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Alison Brie Talks Pro Wrestling and Inner Strength

At one point, Alison Brie was co-starring on two very different shows but playing somewhat similar characters: She was Trudy Campbell, the strait-laced but ambitious housewife on “Mad Men,” and Annie Edison, the strait-laced but ambitious student on “Community.” Now that those shows have ended, it’s time for Ms. Brie to stretch her legs and flex her muscles, quite literally.

On the new Netflix comedy series “GLOW” (out on Friday, June 23), Ms. Brie stars as Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress in 1980s Los Angeles who, unable to find screen roles, enlists in the casting process for a new all-female professional wrestling league: the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, with Jenji Kohan (“Orange Is the New Black”) as executive producer, “GLOW” also stars Marc Maron, the comedian and podcaster, as the league’s down-on-his-luck director.

Speaking recently from a suite at a luxury New York hotel, Ms. Brie, 34, may seem, superficially, like the proper, put-together TV characters she is best known for. But she is unafraid to take risks, and now she’s learned some wrestling moves — and gained inner confidence — in the process.

“All the women on the show, we really were cheering each other on,” she said of the “GLOW” experience. “We’re all walking much taller and holding ourselves differently in day-to-day life.”

Ms. Brie talked about fighting for her role on “GLOW” and grappling with the demands of the 1980s. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Did you choose to do “GLOW” as a deliberate pivot away from the characters you’d played on “Community” and “Mad Men”?

Annie and Trudy were the same side of the coin, in terms of being very polished and calculated, although Annie was a little more messy. I was really craving getting my hands dirty and doing something with a bit more edge. My agents called me and said, “There’s a new show they’re making for Netflix. Jenji Kohan’s producing it; it’s about women’s wrestling in the ’80s.” And I was like, “This. Is. The. Show.” And then, of course, they didn’t want to cast me on this at all. [laughs]

Why weren’t they interested in you?

I think, like a lot of people, they had a very specific idea of my skill set. And I was hellbent on proving them wrong. It actually really fired me up. I think I read four times for this show. At every stage, the stakes felt like they had never been higher. I felt so much like the character, Ruth.

Was it very satisfying when you did get the role?
After we had shot everything, our line producer came up to me and said, “When they cast you, I thought: ‘Look at that little thing. She’s not going to be able to wrestle.’ But you really proved me wrong. You’re so strong.” I was like, thank you. The truth comes out, finally.

You and your castmates spent several weeks in wrestling training. What was that like?

It’s fears you didn’t even know you had. “Oh, yeah, I am kind of scared to do a full flip in the air and then slam onto my back.” It’s a lot about trusting your partner. When you’re in the ring, their life is in your hands. Their body is in your hands. But challenging those fears and overcoming stuff in an instant, on a daily basis, gave me so much confidence.

Was this the first time you’d permed your hair?

No way. I had perms in the late ’80s, early ’90s, because my aunt was a hairdresser and my mom was constantly changing her hair. One year my mom, my sister and me all got matching perms together. The perm smell was a very nostalgic smell for me. When the hair guy was about to do it, he was trying to warn me. I was like, “Oh, I know this smell.”

Did you talk to your mother about the 1980s?

My parents got divorced when I was 5, and they both raised me. My mom was working two jobs, she put herself through school and got her master’s degree, and was trying to date when I was a small child. I remember, from the clothes alone, there was this aspect of women trying to emulate men — shoulder pads and all that stuff. What I like about this show is, women are infiltrating this place that was usually reserved for men — the wrestling ring — but they’re not trying to be men. They are women, and they are proud to be women.

Did “GLOW” make you a wrestling fan?
I never watched it until this show. But now, obviously, I have a very deep and profound respect for it. It’s like real-life superheroes. I never realized how many people I knew who have been secretly very into wrestling. And then they’re like: “Whoa, so can you do a power bomb? Did you ever get to do a pile driver?” I’m like, calm down. And yes.