Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Live Studio Audience” episode of GLOW.
As rowdy hairdressers-turned-wrestlers Stacey and Dawn, Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson are the self-described “rodeo clowns” of Netflix’s new series, GLOW. As the duo tells Yahoo TV, they’re also living out their childhood dreams of joining the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Growing up, they were each hooked on the exploits of the original real-world GLOW wrestlers. “We understood the theatrics of it,” Gatewood says. “They did sketch comedy, they did physical humor, they beat each other up and they wore hilarious outfits. There was nothing unappealing about it!”
From those formative GLOW viewing sessions, both Gatewood and Johnson grew up to do sketch comedy and physical humor for a living… albeit without the body slams. The duo has appeared both together and separately in a variety of viral web series and improv groups, and are also two-thirds of the performing and podcasting trio, The Apple Sisters. When the opportunity to be part of a fictionalized GLOW series came along, they leapt at it. “The show sort of culminates everything that Kimmy and I have been working towards in our professional lives,” says Johnson. “Outside of wrestling, which we didn’t know how to do before we started the show!”
Fortunately, the actresses mastered the art of wrestling courtesy of a pre-production boot camp. That helped transform Gatewood and Johnson from the Apple Sisters to the Battling Biddies, the name that Stacey and Dawn picked for their tag team. And the duo got a chance to show off their moves in GLOW‘s seventh episode, “Live Studio Audience,” for a match that pits the Biddies against Cherry Bang, aka Junkchain (Sydelle Noel), and Tammé Dawson, aka the Welfare Queen (real-life wrestler Kia Stevens). And in a last-minute twist, Stacey and Dawn enter the ring… in Ku Klux Klan robes? Gatewood and Johnson tell us their initial reaction to learning about the Biddies’ new costumes, and what it was like to do a somersault with hoods on their heads.
I understand that you auditioned as a duo for GLOW. What was that process like?
Gatewood: We’ve been working together for ten years as the Apple Sisters, where we do a lot of physical comedy — singing and dancing kind of stuff. So we’re very familiar with falling over each other and doing silly dances in the name of comedy. We were asked to audition by the show’s casting director, Jennifer Euston; she asked us to go in together. The script they gave us said that we were going in for two ’80s stand-up comedians. Now, we’re actually hairstylists on the show. We auditioned, and then they said, “Just do whatever you want.” So Rebekka did a jump split and I threw myself into the wall! [Laughs.]
Johnson: Then, in our callback, they asked us to come up with a tag team duo. We came in with five different duos, and said, “You tell us when to stop.” But they didn’t want us to stop — they wanted us to keep going! And we made sure to show that we could play all sorts of different characters, from New York-style characters to Southern pig farmers and old ladies to young kids. We noticed that a lot of the other girls auditioning were wearing workout clothes, and Kimmy and I put on the most unflattering ’80s jeans, and did our hair in the ugliest ’80s way. I would say our gorgeousness shone through in our performance, but our outward appearance looked absolutely ridiculous!
You mentioned that the characters started off as stand-up comics. How did they end up becoming hairdressers?
Gatewood: We didn’t get to have like a long conversation with the writers about it, but I think the idea was that these women are all misfits, and it would be too obvious, maybe, if they were stand-ups that became silly performers as opposed to hairdressers who have to kind of find themselves, you know? They have to have more of a transformation into becoming the Beatdown Biddies.
Johnson: I think what we say in the pilot is that our characters are the funny ones in the salon. Our clients tell us we’re hilarious and should be on TV. I think it actually makes it more interesting that we’re hairstylists. We also got to do the girls’ hair for some episodes; it’s part of the idea that, in addition to being wrestlers, everybody pools their skills to make GLOW work. We actually learned some techniques from the show’s hair and make-up people, to make sure we didn’t look like idiots when we were doing it.
Gatewood: Yeah, the fact that we serve a larger function helps that “let’s put on a show” kind of feeling. You know, people who find their hidden talents to really pull together and put the show together. We had such an amazing time shooting it, and we bonded so much. The energy of our group was so fun and shines through in the ensemble scenes. We really cared about each other while we were wrestling, and also while we were acting and just hanging out backstage.
So let’s jump ahead to the seventh episode, “Live Studio Audience,” and the epic match between the Beatdown Biddies and Cherry and Tammé. When did they first tell you that you’d be wearing KKK robes for that scene?
Gatewood: Oh my gosh… [Laughs.]
Johnson: OK, so what would happen is that the people in charge of the wrestling scenes would get the script first. So in this case, the stunt coordinator [Shauna Duggins] and our wrestling coach, Chavo Guerrero Jr., got the script and were like, “This is who is fighting who.”
Gatewood: They told us, “You have a match,” and then gave us a bunch of side-eye. We were like, “What is going on?”
Johnson: Yeah, they were not telling us what it was! The Beatdown Biddies are normally the good guys, so they were like, “You’re actually playing the heels.” We said, “That’s weird. Why are we playing the heels? Are we not the Beatdown Biddies?” And they said, “No, you’re not.”
Gatewood: We were like, “What is happening?!” [Laughs.]
Johnson: They said, “We can’t tell you.” So we were full of anticipation and nerves while working on the match.
