Actor Rebekka Johnson is the glorious easter egg of GLOW, Netflix’s 1980s period dramedy based on the short-lived but much-loved TV show from the Reagan-era decade.
In a show crafted by women, starring a huge cast primarily of women, Johnson’s role has stolen scenes and endeared to her to fans of the series. Now heading into Season 2, GLOW wends a yarn about the plucky but earnest Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a struggling actor in 1980s Los Angeles who finds one last chance for stardom when she’s thrust into the glittery big-haired world of women’s wrestling.
Ruth makes some bad choices in her personal life. A big part of GLOW’s resonating charm is how Ruth’s bestie Debbie “Liberty Bell” Eagan (Betty Gilpin), who is betrayed by her, work through their grievances in a very public forum: The wrestling ring.
It is another resilient female friendship that elevates the status of Rebekka Johnson’s character Dawn “Edna Rosenblatt” Rivecca, whose deep friendship with Stacey “Ethel Rosenblatt” Beswick — played by her real-life comedy partner from The Apple Sisters and friend Kimmy Gatewood — has created a zany scene-stealing duo, Dawn and Stacey, aka the Beatdown Biddies.
Their “Biddies” are based on the real-life Newark, New Jersey Housewives “Arlene and Phyllis” from the original wrestling show.
Rebekka was nominated for a 2018 SAG Award with her co-stars for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series for the first season of GLOW along with Gatewood, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Chris Lowell, Gayle Rankin, Sunita Mani, Britt Baron, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Jackie Tohn, and Marianna Palka.
Fans dine on Johnson’s stolen moments in GLOW’s background shots with her partner in crime Gatewood. The two in scene together strike comedic gold, most notably their Pommel horse scene from Season 1.
Rebekka has starred in Netflix’s Arrested Development, This Is Forty for Universal Pictures, and has directed and produced several viral YouTube sketches including Typecast and What if Catcalls Were Cheeseburgers as well as the digital office comedy, Anti-Social.
She also was the writer and director for Made Man’s critically acclaimed series Speakeasy with Paul F Tompkins.
We spoke to Rebekka who noted that GLOW Season 2 will be another fun ride as the ladies have earned some notoriety and work out their places inside and outside of the ring.
Monsters and Critics: Are you now based in LA or do you still call Staten Island home?
Rebekka Johnson: Yeah, Kimmy [Gatewood] and I both moved out at the same time after our comedy group. We got into this big comedy festival, Just For Laughs, in Montreal, and we got agents and managers, and that kind of like prompted us to move out here.
M&C: We literally re-watch episodes of GLOW just to see the goofy things you guys are doing in the background of the shots. Did anyone tell you to do these, or did they just leave you alone and let you do your thing, knowing your UCB backgrounds?
Rebekka: Well, it’s kind of a mixture. In the audition, our characters specifically, everyone else had to do something scripted for the most part. For us, we were told to improvise and so we brought in our own characters. And, instead of truly improvising, we like wrote a bunch of jokes and bits and put in a lot of physical stuff.
I think they just went off of our actual energy when they cast us. At first, like, maybe first episode, we were just like talking to each other in the background, but as it progressed, they’d be like…we’d start to get sillier and sillier and then eventually they’d be like, “Oh, here’s a pommel horse, just do whatever you want with it.”
So then we’d be like, “Okay, we’ll do whatever we want with it.” They never were like, “That’s too crazy.” And so, then it ends up staying in and being on the TV show.
M&C: Now, in that scene actually, the pommel horse scene, was Betty Gilpin aware of what you guys were doing behind her?
Rebekka: I don’t think so [laughing]. Yeah, I don’t think so. We weren’t really totally aware of how serious the scene was. I mean, we read the script, but in the moment we were just like, “All right, we’re just going to be jerks, right, like be our normal selves.”
Then if they gave us a piece of exercise equipment, we would always try to work out with it in the dumbest way.
