How GLOW Inspired Britney Young—A.K.A. Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade—to Follow Her Dreams
“Do you ever get that feeling where you’re in the right place at the right time, and this is where you’re supposed to be? That’s exactly how I felt with GLOW.” Britney Young’s enthusiasm and excitement about Netflix’s lady wrestling show is contagious, though I’m already plenty excited during our interview.
“I just feel ready to fight anybody, it’s great,” I tell her, riding the energy of finishing the first season and still emotional from Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade succeeding in her first big fight, overcoming her stage anxiety and fighting to the cheers of her father. Young, who’s binged the show twice at this point (likely many more times since we’ve talked), shares the sentiment. “I know right? I watched it and I was like, ‘Alright cool, I’m ready to go again.’ It has that weird power over people that I just love.” Like me, she and her mom both cried during Carmen’s fight.
The role of Carmen was a huge deal for Young, who spent many years behind the camera before body-slamming people in front of it. It’s clearly a dream come true for her, and she’s still taking it in. “It’s surreal. I still kind of have to sit there and be like, is this real life? Is this really happening?” she says, when I ask her about how she feels about the positive reactions. “I’m obsessed with the show,” Young gushes, “even if I wasn’t on it and I didn’t know these girls I think I would be just as in love with it as I am now.”
So where did the actress behind the lovable Carmen”Machu Picchu” Wade come from? I was also excited to learn that Young both worked on and appeared in one of my favorite shows, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s assistant. She has nothing but praise for the two, and I’m especially curious about how she made that transition. “When I was growing up I definitely wanted to be an actress, that was my main goal,” she tells me. “I wanted to be Raven-Symoné, I wanted to be on Disney Channel and as I grew up it kind of got pushed to the back burner with sports and boys and all that stuff.”
While Young never lost sight of wanting to work in the entertainment industry, she understandably put acting on hold for a while for reasons many of us know well. “I went to college for film, over at USC and when I graduated I was so excited to kind of transition into acting, but then got my first student loan bill and saw I was 60 thousand dollars in debt. So I panicked, and was like ‘OK I’m not going to try acting right now.'”
It’s quite resonant then, that GLOW takes so much time to look at the audition process and production of a television show. Young shares that she has “a soft spot for self-reflective shows,” citing Singing in the Rain and Newsroom as examples. While some actors prefer to hang out in their trailers when they’re not filming, Young observes everything on set. “I want to be by the cameras, I want to learn, I want to see how it’s all made,” she says, adding that “I do want to produce and have my own production company.”
From there, the GLOW star freelanced as a production secretary, accounting clerk, and other jobs. However, in her time as a showrunner’s assistant she saw countless casting pages, auditions, and decided it was time to pursue what she wanted. “I saw everyone’s audition, I was like, ‘I want to be doing that. Why am I not doing that?'” she says. Young then proceeding to transition to acting with the help of friends, and worked on a web-series that she says “lit a fire under my butt.”
GLOW was a project that Young was particularly excited about. “When I got the first email about the audition and I went in, I kept thinking over in my head ‘Oh my god, I could be this wrestler! I could be on this show!’ And I had to tell myself to not think about it, because I didn’t want to get too attached,” she says. Of course, she did get the job and afterwards she could tell herself “Yes, dream away! I’m thinking of all these things!”
Talking to Young, it feels like she was truly destined to play the role of Carmen. “I think the biggest thing that drew me to her,” she explains, “is when I got the character break-down the first thing that it said was that she was supposed to be this gentle giant.”
In this business when I get break-downs, most of them—I use the word pigeon-hole and type-cast even though I’m very grateful for all the roles I have been—but usually I’m getting roles that are for heavy-set, plus-size girls who are mean. Intimidating. Sassy. Like, you follow these stereotypical ideas of what bigger women in the world are, and to see someone who was—’Yes, we want her to be plus-size. We want her to be this force. But we want her to be a nice, sweet, and kind person.’ That was just mind-boggling for me, because I haven’t seen it before, really.
Anyone who suffers from shyness can relate to Carmen, and getting to see her come out of her shell is a delight. Young’s “dream away!” reminds me of Carmen in some ways and it’s also one of Young’s favorite aspects of the character.
