Did you get bitten by the GLOW bug yet? Netflix’s new summer bingebait is hard to escape.
The show, set in the ’80s, tells the real life story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (dubbed GLOW), who could not be ignored during the time of the male dominated WWF-era, and wasn’t afraid to take on Reaganism, welfare, and even an icy geopolitical relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Aside from a highly addictive ’80s soundtrack, neon leotards, and stereotype-confronting leading ladies, GLOW has the grit and charm of producer Jenji Kohan’s other Netflix smash, Orange Is the New Black.
CASSIUS spoke with GLOW‘s rising star Britney Young, who plays wallflower Carmen. She discusses Carmen’s path to self-realization, her very real life obsession with a decade she was barely alive for, and owning her biracial identity.
Get to know Britney in her own words below.
CASSIUS: Identity is something that your character is clearly sorting out. Can you walk us through Carmen’s mindset when it comes to figuring out her own identity as well as facing obstacles and stereotypes from the wrestling world?
BRITNEY YOUNG: Basically a lot of who she thinks she is goes back to the way she was raised. She was raised by her dad and her brother, who she loves and she’s such a family person. But she kind of realized that her dreams weren’t really something that they pushed her to go after. I think that’s the real reason why she originally auditioned for GLOW, because yes, she does want to be this wrestler and that is her dream and that’s her goal. But she knew being in the household she was, that she wasn’t going to be able to do it, because of the restrictions and also kind of the stereotypes that her father and her brothers have of wanting her to be a wife and a mother, and that’s it. So as the season goes on, we really see her kind of start to come out of her shell. I think that scene specifically with Rhonda, played by Kate Nash, in the room where she’s showing her how to put on lotion. It’s things like that where she’s kind of coming into her own as a woman, and she never knew, these are the kinds of things that women do to feel better about their bodies, to feel better about themselves, to make themselves strong. You see her as the season progresses, just slowly start to be comfortable in who she really is. And that is someone who knows a lot about wrestling, and someone who wants to help people achieve their goals just as much as she wants to achieve hers. And by the time you get to the end of the season, she gets to a point where she does find this confidence, but she’s not fully realized. She still has these anxieties, and she still has these insecurities, but she just has a moment where she’s like ok, for right now I have to be the strong person that Machu Picchu is supposed to be. That’s her little transition from cocoon to butterfly.
C.: You were born in Tokyo, and raised in Alaska. Tell us a little about coming into your own and your identity as Britney.
BY: It was very interesting. I loved growing up in Japan, and me, my brother and my sister were all born there so that was kind of the only world we knew. I’m an ‘80s baby, and I specifically was obsessed with ‘80s movies and ‘80s music. And I used to just watch all my dad’s ‘80s movies and I slowly realized that all the girls who looked like me in these movies were either one or the other kind of type. They were always the shy girl that had no friends, and was always sitting at the top of the bleachers by herself during the pep rallies, or they were the mean girls, the b-tches, beating girls up in the locker room and stealing their lunch money. And I really sat there and I was like, I don’t want to be either one of those people. I want to be nice, I want to have friends, I want to enjoy life and be happy. Once I started believing that I didn’t have to fit into those types, I really didn’t. I’m confident in myself, but I do have my bad days still, where I waiver a little bit just like Carmen does. And when we finally moved to the States, I actually realized, one thing that actually made me different was that I come from a biracial family. My dad is Black, and my mom is white. And especially in Alaska, the Black community up there at the time is not as large as the white community is. So that was something where a lot of people kind of were like, oh, you’re the whitest Black girl that I ever met. Or, oh, you’re the Blackest white girl I’ve ever met, and it kind of got to a point where I was like, why am I letting these people tell me what my identity should be or what my racial background should be? So I kind of just let everything go. I identify with both cultures, I identify with both communities, and I’m going to represent them how I see fit. So I think that was kind of an eye-opening experience as well, coming over to the States from Japan.
C.: What’s your ‘80s pop anthem that you love the most?
BY: Oh, how do I narrow this down?! I mean, I’m definitely for sure a fan of early Whitney Houston. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is amazing. I always sing in karaoke “1999” by Prince. That’s not a happy song but it definitely came from the ‘80s [laughs]. Spandau and “True…” Every time that song comes on, I always want to be like, ok… it’s 1980s prom, who’s going to dance with me? Where is Meg Ryan? I get really nostalgic for a prom I was a fetus when it happened. But there’s something about ‘80s music every time I hear it, it always instinctively makes me feel happy. Even though like “1999” is not a happy song. He’s like, let’s party before we die.
C.: In terms of the ‘80s, WWF and wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were such a big deal. Did you grow up watching wrestling at all? Did you have a favorite wrestler back then?
BY: No, I did not grow up with wrestling. And all my friends were into it, but I’ve been very honest about this and I know wrestling fans are probably like, how dare she? But I just never gravitated towards it because in my mind, I was just like, why do I want to watch someone hurt someone else? I would never have made it in the medieval times when they watched hangings and beheadings. That just does not attract me at all. But then, we trained with Chavo Guerrero, Jr., who comes from a wrestling dynasty family. His family has just totally changed the landscape of American wrestling. Once we started breaking it down and showing how much technique and skill, it was almost like an actual performance is in these matches. And I just started falling in love with this. I think people don’t realize either, and I definitely didn’t realize before, is that, even though you’re out there wrestling as a face or as a heel by yourself, or even in a tag team match, it is a team sport, because you have to be in communication with your opponent, to make sure that you guys are of course providing a good match and entertaining a crowd, but then also, making sure that you guys are keeping each other safe, and that you guys are still talking with each other, and making sure everything goes correctly, regardless of if you win or lose. And there’s something in that that I really really appreciated. I think we say it several times in the show, the only reason why you look good is because your partner makes you look good regardless if you win or not. And I think something in that, I really really gravitated towards.
C.: Who would you consider to be your superhero that you can channel when you’re training for a show like GLOW?
BY: It’s always been my parents, both of them. Just because they both have gone through a lot of things. My mom was very much a person who, kind of like Carmen, her dad thought she was going to do one thing, and she kind of just lived her own life. And she was like, I’m gonna go abroad, and I’m going to stay in Japan for 16 years, and have a family. And she started her own business and she was a teacher. She just always has such a kind spirit. And then my dad, too. Growing up in a tumultuous time with Civil Rights, he wanted to show everyone that he was not these stereotypes that everyone thought of Black men. He wanted to better himself and he wanted to better his community as well. And he does a lot of work. He’s a football and basketball coach, so I really related to Chavo working with us and having another coach in my life. And having someone there to encourage you but also pinpoint the points where you can kind of do better, but that doesn’t mean you’re not great already. So I definitely take the lessons that they’ve taught us and then apply it do anything that I do. So my superhero tag team has to be my parents.