Gatewood: And then I sneakily peeked over at the script while they had it open, and my face turned white! I looked at Rebekka and she was like, “What?” I said, “I’ll tell you in a minute.” I have to be honest — I was so scared. We were both so scared!
Johnson: We didn’t know what it was gonna be like. We had no idea about anything except that, all of a sudden, we’re now playing KKK members. Obviously, we trusted the creators [Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch] implicitly, but it’s still so nerve-racking. This was just after Donald Trump won, too, so the tension in this country was so palpable. Everything felt very heightened, so it was definitely a shock that we were gonna do this.
Gatewood: We read the script and had a conversation with Liz and Carly, and the first thing they did was reassure us that we did not have to play KKK members for the rest of the run.
Johnson: They also told us that this was based on a real thing in wrestling. In the ’90s, there was an NCW wrestling match where an African-American wrestler, Virgil, wrestled a man in KKK robes. It was very brutal and horrifying.
Gatewood: It ends very bleakly with Virgil basically getting lynched. This is something we learned about wrestling, in terms of the theatrics of it. Chavo and Kia talked us off the ledge a little bit. They said that, in wrestling, the best matches are between the angel and the devil. And it’s fun to play the devil sometimes because then you get to make the good guys look even better. So that was the way Rebekka and I could kind of reconcile this. We were making fun of the people we were playing, and we would also be able to make our opponents look better the worse that we were.
Johnson: Yeah, because they KKK are already buffoons. They wear robes and hoods and say the dumbest sh*t. We got to be the most ridiculous, cartoonish version of them and get our asses kicked. It’s serving the plot for Cherry and Tammé to win because they don’t normally get to win. So it ended up being that we were able to have fun making fun of those people instead of having to portray them in a real way.
Gatewood: I will say that on a technical level, it was heard to wrestle with something covering your face! [Laughs.]
That was going to be my next question!
Johnson: It was not easy. We had to practice and figure out how to do it so that the hoods would stay on us when we were wrestling, and not move so that we could still see through the eye holes. At one point, when Sydelle and I were practicing our moves, she tripped, got caught up in my robe and fell right on my chest! It knocked the wind out of me, but it only hurt for two seconds and then I was like, “I’m OK.” It made me feel really powerful.
Gatewood: We were the wrestlers underneath those hoods! It was such an intense match, so we hope that everyone knows that it’s us.
Johnson: Yeah, we did the whole thing, and I’m like, “It looks really good! We look like we’re wrestling really well.” And people will probably think it wasn’t us! [Laughs.]
Which one of you did the somersault in the robes? That seemed like a tough move considering you couldn’t see very well.
Gatewood: That was me; Rebekka started off fighting Cherry and then I fought Tammé. So I did the somersault, and then she does the helicopter and throws me down to the ground. It was a little scary, but a somersault is a pretty easy thing to do. Of course, the element of the hood does make you wonder, “Where am I gonna end up and will the holes be on my eyes! I would say the hardest move is what Rebekka did with Sydelle, which was just the regular headlock. That was probably so hard because there was so much fabric around her neck.
Johnson: Yeah, I couldn’t see where she was and had to slide in front of her and trip her to knock her down. A couple times when we did it I would accidentally kick her leg. But then we figured it out!
Gatewood: It’s interesting; that fight is very much a ’80s match in terms of its moves. With wrestling today, you’ll see a lot more flips and very impressive acrobatic moves. These kinds of simpler moves were definitely a throwback. It left me feeling a little nostalgic.
How did you work with the writers to make Stacy and Dawn individuals in addition to a duo?
Johnson: We didn’t discuss it with them necessarily, but it started to take shape that Stacey is slightly more wild than Dawn. I’m just one step behind, [providing] the slight voice of reality.
Gatewood: I think that they probably were writing towards us a little bit because we’ve been friends for so long. In the beginning, we were making choices to differentiate ourselves, and then they really started to lean into the differences between our characters. I would imagine that when you first meet Dawn and Stacey, you’re like, “They’re bosom buddies,” but then you realize that they each have their own kind of personality and journey. Also, my hair goes to the right and Rebekka’s goes to the left! [Laughs.]
Johnson: I’m a brunette, and she’s not. So there you go, that’s another character different. And I have a big butt.
Gatewood: Stop it! [Laughs.] We really are very similar to our characters, in a way, because we were really game for anything. We’re stoked to be a part of this.
Should GLOW get a second season, is there something you want the Beatdown Biddies to do?
Gatewood: I would love Dawn and Stacey to play multiple characters, kind of like Chainsaw and Spike [the Heavy Metal Sisters from the real-life GLOW], or if we do something crazy with fire or chainsaws. It would be really fun to see us behind the scenes trying to figure out how to operate a chainsaw.
Johnson: And I think it would be fun for Dawn and Stacey to get some romantic action going behind the scenes.
Gatewood: Yes! We love heavy metal bands and are like groupies essentially, so it would be fun to see us on the Sunset Strip with our newfound fame [getting with] the drummer or the drummer’s brother.
Johnson: Or the bouncer!
Gatewood: Anybody, really. The band would never let us sleep with them. [Laughs.]
GLOW is currently streaming on Netflix.
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