WWE champ Becky Lynch, 'GLOW' star Alison Brie talk power moves, rebellious streaks and sunset flips
WWE Raw women's champion Becky Lynch and the star of Netflix's "GLOW," Alison Brie, were both born characters, girls with attitude and aspiration to burn. Lynch was a rebellious Irish punk, Brie an impassioned theater geek, neither was much interested in conformity or swallowing her passion for more traditional pursuits.
Today, Lynch (real name Rebecca Quin), 32, and Brie, 36, have grown up into two of the most prominent faces fueling the swelling enthusiasm around pro women's wrestling, which has proved to be ratings gold. WWE reports that many of its most popular segments feature the women stars, while "GLOW," Netflix's sly, beloved homage to the camp splendor of the 1980s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, is entering its third critically acclaimed season. Created and written by women, "GLOW" unpacks women's complicated relationship with power in and out of the ring, while at WWE, women performers are proving to every doubter that female personalities and athletes inspire fans and fill stadium seats.
In April, Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch headlined WrestleMania 35's sellout crowd of 82,265. At a cultural moment in which women's agency over their bodies, careers and images is at a fever pitch, Lynch and Brie serve as history-making ambassadors for the best of what influence can look like -- smart, funny, resolute and unafraid to fly off the ropes. We brought the two together to share their thoughts on the evolution of women in pro wrestling -- how on TV and in the ring, women are now the main event. Or, as they would say of themselves and each other, "We're beasts!"
ESPN: Let's start with a question of critical importance: What is your favorite wrestling move?
ALISON BRIE: [Laughs] I like the sunset flip.
BECKY LYNCH: To be honest with you, I just like forearming people. It's so simple, and it always gets a good reaction. You can do all these technical, fancy things, but as soon as you throw a forearm or a punch, it's on!
AB: I made a decision when I booked "GLOW" to showcase a more physical side of myself. To be the first to try any new move, to put fear aside and just dive in. It was something that nobody suspected of me. People who trained at my gym would watch me do pullups or high box jumps with a weighted belt and be like, "Holy s---!" Someone once told me at the gym, "You look like you should be baking cookies, not rocking pullups." And I was like, "Well, too bad."
Alison, you've said that "GLOW" didn't want you for the part. Becky, you had your own challenges breaking into WWE. What drove each of you to stay on your particular path?
BL: At 15, I was doing things that I shouldn't. I was a little stoner teenager, drinking too much. I was an alternative kid, so doing anything mainstream was just not cool enough for me. I was one of those people. But I was a huge wrestling fan. I found out that they were opening a wrestling school about an hour and a half away. I went down there with my baggy pants and my thong hanging out, because I was a big Lita fan, expecting this giant wrestling ring and a bunch of really fit people. And there's just, like, six blue padded mats on the ground and some skinny teenagers all trying to grow their hair out to look like The Hardy Boyz. I was the only girl.
How did your audition go?
BL: I was so bad, absolutely awful. I deserved to fail because I was completely unathletic, uncoordinated. But there was just something about wrestling ... I loved it so much. And I knew I wanted to dedicate everything to it.
AB: I can't believe that you were ever unathletic.
BL: The most unathletic. It's crazy how your formative years shape the person you are. I still think of myself as that little chubby kid that broke the swing while the other kids made fun.
AB: I was the opposite of Becky, because I was not a rebellious child. I was very much the drama nerd in high school. I was that kid singing and dancing for the neighbors, for anyone who would watch. I would try out different hair and makeup, go to Blockbuster video in character as a young dude with a mustache. I was eccentric.
Has acting in "GLOW" stretched your perceptions of yourself?
AB: I can totally relate to what Becky is saying about being unathletic at first. When our wrestling coach, Chavo Guerrero Jr., called me a natural, it was a shock. It was the first time anyone ever said something like that to me. I tapped into this whole other side of myself at 33 years old.
Wrestling has that effect on people, revealing hidden layers of a dormant personality.
BL: I can't imagine how hard it must be to throw yourself into that world like Alison has and take those bumps, because it doesn't matter what ring you're in, they all hurt. But if you can go through that, there is something to be said about identifying yourself as a fighter.
Alison, do you see yourself that way now?
AB: On our first season, our mantra was "I'm a wrestler." Any time any of the women were going through something emotional or personal, we would hold each other's hands and say, "You're a wrestler. You're a f---ing wrestler." Like, if you can do this, you can do anything.
