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Tuesday, August 14 News

Get to know... Staples graduate Britt Baron GLOWs on Netflix

WESTPORT — Britt Baron was baby-sitting the night she got the life-changing call from her agents.

“I kept making them repeat it. It was a total shock. I don’t think I understood at the time,” said Baron of the moment she learned she had landed the role of the runaway teen Justine Biagi on the Netflix original show, “GLOW” (an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).

“I was auditioning so much. To me, this was just another audition I’m going to do my best at. I had one call-back with the producer and I thought it went well. But by no means did I think I’d get a call. I auditioned and went straight to baby-sitting,” Baron said recently via telephone from California.

The show is a reimagining of the 1980s women’s wrestling program of the same name and stars Alison Brie, Marc Maron and Betty Gilpin and was created by Jenji Kohan, the mind behind “Weeds” and “Orange is the New Black.” Baron had finished watching a season of the latter the night before she got the call.

In the first season, Baron’s character went from a reserved, punk-rock obsessed outcast, to a pivotal character who delivers the shock of the season. The show’s second season airs June 29.

Baron was born in White Plains, N.Y., but moved to Westport in the first grade. It was around that time she started performing.

“At a very young age, I loved putting on costumes and pretending to be an old lady, or whatever it was,” Baron said. “But I was really a dancer. My mom was a dancer and at 3 she put me in class.”

Baron danced competitively until middle school. Then, in sixth grade, she acted in a school production of the “Witches” and decided to shift her focus to theater, though she didn’t realize at the time that she might be able to make a career out of it.

Formative years were spent at Staples High School, where she was a member, and eventually student vice president, of the renowned Staples Players.

“That was my whole identity. It’s such a phenomenal program. If I didn’t grow up in Westport, I don’t know if I’d be an actor,” Baron said.

Baron studied acting at the University of Michigan and was approached by an agent after a production in which she played a clown. She moved out to California, booked a play in Burbank and had a series of one-line roles on TV shows like “Chicago P.D.,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,” on which she had a recurring role as Gary Sinise’s daughter. She also had a brief run at Chicago’s esteemed Steppenwolf Theatre before returning to California.

“Before ‘GLOW’ it was a little bit like a snowball effect, where one job would lead to the next. I was just trying to keep momentum up,” Baron said.

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Baron got the news on a Saturday night and by the beginning of the next week had begun the mandatory month-long training for all the wrestlers.

“I still had only been on set a handful of times in my life. I didn’t understand the way things work. Being able to train with the girls at first was such a blessing,” Baron said. “Ali (Brie) and Betty (Gilpin) weren’t treated differently. We were a team. And wrestling training is so intimate and so vulnerable. You’re somersaulting over each other and you’re in each other’s armpits. You become so close with everyone.”

The training was both intense and entirely new to Baron. As a kid, she and her brother were not allowed to watch wrestling. She had never seen the original “GLOW” and, though she learned stage combat in college, hadn’t ever seen most of the wrestling moves she’d need to learn.

“I have such a newfound respect for wrestling, and for “GLOW.” What they went through physically and mentally is insane,” Baron said.

In season one, Baron’s character did not have any wrestling scenes. Baron said she can’t share if Justine will get in the ring during season two. But she did say, now that the questions around her character’s origins have been answered, she’s looking forward to exploring a new side of Justine.

“In most of season one Justine is kind of hiding. She’s trying to act older than she is,” Baron said. “In season two you get to see more of a vulnerable side. You get to see behind the curtain.”

Like other Kohan shows, the show has both been lauded for its portrayal of women of all types in leading roles.

“I think Jenji’s shows have been revolutionary. I think what sets ‘GLOW’ and “Orange is the New Black” apart for me is not just that women are leading the pack, but that it’s all different types of women. I didn’t have that growing up. I watched ‘Gossip Girl’ and the ‘O.C.’ And not to knock those shows, but those actresses are basically models,” Baron said.

“To have shows like ‘GLOW’ with women of different ethnicities, personalities, sizes is incredibly refreshing. I think it’s helping to push the needle forward. I’m so proud to be part of a cast of women who are strong and unapologetic. We’re encouraged to be big and loud and over the top.”

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586

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