Not only that, she sees herself in the support and friendships that Carmen forms. “One thing I love is that we get to see her grow from this person who is very shy and they’re introverted into someone who starts to believe that ‘Hey, maybe I can do this. And not only can I do this, but I can help these other women to do this as well'” she says, “We see her making friends for the first time and we see her making friends with women for the first time, and that was just so much fun to play up those all those relationships. Because I have relationships like that with women and I want to bring those to the forefront because it’s not just competition. It’s a lot of support and a lot of love, so that’s what I love about Carmen.” Of course, she also loves the 80s and fondly recalls watching her dad’s movie collection growing up (she was born overseas in Japan).
Young’s journey also lines up with what she believes is the big takeaway from GLOW: “It’s okay for you to want good things for yourself and to follow your own dreams,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that you are selfish, or that you’re ignoring the community that helped you get where you are. It just means that you’re bettering that community and you succeeding and achieving what you want to achieve is actually you succeeding for your community, for your gender, for your race…Also, with these stereotypes and gender inequality, I think we need to stop letting other people tell us who we are and where we should fit in and what we should do. We need to be the ones to tell them, ‘Hey, I’m Carmen and this is what I’m about.’ I think we need to stop being scared about doing that and just really do it.”
The diversity of GLOW has gotten a lot of praise and Young, who’s answered many questions about the show’s diversity, gender representation, and feminist bent, attributes it to the show’s authenticity. “If you watch the original GLOW, there are many different women and some of them are in spandex and leotards and some are fully covered and are wearing jumpsuits,” she points out. “This is what happened.”
She gives lots of praise for creators, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, and executive producers Jenji Kohan and Tara Hermann for taking a premise that could have very easily been objectifying or offensive, and adds “in us trying to be authentic to the original material and authentic to the time period as well, it has in turn brought out these feminist undertones and gender equality and diversity, everything like that.”
I really appreciate it, because being a plus-size mixed woman of color in this business that doesn’t really have roles for plus-size mixed women of color–to be able to be on this show and have that celebrated and not be the butt of a joke or be ridiculed was really really a breath of fresh air.
While she wasn’t a huge wrestling fan prior to GLOW (“I kind of thought it was this sport where you hurt people, and I just never understood. Why do I want to watch people get hurt?”), she gained a new appreciation for the sport and the way it helped her get close to her co-stars.
And working with Chavo Guerrero, Jr. who was our wrestling coordinator, he showed me that the intent of the sport is not to get hurt. Really, it is to entertain people and to show what your body can do. Even though it’s considered a single-person sport, it really is a team sport because the faces [good guys] and the heels [bad guys] are working together to make sure that this match is great, that this match is entertaining, but more importantly that they’re safe doing all these moves. So I think once I found that out, I started to appreciate it a lot more and really did become a fan.
The GLOW team went through training with Guerrero and stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins “everyday for about three or four hours” August last year. Kia Stevens who plays Tammé was the only one who had wrestled before, but she had never acted before, which Young says “was really great.” “A lot of things now are really pitting women against each other,” she points out, “but in this instance we all came on the same level. We were all coming in and trying something very new to us and as we progressed it was just such a fulfilling camaraderie between us all.” She paints an image:
You’re doing a match and you see 13 other women on the ropes hooting and hollering and chanting for you, it’s so exhilarating! And I think that we definitely—not only did we bond, but we got a better understanding of each other in each match. We could tell, ‘Oh, this person is a little bit more aggressive, they’re a little bit more kind, a little bit more gentle.’
You got to learn parts of each other’s personalities that I don’t think we would have elsewhere if we hadn’t started with this training. And especially, you get really close and very intimate very fast. We started off apologizing to each other, ‘I’m so sorry, I smell! I’m so sorry I have sweaty pits!’ Now, we just go in there and we just do it. It’s almost one of those things, ‘oh you’re sweating, you worked that hard! Let’s do it one more time.’