Wrestling and acting are unique in that they are both jobs that require you to invent something but also to be authentic so an audience can connect with you. How do you each strike that balance?
AB: I spent a lot of years trying to figure out what people wanted me to be and then trying to be that thing, rather than remembering why I'm unique. My "GLOW" character, Ruth, is an underdog who is constantly being underestimated and told that she isn't good enough or attractive enough. And that's something I would put in my head too. I don't look like that supermodel that just got cast in that big Marvel movie. It's a lifelong struggle in both Becky's and my industries to tap into who you are and how you want to be seen, and to take control of your own career.
BL: I had the same mental obstacles. I got in my own way more than anybody else did. I doubted myself, telling myself, "You're not athletic: you're not pretty enough." Somebody told me, "WWE isn't going to want girls like you." At the time, they were just hiring models. So I took the focus off what made me special and tried to fit into this mold. And it really just broke me.
BL: I ended up spending years in contemplation, leaving this business, not knowing who I was, getting lost. I was a personal trainer, a flight attendant. I went back to college, got my degree. I was a stuntwoman and a bartender in New York and working in health food stores and doing all these random things that I thought might fulfill me in the same way that wrestling did.
How did you find your way back to the ring?
BL: I was working as a stuntwoman on "Vikings" and somebody said, "You should go for a WWE tryout." And I was like, "That ship has sailed." I was constantly telling myself reasons that I couldn't. But I never stopped thinking about it, never stopped wishing that I could go back there. So I tried out.
And now you're the WWE Raw women's champion and one of its most prominent stars.
AB: Oh my god, I totally relate to all of this, especially when you were talking about staying true to yourself through everything. With "GLOW," we really let everyone's freak flags fly. We have a cast of 15 women who are totally unique and bring different things to the table.
That's very much like the current WWE, where women of all stripes and personalities are really staking a claim.
BL: Oh yeah, absolutely. What I wanted coming into this career was for women's wrestling to be the coolest thing on TV. I wanted to change the term from "divas" to "women," which we did three years ago. And I wanted to headline the main event at WrestleMania. But I also wanted the audience to demand it, not because we were women but because they cared about our story more than any other story. And they did. Our women's main event was at the end of a seven-hour show, and everybody stayed. That makes me super proud.
How has performing in the ring altered your feelings about your capabilities outside of the ring?
AB: It definitely gave me a major confidence boost across the board and a strong sense of power I carry with me everywhere I go. I've taken that feeling with me into new jobs. It changed the way that I approach auditioning, even looking at projects. It also changed my mindset about how I relate to my body.
In what way?
AB: Four years ago, as just an actress, it was me vs. my body. Why can't you be smaller and thinner? I feel hungry, but I don't think I should eat that. It was this battle. Whereas, wrestling has connected me to my body and to the bodies of the women around me. I need to be strong so that I can lift this woman, or so when she throws me across the ring, I can really sell that move. I need to be muscular so I don't get injured. It helped me develop a real inner power, this feeling like a badass, which is pretty exciting.
BL: For me, wrestling is an art form. We're going out there and telling stories. People ask me about prematch rituals. I don't have any, but before I'm walking out the curtain, I always say, "I've got this."
What do people fail to appreciate about wrestling?
BL: Things go wrong all the time, so you have to be quick on your feet. If nothing else, wrestling teaches you to adjust, to be open, to be spontaneous, to embrace whatever is happening in the moment. You're never more present than when you're in the ring.
That all sounds downright therapeutic. And yet, most professional wrestlers work more hours than most athletes. Touring 52 weeks a year, programming more than 500 live events ...
BL: And no downtime. I'm easily having hundreds of matches a year with no rest, no offseason. This really is a minute-to-minute business. You constantly have to ask, how are you entertaining the fans now? OK, you did that last week, what's next?
AB: I would just like to say for the record that what Becky and the women at WWE do is totally insane and awe-inspiring and completely incredible. There's a fearlessness Becky and the other women pros have, along with that awareness and sensitivity to one another while doing death-defying things in the ring. Becky, I hope you would agree, there is no way to do a wrestling move halfway. If I'm going to run and leap over you into a sunset flip, I have to run full speed. You have to fully commit to every moment in the ring.
BL: Oh, 100 percent.
All the women on "GLOW" train for four weeks prior to filming, three hours, five days a week. What is the most outrageously physical thing they've had you do in the ring?
