Alison Brie Swaps Her Wrestling Costume for Boxing Gloves

“I’m not an athlete by nature,” Alison Brie said one afternoon in the Chelsea section of New York, though you would not guess that from her current role.

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Alison Brie Swaps Her Wrestling Costume for Boxing Gloves
Michael Schulman
, New York Times

“I’m not an athlete by nature,” Alison Brie said one afternoon in the Chelsea section of New York, though you would not guess that from her current role.

The 35-year-old actress has been pushing her body to its limits as the star of “GLOW,” the silly-smart Netflix comedy about female wrestling, inspired by the schlocky 1980s franchise Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

As Ruth, a struggling actress turned body slammer, Brie has had to pull off both a Diane Chambers perm and a three-quarter flip. “It’s like learning how to do a great trust fall where nobody catches you,” she said, a few weeks before the June 29 premiere of the second season.

The cast prepared for Season 1 with four weeks of training, building up from basic somersaults to headlocks and suplexes. “Suplex is when you put a person basically in a headlock, but then their body is facing you, and then you lift their whole body over your body and you go slam onto the mat on your backs,” Brie said brightly. “It’s become my favorite move, and I’ve done both sides of it.”

Her Type A roles on “Mad Men” and “Community” scarcely prepared her for the physical feats required on “GLOW.” But she did have experience in fearlessness.

At the California Institute of the Arts, where she studied acting, she had a penchant for streaking. (“The rules at school were very accommodating to nudists,” Brie said.) At 17, she spent a summer as a birthday clown, which inoculated her from future forms of humiliation.

“I think that idea that you can’t show any fear in front of these little monsters has translated into the ring as, like, ‘Never show fear. Just do it. Run at it,'” she said.

And so, with an hour free, she had agreed to run headlong at a new challenge: the Rumble workout, a fitness craze du jour that combines boxing and strength training and has attracted the likes of Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner and David Beckham.

Brie was game, if skeptical. “There are always fad workouts going on, and it just doesn’t interest me,” she said. “It took me a long time to get into SoulCycle, because people just preached about it too much. And then, of course, once I tried it I was like, ‘Oh, this is really fun!'”

At Rumble’s West 23rd Street location, she was greeted by a founding trainer named Erika Hammond, who wore a black sports bra and a ponytail. Brie changed into workout gear and followed her into a private studio tricked out in faux graffiti. She removed her engagement ring (she is married to actor Dave Franco) and donned fingerless hand wraps to protect her knuckles.

“Are you a lefty or a righty?” Hammond said before taking her through Rumble’s six basic punches: jab, cross, front hook, back hook, front uppercut and back uppercut. “Breathe on each punch,” Hammond said, as they practiced side by side in the mirror. “You want to start from the ground up, so you get some power from the hip.”

With the moves down (more or less), Brie put on puffy white boxing gloves, while Hammond slipped on a pair of black mitts. They circled each other, and, as Hammond called out numbered combinations (“One! Two! One! Two! Roll!”), Brie threw a suite of punches. “Always stay in that same fighter stance,” Hammond said.

Brie said, “Similar to wrestling!”

Her character on “GLOW” is a metaphorical punching bag, but was Brie ready to try a real one? “I want to you to throw hooks on this,” Hammond said, leading her to a teardrop-shaped bag at the back of the room.

Brie hit it from the bottom and then the side, as Hammond shouted, “Faster with the uppercuts. Boom! Boom! Boom!”

Next up: defense. Hammond showed Brie how to do a slip, where you move your head to the side and shift your knees to evade a jab. The trainer held up two foam noodles and said, “With these, I am going to hit you.”

Soon Brie was hunching her shoulders to dodge noodle thwacks, right then left. She caught herself in the mirror and said, “I look like an ogre.”

As it turned out, Hammond had been a World Wrestling Entertainment “Diva” before becoming a personal trainer, a career change brought on by a torn meniscus caused by a back-breaker move. In her wrestling life, she had a full-fledged stage persona. “My name was Veronica Lane, and I was a beauty queen,” she said.

“So, like, the face,” Brie said. In pro wrestling, the “face” is the hero and the “heel” is the villain. On “GLOW,” Ruth comes to embrace that she is better at getting boos than cheers and reinvents herself as the ultimate Cold War heel: a Soviet vixen called Zoya the Destroya.

“Every face needs a really good heel,” she said. Hammond, recalling her wrestling days, said, “There’s one little thing that you pull from your life, and that’s how your character evolves.”

“It’s so nice to hear that we’re really on track,” Brie said, “because so much of our show deals with the girls figuring out who their characters are and then having to plot their own storylines.”

“Have you slapped anyone?” Hammond said. “I used to slap people and leave a red mark.”

“We do more hair pulling than slapping,” Brie said.

A Rumble class was letting out downstairs, so the two women ducked into the main gym: mirrored walls lined with neon, rows of punching bags, mood lighting and a DJ blasting Busta Rhymes.

“I like it!” Brie said. She tried on a pair of 3-pound brass knuckles and shadowboxed into the mirror.

Soon, the 2 o’clock group began filtering in, but Brie wasn’t ready to leave. She canceled her afternoon plans and, with Hammond close behind her, disappeared into the thicket of punching bags with the rest of the class.

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