Returning for Season 2 of Netflix’s ’80s wrestling comedy GLOW, Marc Maron slipped back into B-movie director Sam Sylvia with a level of ease, finding the biggest challenge and the most excitement in bringing the character to new levels of emotional depth.
In GLOW’s second season, Sylvia’s depth demonstrates itself when he is bombarded by challenges from all sides. Attempting to develop a relationship with his teenager daughter Justine (Britt Baron)—who he only meets for the first time in Season 1—Sylvia continues to experience professional conflict, with K-DTV executives and the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling themselves, who demand his attention and respect.
Bringing Maron his first nominations from SAG and the Critics’ Choice Awards, the comedian’s character on GLOW has become particularly interesting to examine in light of the #MeToo movement that has unfolded since the show first aired. Tapping into a washed-up filmmaker’s macho tendencies, his neuroses as well as his redemptive qualities, Maron paints Sylvia in shades of gray that are as compelling on television as they are problematic in real life.
.“This season, you can kind of create a broader emotional universe for this guy,” Maron says, of his character’s evolution. “This is a guy that needed to grow up and never had to, on some level.”
What were your first impressions as the scripts for GLOW’s second season came in?
Well, we didn’t know what was going to happen. The thing about the show is you sort of get delivered the scripts week to week, so it kind of unfolds in real time. It’s exciting like that, in the sense that you get the first couple and it was still hard to know exactly what was going to go on. I was excited that with my character, there were definitely some professional issues and some personal issues that were revealing themselves pretty quickly.
Coming into Season 2, was Sam Sylvia someone you knew well? Was it easy enough slipping back into the character?
Yeah, I was worried about that a little, but once I put those pants and those boots on, and put those glasses on, and I shave off my little soul patch and they do my hair, it comes back to me. You have these moments where it’s sort of like, where does he start and where do I stop?
It’s interesting to look at Sam in the context of what’s transpired this past year with the #MeToo movement. While it’s easy to cast him in the beginning as the misanthropic antagonist who is keeping women down, you come to realize that he’s more complicated than that.
It’s interesting because his reaction to what’s happened is fundamentally male, and fundamentally driven by a certain amount of emotional bravado, but also protectionism. He felt protective, and he felt personally offended because of his own problems with power. Also, he had emotional sort of heart issues with the situation. I mean, it’s complicated in that way.
Can this guy be an assh*le? Yes. Was he a guy that was possibly guilty of transgressing in the way of the casting couch, or showing favor to women professionally for sexual attention? Probably. I think that’s sort of established at the beginning. This guy’s no saint, but he also shows up for these women. I think that it’s a personal thing.
I don’t think, given the climate that we’re living in, that this story is about that kind of stuff happening throughout the history of entertainment and the history of human beings, but this guy dealt with it personally. He was not virtue signaling in the way that people call that out now. He was definitely white knighting old school, you know what I mean? [laughs]
Could you expand on the challenges Sam is confronted with this season?
This is a guy that just kind of burned out his opportunities, and thought the world of himself. He had a few opportunities and he did whatever the hell he wanted, and then the world passed him by. There he is, raging and arrogant and full of swagger, but with no real emotional substance to his life.
I think that this season, he has to take responsibility for a lot of that stuff, because things didn’t work out with GLOW, and he’s at a crossroads. What’s he going to do? This was supposed to be a temporary thing. Now, do I fight for it? Do I not fight for it? Is this my life?
I think at the end of Season 1, he’s sort of set up as a guy that took a lot of blows, personally and creatively and financially. Now he’s entering Season 2 as sort of a humbled person, but still full of ego. I think throughout the season, you see him rise to the occasion, take some hits, sort of share responsibility for stuff, stand up to the bad guys, and become a better man in a lot of ways.
The character dynamics on GLOW are quite unusual. Your relationship with your onscreen daughter is unconventional from the start, and you’re regularly in scenes opposite over a dozen women. Is the series’ ability to surprise part of the fun?
