With hit show, Eagle River woman living her Hollywood dreams

Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 13:39
  • Britney Young poses for a photo at the clock tower in Chief Alex Park on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 in Eagle River, Alaska. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Britney Young poses for a photo at the clock tower in Chief Alex Park on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 in Eagle River, Alaska. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Britney Young poses for a photo next to the Welcome to Eagle River sign in Chief Alex Park on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 in Eagle River, Alaska. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Britney Young (No. 22) plays a game of Powder Puff Football in this Star file photo from 2004. (Star archives)
  • Britney Young (Photo by Bobby Quillard/Courtesy)
  • Britney Young (Photo by Bobby Quillard/Courtesy)
  • Britney Young (Photo by Bobby Quillard/Courtesy)
  • Britney Young (Photo by Bobby Quillard/Courtesy)
  • Britney Young, center, poses with her Chugiak High cheerleading teammates in this 2004 Star file photo.
  • Star file photo
  • Photo by Erica Parise/Netflix Britney Young, right, of Eagle River, films a scene in the Netflix series “GLOW” with co-star Alison Brie.

She’s got a hit show on Netflix, but Britney Young is just another kid from Eagle River when she comes home for Christmas.

“I’ll go to Walmart with my dad, and he gets recognized like crazy, not me,” said Young, a 2006 Chugiak High grad whose dad, Fred, is a longtime area basketball coach who used to be the head hoops coach at Eagle River High and now coaches football at East.

Being known as Fred’s Kid for a few days is fine with Young, who stopped by the Star offices two days before Christmas to talk about her life and budding career as a Hollywood star — a description the disarmingly down-home Young would surely bristle at.

“I’m still a small-town girl at heart.”

What might seem cliché for some comes across as perfectly natural from Young, whose friendly nature mirrors that of her character in “GLOW,” the almost-always smiling Carmen Wade.

But while her smile might come easily now, that wasn’t always the case for a young woman who had to struggle with bullying in her hometown before she could return as its biggest star.

BIG SHOCK

Young, 29, was born in Tokyo to American expats. Her mom was raised in Alaska, and the Youngs decided to return to the U.S. in 1997, moving into the same Eagle River home they live in today. The initial culture shock was tough on 9-year-old Britney, who was the oldest of the family’s three kids.

“Japan is a busy place, it’s loud,” she said.

Aside from the infrequent target practice at nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, sleepy Eagle River is not.

“No sound, no bright lights, I think that adjustment was hard,” she recalled.

Young quickly got used to her new hometown, but things got much worse during her adolescent years at Gruening Middle School.

“I’ve been a bigger girl my whole life,” she said. “Elementary school was fine, but when I got to seventh grade it got really bad.”

Young said she was relentlessly bullied for her weight, but at some point realized she wasn’t the one with the problem.

“It’s something about themselves that they don’t like and they’re just taking their aggressions out on you,” she said. “I think I just kind of realized that and it made me think there’s nothing actually wrong with me, this is other people’s opinion. The only opinion that matters is mine.”

By the time she reached Chugiak High, Young had decided to kill her bullies with kindness.

“I think that’s when I started getting confident and just wanted to be friendly and nice to people. Because I was treated so badly, I was like, ‘I don’t want to make anybody feel this way.’ And I think that’s when people started really gravitating to me.”

At Chugiak, Young was a cheerleader, a class president, a homecoming princess, a National Honor Society member…

“I was in just about every activity,” she said.

She came into her own at Chugiak, where she said she made lifelong friends and memories.

“I think I liked that you kind of grow up with the same kids,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of changeover so you really create a family at school.”

BEHIND THE SCENES

After high school, young attended Gonzaga University for two years before transferring to USC, where the got a film degree. She broke into the movie business in 2011 working as a production secretary on the film “Big Miracle,” the Drew Barrymore movie about an Alaska whale rescue filmed partly in Anchorage.

Young always wanted to be an actress, having grown up on American movies from the 1980s while living in Japan.

