Britney Young is proof positive that believing in yourself and following your dreams does pay off! Born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in Eagle River, Alaska, Britney was always curious about the television and film industry. A lifelong fan of cinema, her passion for the arts led her to USC, where she pursued a degree with a concentration in critical studies. Upon graduating she went back to her hometown for a visit and, as fate would have it, she landed her first job as a P.A. on “Big Miracle” and continued to work in production on films and shows including “Savages,” “Joyful Noise,” “Spongebob Squarepants 2,” “The Mentalist” and, most recently, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriends.”
After working for these productions and exploring the world behind the camera, Britney realized her passion for acting continued to burn deep inside of her. While still working for production on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriends,” Britney juggled her job and went after her dream of acting. She became a part of her friend’s web series “Ana Mead,” and it was during this time when she met her manager, began auditioning, and landed her first role on TruTV’s “Those Who Can’t” as Little Debbie. She also got a role at her job and, even though it was only one episode on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriends,” this changed her mentality of pursuing acting full-time.
In 2017, Britney Young has truly taken Hollywood by storm with her role on Netflix’s new hit series, “G.L.O.W.,” where she plays Carmen Wade, aka Machu Picchu. Created by Jenji Kohan (“Orange is the New Black”), “G.L.O.W.” is inspired by the short-lived but beloved show from the ’80s telling the story of Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), an out-of-work, struggling actress in Los Angeles who finds one last chance for stardom when she’s thrust into the glitter and spandex world of women’s wrestling. Her dynamic performance on the series has earned Britney Young legions of dedicated fans, and spotlights her as a actress to watch in the years to come.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Britney Young to discuss the experiences that shaped her as a young actor, her truly unique career path and breakout role as Carmen Wade (Machu Picchu) in Netflix’s critically acclaimed series, G.L.O.W.
How did you get involved with the arts early on in life?
Basically, I grew up overseas in Tokyo. I was really drawn to my dad’s 1980’s movie collection and I was the nerd who stayed inside and watched TV nonstop. I had so many questions and really enjoyed watching people act. In preschool and kindergarten, I was always trying to be the center of attention at all the little recitals and school plays. My parents thought, “Oh, maybe we should get her into theater.” I did a bunch of theater growing up and I really wanted to be the Disney Channel Triple Threat, who sings, dances, and acts, like Raven-Symone. When I got to high school, that dream started to fade because my teenage years got in the way with everything from sports, boys, friends, getting my license and so on. By the time I got to college, I thought, “I’ll get my degree in something I can hopefully use after college!” I’ve always been interested in producing as well, so I went to the USC Film School and when I graduated, I had $60,000 worth of debt. I knew I needed to have a more steady job than what I would have with waiting tables and auditioning, so I went into the production side of things. I spent the last seven years going from project to project as a production secretary, production assistant, post-production, and working in accounting until I finally became a producer’s assistant. It was there when I saw all of the casting tapes coming in for the projects. Seeing those tapes really ignited my fire once again and I thought, “Okay, I need to transition over to doing what I have always wanted to do!” And here we are! [laughs]
I imagine working in different areas in the entertainment business gave you insight into the system. What were your biggest takeaways from the experience?
Yeah! I think we all have this idea in our heads that the best actor is always going to book the part. Being an assistant, I realized that wasn’t true. There are so many great actors who I would see and think, “Oh my God, they are going to book this person. They are so fantastic … ” and then they would go with someone else. It’s all about the full package. For example, “How does this person fit into the story?” “How will these people play off of the characters we already have?” I think that was something that was really eye-opening to me. The one thing I really took away from the experience was to always trust in your instincts. Sometimes tapes of my friends would come in and they would say, “Oh, originally I thought this character was this certain way … ” Then they would go in and have the casting director, manager or agent kind of tweak their performance and then they aren’t happy with it and don’t get the part. I always think to myself, “I would rather not get a role where I made my own choices and did the character as I saw it, rather than not getting a role from someone coming in and completely changing my performance.” I think that was the main thing. Always trust your instincts because you are the one who is going to be doing the work and possibly getting this character, so you have to be comfortable with what you are doing!
Who had a big impact on you as a performer?
I was really drawn to The Brat Pack! I really loved Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald. For the longest time, I really wanted to be the princess in any John Hughes movie! That was until I grew up and realized the basket case is probably the better part! [laughs] Like I said, I think someone who really influenced me was Raven-Symone, especially being a bi-racial girl growing up. It was so great to see someone who looked more similar to me than a lot of the young, white actresses did at the time. I really related to her because of that, and because she was so sassy! I’m pretty sassy and she was so sarcastic and funny, which was something I was really drawn to. I was also really drawn to Shirley Temple. I watched her movies nonstop and, like I said, I wanted to be that triple threat! She could sing, act and dance! She carried these films alongside Academy Award winning actors and was the center of the film. Those were the most inspiring figures to me earlier on.