Oh, yeah. The fact that he all of a sudden tries to accept the responsibility of being a father in his 40s with a stranger, it’s sort of interesting. Finding that part of Sam’s character, just locking into that, was exciting and new for me.
I was thinking about it today, because I get that question a lot about working with these 14 women. I’ve never had that experience to even be around that many women since high school or college. In college, you’re kind of a little adult, but there was that sense in high school where you’d see groups of women hanging out by lockers—and I never felt that comfortable then. [laughs] I think some of that carried over first season, where I’m like, “I’m a little nervous. I think I’ll just sit over here.” This season, I think I realized, not unlike Sam, I’m a grown ass man. I can hang out with these women and be part of the team and part of the crew, and not feel like a nervous little high school guy.
In addition to the women onscreen, you have superlative female creatives guiding the show behind the scenes. What’s been most notable about working with them?
It’s weird, the transition for me, in the sense that I’ve not had a lot of experience in these kind of situations, other than my own show, which was admittedly a little light on women behind the camera, and in the writing room—with only one female director, Lynn Shelton, who I got to work with again on this.
Because of the diversity—not just male/female, but on all levels—there was a kind of collaborative feeling that I’ve not experienced before in my life, I don’t think. I think everybody was putting their best foot forward and there were no menacing power dynamics on any level, which is unique, I think, more than anything else. Whether it’s male or female, you get that kind of weird hierarchy. There’s nervousness; there’s executives or whatever that are creating discomfort. There was none of that. Everybody was very open-minded and willing to engage creatively. When there were questions on set, there was a lot of support all around. I think that was the interesting thing, is it did feel like one giant collaborative adventure.
Over the years on your WTF podcast, you’ve reflected on your discomfort with being labeled an ‘actor.’ It seemed like you’ve always identified as a comedian first. Are you beginning to feel more comfortable as an actor?
Yeah, I do feel more comfortable. I certainly felt very comfortable on set first season, because of the work I’d done on my own show, learning on the job. I felt like I was showing up and doing something, and this season, I felt even more comfortable. But I still want to challenge myself. A lot of times on the podcast lately, in the last year or two, I really press actors for some guidance or some tools. Certainly, I think more about it now. Recently, realizing you do wait around a lot on set, to really enjoy the time on camera is important, and I don’t know that I was necessarily doing that with my show as much as I should have, or even first season, because I was kind of like, “You’ve got to do the work. Let’s do the work.” But that’s also the fun of it. It’s important to realize that if you’re doing what you want to be doing and it’s your work, just remember to enjoy it. It’s so rare that you get to be doing what you want to be doing for your job.
Recently, you’ve gone through a major life transition, moving out of your home of many years and leaving your original WTF garage behind. How are you sitting with the situation at the moment?
I’m starting to feel pretty good about it. I’m not really feeling like I made a mistake. I like my new house and I like the new recording situation. I’ve got to get it together. I’ve been working; I’ve been away for a while. The new house is coming together. I’m very comfortable in it—I love this place. I guess I miss the old place, but I really feel like it was time for a change. I’d been there a long time and it was starting to close in on me a little bit somehow.
It’s funny, I’ve been having really good conversations with people lately. I talked to Josh Brolin a couple weeks ago and Mary Steenburgen yesterday in the new space, and it’s working out. It’s working out. I had some kid build me some sound panels, to keep the sound from bouncing around a bit. It’s starting to work out in there.
You portray a director on GLOW, and have directed a bit yourself with Maron. Is directing something you intend to pursue further?
I don’t know. It was something I wanted to do because I could do it, and it was a fairly controlled way to do it. I haven’t really been pursuing it. I like it okay, but it was difficult because I was in every scene of that show. Directing it, it was not the same experience as having some distance. I would like to try to do that, to direct without me being in it. I haven’t been working that angle too hard. I’m more focused on finding a nice, little part in a movie that I want to be in. I haven’t really found it yet, but even if it’s just a few scenes, I just would like to work on a great movie. Just once.