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Who is Sheila the She Wolf on GLOW? Meet Scottish actress Gayle Rankin

Gayle Rankin’s Sheila is a breakout hit in the wonderfully wrought series. Pic credit: Netflix

In Netflix’s breakout summer hit GLOW one of the most entertaining ensemble members is mysterious Sheila the She Wolf, played by Scottish actress Gayle Rankin.

The series boasts many talented players who we will deep dive into through July.

But Gayle’s shy and tortured character has captured the hearts of many fans; her portrayal a brilliant mixture of humor and pathos.

She has “species dysmorphia”, which means she actually thinks of herself as a wolf.

Sheila is tragic and triumphant in her resolve to be true to herself, as witnessed in the heartbreaking moment where she tells her motel roomie Ruth (Alison Brie) that she is not in costume but has worn her wolf makeup and garb for five years.

But who is Gayle Rankin and where do we know her from?

Gayle hails from Glasgow, Scotland. At a young age, she jumped the Atlantic to study at the famed Juilliard School of performing arts in New York City.

Now 27, the talented star has started been capturing the attention of producers and casting agents across everything from theater to TV and film.

Immediately after her Juilliard schooling, Rankin was cast in the Tony Kushner play The Illusion at the Signature Theater Company.

She also worked off-Broadway in Tribes.

More impressive stage work was turned in at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and The Seagull at Lake Lucille, along with bit parts in TV series Law & Order: SVU.

According to a past interview, she adores the color pink, was obsessed with American gunslinger Calamity Jane, was a heavy child, and is the only Scottish person ever to be accepted to Juilliard.

Needless to say, Rankin is now white hot — just like her GLOW character’s real hair color under her Rocky Horror-esque black wig.

This summer she took on Shakespeare’s Ophelia in the production of Hamlet at New York City’s Public Theater, directed by Sam Gold, which premiered on June 20.

Star Wars The Force Awakens star Oscar Isaac is cast as Hamlet.

Not resting on the laurels of GLOW’s success, you can also look forward to Rankin cast as Pam in the coming Noah Baumbach film The Meyerowitz Stories, and also the drama Irreplaceable You.

In GLOW, Rankin quietly steals the show as the one nearly silent wrestler who really isn’t tooting her horn or making a fuss about anything.

Playing perfectly off the acerbic humor and anxietal energy of Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), the director in the Netflix series, Sheila, we discover a few episodes in, really has short, white-blond hair.

She doctors her look with loads of Kohl around her eyes and yellow nail polish coating her teeth.

She even sleeps as her wolf-like character, howls and offers to hunt road-kill to use as pelts for her fellow wrestlers.

The reveal of who Sheila is behind the wolf was facilitated by her having to share her private space with roommate Ruth.

Ruth’s unflappable actor’s enthusiasm means she mistakes Sheila’s commitment to life as a She Wolf as “method acting”.

This enrages Sheila and, in her defense, Ruth calls her a “damned wolf” — which creates a moment where the two connect, as Sheila tells her “no one has ever called me that”.

Over the course of the rest of the first season, we see Sheila open up to allowing the other girls to make a fuss over her for her birthday.

GLOW — which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — is inspired by the true story of the 1980s female wrestling league of the same name.

Set in Los Angeles, the art department — from the set decorator to the production designers — perfectly recapture that Reagan-era mood and fashion look with the right clothes, hair, makeup, and cars.

The music that accompanies each scene sells the premise perfectly.

The makeup and hair transformation for Rankin’s Sheila is extreme. She wears a version of garters and ripped stockings with an off-the-shoulder furry top along with Doc Martens — a punk-rock-meets-RockyHorror-Magenta look, topped off with a curly long black wig, blacked out eye makeup, and enameled yellowish teeth.

Netflix dropped GLOW on June 23. The series is a triumph of female talent in Hollywood as along with all the female stars Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black) and Tara Herrmann (Orange is the New Black) are executive producers, and it was co-created by showrunners Liz Flahive (Homeland) and Carly Mensch (Orange is the New Black).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZqDO6cTYVY

GLOW is available to stream now on Netflix.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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