Pro wrestling may be fake — in the best, most performance-art meaning of the word — but it’s “real-fake” on “GLOW,” the acclaimed Netflix series set in the world of 1980s women’s wrestling.
“All the girls are doing their own stunts,” says Oceanside born-and-bred Jackie Tohn, who plays mischievous Melanie “Melrose” Rosen on the comedy-drama, loosely based on the real-life syndicated TV show “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.” It features an ensemble cast including Alison Brie as Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder, Betty Gilpin as Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan, Britney Young as Carmen “Machu Pichu” Wade, and others. “The only time a stunt person would come in would be if a girl did it four or five times and they needed to get another angle. At that point, we’re not built to do the stunt [so many times over] and it would be a stuntwoman.”
Training with the cast “for all of August of last year,” Tohn learned, “There’s a way you can throw yourself and look like you’re banging your head on the floor by whipping your head back. But you’re actually hitting part of your arm. Every time you’re throwing your elbow into someone’s face, you’re at the same time slamming your foot on the mat, because that noise is so loud it’s, like, ‘Boom!’ ”
The third child and only daughter of retired physical-education teachers Bella and Alan, Tohn has been acting since she was about 10, with background work as an extra on the PBS kid-sleuth series “Ghostwriter.” The actress, 36, was still a student at Boardman Middle School when she got her first significant gig, playing Tiffany, second cousin of Fran Fine (Fran Drescher), on a 1994 episode of “The Nanny.” Her performance impressed the producers enough that they flew her out a second time to play a sort of mini-Fran named Francine in a 1996 episode.
Still in her midteens, she went on to do commercials, some stand-up, an MTV pilot called “Show Me the Movie” and a Fox pilot, “Prudy and Judy,” starring her and Laura Bell Bundy (“Hart of Dixie”). “It was about two girls from different sides of the tracks,” she remembers. “My [character’s] dad was an exterminator, her parents were crazy wealthy, and we were teenagers making a public-access cable show. So I would liken it to ‘iCarly,’ ” the Nickelodeon show about two teen girls and their webcast.
After Oceanside High, a brief stint at the University of Delaware and an episode each of “The Sopranos” and “Strangers With Candy,” the guitar- and ukulele-playing Tohn moved to Los Angeles. She continued acting and pursued a music career. That led to the singing competition “American Idol” — she was one of 36 semifinalists in 2009’s Season 8 — and the Bravo singer-songwriter competition “Platinum Hit” two years later.
But it’s as an actress where she’s hitting her stride, guesting in high-profile shows such as “House of Lies” and “Castle,” plus two appearances on the NBC afterlife comedy “The Good Place.” Tohn also landed the plum role of Gilda Radner in Netflix’s upcoming film “A Futile and Stupid Gesture,” about the halcyon days of National Lampoon. And then she got to “GLOW.”
It was a long time coming. “I kept just pounding the pavement in my late teens and early 20s and, obviously, to this day. I was like a carny,” she says, her voice becoming soft and introspectively. “I was just taking the show from city to city, office after office, and I was like, ‘You buyin’ what I’m sellin’? Huh? Huh?’ until it was exhausting. And then, eventually, someone did.”