Eighties), the original 10-part series follows the fictionalised story of out-of-work actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) who takes on the sport in a last-ditch effort to keep her career afloat.
"There's comedy, there's drama, there's action and there's wrestling," Brie quips of the show co-created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and executive produced by Orange Is The New Black's Jenji Kohan.
"I think that's what made this a really exciting project for me. You get to see a little bit of everything and use every tool in your arsenal to attack this role."
But much like her co-stars, the Mad Men actress (34) is the first to admit she knew little of this "insane" world.
"I looked it up and it was like, 'What?' It's unlike anything I have ever seen," she recalls, with a laugh. "And it's so Eighties. It's the wildest little corner of the Eighties."
"I think wrestling in itself is a crazy, huge world that I had no idea really was so big or existed," confides Betty Gilpin (30), who plays Ruth's feuding best friend, Debbie Egan.
"GLOW is this strange little back room of wrestling - like, 'What's happening in there?'"
Joining the ensemble cast is Sydelle Noel, Jackie Tohn, Britney Young, Kia Stevens, Kate Nash and actor and comedian Marc Maron, who takes the part of GLOW's gruff-but-caring director.
For the stars and its creators, research into this phenomena was key.
"The taste line for wrestling is in just a different place to normal society or normal scene work," explains Homeland producer Flahive.
"So we just watched all the craziest stuff; we watched tons of GLOW, we watched tons of crazy Eighties movies and we tried to just take a big bath in the culture of the time.
"It was a blast, but it was a crazy pool to swim in for all of us."
"You can watch the documentary about the ladies of GLOW on Netflix right now," adds Brie. "That was probably the most invaluable thing, I thought, watching and hearing about their journey."
"Learning about this culture was really key for me to respecting wrestling, to getting what the whole thing was," chimes 30-year-old Londoner Nash, who plays Rhonda, a kind, naive Brit who becomes brainy "Britannica" in the ring.
"(Trainer, Mexican American wrestling pro Chavo Guerrero Jr) taught us to respect it and understand it and push ourselves physically."
The emotive - and often hilarious - narrative is where the series comes into its own, however.
"I think they're going to come for the wrestling, but they're going to stay for the character and the story," Brie says of the viewers. "It's so interesting, and it's very complex."
Flahive agrees: "It was really appealing to us to make something where we could tell these small, grounded stories about women and friendship and struggling ... and also having this crazy stage where we could tell a different kind of story and be incredibly theatrical."
"It is totally primal," says New Yorker Gilpin, notable for her role in TV series Nurse Jackie. "So much of wrestling is about the narrative and the characters and that sort of informs the movement and the matches. In my mind, we were jumping 40 feet in the air."
Deeper, still, than perfecting the moves and the hallmark-era look - the bright lights, the activewear and the synth-heavy soundtrack - though, is the show's permed nod to gender politics.
With a cast and crew primarily made up of females, Flahive and co were insistent that GLOW would explore what makes us "exhilarated and uncomfortable at the same time".
"Ruth's really trying to blaze a trail, she's determined to blaze a trail and she's just being smacked to the ground a lot," she reasons. "She's so plucky, she's so great, but there's something about looking at the sexual revolution and the feminist movement of the Seventies and being like, 'Well, did it work? What do the Eighties look like?'
"There was a lot of back-sliding. I think that, in terms of GLOW, the gender politics and the sexual politics are tricky because it's both incredibly empowering and it's also an exploitation of these women. Those things have to both exist in the show - it's a big part of it.
"Our version is watching the girls grapple with that emotionally and deal with that and decide if they can handle playing a huge stereotype. It's keeping their job and seeing where this takes them."
"This idea of constantly searching for complex roles as a woman is still something that is very relevant today for actresses," acknowledges Brie.
"And we're so lucky to be able to work on this type of show, which has 14 complex and interesting characters for women."
- GLOW is available on Netflix now