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The 'GLOW' creators made a magical place for women to become wrestling machines

Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie in
Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie in "GLOW."
Erica Parise/Netflix
Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie in
"GLOW" co-creators Carly Mensch (L) and Liz Flahive with The Frame host, John Horn.
KPCC / Michelle Lanz
Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie in
A scene from the new Netflix series "GLOW."
Erica Parise/Netflix

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The Netflix series "GLOW" is loosely based on a real-life women’s wrestling show of the same name that had a short run on TV three decades ago.

All the women were amateurs with little-to-no experience in the ring. And the same goes for the characters in the fictionalized version, which stars 14 women, including Alison Brie. Comedian Marc Maron plays the director of GLOW, the show within the show.

It was actually a documentary about the 1980s women's wrestling show that caught the eye of TV writers Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. At the time they were writers on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and were looking for something else to do together.

Flahive and Mensch, who co-created the show, are joined on “GLOW” by executive producer Jenji Kohan, best known for creating "Orange is the New Black."

Flahive and Mensch recently spoke with The Frame host John Horn about making the series.

Interview highlights:

On the vibe of their "GLOW" set:

CARLY: I feel like we have a kind of a "no asshole" policy and a very family-friendly policy where  tons of people are bringing their kids to work, are bringing their kids both to the ring, to the writers' room sometimes if we've got a child care issue.

LIZ: I think when women with families are producing, your hours are going to be long. That's just the nature of the game. But on dinner breaks it was really heartening to see a bunch of kids at dinner with their parents. You have actors who have little kids. I have little kids. You work long days and if you're not going to see them and you're not going to be home until 9:30, they can show up at dinner break. And I was so happy to see that be part of the culture of our set.

On what brought them to the original GLOW and how they realized it would make a great series:

LIZ: We were just really sniffing around for something to work on together. We knew we wanted it to involve strong female characters, ideally a handful of women to center the story around. 

CARLY: You had actually just given birth.

LIZ: I had, yeah. I had just given birth to my daughter. And we were on hiatus from "Nurse Jackie" and Carly came over and she [said], "We have to watch this documentary. I think it's great." And we sat down and watched it with my colicky daughter screaming in the room, and it all sort of took off from there.

CARLY: It was a world that I definitely hadn't given much thought to, especially women's wrestling in the '80s, which makes it more specific. But we have backgrounds as theater people, so I think we immediately connected to the theatricality of wrestling and especially '80s wrestling, which is this kind of comic book, cartoony style. If you look deeper than the pageantry, the squared circle is this really interesting space where you can take stereotypes and prejudices and ugly ideas coursing through a culture at any given moment,  and explore them in a way that's both funny [and] silly, and crosses the taste boundaries in pretty thrilling ways for people who've never kind of been permission to cross that boundary. That's really exciting and really fun.

On the type of set environment they were looking to create:

LIZ: The sets that we have been on have been very warm sets and I think we knew that we were asking a lot of these actresses. They were doing this crazy physical thing and they were wearing next to nothing half the time. And the space had to be theirs and it had to feel like a place where they could take risks. And we were just very particular about who we made the show with. And we were afforded the creative freedom to be very particular with who we made the show with, too.

CARLY: I also just ... I mean, this makes me sound kind of naive or dumb, but I just don't know why you wouldn't want set to feel like a safe, creative space so that people could do good work.

On the stereotypical wrestling characters that are portrayed in the show:

CARLY: We very intentionally spent a lot of the season with the real people so that you'd follow them into these stereotypes, so that you weren't meeting "Fortune Cookie" and "Welfare Queen" before you met Jenny and Tammé ...What we did was kind of show and not tell, This is what wrestling is. It makes certain people uncomfortable ... But that's the art form we chose to look at. And we're clearly not people who think that those are good stereotypes. But beyond letting you sit in that discomfort and see what it's like for an actual person to have to put [the costume] on and say, "My name is Welfare Queen," and see what that does to you.

LIZ:  I think the idea of the physicality of the show being looked at, in particular, and that being something that to us felt really special and also really unknown. I mean, we didn't know wrestling. We'd never produced a show that involved this much physicality. Even if we had worked on a show that had involved musical numbers we probably would've been a little better equipped to figure out exactly what we needed. But it's really exciting to see what people are talking about, but also what it did to the women, frankly. And that they were all able to really use their bodies in a new way and [see] what that did to them as individuals, what that did to them when they left the set, and how they felt differently about their bodies.

On how the cast really got into their wrestling personas:

CARLYWe thought [the actors] were going to dread [the wrestling]. We thought it'd be the part of the show that, you know, the first sprained ankle, everybody would realize kind of how dangerous it was and kind of how vulnerable they were, and all of a sudden it would become the scary place. Instead it became the kind of supportive, magical place where they really surprised themselves with what they could do.

LIZ: They became such a team. It was so nuts. They would stay and watch each other's matches when they weren't even shooting. They started this crazy thing where they would be in the ring working and our [assistant dirtector] would yell, "Cut!" And they would just all start chanting, "Never cut! Never cut! Never cut! Always roll! Always roll!" We're like, Oh my God. We've created monsters! We'll never leave the ring!

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