featured Glow: Season Two

Actress Ellen Wong Talks Season Two of ‘GLOW,’ Being Empowered and Feeling Represented

June 27, 2018Ben MK

Ellen Wong is not what you might consider the prototypical female wrestler type. But then again, neither are many of her fellow cast members on GLOW, which is exactly the point of the show.

The Canadian actress has made a career out of playing feisty characters, such as Knives Chau in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Misaki Han-Shireikan in Dark Matter. And as Jenny Chen on GLOW, Wong gets to flex those muscles again, playing one of a group of unlikely women who sign up to play female wrestlers on a 1980s television show, much like the real-life '80s TV show from which GLOW borrows its name. It was a time when the entertainment industry — much like other industries — was male-dominated, and while some of that still holds true, times are changing, and GLOW is part of the new wave of films and series that are helping to champion that change.

I sat down with Wong on a sunny afternoon in Toronto to find out more about GLOW's second season on Netflix, to chat about how the show has empowered her, and to talk about the progress that is being made towards greater diversity and representation in the film industry.

What was it like returning for season two? I heard the entire cast received four weeks of wrestling training. How easy was it to get back into the rhythm of the show?

Wong: Yeah, we had four weeks of wrestling training starting season two; we also did it in season one, but it was definitely a very different [kind of] wrestling training in season two because we already had an entire season of learning all these other moves. So we came right into season two going, "Let's go, all in! We know this, let's do it!" And we were doing pretty crazy moves throughout the first week, and then by the end of it we're so sore and had to take a step back and go, "We can't go that hard after, you know, all these months off of not doing this. We need to take our time." [laughs]

And so, after a little bit more rest, we all came back and we were just learning even bigger and crazier moves. So it was a lot of fun, and we were also so comfortable with one another already and we understood what each girl's sort of strengths were and who was better at what. It was really cool to be able to go into the next season of wrestling with that knowledge, and with just the ease of interacting with one another.

Season one was all about the characters finding their footing in the ring and with one another, not unlike you all were in real life. But now that you all had an established dynamic with each other going into season two, did that bring a different kind of vibe to the making of the show?

Wong: For sure it did, and it's very meta that we were going through the show together, because in season one, we were all being thrown into this new world of wrestling that we'd never really understood or been part of. Kia Stevens was actually a professional wrestler before, so it was different for her. But here we were; we all auditioned for the show, and then within the show we all were auditioning for the show, to then be in a wrestling show to shoot this pilot. And that's what we were really doing in real life.

And so now in the second season, we've all had this much time together already. We now live together, the girls are learning how to put together a whole series now; it's not just one episode, it's a series. And definitely having the experience from the first season into second, we started off in a totally place, because we were really comfortable with one another. We were all still communicating on the off-season; after season one we were all still hanging out or chatting, and so when it came back to season two, we were just like, "Oh, hey again!"

Do you have a favorite scene or episode that was especially memorable or that you enjoyed filming this season?

Wong: Definitely, but I don't even know if I'm allowed to talk about those episodes. My favorite is episode 4, 8 and 10. [laughs] And in a broader sort of spectrum why, specifically they're episodes that dive deeper into personal stories that I feel is something that is relatable for everybody, no matter what gender or race. I feel like our episodes are trying to show that we're all human, and that we're all trying to break out of this feeling of being boxed in to this idea of what we're told we're supposed to be. And that's a big thing in our show this season.

And then also just the crazy outrageousness of it and just how far we can go with the crazy — like there really is no glass ceiling, we're just doing everything, and we're allowed to do everything because it's GLOW and that world is crazy. So it's really cool that we are working on a show where it is that world of wrestling and the world of GLOW, where it can be anything and everything. Whatever you think is impossible, we're gonna do it. But then it's also a show that is about real life outside of the ring, so it's really awesome to have the two.

How about the wrestling itself — do you have any favorite moves?

Wong: This season we learned this new move called "the Schoolboy" — in wrestling terms that what it's called, but I was like, "We definitely should rename it the Schoolgirl," for obvious reasons. [laughs] And that one was my favorite, because it felt very sneaky coming in from behind and totally taking over a person, slamming them down to the mat without them even realizing what's coming for them. It's aggressive but thought-out and just crazy, and it looks vicious, but also is very safe and gentle and easy to do when you're working on it together. [laughs]

As you mentioned, a lot of the show is about challenging stereotypes — and not just the stereotypes others impose on us, but also the ones we impose on ourselves. Have you surprised yourself in any way after two seasons of GLOW?