“John Hughes is my spirit animal,” she joked about the late, great filmmaker, who directed such 80s mainstays as “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

But with $60,000 in student loan debt she knew she needed to try and establish a regular income first.

“I definitely went into production after college because I was like, ‘I don’t think I can live with this amount of student loan waiting tables,’” she recalled.

Starting out behind the scenes was actually a boon for Young, who learned about the business by watching others.

“A goal of mine is still to be a producer and have a production company, so I learned a lot there,” she said.

But in the back of her mind, the acting bug was always creeping.

“Being in production for six years and watching all these people living out the acting dream, I was like, ‘I can’t ignore my feelings forever. I just have to go for it.’”

Young picked up several small roles, including one as a high school volleyball player in the truTV show “Those Who Can’t.” At the time, she was working as an assistant to producer Rachel Bloom when Bloom and co-producer Aline Brosh McKenna decided to cast Young in a role on the popular CW comedy “Crazy Ex Girlfriend.”

With her career now picking up steam, Young decided to audition for “GLOW,” a fictionalized retelling of the 1980s wrestling TV show “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.”

It would be a leap of faith during the audition process that helped Young land her biggest role to date.

Young had just finished a light stunt audition with stunt director Shauna Diggins and wrestling coordinator Chavo Guerrero Jr. (a former pro wrestler) when the former Chugiak cheerleader decided to kick it up a notch. Although she wasn’t on the show’s insurance yet, Young told Diggins to leap into her arms.

“And she runs at me and I catch her,” Young remembered.

That’s when Guerrero chimed in.

“He said, ‘Can you catch me?’ And I caught him,” she said.

She got the part.

WRESTLING WITH SUCCESS

In GLOW, Young plays the shy and sweet Carmen Wade, whose alter ego, “Machu Picchu” is a Peruvian “gentle giant” and fan favorite. In keeping with the show’s send-up of 1980s political incorrectness, several of the wrestlers have over-the-top, stereotypical backstories — such as the black “Welfare Queen,” the middle eastern terrorist “Beirut the Mad Bomber,” and the Asian “Fortune Cookie.”

The plot (spolier alerts) is centered around struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie of “Community” fame), who tries out for the new TV show to try and save her flagging career but ends up battling her ex best friend (Betty Gilpin) for top billing. Comedian Marc Maron stars as director Sam Sylvia, a 70s style sleaze purveyor who casts a motley crew of actresses to star in the new low-budget wrestling show.

In the first few episodes, Young’s character helps the others learn the ropes, since she’s one of the only actresses with any wrestling experience. Later, it’s revealed Carmen comes from the “Lumberjackson” dynasty of professional wrestlers, but that her father and brothers don’t want her in the business. However, the brothers end up relenting when they agree to train the main characters in their backyard ring.

With plotlines that deal with topics like sex, drugs, miscarriage, racism and sexism, “GLOW” routinely tackles tough subject matter in its effort to both parody 1980s culture and mirror today’s.

“One of our girls, Kia Stevens [who plays Tamme Dawson], is actually a professional wrestler,” Young said. “She would tell us stories about how she would go and do these things and people would make her play these stereotypes of black women — especially larger black women — and she would say, ‘OK, I either have to do this or I don’t wrestle today, I don’t get paid.’”

Young said the show’s writers work closely with the cast to make sure everyone is comfortable with the stories before filming.

“Our writers are amazing,” she said. “The things they bring up and the way they bring them up I think is just great because it does get you talking — but at the same time it gets you laughing.”

She said she’s proud of the way the show is able to poke fun at stereotypes and prejudice.

“It kind of gets you to this point where you’re getting the impact of the message but it’s not beating you over the head with it,” she said. “It’s not a PSA for feminism or acceptance.”

The show’s irreverent nature and socially conscious message has been a hit with viewers and critics alike. Season 1 currently has a 94 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an 8 out of 10 rating on imdb.com, and was described by The New York Times as “a high-flying leap off the top rope, a summer treat with spandex armor and a pulsating neon heart” in a rave review.

