Spotlight: Betty Gilpin

By Morgan Roberts

There are few actresses who give full-on, metaphorical balls-to-the-wall performances.  Betty Gilpin is one of those people. She gives immensely high-caliber performances every time she is on screen.  So, with the release of “The Hunt” (2020) fast approaching it is time we take a moment to appreciate the underappreciated Betty Gilpin.

Gilpin has been working long before her turn as actress-turned-wrestler on Netflix’s “GLOW.”  But it has been her Emmy-nominated performance as Debbie Eagan and wrestling alter-ego Liberty Belle that has shone a light on her innate talent.  “GLOW” is by far one of the best shows on television – see my other article about that – but it is Gilpin who provides an other-worldly performance time and again.

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Bashir Salahuddin and Betty Gilpin in GLOW (2017) © Netflix

“Gilpin makes the most out of any sort of material.  While the piece around her may not be stellar, her work is always on point.”

Her character, Debbie Eagan, is a former soap opera star whose life is completely altered when her BFF Ruth (Alison Brie) sleeps with her husband. Gilpin gives a captivating performance in the pilot when Debbie, with baby in hand, confronts Ruth at her wrestling try out. Gilpin does not hold back.  She lets Debbie rage like a scornful, hellbent woman out for blood. But Gilpin continually shifts Debbie from this woman seeking vengeance to an insecure, lost, conflicted person.  She brings a complexity and authenticity to grief. Debbie is not just grieving the loss of her marriage and, in turn, her identity, but the loss of her friendship.

In season 2 of “GLOW”, Gilpin takes Debbie to a whole new level.  The work in episode 7, where she and Brie go all-out in a verbal altercation more brutal than anything in the ring, should have given her the Emmy in that moment.  It is sorrowful and stubborn and vengeful and regretful all at the same time. In less capable hands, the screaming, throwdown of a fight would have just been a dramatic moment, but Gilpin enabled it to have so much life and feeling.

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Betty Gilpin and Britney Young in GLOW (2017) © Netflix

And she’s not just saddled with heavy stuff.  Gilpin shows off her comedic side as wrestling persona Liberty Belle, a sweet as pie Southerner who may have killed a man.  It’s zany and eccentric and wild. The sky’s the limit with Liberty Belle and Gilpin takes full advantage. There is no line more iconic than Liberty Belle, getting ready to enter the ring, telling the crowd, “I’d like to call on the powers of my three favorite Americans: Ronald Reagan, Larry Bird, and Jesus Christ himself.”

“Gilpin is a real actor’s actor.  She gets that there is a technicality to it, while being extremely in-tune to the emotional pieces”

While “GLOW” is the space where Gilpin can showcase her amazing work, there are other projects where she has managed to Trojan horse some sense into.  While on “Nurse Jackie,” Gilpin came in as a vapid young doctor somehow smart enough to make it through med school but too incompetent to be an actual physician, and turned Dr. Carrie Roman into this wonderfully weird and charming character.  In “Isn’t It Romantic” (2019), Gilpin stole every scene – all, like, five of them – as the quirky best friend in reality and the ruthless enemy in the rom-com version of the story.

Gilpin makes the most out of any sort of material.  While the piece around her may not be stellar, her work is always on point.  And it’s high time we start to give her the work she deserves. “GLOW” is getting ready to film its final season.  After that, Gilpin will be starring as alt-right commentator and possible demon Ann Coulter in Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story: Impeachment.”  With the stellar tour-de-force performances she gives, there’s no doubt she will be incredible as Coulter.

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Anna Deavere Smith and Betty Gilpin in Nurse Jackie (2009) © Showtime

Gilpin is a real actor’s actor.  She gets that there is a technicality to it, while being extremely in-tune to the emotional pieces.  Just listen to her episode of the podcast “Las Culturistas with Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang.” It is equal parts therapy and an actor’s guide to feel your feelings.  Her talent is immeasurable and we are at a precipice to finally acknowledge that. It is time that we call upon the powers of our three favorite actresses, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and Our Lord and Savior Meryl Streep herself, for Betty Gilpin to be receiving the recognition she deserves.

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