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Critics Choice Nominee Betty Gilpin Talks All-Female ‘GLOW’ Set, Learning Her Drawing Power

2017 has proven to be the year of the woman, and no show better exemplifies the power of She than Netflix’s GLOW.

For Betty Gilpin, who plays Debbie/Liberty Belle on the series, the all-female set allowed the actress freedom she hadn’t experienced on other male-driven projects.

“The greatest difference was how I felt,” said Gilpin. “I felt safer, more supportive, braver, free of the male gaze. Usually, [on other sets] I waste the first three takes auditioning for the job I already have. The fourth take is where I get to make strange choices and take chances. [On GLOW] I’m doing that on take one. I feel like a necessary part of the process.”

Gilpin was never a wrestling fan growing up, nor was she a sports nut, but her work on the series has changed her perspective. “I never understood sports, but I get it now. This [the GLOW cast] is the first team I’ve ever been a part of.”

Becoming Liberty Belle

betty gilpin
(Photo: Netflix)

In order to get into character, Gilpin not only took to the mat, but also pen to paper.

“I did a lot of writing as my character to get myself out of my own head. I tried to fill my head with Debbie’s thoughts, write her backstory.”

The ‘80s setting also helped ground the narrative for her, with many of these female characters at a crossroads in their careers, with the clock ticking on their viability in the entertainment industry. Gilpin admitted she feels that pressure in her own career, but how much worse it must have been just 30 years ago.

“I thought a lot about women today, the revolution going on, and the revelation that women have felt this way forever. The ‘80s is one of the characters on the show.”

In many ways, Gilpin’s character Debbie Egan, a new mom, epitomizes the pressure women face every day. When audiences first meet Debbie, she’s struggling with a breast milk leak while trying to get back into pre-baby shape in an aerobics class. Gilpin described Debbie’s life as like a pretty needlepoint and when her life explodes (her best friend, played by Alison Brie, has an affair with her husband), we’re seeing all of the knots behind the needlework and how it all stays together. “She’s taught to smile, look pretty. I try not to repress anything. If she has 12 feelings going on, that’s going to show up in the scene. Sometimes even though you feel like a warrior, what happens when you’ve had enough? Debbie’s had enough.”

Debbie and Ruth

betty gilpin
(Photo: Netflix)

And that definitely comes through on screen, with Debbie/Liberty Belle quickly becoming a fan favorite. The scorned character’s story certainly helps, but Gilpin’s performance elevates the hero to more interesting heights than the typical “good guy” narrative. Her face effortlessly fluctuates between the pain of losing her best friend, to physical pain, to the thrill of finding her way in a new and exciting world of ladies’ wrestling.

One of the defining threads of the show is the will-they-or-won’t-they friendship love story between Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie. Season 1 ended with them “not there” yet in terms of being able to hang out with a drink and Gilpin revealed that they’re still not back to friendly terms in Season 2.

“I think Ruth and Debbie were able to compartmentalize what was poisonous about their friendship, and they wanted nothing more than to be around each other. But in Season 2 we’re seeing the effects of avoiding honest conversation.”

Surprisingly, one thing Gilpin didn’t honestly know about was the reception of her and her character on social media. In the days and weeks following the release of GLOW, Gilpin’s name seemed to pop up everywhere on Twitter, singling her out for her work on the show.

“I had no idea that happened!” she said. “This is the first I’m hearing of this. I know reviews for the show were good.”

Like Debbie’s friendship with Ruth, if she’s not convinced or “there” yet, this should help.  

GLOW is now streaming on Netflix.