Betty Gilpin on Being In It For Big Feelings

Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.

Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries. 

To celebrate the release of her book’s paperback edition, we revisit our sit-down with actor Betty Gilpin! We talk about her role in the prescient new Peacock series Mrs. Davis, her relationship to technology and social media, and growing up around actor parents. Then, we discuss her early years studying acting under the legendary Dianne Wiest, and her path from college to off-Broadway theater.

In the back half, we walk through her rapid ascent from Nurse Jackie to GLOW, the ‘seesaw of acting’ she experienced, and the weight of her work. To close, Betty honors the next generation of performers and shares a formative passage from her book, All the Women in My Brain.

Sam Fragoso: In terms of generations, you’ve talked about how this new generation of actors like Florence Pugh, Jodie Comer, and Anya Taylor-Joy has given you some kind of hope for where the entertainment industry is going. Do you still feel that way in 2023?

Betty Gilpin: Totally— sometimes in writing, the feminist overcorrect is to make the female character something I call “sleepy status.” It’s just a person who always has the answer, is better than the person they’re talking to, and is sort of one-note, cool, and sleepy. And now, there is this wave of actresses that’s the antidote to that, where you see a billion different things happening behind their eyes, and their characters are a thousand miles deep and different every time. I find it really inspiring.

SF: In some ways, we keep circling this idea you mentioned of “what is a weight, and what is a window?” Oscillating back and forth between how you hold the work, and how you keep doing it. To me, it reminds me of this great passage from your book, All the Women in My Brain. I thought maybe you would want to read from it as we leave.

BG: Sure. This is towards the end of my book, and I am talking about the guy who I dated, fell in love with, and later married.

The boy whom I would later walk down the aisle toward through crying friends, many of whom were former diapered-and-training-bra-ed alphas whose shine taught me shining doesn’t kill you. Most were people I met the best way you can meet someone, pinching each other in backstage dark, then under the lights making Kryptonite eye contact when someone in row B farts. I walked arm in arm with my parents, the carnie people who raised me to find joy and questions wherever I could, and whenever possible, funny hats. A bow-tied beast trotted behind with the rings, harrumphing in boredom at the bottom of my dress throughout the ceremony. A dress that hours later on the dance floor, the drunk women who built me helped me chop short with kitchen scissors, freeing my legs from the patriarchy, or maybe just so I could kick higher to Prince.

In all my running from myself, it is hard to remember that I also love the thing I’m running from.That I’m in all this for the big feelings. I don’t want them to be muted. Not really. But when I feel them, I feel them all the way, and the ground opens and that’s terrifying.The Salem feelings are less predictable, less controllable. Scarier. The Barbie stuff is smaller but easier, number. Safer. Those lows aren’t as deep and harrowing. But the moments that have felt like my cells explode into liquid sugar and I’m sobbing in a thank-you to the sky have nothing to do with approval or victory. Not from love—from loving.

The end.

SF: Where does that land with you?

BG: I haven’t read that in a long time. It’s an interesting thing…in one’s career, there are so many things that feel like your “congratulations parade” when things are going well, and then you sort of realize that those aren’t the moments you’re going to remember on your deathbed, even though they seem to have a lot of confetti and fanfare. Falling in love and having the friends that I do is that. It’s the reaching out towards someone that I’m going to remember, and not the receiving. To me, that’s the reason for it all.

That’s why I’m grateful for starting in the theater and watching my parents perform. In theater, it’s so much more about the fizz between two people instead of your camera coverage. It’s not self-based. It’s about this intangible thing between two actors, and I’ve carried that feeling into my life. I have to re-learn that lesson when I get high on my narcissism cloud and have to be pulled out of it. I’m certainly not in the epilogue of my life where I have all the lessons learned, but I learned that one over and over again.

SF: So, we’re not in the epilogue.

BG: No. [Laughs] Unless I get hit by a bus today.

Betty Gilpin is an Emmy, Critic’s Choice, and SAG Award–nominated actress and writer whose credits include GLOW, Gaslit, Roar, and Three Women, among others. She has—bravely—fake cried and fake died on your television with many different grasping-at-relevance hair colors. The blonde giveth, and the ginger taketh away. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, Glamour, Lenny Letter, The Hollywood Reporter, and Vanity Fair.

Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.

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