Young calls it a “wrestler’s mentality” that they get into, and invite the viewers to embody as well. She describes it as “a gentle aggression where you want to be strong and fierce, but at the same time take care of yourself and take care of your partner.” If you felt ready to form a team of wrestlers and take on the world after watching GLOW, you’re not alone. Young was surprised and thrilled to see men react positively (and non-grossly) to a show about women fighting in spandex. She also says it was gratifying how many women felt empowered, saying that “They might not physically be wrestlers, but they now have that wrestler mentality that we all got while shooting this show.”
That camaraderie carried over in other ways as well, not only to audiences who fell in love with these characters but for Young herself. When we talk about the resonance that 2017 audiences felt towards this very specific group of 80s women, our conversation turns to the political.
Unfortunately, especially as women, we’re still dealing with these gender equality issues. We’re still dealing with these diversity issues. So I think that’s another thing where it’s like ‘I understand what they’re saying, now let’s try to get this dialogue going and try and push past and break down all these stereotypes.” So that’s why I also think it’s believable, because unfortunately, our world is still a little messed up.
Young then goes into how the 13 women of GLOW inspired her to be more active in the current extreme political climate. While the actress has always been passionate about activism, mainly in combatting homelessness and hunger, she confesses, “I was never that person because in my head I just didn’t think if I went out there it would do any good. And meeting these 13 women who just have so many different opinions and so many different ways that they can change the world they just really inspired me.”
The actress recalls the Women’s March, and how she was panicked and wasn’t sure if she could go. When she messaged their group chat, she says, “I got so many responses and just so much support and encouragement. And if these 13 women can do this for me, I need to do this for the rest of the women in the world.” Inspired, she got more and more involved with supporting Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
I’ve used Planned Parenthood many times, and I think it’s this weird stereotype thinking ‘Oh, Planned Parenthood supports abortion, that’s what everyone’s going there for,’ which is false. That’s not what everyone’s going there for, that’s not what I went here for and they still helped me and they still got me to where I needed to be safely.
So that’s why I want to support them. I know that—especially a lot of younger women and a lot of younger couples who are scared to talk about things like sex or hygiene or abortions—because there’s not a lot of people open to it and Planned Parenthood is a place where you can go and talk about that and we need that in our society right now so that people aren’t going down a path that they shouldn’t be.
As for the ACLU, Young opens up about being mixed and hearing comments directed at her, her brother, sisters, and parents. “I know what it’s like for people to think, ‘Your brother’s probably gonna end up in jail because, you know, a lot of African American men do,'” she says. “I really wanted to help ACLU because I feel that people of all creeds and backgrounds need the same exact justice regardless of where they come from. Unfortunately, 300 years into our country’s birth we still are trying to fight to get equal rights among everyone and it needs to start really happening.”
So, what’s next for Carmen? Netflix just announced a new season of GLOW, which we could not be more excited about.
— Britney Young (@ItsBritneyYoung) August 10, 2017
What does Young want to see?
I definitely want to see her continue to grow. She really started standing up for herself and coming out of her shell, but one thing I think we kind of have this misnomer in television and entertainment as a whole is that we always think that a character’s story is done. And I don’t think Carmen’s is done, especially getting over her anxieties and her insecurities.
I’m hoping that the show as a whole, I’d really love to see—if you’re going off of what the original GLOW was—these women really did become famous and they were all of a sudden celebrities and on talk shows and doing tours and autographs. I’d love to see how our GLOW girls kind of deal with all that, especially Carmen because what made her anxious in the first place was being the center of attention. I think she’s really going to start to grow and get all these fans.
Also, more fights.
I’d love to see a Lumberjacksons/Machu Picchu fight. Fingers crossed, I hope the writers are listening.
I mean, I really have an interesting thought in my head about how a Beat-Down Biddies/Melrose fight would go. For some reason I just really want to see the Beat-Down Biddies to tell Melrose to stop her partying ways, and to see Melrose just open a can of whoop-ass on them.
I would like to see, we did it a bit in the finale, where we kind of had a huge free-for-all. The original series, they had several of those and it was last woman standing win. I would love to see one of that, just completely envisioned and to see who would win that one. I think it would be a lot of fun.
What are you looking forward to in season 2 of GLOW?
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