Character Analysis: GLOW’s Betty Gilpin Shares Her Thoughts on Debbie Eagan
WARNING: Spoilers for Netflix’s GLOW (and a little bit of American Gods)
In 2017, Betty Gilpin has made a mark playing two characters who were cheated on and betrayed.
As Audrey on the Starz dramaÂ American Gods, she grieved the death of her husband. What was difficult for her to comprehend was the way he died. The accident occurred while he was in a car, with her best friend, as they were engaging in oral sex. Anger understandably oozed from every pore of her body. Gilpin was so good at conveying the devastating pain, it was difficult to witness.
As Debbie on Netflix’s wrestling comedy GLOW, her husband also slept with her best friend. And while her marriage suffered, it was her relationship with Ruth that seemed more significantly damaged. For much of the first season, Debbie grieved the loss of this friendship. Her anger toward Ruth created a palpable distance that was only marginally softened by the finale.
Again, Gilpin received worthy praise for her performance. In a recent press call with reporters, the actress attributed her theater training in helping her channel the anger required for these roles. “We were doing Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams and Chekhov everyday,” she said. “We were being asked to go to uncomfortable and scary places everyday.”
Early in her career, she didn’t have many opportunities to tap into the skills she learned from bringing the classics to life.
“When I started auditioning at 20 years old, I found that a lot of times — especially in TV and film — they don’t want actresses to go to those uncomfortable, scary places,” Gilpin explained. “A lot of roles require a safe surface level [of acting]. You know blinking and smiling, and asking questions in an adorable novelty hat.”
With GLOW, she relished the challenge the show provided. “I was very excited to be able to go to dark places again because that feels more natural to me and more to what it feels like to be alive.”
Gilpin and her costar Alison Brie worked together to come up with the necessary chemistry to create a viable friendship. Of course, this on-screen connection was quickly severed. “We talked through what was our characters’ history. We played best friends and we only have two scenes where we are still friends,” she said.
“Strangely, the wrestling training a month leading up to shooting sort of provided this connection groundwork between Alison and I that was more valuable than any rehearsal because we were so bonded physically and athletically,” Gilpin added. “We trusted each other. Wrestling is the ultimate trust exercise, rage therapy, emotional ropes course that you could do.”
At the core of Debbie’s journey during the first season of GLOW are the relationships she shares with Ruth, the one she shares with her husband, and the one she develops with wrestling.
Debbie and Wrestling
After her soap opera gig turned sour, Debbie’s primary focus became wife and mother. When wrestling came into her life, it turned out to be an unexpected boost to her ego. As Liberty Belle, she was the chosen one, the wrestling persona the entire show revolved around. She made sure her involvement came with some perks.
“Debbie to me is someone who doesn’t thrive when she doesn’t feel like she has status in a conversation or on a set,” she analyzed. “I think she does like to be treated like the star and be the best and the youngest and the prettiest.”
More importantly, joining the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling sparked a renewed interest in her sense of self, even though she originally couldn’t find a way to relate to the sport.
“Not being good at something and not having a way into understanding it I think makes her very uncomfortable,” she continued. “Once she realizes that not only can she understand wrestling but it’s exactly what her passion is, which is storytelling, imagination, being a showman, dramatic storyline narrative, [she] realizes that it’s actually the perfect thing for her.”
Debbie and Ruth
The fractured friendship between Debbie and Ruth is one of the saddest aspects of season one. Viewers barely knew these two as besties before the whole thing blew up. According to Gilpin, she and Brie had a hard time accepting their characters as ex-pals.
“It’s so funny. Alison and I just had dinner two nights ago. We were talking about Ruth and Debbie like they were our two best friends,” she said. “We were dying to figure out a way to get them back together so that our friend group could be whole again.”
In the finale, Debbie asked Ruth if she wanted to get a drink after the show. Debbie replied they weren’t there yet.
“I hope that they find a way back to each other. But I really don’t know if we’re going to ever have that running at each other in an airport sobbing that I want them to have so badly.”
In fact, Gilpin’s not sure if Debbie will ever be ready to get the band back together. She feels there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before any sort of truce is worked out.
“I think that it would take them each doing a lot of work on themselves,” the actress speculated. “Even though Ruth did this horrible thing, it was sort of a symptom of a cancer in their friendship that Ruth was struggling and needed her friend and that Debbie was in her own world and blinded by her own narcissism I think a little bit.”
She added: “Not that she deserved what happened. I think in order for Debbie to be a better friend and a better, happier person that she needs to continue to do the sort of working on herself that wrestling is requiring of her and a vulnerability that she doesn’t like. But I don’t know if they’ll ever be friends.”
Debbie and Mark
Debbie and Mark’s marriage isn’t in a very good place when the action cuts to black at the end of episode ten. The same can’t be said for Debbie. She jumped into her Liberty Belle persona with authority and while the Welfare Queen spoiled things for Ms. Belle, she did defeat Ruth’s alter ego, Zoya the Destroya.
She realized wrestling can give her something her real life doesn’t. She’s more than wife and mother in the ring. Wrestling gives her confidence, a purpose and a sense of identity. It’s helping her discover who she really is. And it’s something she’s doing for herself. Unfortunately it’s clear her husband Mark doesn’t take her wrestling seriously. Their marriage remains intact however.
“I think it would be a lot easier for Debbie to step away if [her son] Randy weren’t in the picture. But I think that many women can relate to sort of the realization that Debbie came to that, oh, I was never 50% of this relationship,” Gilpin explained. “Mark sort of treated the things that were very important to me and that I was passionate about as my adorable little hobby that I would get out of the way in my 20s. And then come home and be his wife and take care of the baby.”
It’s this disconnect that will continue to cause trouble for this husband and wife if it’s not handled.
“I realized he was treating me like a character in his memoir instead of the lead of my own,” she continued. “I feel like that is a rite of passage as a woman to have a relationship where you’re like, oh you’re treating me like chapter 12 instead of we’re two books walking around.
“Books don’t walk guys. The metaphor doesn’t work,” joked Gilpin.
Even so, she has some opinions on where she wants this relationship to go. “I hope that she divorces Mark. But, you know, also I hope that we never have to see everybody finds love and the credits roll once everyone finds love. Maybe she takes pottery with a 55-year-old hot woman named Margaret and she and Margaret have a little fun for a while.”
Something else she wants to see should GLOW earn a second season: more wrestling. “With Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde where women are physical and powerful, all I want is a montage of us kicking an inch off the ground then kicking over our heads,” she said.
“For me personally, it was interesting to me how wrestling and being on this show bled into my daily life and who I am as a person â€“ I was completely altered by this experience. Sometimes when youâ€™re empowered by something, it stays in that bubble. Maybe itâ€™s a symptom of getting older, I feel itâ€™s trickled down empowerment to me and my life. Iâ€™d like to see that in Debbie, too.”
GLOW is currently streaming on Netflix.
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