Which of your early roles had a big impact on you as an actor?
There were definitely two of them. The first one wasn’t even a role that I got. I think I may have been in third grade and the school I went to was a K through 12 school. The high school was putting on a production of “The Sound of Music.” I went in for the role of Gretl, who is the youngest daughter. I remember finding out that I didn’t get the part and I wrote the director a letter. I begged her to please give me another chance because I really wanted the part and asked if she would let me try again. Of course, she kindly responded, “I love your passion but the role has already been cast.” After that, I went and wrote myself the most upsetting letter. My mom still has it to this day and she showed it to me two Christmases ago. I basically wrote myself a letter and said, “You are the worst actress ever. You’re so stupid and nobody likes you!” I really tore myself a new one for not booking this part! [laughs] Now, when I read it back, I just cringe. I’m like, “God, Britney, it was just a part! Calm down!” At the same time, it makes me realize that as much as I was treating myself horribly, it really showed that I was very passionate about doing this job. Now I find comfort in that I am one of those people who did find a passion early on in life and has always been striving to get to that point. To see that I have accomplished some great things in this business really does give me a lot of pride. Another role that I really appreciated was the role that lit a fire under my butt! I was on a web series called “Ana Mead.” My friend, Marquel Skinner, was one of the creators and producers of the series. She also starred as the lead character, Ana Mead. When I started transitioning into acting, I had asked her for advice and she helped me out a lot. She basically called me up and said, “I have this part for you. You don’t even have to audition. It’s yours if you want it!” I was blown away and I took the part. It really brought the light back into my eyes and after that I wanted to be on set all the time. I knew I didn’t want to go back to working a 9 to 5. I think those are two of the early projects that really stand out in my mind as having a tremendous impact.
Your biggest project to date is your role on Netflix’s hit series “G.L.O.W.” as Machu Picchu. You are awesome in this role. Tell us about how you got involved with the series.
Interestingly enough, one day I was sitting in my office and reading Deadline. An article came up announcing “G.L.O.W.” and how Netflix and Jenji Kohan were going to be involved in bringing the show to the screen. I read the article and thought, “I wonder if there might be a part in there for me? Let me email my agent and manager to tell them to keep an eye out.” Life and work got in the way and I never sent that email. A couple days later, I got these sides that were from the “G.L.O.W.” casting office and I was so confused! [laughs] I called up my agent and asked him what it was for and he said, “Oh, you have an audition for a new show on Netflix called ‘G.L.O.W.’” I thought, “Oh my God! It’s fate! I can’t believe this is happening! I have to look at this and see what it’s all about!” I was really, really drawn to the character Carmen Wade. I don’t normally get to play sweet, kind, introverted people, so I was really excited when they said she was a gentle giant. I was like, “Yes! Let me see if I can be a nice person on camera!” [laughs] If you’ve watched the original series, you will remember how they did the raps before each match. They sent us one of the clips of that and we were supposed to prepare a rap. I watched it 25 times that night and was so incredibly addicted! I thought, “What is this insanity?! I have to be a part of it!” I ended up going down a huge YouTube rabbit hole where I watched a bunch of the raps and matches. I was totally into it!
I went in and auditioned with Jen Euston, who was our casting director. This is so cliche and I know people say this all the time but I really thought I tanked. I thought I bombed. I had fun and Jen was fantastic. She helped me with the two scenes and the rap. It was a 40-minute audition, which never happens! I just walked out and thought, “Oh crap! We had to do it so many times, she probably hated it. I did a horrible job.” I called my agent immediately and said, “I’m sorry but that ship has sailed. I’ll get ’em next time!” When he called me later that night, he said, “Hey, check your email.” I was flabbergasted to find that I had a callback for the next day! I went in and it was with our executive producers, Jenji Kohan and Tara Herrmann, and our creators, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. I walked in and Jen introduced me. She said, “Here’s Britney Young!” For some reason, I decided I would make a joke and added, “… And hope to be Carmen!” I didn’t nail it! [laughs] They didn’t smirk. They didn’t laugh or anything. I thought, “OK, I can’t bomb this again, so I have to bring it!” I thought I did fantastic! I walked out of there and was so hopeful. That’s what really messed with my head because I didn’t hear anything for another four weeks! I was just sitting there like, “What is happening?!” I knew they liked me and they told me I was pinned but they weren’t making a decision yet, so I just sat there and waited. I didn’t want to tell a lot of people just in case it didn’t go through.