So like these…I don’t even know what they’re called, but there’s these like springs with handles that I guess are supposed to like work out your arms.
And we would just do like a random like sawing action with them or a bunch of pliés, and just…really we’re just blurring those in the background, but if you catch it, it’s…I don’t know, hijinks, and helped pass the time for us.
M&C: The Beatdown Biddies…now, are you Edna or Ethel?
Rebekka: I am Edna. But I always forget. I always forget, and then sometimes we have to be like, “Wait, am I Ethel, am I Edna? No, I’m Edna.” Yeah.
M&C: Now, they were based on the real GLOW characters, The Housewives, correct?
Rebekka: Yeah, the New Jersey Housewives. And those ladies were actually sisters in real life. So, they got to play multiple characters. I thought The Housewives were hilarious. Like when you watched the original, like, rap, when they did the GLOW rap, like they were just so funny. So then they specifically wanted to get like a comedy duo to play characters like that.
We were given the name, we were just given like four lines, like, “I’m Ethel, and I’m Edna, and we’re the Beatdown Biddies.” And that was it. And then we were able to write jokes and improvise and make the Beatdown Biddies what they are. They let us have freedom with that, which was nice of them.
M&C: It was touch-and-go though for Dawn and Stacey in the first season. In episode seven, where they had you in the Ku Klux Klan robes…
Rebekka: Yeah, that was scary, and at first we were like, “Are we going to have to do this all the time?” Like we didn’t get the script first. The first time we knew about it, was they were like, “Okay, Kimmy and Rebekka, you guys have wrestling practice with Fidel and Kia. And we’re like, “Oh cool.” Have no idea what we’re doing, we figure we’re going to be the Biddies.
Then they’re like, “So, Kimmy and Rebekka, you guys are the bad guys.” And we’re like, “The Biddies are good guys”, like, “We can’t be the bad guys.” And they’re like, “You’re not playing the Biddies.” We’re asking them, “Who are we playing?” They’re like, “We’re not telling you.”
So when we first trained, we didn’t know. Then Kimmy looked over the shoulder of our wrestling coordinator at the script she had that was only given to like department heads and saw that it said KKK. She lost all blood in her face and just looked at me like completely pale and said, “We are the KKK?” I was like, “What?!”
So then, Chavo [Guerrero Jr.] our wrestling coach, was like, “Don’t worry, Dawn and Stacey aren’t racist. They don’t want to be the KKK, they’re kind of forced into it. It’s going to be great.” He was like, “I promise. Trust me.”
So then when we got the script, we understood the context and we were relieved, and then ultimately just had fun playing the worst people in history.
M&C: How much training do you actually go through? Lots of sit-ups and weights?
Rebekka: Yeah, we don’t have to do a lot of sit-ups, although sit-ups would be useful because it would be more helpful if I had more abs in order to be able to do all these moves. But what we did do is four weeks of wrestling training.
Basically, we learned the same ways the girls learned in Season 1 starting with forward rolls and then moving up to back thumps and running the ropes. And then they eventually would add on, and moves would get more complicated and hard, and then you’d do them first with the wrestling coach and then eventually with each other.
Really in those four weeks of Season 1, we learned the language of wrestling, learned all different kinds of moves. So that when matches came up in the script, we would rehearse on our days off from shooting, and we would already know a bunch of things. And sort of between what we like to do, and what we were good at, and what the wrestling coaches wanted us to do in the script…sort of it would all combine and the choreography for the fight would get mapped out over the course of shooting.
So, for Season 2, we kind of reviewed for a week, and then the last three weeks of wrestling training we learned like crazier, bigger moves. Then we were able to do those when it came up in Season 2.
But it’s so fun, and I’ve missed wrestling. Like I see a wrestling ring…or I watch a lot of wrestling now, just because it’s…I just love it. Like I love the feeling of wrestling, and I love to watch wrestling. I wish I had a ring in my backyard, but my backyard’s very small.
