Megan McLachlan chats with Outstanding Stunt Coordination Emmy nominee Shauna Duggins of GLOW about Season 2 stunts and the importance of landing on your back.
Stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins had her work cut out for her in Season 1 of GLOW on Netflix. She had to take a team of actresses, many of whom had never wrestled before, and make them into lean, mean fighting machines.
But Season 2 of the series also brought its new challenges and achievements, with the GLOW team honing their skills and telling new stories with their movements (like when Liberty Belle breaks Ruth’s ankle!). Season 2 culminates in a Battle Royale that had to be carefully choreographed to incorporate all of the wrestlers in the ring, and as Duggins will tell you, “the ring gets very small very quickly.”
I had a chance to speak with Duggins about filming Season 1 versus Season 2, the differences between being hurt and being sore, and what it’s like to be a proud mom of her GLOW team.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your third Emmy nomination. You won last year in this category. What was that like to win? Were you surprised?
Shauna Duggins: Of course I was surprised! It’s such an honor just to be nominated. I know everyone says that, but you have all your peers and mentors and friends that you’ve worked with your whole career—you’ve worked for them, they’ve worked for you. With stunts, you trust each other with your lives, and then to be nominated with them is a celebration. To win, it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s an honor, and to get to do it on a show like GLOW, it’s such a blessing to work on. Every time you go, you have fun, you collaborate, you create. It was an honor. I was so excited. And yet surprised. Who isn’t? I literally sat there and it took me a few beats, and my husband goes, ‘That’s you!’ Oh, that’s me!
AD: That’s funny! What was working on the second season like versus the first season? Was it different with the girls getting back into the rhythm of wrestling as opposed to starting from scratch?
SD: The amazing thing with the second season is that we knew all the girls now. You know their strengths, you know how each person learns. I’m a very visual learner. With these girls, you know every person’s style and how they process and how they learn, so you’re not starting from ground zero anymore. You already know how to get in quick and in the short time that you have them each day, get down and dirty with it all. The first two weeks we were just going back and relearning everything from Season 1, and instead of a month, they had it all within a week and a half/two weeks. And after that, it was like, ‘OK, let’s play, let’s start to learn all new stuff.’ So as we’d get scripts, we’d just pull from that and not constantly be learning new, and you always are, but you also have a little more to pull from, and they were amazing. They came in charged and ready and excited. It was so much fun.
AD: It looks like it. I bet you have to be a special kind of actress or even person to be able to take on this kind of role. Some people might be afraid of tackling this, so to speak, wrestling and things like that. Was there a specific sequence or move this season that was particularly hard to teach everybody?
SD: There was a montage sequence where it’s finding everybody’s biggest move, so you watch the training where it wasn’t as good and then you watch them pull it off. It was really fun to get to create, and the really fun thing with it is that the girls weren’t training together at that point, because they were all shooting, so we would get two actresses for two hours and another two for two hours, so when we were shooting that montage sequence, they hadn’t seen each other do their big moves. So you had all these other women in the stands, and say like when Britney Young picks up Kate Nash and slams her, the whole audience is genuine—they jumped up and were like, ‘Whooooah!’ All of the actresses are like sisters. They were enamored and applauding and excited, and it went all the way around for all of us. It was really cool to get to see that support for each other and them surprise each other, because they didn’t know.
I think the hardest thing was the Battle Royale at the end. It was so much fun, but at the same time there were so many girls in the ring, and the ring gets very small very quickly. And you had stories to tell for each little vignette, and the timing is crucial. What one girl does times out to when the next girl goes out and then when the next girl goes out, and we didn’t get them all together until maybe right before we shot it.
AD: Everything has to be planned out and spaced out. Wow!
SD: And they did a great job with that because at that point they had to think creatively a little bit. If someone took a little bit too long, they might have two to three seconds that they have to fill, and they started to pull from what they already were good at in that space. They improv-ed in there, and it was fantastic because they felt so comfortable in that space that they could.
AD: That had to make you proud, too.
SD: I was a big proud mom back there!
AD: Is training for stuntwork different than regular athletic training? Do you have to anticipate pain more?
SD: Training for this show for wrestling is completely different than training for pretty much anything. You take a little bit of a beating. These girls come in and learn about the best spots to land on your back. Unfortunately, it’s some trial and error in figuring it out. There’s a difference between getting hurt and being sore, and that was one of the first talks we had. You know all about being out of your comfort zone and trusting us, but with that comes us trusting you and respecting you and your body. You have to tell me when you like or don’t like something and understand the difference between soreness and hurt. If you’re hurt, I’m not going to push you; if you’re sore, we’ll rest that and do something different, but you’re going to be sore. That’s just how it goes. When you do stunts and ride motorcycles and cars and wires, you’re sore.
AD: In Season 2, the episode “Work the Leg” involves stunt work gone wrong, with Ruth (Alison Brie) getting hurt in the ring at the hands of Debbie (Betty Gilpin). What was it like working on this particular episode?
SD: As actors, Betty and Allie completely trust each other and as wrestlers. They have a trust and ability to work together like I’ve never seen. It’s pretty incredible. With that episode, you’re really trying to build this difference with the training—when they’re together, when they’re in sync, when they’re both on the same page and comparing it to when Liberty Belle is on drugs and she’s losing it and she’s not working together at all. The moves have a subtle change to them always, so we were trying to tell a story with the difference between them. That’s where not being in sync and one character not working together [as a team]—you have an injury happen.
AD: I just finished Season 3 and absolutely loved it. I love the sequence with Tamme dealing with pain as a wrestler. We’ve seen this covered with male wrestlers in movies and TV, but rarely with women. What kind of precautions do you take to protect your body when it comes to stuntwork?
AD: We break it up in learning, so it’s not like OK, we’re going to do a body slam and go for it and hope for the best. We break it up into pieces, so they learn how to land on an 8-inch pad that’s softer in the right body position, and once they get that down, then we’ll work the beginning part. Chavo [Guerrero Jr.] may lift them, or I may lift them and then they’ll do the lifting so they understand both sides as to how it feels to be the base and how it feels to be the flyer. We don’t ever put them together until both sides have their positions down. Then we’ll put them together and then we’ll go to a pad, and we try not to go to the canvas unless we’re shooting or they say, ‘Hey, I want to do one before the day so I feel confident to go to the canvas.’ And then there are certain moves that you can repeat easily and then there are certain moves where we’ll tell the director, ‘You may only get two or three of these—they’re really hard on them.’
AD: You’re also a stunt double for Catriona Balfe in the upcoming Ford v. Ferrari. What was it like working with cars as opposed to wrestling?
SD: My background before wrestling was something that came new to me with this show. I’ve been a gymnast my whole life, so that’s where [for GLOW] Chavo Guerrero Jr. said, ‘Let’s bring somebody in from that world and we’ll collaborate together and make this great.’ So my background before that was obviously with stunts and a lot of that is with driving, so it was a little like going home with Ford v. Ferrari. The cars were of course old and fun and different and cool, and it was an amazing opportunity to get to be a part of that. The movie looks amazing. The trailer looks amazing. I mean, c’mon, Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
AD: I know!
SD: How can you not be excited to watch them perform? Let alone together! And she [Catriona Balfe] was so sweet and kind and would say, ‘You’re gonna make my driving look awesome! You look so good.’
GLOW seasons 1, 2, & 3 are now streaming on Netflix.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.