For years, actress Alison Brie balanced a TV high-wire act, with strong supporting work as Annie on the NBC comedy Community while also playing Pete Campbell’s long-suffering wife Trudie on AMC’s Mad Men.
“Drama is really rewarding because, in the moment, it’s excruciating,” says Brie, “but then afterwards, you’re like that was great! And comedy is just so fun in the moment, you’re enjoying it all the time.”
Now on Netflix’s GLOW, Brie is able to merge her comedic talents (her Zoya the Destroyer is epically hilarious) with her emotional ones (see “Maybe It’s All the Disco”) for one of the year’s most memorable performances—and characters.
Zoya, the Marriage Destroya
Brie is such a likable actress, which makes her character Ruth a bit of a departure from previous roles. In the beginning of the series, Ruth’s not exactly a champion friend when she hooks up with her pal Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) husband (Mad Men alum, Rich Sommer).
“When we meet Ruth, she’s going through this internal struggle of trying to build up her confidence as an actor and believing in herself as an actress, but not having that be reciprocated by anyone ever. I think she’s hit a point of real struggle in finding what is valuable inside herself, and it just took one person to say, ‘I see you, I sympathize with you, I understand you’ to make her want to be near that person and get that affection. I think she really just was craving attention more than anything.”
Like any great character, whether in the wrestling ring or on a TV screen, Ruth causes a lot of debate among audiences.
“The way that I think of Ruth is very different from the way other people think of her. Some people really connect to her as a character and some people still kinda hate her. And that’s OK, too! I think that’s what makes a really interesting and compelling character is that there are many sides and different people will connect with her or not. Ultimately, I don’t think she’s a bad person. I can understand and sympathize as to why she has acted a certain way in her life.”
Over the course of the season, Brie pulls a hard turn with Ruth, taking her from heel to hero. By the last episode, you undeniably can’t help but root for her.
“Even though she does a really horrible act at the beginning of the show to one of her dear friends, it’s not totally symptomatic of who she is as a person, as much as it is just showing you where she’s at in her life as a person and how she’s been getting in her own way. Over the season, you get to watch her empower herself, get out of her own way, use her instincts in a positive way.”
Yin and Yang
Much of the show is about the wrestling world and women in entertainment, but it’s also about the mending of a friendship, and Ruth and Debbie’s strained one is put in the spotlight when they’re paired up with each other in the ring, with Debbie the hero, Ruth the villain. Ruth’s complicated relationship with her former friend comes out throughout the season, adding context to her actions at the beginning of the series.
“I think part of what keeps them connected is their yin and yang quality, just years of Debbie being the empowered friend and Ruth being the friend that needs help, and it fed into something for both of them that maybe became an unhealthy relationship on both sides. But I do think they really love each other and need each other in a lot of ways.”
The Scene Everyone Remembers
While Ruth struggles to regain her friendship with Debbie, she finds a new connection in director Sam (Marc Maron), who proves to be like her in a lot of ways. “They’re personality traits couldn’t be more opposite, but both want the show to be this incredible thing.”
When Ruth faces an unwanted pregnancy and chooses to have an abortion, Sam proves to be a shoulder she can lean on, taking her to the clinic to undergo the procedure. “Because theirs is a platonic relationship, they can be open with each other. There is no end game. They can be their truest selves.”
In the episode “Maybe It’s All the Disco,” Ruth’s abortion scene is one of the most affecting moments on the show, demonstrating the power these women hold over their bodies, even outside of the ring.
“It’s about Ruth making her own choice, something very significant. It speaks to her character. She knows what she wants.”
Separating Alison from Ruth
While Brie and her character are different in many ways, the actress sees some similarities, especially in their drive for their craft. After all, Brie not only appears in the critically acclaimed GLOW, but in two Oscar contenders: The Disaster Artist and The Post.
“I try to fight the idea that I’m very similar to characters that I play and then I inevitably give over,” says Brie. “On set sometimes, people will be like, ‘Oh, there’s Ruth!’ I get called out for it all the time.”
GLOW is now streaming on Netflix.