AB: In Season 3, I do a move where I backflip off of the top rope onto another actress. Now, when I do other jobs, I'm like, "You know I do my own stunts." [Laughs] There is nothing fake about people's full body weight slamming onto the mat. I'm taking an Epsom salt bath every night when we're shooting matches. We'll shoot it for 12 hours, doing these big moves over and over, and you wake up the next day feeling like you've been hit by a bus.
BL: Yeah, yeah. Wrestling is really, really hard on your body. Touch wood, I haven't had any injuries. A few head things, a broken nose, sprained ankles ...
AB: I would count those.
BL: [Laughs] I've always been able to get on with it. Even recently when my face got all bloodied up and my nose was broken, I only missed one TV appearance. I don't get massages, I don't do Epsom salt baths. I'll occasionally do a yoga class. But I'm not good about those things. I probably should be better. But I'm just like, "Ehhh, I don't have time."
Do you both consider yourselves fearless?
AB: In college, I was always taking risks in terms of my performances. I was trying s--- all the time and having my own fun. And somewhere along the way, I started to lose that. And only now through "GLOW" am I getting back to that fearlessness I had when I was younger.
Do you relate to that, Becky?
BL: No. I'm scared of everything. [Laughs] Legit, though. Especially when I started training, I was so scared, but you do it anyway, don't you? You buck up. Even now, I get nerves. But I think that's important. It means you care. And the more you can push yourself through that, the better and stronger you become.
Five WWE women performers rank among the 10 most followed female athletes across social media. Is that tenacity you both speak of part of what's made women's wrestling so popular?
BL: It's because I came into the WWE. [Laughs] No, no. We're continuing the evolution of women's sports across the board. We've started to show people that given the opportunity, given the time, we can put on just as good, if not better, matches than the guys. So why is gender even an issue anymore?
The WWE says it currently has a 40 percent female audience.
BL: Right? I think there is, like Alison said, something about the toughness of women. We are scrappy little fighters. When I'm watching the MMA women fight, they are vicious and in it to win it. It feels like they've got something to prove. Because we kind of do. We want the same attention, the same respect, so we're going to endure just a little bit more so that we can get that same appreciation.
AB: And the female athletes of the WWE are just as badass, doing just as crazy, if not crazier, s--- as the men, so it's just as entertaining. I feel that way about "GLOW." We think of "GLOW" as a show that's by women and about women, but it's for everyone.
How familiar were both of you with the original GLOW franchise of the '80s?
AB: I didn't know anything about it. When I heard that they were making this show, I bought a bunch of DVDs to watch. The original GLOW is totally bonkers. It's bananas.
BL: It wasn't on in Ireland. I discovered it in my late teens. I'm sure there are pictures of me wearing a GLOW hat somewhere. And then [GLOW veteran] Ivory was one of the first women that I wrestled. She was phenomenal. We worked together in Vancouver, and she took my championship from me.
AB: Oh no!
BL: Let's hope she doesn't come back and try to take this one.
Becky, tell me about your persona, "The Man."
BL: For me, the top person, the person of the most extraordinary ability, has always been referred to as "The Man." And until this moment, that person of exceptional ability has always been a man. So when I broke out and started claiming my status as the top dog in WWE, I started referring to myself as "The Man."
Were you surprised at how nuts people went when you did?
BL: Oh yeah. People lost their minds. I look at it as the most empowering thing. I'm turning gender roles on their head.
AB: I love it.
What does being in the ring give you that nothing else does?
BL: It's almost indescribable. It's everything. It's adrenaline, it's excitement, it's love. It really is addictive. That's why it's hard for a lot of people to exit the business, because there's not another feeling like it.
AB: I agree. It's the ultimate stage. And the adrenaline rush ... it's so funny, because we're doing ours on a soundstage, but still there is this power, this otherworldly thing to the ring. And when you get inside it, you are a different person, you're a beast.
BL: When I'm in the ring, I look out and see people of all different ages, genders, races holding signs for "The Man" or "Becky Lynch." And, I mean, I kind of came from not much and wasn't naturally good at anything. And I see all of these different demographics enjoying the message that I'm bringing across. When you realize the impact that you can have on people's lives, the influence-that's powerful. And it's not something to be taken lightly.
AB: Wow. Thank you, Becky, for being such an inspiration.
BL: Thank you, Alison, for doing our sport such a service.
It feels like we've got a kick-ass little sorority up in here.