Finally, they called and asked me to come in for a stunt audition with our stunt coordinator, Shauna Duggins, and our wrestling coordinator, Chavo Guerrero, Jr. I said, “Yeah, sure! I can do that!” I showed up to the audition and Shauna flat out said, “You’re not on our insurance, so we really can’t have you doing too many things.” She had me do some forward rolls, I jumped off a ledge and punched a few punching bags. In my head, I was thinking, “You can not leave this room without picking up one of these people!” I looked at Shauna and said, “Can I pick you up?” She said, “You’re not on our insurance.” I said, “I was a cheerleader in high school and I can do this. Just let me pick you up.” So, she runs at me and I catch her. She was like, “Wow! That was great.” Then, Chavo, little sassy pants, was like, “Do you think you can catch me?” So he ran at me and I caught him too. It wasn’t as easy as Shauna, but I still did it! To be honest, I think that is what truly sealed the deal for me. I walked out and thought, “Okay, cool! This is mine!” I found out that following Monday that I was offered a role and we started training in a week!
What went into training for the series? It looked like you girls were learning this profession from the ground up.
Yeah! We trained, all 14 of us, for a month prior to shooting. When we showed up on the first day, none of us had wrestled before, with the exception of Kia Stevens, who was a professional wrestler in the WWE and TNA. I think that was the best thing the production could have done. It was great for us to learn the sport and get introduced to what we would be doing while shooting, but because all of us came in at the same level, we immediately bonded. It became such a supportive and encouraging atmosphere that, as we progressed, we were hooting, hollering and cheering each other on! It was never a competition and always so encouraging. I really do appreciate that the production did it that way! We basically came in and started very, very small. The first day, Chavo said, “I’m going to teach you how to get into the ring.” Of course, we were all a little bit cocky and said, “We know how to get into the ring!” Let me tell you — NONE of us knew how to get into the ring! [laughs] We tried it and none of us could do it. We stood there in line and each girl went in one at a time because we just didn’t know how to do it properly. From there, we learned how to walk around the ring and do footwork with our partners. We worked on that for the first week and went over and over different techniques and moves when it came to footwork. Slowly, we started learning different moves like the headlock, the hammerlock, barrel rolls, forward rolls and all of that. We continued with that until we were able to get to a point where we could put them into a sequence and create little 30- or 40-second matches. I really appreciated that because, when we would get the scripts, Chavo and Shauna would go through and review then. Alison [Brie] and myself have a little match in episode five and we needed to learn how to do a suplex. Instead of saying, “Okay, Britney and Alison, we’re going to teach you how to do a suplex,” they taught everybody how to do a suplex. That was great because if it was ever written into a script, everybody would be prepared to do it. I thought that was very smart because it kept us all on the same level, nobody was leaps and bounds ahead and we could all be encouraging! Ya know, I’ve never been so sore in my life and I’ve never bought that much epsom salt! I wonder what the guys at CVS thought I was doing with it all because I seriously bought five tubs of it to use after training! [laughs]
You referred to Chavo Guerrero Jr. as “Mr. Sassy Pants.” He’s been in the game for a long time. What was it like working with him and what pearls of wisdom did he bestow upon you?
[laughs] I call him “sassy pants” because that really was our relationship. He’s a Cowboys fan and I’m a Giants fan. We always pick on each other and joke with each other but it’s all out of love and support. It’s interesting because my character, Carmen, also comes from a wrestling dynasty family. He and I talked a lot about how he knew when he was younger that he was going to be a wrestler but wanted to still use his family name but also carve his own path to being just Chavo. That really helped me a lot, especially in episode four where Carmen stands up to her dad and says, “You know what? This is my dream. This is my life and this is what I’m going to do. Don’t worry, I’m still going to keep our family name safe.” He gave me a lot of insight. I think one of the most interesting stories with me and Chavo comes from the series finale. For the finale, we trained for about a month for those fights. I’m the type of person where I need to do baby steps and go through the technique. I can’t do all the added stuff like selling it, pain or wincing. I just need to get the choreography down and the technique down first. It’s just like when I was a cheerleader. I never smiled or did any faces during practice but I hit it during the game! That’s what I tried to explain to Chavo. He was like, “No! You’ve got to do it now.” Finally, when we went to shoot, we did the match and after the first take Chavo came up to me. I looked at him and said, “Am I selling it?” He said, “You are selling the shit out of it!” Just the look on his face let me know I was doing Chavo proud! He knew I could do it and I know what he was trying to get me to do but that’s what I love about him. He tries to tell you how he learned it and how wrestlers learn it, but he also respects the fact of how you learn and he works with that.