M&C: Dawn and Stacey, you guys are a tribe of two, but does anyone infiltrate your tribe? Do you interact more or do they keep you guys kind of sequestered together in Season 2?
Rebekka: We start to hang out with Melrose a little bit more, and there are some hijinks with her. We have a lot in common with her in terms of like…not that we get into this, but I feel like they would have hung out potentially if there wasn’t such a thing as GLOW.
But really, we start to mix with the other girls, and there are times where we’re not sitting next to each other and we’re sitting with someone else or…Dawn, and Stacey actually, are always trying to get Reggie [Walsh, played by Marianna Palka] to fix up her hair and get a wax and shave her armpits, but that’s something that you don’t actually see on the script.
That’s just something you’ll notice if you watch us in the background. We’re constantly trying to groom Reggie.
M&C: That’s funny. Is there any tension that’s a result of your newfound fame?
Rebekka: There’s no tension. They’re together, they’re a team. They’re really loyal. I think they’re like the 1980s version of Abbi and Ilana from Broad City. They’re always in it together.
Hopefully, if we did a Season 3, I’m hoping that you’ll kind of see more of us, and you might get to see what could potentially break them apart. But for the most part, in Season 2 we are loyal to each other.
So, it’s cool. It’s the same with Kimmy and I, really. It’s so much fun to get to be on this journey with her. So we’re sort of living in the same journey in the show and out of the show. And it’s a show-within-a-show, so that’s a lot of realities.
M&C: What wrestling move surprised you as being something that was pretty effortless for you to do, and something you really enjoyed?
Rebekka: There is a 3/4 flip, where you jump and sort of drive in the air so that you do a somersault in the air and then you land on your back.
So a lot of times, people will do that from…like you’ll see it actually in WWE or whatever, any kind of wrestling show. You’ll see people jump from the top rope where they flip and then they land on someone. Then that pins them down.
The idea of doing a somersault in the air did not seem like it would be easy, but it actually…like something about the momentum…we were taught in baby steps, and that was something that I was always able to land.
It’s like a mini-roller coaster in the ring. And it’s so much fun, and I really actually just always like…they’d be like, “Oh, does anyone want to practice any moves or do anything?” And I’d be like, “How about 3/4s?” Because I love doing that.
M&C: What would you say is the biggest difference in Season 2 to Season 1 as far as the tonal mood or just what’s going to happen?
Rebekka: I think that it’s going to be exciting to see. The girls already know how to wrestle. So you’re not going to have to see some training montages, which are fun, but now they’ve already seen that. Now you get to just see us being really good. I think that’s going to be fun and that’s going to be exciting.
Then also, you’ll see how the dynamics change in our relationship as the season also focuses on some different characters that didn’t have huge storylines last year.
So, like, Tammé has a really big storyline this year. You get to know about her as a person outside of the ring and her kind of family life. Then Yolanda is a new character, so you’ll see how that changes the dynamics in the girls.
Because suddenly when there’s a new girl in the locker room, it’s like, “Wait, what?” Shakira Barrera, who plays Yolanda, was awesome and she fit right in and Yolanda does as well.
M&C: How would you describe Dawn and Stacey’s relationship with Sam Sylvia?
Rebekka: I think they’re always looking for his approval, and he’s never going to give it to them. And they just annoy the s**t out of him. They have a good coke hookup [laughs].
M&C: Are you and Kimmy, are you doing any comedy tours or is there anything in the works for you outside of GLOW?
Rebekka: Yeah, we’re making a short film this summer. I wrote the film and I’m going to star in it, and Kimmy’s going to direct it. And we’ll be crowdfunding for that, so if they follow either of us on Instagram, like if your audience does, then they could find out about it. Because I’m really pumped about it.
And we’ll be doing an Apple Sisters show, I’m sure, this summer and then definitely in the fall. So same thing, if they follow us on social media, they can find out more about our craziness in real life.
GLOW Season 2 is slated to premiere on June 29, 2018, on Netflix.