“It’s a little bit insane that I didn’t quit,” GLOW’s Jackie Tohn marvels about her career's salad days. The actress, musician and comedian plays glam party girl Melanie “Melrose” Rosen on Netflix’s brilliant fictionalization of the 1980s wrestling circuit, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It’s a covetable part on a popular show, which was nominated for 10 Emmys ahead of next week's ceremony (and already won two of those). But Tohn’s certainly earned it, having worked and auditioned as a professional actor for almost three decades. Fortunately, Tohn—who's the Powerfox half of the musical-comedy project Powerfox and Ponymane, and competed on the eighth season of American Idol in 2009—had other passions to see her through when the acting grind got tough.
Being a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling is a dream role for many reasons, a physically imposing superhero who wears glittery spandex and is surrounded by other women (such as Alison Brie's Ruth Wilder) just as fascinating and tough and cool. But GLOW is executive produced by Jenji Kohan, Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch and Tara Herrmann, the creative minds behind other female-forward shows like Weeds, Nurse Jackie and Orange Is the New Black, and these women take the extra step of working with their stars’ hidden passions to make the gig even more of an ideal job.
Season two's “The Good Twin” is a musical, “straight-to-the-airwaves” episode of GLOW’s show-within-a-show, and the celebrated installment puts Tohn’s talents as a musical comedian to very good use. “Filming it was like an absolute dream come true,” she says. “Because I’m a child of the ‘80s, it was all of my childhood fantasies coming true. I’m in the sequin dress, with the Madonna hair and Madonna choreography, singing, using my own real voice. I got to go to the recording studio and record the song. The lyrics are absurd, so there’s comedy on top of it. The idea that I’d be able to do musical comedy on this television show that I already feel so lucky to be a part of—the whole thing was pretty unbelievable.”
And, of course, there’s the wrestling. The physicality of the series intensified in season two, with all of the actors debuting some pretty impressive new moves. Tohn, at a petite 5’4”, even pulled out her first body slam of the show. “It was just amazing to come back for season two and be like, ‘Oh, shit. That’s right. I can wrestle. What?!’ That is just insane,” she laughs. She credits GLOW’s wrestling coach Chavo Guerrero Jr. and stunt coordinators Shauna Duggins and Helena Barrett for doing such an “amazing” job training the cast, but Tohn also pushed herself beyond what she was able to do in the first go-round.
She says that learning to wrestle has changed how she feels about and presents herself, but more importantly, that GLOW itself has changed her. “You show up to GLOW, and you can be all the things that you are," she says. "Weird, and quirky, and too much, and too loud. They welcome all of that. They want all of that from you. And then—on top of all of these things you tried to squash or make smaller or not shine as much, because you don’t want to intimidate or scare anyone by being yourself—you add, on top of that, ‘Oh. I can wrestle.’”
Once I learned how, they wrote it in, because they were like, ‘Oh, wait. Jackie can body slam someone! But it’s got to be someone smaller than her.’
Well, we’re looking, all right. While Tohn’s waiting to hear on a third season of GLOW (“Come on,” she says, speaking for all of us), she’s also put out a five-track EP of anthemic pop rock that you can find under “Powerfox” on iTunes or Spotify. She’s currently performing stand-up, writing a screenplay with writing partner Rachel Forman and has several upcoming roles, in titles like Are We Okay? and Elsewhere (the latter opposite Parker Posey and Jacki Weaver). We’ll be on the lookout.