Wong: Yeah, I come from multiple generations of women who were taught to be a certain way — to be quiet, not to speak up, and it's better to just keep our heads down. And I felt suffocated by that sort of stereotype, but also it's been taught because it's a cultural, historical, societal thing. And so starting the show, I do feel like in some ways I was a little bit like Jenny, where she was a little bit scared at the audition but she still did her best and pushed past this feeling of not having this voice inside of herself. But in the ring, she is this crazy character who definitely does have a voice, and she’s starting to find more confidence along the way by being around so many different women and having so many examples of what a successful life or career or is.

Everybody has such interesting storylines, I feel like I'm getting to see the world in a different way, and Jenny is too. And being around all these women at work, I feel empowered to be able to be on the show, but even to be able to talk to you now about everything that we're talking about. I'm not sure, like ten years ago, if I would have been able to have this discussion, because it was a time that also — I guess to me, I felt — wasn't appropriate. There would be consequences to being honest, and if anything, the show has been so supportive in me also having a voice.

And it's because of working together with all these women. Also, having a reflection of really awesome women having other jobs with power — producing the show, writing the show, creating the show, coordinating the stunts, directing the show. It's like I'm seeing around me examples of women doing things that are very exciting and cool, and I'm gonna be part of that, and so it's infectious in a good way.

That kind of segues into my next question. So a lot has happened in the film and television industry since season one, with #MeToo and #TimesUp, and I feel like some of that may have worked its way into the season two. Being a female-driven ensemble show, do you all feel kind of a duty to using it as a platform for tackling these kinds of issues?

Wong: I think it's always our duty with the jobs that we have, and as humans, that we just have to be responsible and make it our duty to stand up for what we feel is right. And the show has made me realize that more and more. You know, film and TV is such a "reflection" in some way of society, and I put that in quotation marks because it's not necessarily the "truth" of society, because it's from a perspective of what has mostly been white men making these stories.

But now we're demanding for women, women of color, of different backgrounds, to get behind the lens so that we can have more control of the story. And I feel like GLOW is relatable because it's created by a woman, and there's a level of sensitivity and vulnerability that goes into the writing of each character, that you might not necessarily see if that was from a man's perspective.

So I definitely feel a responsibility. I don't think that we're at the place where it's perfect, but there's progress. And if I was a kid growing up now, I'd be going, "Oh wow, there are people that look like me, and I feel somewhat represented." It's not perfect, but I do feel that, whereas for me, when I was growing up, that didn't even exist, really. So there's progress, but I think with progress comes constant duty and responsibility to push for that.

Continuing with that thread, so you mentioned not seeing a lot of representation on-screen when you were growing up, which is something you also talked about when you were named a TIFF rising star last year. Obviously, that's changing now, and the industry is kind of in this watershed moment, with films like Black Panther, for example. What are some of the films or shows this year that have you really excited in that regard?

Wong: Well you said one of them, Black Panther. I actually just had the chance to be able to watch that yesterday. And to me, even, I know that it was just such a movement to have that film be made — I feel like even in that film, women were leading it in some ways; they were very powerful. But to see a community — a community that's been so squashed and diminished in society — come together and take their power back, and to say, "This is our story." Like even for me, I watch that and I relate to that, because I know what it's like, and I would love to feel that way too, for my own community, and for all of us as humans.

So I think that that film is incredible. And even Wonder Woman was really amazing. I've never seen women be in such power positions, where you see them all coming together, and they're warriors and they're strong. And even just that one scene, that visual of it, I got a feeling in myself that I've never had before from watching a movie. That's just from feeling a part of myself is being represented.

Master of None, I feel like, does that too, and it's another Netflix show. I think Netflix is just really on this really cool path of being super-aware and wanting to be inclusive. I mean, it is a network that is streaming worldwide and so they also do have the responsibility to bring the world together within their shows. And they are; we're also getting to watch shows from all over the world because of it, and I can't think of too many other streaming networks that have that capacity, that library.

It's really cool to have that, and on a streaming service like this, this is where you can do that. Like I'm getting to watch films from countries where I'm like, "She looks like me!" And I would have never been able to watch this if I was just watching cable or network TV. It really does feel like this future way of watching television or film or stories. So I think we're getting there; we're not fully there yet, but these are the types of conversations that I feel like are important.

Let's not forget about Crazy Rich Asians.

Wong: I'm so excited for that to come out! I can't wait! [laughs] I think it's going to be so important for the Asian community. It's about time, and just from everything I've already seen, I'm just like, "Yay! Can’t wait!"

Season two of GLOW begins streaming on Netflix June 29th, 2018.

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