“GLOW” was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch and is co-produced by “Weeds” and “Orange is the New Black” producer Jenji Kohan and Tara Herrmann.

Young credited the show’s production team and her co-stars for making the set feel like home.

“I feel safe to have a little bit of nervousness or be scared or excited because I know nobody will judge me,” she said.

“There are no egos there.”

There’s even enough room on set for a little hometown fun. Part of Carmen’s back story is that her brothers and father always bring her a t-shirt from their road matches.

“The joke is that they go wrestle places and bring her back t-shirts like, ‘Here, this is the only thing you get,’” Young said.

Before filming the ninth episode of the first season, Young said the show’s costume designer, Beth Morgan, asked if Young had any suggestions.

“I said, ‘Can I do my hometown?’” she said.

Morgan created a shirt that perfectly captured Young’s hometown, complete with majestic mountains and spruce trees. Unfortunately, she misheard Young’s request.

“The day before the episode she said, ‘I’ve got the Eagle Rock shirt!” Young recalled with a laugh.

Morgan was able to fix the typo, and the Eagle River t-shirt made the final cut.

Young said she’s not sure what she would have done if the shirt had said Eagle Rock, Alaska.

“We would have had to do something,” she said.

HOME SWEET HOME

Young is fiercely loyal to her roots, and tries to return home as often as her schedule allows. Part of the reason she likes visiting her parents’ home, she said, are the creature comforts.

“I don’t have cable at home,” in California, she said. “So I come up here and I’m watching all my parents’ channels.”

This year, the cast of GLOW has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble cast. As a SAG member, Young said she’ll be binging on shows in order to prepare to cast an informed vote.

“I want to vote for whoever deserves it,” she said.

Binge-watching runs in the Young family — her dad is “a huge movie” freak and her mom has seen GLOW “at least three times now.”

When the show premiered earlier this year, Young said her mom, dad, brother and sister flew to L.A. to walk the red carpet and watch the first two episodes at the premier.

But that wasn’t nearly enough for the Young family.

“We binged it, the whole family,” she said.

Straight through.

“I remember saying ‘Let’s take a break,’” she said. “And they’re like, ‘No! Let’s finish!”

Young said her father was a bit apprehensive about the show’s risqué factor — especially when it came to his daughter.

“When we went to first do the show they told us there might be nudity — locker rooms, obviously there’s going to be some nudity,” she said. “And my dad told me, ‘Well, I’m not going to tell my friends to watch it if you’re nude.’”

When the first season wrapped and Young remained fully clothed, she called her dad with the news.

“I made it through the whole season — not nude,” she told her dad. “Tell your friends!”

In addition to watching movies with her family, Young said she planned to visit friends and hit up a few favorite restaurants (Pizza Man, Jalapeno’s, Lucky Wishbone) while back in town. She’s currently on hiatus from filming and has two episodes left before completing the 10-episode second season. After that, she said she’ll start looking for more gigs — a process that’s becoming easier as her Hollywood stock rises. She said she attended a recent movie premier where a producer approached her about an upcoming role.

“When people reach out to me to be a part of their project, that is mind blowing to me,” she said.

Young has an upcoming guest starring role in “The Librarians” on TNT, and thinks the momentum built up by “GLOW” in its first season will continue in season two.

“It’s big,” she promised. “There’s a lot of surprises. There’s going to be a lot of laughs, and there’s a lot of tears, too.

“We’re really going for it this season.”

Fans of Young’s wrestling skills will be pleased to note the action-packed show will have even more high-flying hijinks.

“There’s definitely a lot more wrestling, which is fantastic,” she said.

Young has no idea where the future will take her, but she said the trip from Eagle River to Hollywood — and home again — is a reminder of how fortunate she’s been and how far she’s come.

“You know what? If I’m only known for GLOW, I’ll take it,” she said. “Because it’s an amazing project and I’m proud of it.”

And although she’s firmly established herself in Hollywood, Young said she always knows she’s got a place to come home to.

“I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mistakenly referred to the show as “Gorgeous Women of Wrestling.”

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