Alison Brie: If youre imagining me from Mad Men, youre in for shock therapy
The Mad Men star returns to TV as an 80s wrestler in GLOW. Its a long way from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
In the dimly lit art-deco splendour of a Knightsbridge hotel bar, actor Alison Brie is immaculately coiffed (artfully tousled bob) and costumed (persimmon formal day dress) for our interview. The 34-year-old veteran of Mad Men and Community, now positioned to break out in her Netflix vehicle GLOW, radiates the steely poise and self-possessed charm of a career diplomats wife.
Best known for her Mad Men role as Trudy, the reluctantly woke Stepford Wife of oleaginous ad account exec Pete Campbell, Bries tinkling, musical laugh as she deftly scoops a handful of rice crackers from the proffered silver bowl (These are my achilles heel) is straight out of Trudys playbook. Her earnest perkiness, recognisable from her turn as Communitys relentlessly bubbly ingenue Annie, is on display, too.
But its a credit to the skills of this South Pasadena-bred acting wonk that she is virtually unrecognisable in upcoming 80s kitschfest GLOW as Ruth, a badly permed Hollywood bit-player turned gung-ho wrestling baddie. GLOW stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and this delightful 10-episode show-within-a-show is a loving homage to the eponymous low-budget female wrestling TV league that aired from 1986 to 1990.
Even though mediocre is the highest praise one might realistically lavish on the original GLOW, that unabashed car crash of rope-a-dopes and soap opera tropes, inept raps and crap skits performed by actors and occasionally interspersed with actual wrestling lives on in cult infamy. A 2011 documentary on the phenomenon of the same name kept the flame bright, and by the time writers Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch successfully pitched it to Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan, Brie was eager to be part of its continuing legacy.
GLOW is such a unique animal, she reflects, in her precise, cultured tones. Its really unlike contemporary wrestling that is being done today. On the one side, its about physicality, feeling comfortable and powerful within yourself, and its also about discovering your inner warrior and your alter ego; another personality. Especially for the women here, who can be messy and aggressive in ways that women [in real life] so often feel like they cant.
Bries role model for her inner warrior is her mother, a tough cookie who was that working single mom who did it all: working, getting her masters degree, getting my sister and me to school. Definitely thats where Ive got my work ethic from. That work ethic powered Brie through CalArts prestigious theatre programme, including a year in Glasgow, where she struggled to understand the local accent. Theyd say things to me at length, and Id just … She mimes clueless nodding: Id agree to everything. I got a lot of quizzical looks.
Right out of university, Brie scored her first television job: an evil hairdresser on an episode of Hannah Montana. For the audition, I decided to do a Long Island accent, she says, and its what got me the role. When I was waiting out in the hall, I heard them telling the other actresses to do it with that accent, which blindsided all of them. She laughs: And when we went to shoot the show they said: Its wonderful, just lose the accent.
GLOWs opening scene sees Bries character enduring a crucifying audition for a one-line part. Brie can relate. Ive had my fair share of mortifying experiences, she says. Ive auditioned for episodes of Entourage where you had to go in a bikini top. Oh, OK, my whole shirt should be off Ill just be in the bikini? Great, no problem! She flashes a rictus grin. You suffer those mini-humiliations all the time. And did she get the bikini job? No I did not. And thats crushing, of course.
In 2007, she got the call that shed been cast in AMCs Mad Men, and two years later she was a featured player in NBCs Community as well. Its rare to be a regular on two hit shows at the same time, and even rarer to film for the two shows in one day, as Brie occasionally did.