While playing a former soap opera star-turned-professional wrestler allowed Gilpin the opportunity to strengthen her self-esteem, the physical challenges of the role transformed her body as well as her body image. (Co-star Marc Maron’s character summed up her look as “Grace Kelly on steroids.”) “In previous roles,” Gilpin recalls, “I have thought of my body as ‘Betty’s body,’ and I try not to eat too many dinner rolls -- please don’t fire me! I’ll make crazy choices from the neck up, but from the neck down it’s just me trying to suck it in,” Gilpin says. “And in GLOW, my whole body was required to do a function and not just to look as good as possible in a costume. No one ever cared about that; it was all about using my body to wrestle. And that functionality and sense of value of my body’s presence at work, that bled into my scenes that had nothing to do with wrestling. For the first time, I felt like I was completely in my body.” In other words, even though Gilpin has perhaps never worn less clothes on screen (her wrestling wardrobe can best be described as skintight and skimpy), she has simultaneously never felt more empowered.
As for the first time Gilpin realized that a television show could prove just as creatively fulfilling as doing theater, the actress credits her multiseason arc as ER vixen Dr. Carrie Roman on Nurse Jackie. “They did my makeup to the nines and tailored these costumes within an inch of my life and made everyone think that she was the Barbie,” Gilpin says of her seductive character, “but I was also allowed to be insane and make her insecure and sort of a monster. I felt like it was the first time I was able to be like, ‘Hi, I’m Betty. I’ve got a few weird things going on.’” Her Emmy-winning castmate provided ample inspiration on and off set: “Getting to work with Edie Falco and watching her be a quiet presence -- but a very powerful presence -- and so brilliant and free? That was the first person I saw where I was like, ‘I want to emulate that,’” Gilpin says. “That’s what I want to do.”
But what, exactly, does Gilpin want to do next? “I have no idea,” she says with a laugh. But one thing’s for sure -- she has no plans to play it safe: “I’m always interested in women who are on the verge of a nervous breakdown and how that manifests in their daily life. What happens when you turn into this half-Carol Burnett, half-Maleficent version of yourself …. [But] the biggest I ever dreamed was, like, being the sassy dry-cleaning worker on a WGN show,” Gilpin adds. “Maybe if Marvel did a mash-up of a Shakespearean Theater of the Absurd meets Jessica Rabbit robs a bank.” Look out, Wonder Woman and Jessica Jones -- you may have finally met your match.