For Marianna Palka, creative expression comes in many forms. She’s an actress, director, writer, and producer.With her latest projects, Palka uses every ounce of drive and talent she’s got to bring her work to audiences worldwide.
On GLOW, Palka plays Reggie Walsh, an Olympic hopeful who gets the opportunity to show off her athletic skill in a much smaller arena: the wrestling ring. Often quiet and contemplative, Palka’s Reggie offers audiences a glimpse into the other side of the sport, one that’s not steeped in glitz, glamour, and the kind of sparkly stuff that’s so synonymous with Eighties style wrestling.
“She’s got such an incredible personality. I think she’s an introvert and I think she’s really very clear about what she wants to be and everyone is kind of bubbly and has a lot going on and very funny and has, like, very big personalities. And she’s just really kind of chill and on the side,” Palka says of her character, who’s been dubbed “Vicki the Viking” on the show for her Nordic features.
GLOW’s slate of strong and empowered female characters has struck a chord with audiences. It’s gained high praise from critics and fans alike for the diversity of its cast, its broad depictions of women, and the way it dismantles stereotypes.
“My mom put it really well. She said that what has happened with GLOW is really putting the empowered female archetype in the mainstream. Because we’ve seen the empowered female archetype; we’ve seen that before. We just haven’t seen it in the mainstream in terms of, like, Netflix for example. Yes, we’ve seen these amazing women on Netflix but it’s just like on another level now,” Palka says.
For Palka, that sense of female strength and empowerment also exists off camera, and she credits the show’s behind the scenes crew for giving her and the rest of the cast a chance to be exactly what they are: women.
“The other girls talk about how they’ve been on sets before, especially male-driven sets where it’s male gaze all the way and it feels weird, you know? It’s only guys, guys, guys and that is over. That’s already over, that experience of being a woman and being completely taken advantage of is over,” Palka explains.
Like so many of GLOW’s viewers, Palka feels that the show lends itself to a deeper understanding of women’s wrestling as a whole. There’s a seize-the-day element to the show and to wrestling that allows audiences the opportunity to see women fighting for their chance to finally be seen, heard, and understood. “I felt like wrestling’s way more intimate and way more empowering and way more fun than I thought it was going to be. It’s a riot. It’s just like, you’ve got to go and get it. You’ve got to grab it by its teeth and you have to be present for it the way that it’s present for you. It’s a really great life lesson,” she says.
As an actress and filmmaker herself, Palka is passionate about female-centric storytelling. She recently wrote, directed, and produced a film called Bitch which follows the story of a woman so tormented by social and familial pressures that she adopts dog-like behaviors. The story itself has roots in a real case handled by Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, and the film’s concept was born out of a fascination with these kinds of occurrences in human behavior. “It just fascinates me. All that stuff is really interesting and I really wanted to make it,” Palka says of the film.
At the urging of her good friend Bryce Dallas Howard, Palka retreated to Lake Tahoe for a few days to write the script. The result was what Palka calls a “humanist film” that has a message for everyone: “There’s so much to be said about reaching out and being like, ‘Let’s talk about this movie.’ Like, let’s open the dialogue. I’m sure you know people who this has happened to or there’s things that have happened to you or your family that are super similar.”
You can catch Marianna on GLOW which is currently streaming on Netflix. Bitch is slated for international release under Dark Sky Films later this year.
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.