Film and TV

Hit me with your best shot: Former Chugiak High cheerleader stars in Netflix series ‘GLOW’

Imagine it's 1985.

The "Super Bowl Shuffle" rap is all the rage. Hulk Hogan and his World Wrestling Federation friends and foes are heroes. Pat Benatar and Patty Smyth are all over the airwaves. And political correctness isn't a priority.

It was this Me-Decade moment that spawned the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the real-life basis for the new Netflix show "GLOW." The female version of professional wrestling was a bawdy blend of cringey stereotypical characters, cheesy rap-style cheers, over-the-top story lines and plenty of choreographed punching, kicking and hair-pulling.

“It’s not paying homage to the ’80s, it’s trying to be the ’80s,” said “GLOW” star and former Chugiak High School cheerleader Britney Young, 29. “Even though I wasn’t conscious enough to know what was happening, I feel very nostalgic for the ’80s. My movie and music influences are very much ’80s.”

Young, whose family moved to Eagle River when she was 9, more than holds her own with the likes of Alison Brie of “Mad Men” and comedy veteran Marc Maron.

She is kicking backside as Carmen Wade, the chubby-cheeked innocent with a smile that lights up the whole ring.

"Carmen is a very sweet, shy and introverted woman who starts to really come into herself and find out who she is with the help of the women in GLOW," Young said. "Carmen and I both have a sweet nature and want everyone around us to succeed as much as we want to succeed ourselves."


Behind Carmen's winning grin is some serious power. She is part of the "Lumberjackson" wrestling dynasty. Her brothers are both famous wrestlers and her father is the legendary fighter Goliath Jackson. Goliath doesn't want his little girl busting into the family business, and that's the set-up for Carmen's story arc.

Unlike Goliath, Young's own father isn't interested in controlling his daughter's career.

"We told our kids, 'Just make sure you make the right decisions in life. Period.' Then it's on them," said Fred Young, a longtime Anchorage high school football and basketball coach who currently coaches football at East High School. "If they come to us for advice, we might give them a little bit, but ultimately, if (Britney) wants to bang her head on the ropes, she can. I have a feeling she's going to steal the show."

The politics of wrestling

Like all the ladies, Carmen has to assume a rather offensive wrestling identity. Sleazy director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) christens her Machu Picchu, the Gentle Giant from Peru. No matter that neither Carmen nor Britney is of South American descent.

"A couple times on Twitter people have asked, 'Are you really Peruvian?'" Young said. "And I'm like, 'No, I'm just tan.'"

Machu Picchu is actually one of the less odious "GLOW" alter egos. There's also Beirut the Mad Bomber, Fortune Cookie and the food-stamp-flaunting, fur-coat-clad Welfare Queen.

Dealing with the provocative identity politics of the show is an important part of the whole "GLOW" experience for the actresses and the audience.

"When we read the script we really did feel uncomfortable seeing Welfare Queen and Fortune Cookie and Beirut the Mad Bomber. Then we started talking about it. We're trying to show that you should never let anyone label you," Young said. "It's unfortunate, but we're still having to battle these (stereotypes) 30 years later."

The sensitive material is in the deft hands of writers with a flair for dealing with touchy subjects.

The new "GLOW" is the brainchild of Jenji Kohan, Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, women well-versed in writing cool, complex female characters, from Nancy Botwin, the fearless suburban drug czarina of "Weeds," to the part-saint, part-junkie "Nurse Jackie" to all the locked-up ladies of "Orange is the New Black."

"I'm so proud and so excited about this show," Young said. "I have watched it three times and I see something new every single time I watch it. It just kind of sneaks up on you and you're hooked, you're inspired, you're empowered."

I am the warrior

In the world of "GLOW," acting and wrestling become one, and mastering the moves is a requirement.

"We wanted to be as authentic as possible, so all the wrestling is done by us girls, no stunt doubles," Young said.

Before shooting, she and her co-stars trained every day for a month with stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins and wrestling coordinator Chavo Guerrero Jr.

Guerrero added an extra dose of authenticity to the project. He is a member of a real-life wrestling dynasty and the nephew of Mando Guerrero, who trained the ladies of the original "GLOW" in the '80s.

"Training Britney was great; she was up for anything. Her former cheerleading training really helped in her wrestling training, because, in cheer, there are the 'flyers' and there are 'bases,' and it's the same in wrestling," Guerrero said.

"The flyers can't fly without a good base, and Britney was a great base. She was able to pick up the other actresses and make them feel safe in the moves they were executing."


Guerrero and Duggins transformed the women into wrestling warriors in stages.

"We started training very basic," Young said. "On the first day, Chavo taught us how to get into the ring, and we acted all cocky like 'We know how to do it' and sure enough we didn't know.

"We started small: getting in, learning how to walk around the ring working on footwork with our partners, and then graduated to learning moves like lockups, headlocks, hammer locks, forward rolls, etc."

The next steps were putting the moves together in choreographed sequences and learning how to run the ropes and take bumps, Young said.

"Training was so much fun, but my body has never experienced that much soreness. I was a cheerleader in high school so I was used to girls falling on me, but now this was my body doing all these stunts and I was using muscles and body parts in ways I never had before," Young said.

"I'd go home every night and take Epsom salt baths, but I was so excited to wake up and go train again the next day."

Working girl

Young's plum role on "GLOW" came after years of hard work behind the scenes.

She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in film and television studies and then briefly returned to her Eagle River home. She got her first break the same year as production secretary for the movie "Big Miracle," which was filmed in Anchorage.


"After that, I moved back down to L.A. and started working in production," she said. "I just went from project to project."

Young was working as a showrunner's assistant on "The Mentalist" when she decided to bring her talent into the spotlight. In 2013, she got a role on a web series called "Ana Mead." One of the "Ana Mead" producers was also a manager who was interested in working with Young. He helped land her a part on the truTV series "Those Who Can't" in 2015.

The opportunity to try out for "GLOW" fell into Young's lap soon after that. Shortly before her audition, she was sent footage of the original "GLOW" and she binged on it.

"I really understood why these actresses were drawn to the (original) show," Young said. "Originally it was supposed to be this 'Saturday Night Live' thing where they did sketches and raps and their own commercials, and then there was the wrestling built in."

Young said she was particularly drawn to the character Mt. Fiji, the wrestler on whom Machu Picchu is based.

“I’m a huge, a huge fan of Mt. Fiji,” Young said. “She’s the kindest, sweetest soul. She’ll also tear you apart.”

Tamara Ikenberg

Tamara Ikenberg is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News.