There is no question “G.L.O.W.” has terrific writers and awesome base material. What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the original written page?
That’s an interesting question. Like I said, originally her main character breakdown was that she was a gentle giant. What I think I brought to the role is that I kept that feeling of innocence and kindness but also, when the time came, I really turned on the passion, aggression and heat. I think that was something that might not have necessarily been there or maybe I just brought it out and it was like a little light bulb going off like, “Oh, that’s exactly what we wanted.” I know for sure that in the finale match where I won, after the first take Liz and Carly said they never expected me to have the look on my face of “Holy cow, I just won!” They loved it and that’s how I continued to play it with each take. There is definitely a sense of “This is still a very sweet person but watch out because she’s gonna get ya!” [laughs]
I’ve been following you on social media. It’s cool to see you connect with some of the original “G.L.O.W.” girls on which the series is based. What has that experience been like and what is their take on the show?
I did a podcast yesterday with Babe The Farmer’s Daughter, who actually owns G.L.O.W. now, and Little Egypt. They were fantastic! We basically swapped stories and I asked them so many questions! One thing I didn’t know but found out through talking to them was how some of the subtle moments on the show, like where Cherry Bang takes over coaching the girls, were very close to real life. After the first season of the original “G.L.O.W.” series, the new girls were actually coached by the veteran “G.L.O.W.” girls. That was so interesting to hear. I love connecting with them and it’s something I wish I could do more of! I want to honor those who came before me! While our show isn’t an exact replica, we are inspired by the original series and the original girls, but they still went through a lot of similar things. To hear their stories, it really does help you to focus a little bit more when you are shooting. You want to bring that authenticity and truthfulness to each situation and character, so I really appreciate them reaching out to us, letting us pick their brains and telling us about their experiences. They have all said so many positive things about show. For example, Little Egypt was discussing the show yesterday and would say things like, “I remember when we went through that! I remember when we were given our characters!” That makes me feel so great! Our original intent was to make these women proud and they really do seem to be reacting very strongly and positively to the show! That’s fantastic!
You’ve come a long way in your career. When you look back on your body of work, how have you evolved?
Throughout my career, I have been very grateful to play every character that has come my way and every show that I have been a part of. I definitely feel that now I have maybe wiggled out the door of the stereotypical, plus size, or African American roles. I think I started out going for the bullies, the mean girls, the sassy girls or the ghetto girls. I played very much into those stereotypes, which is kind of ironic since “G.L.O.W.” deals with breaking out of those stereotypes. I really am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to play Carmen, who has so many layers to her and I don’t see anything stereotypical about her at all! I definitely grew as an actress on this series and I really owe that to our cast. I’ve never been around a cast that not only includes this many women, but also so many women who are this different. Everyone is so professional, sweet and kind. They are the type of people, who after a take, I could turn to and ask, “Hey, why did you make this choice?” They would tell me why and it gave me the opportunity to rise up to be more on their level. In the past, I don’t think I have sat there and deeply thought about what a character would do or how they would act, as much as I did with Carmen on this show. I owe my growth to all of them. Like I said, it’s really just about trying to come up to their level and I learned so much from that!
As you mentioned, the role you play on “G.L.O.W.” is a meaty role, physically and dramatically. What was the biggest challenge you faced with the project?
This is going to sound so weird but the biggest challenge for me came from the timing. I say that in the sense that I had never cried on camera in a way that was supposed to be authentic. I have comedically cried, but I’ve never cried in a serious moment. It wasn’t in the takes that ended up being included in the show. I actually prefer the way they did it because it makes more sense but there were takes during the confrontation with Carmen and her dad where I really was crying very hard tears. It was very interesting for me because the first day we shot that in the gym was my first real crying scene on camera. Immediately, the next day, I had my first on-screen kiss! It was almost as if the anticipation of having those two things back-to-back had me so hyped but also nervous! I was like, “I have to nail these things! I can’t not nail them or these scenes aren’t going to work!” I think the biggest challenge with those emotional scenes wasn’t the material or what we had to do with it but the timing involved. I wasn’t able to say, “Oh, I just cried my eyes out for three hours over 17 takes. I’ll rest and have a kissing scene later in the week!” It was literally crying my eyes out for three hours, 17 takes and tomorrow I have to kiss a guy! [laughs] That was the biggest challenge for me!
It’s interesting to hear about what you went through with this role. It seems like a wrestling boot camp, which mirrors what the characters on the series are going through.
Exactly! That’s a great way put it! For most of us, it is kind of our first big break. We all have done things here and there but to be on a show for 10 episodes and be in almost every scene and have dialog in those scenes was a lot to adjust to! You’re right! It was very similar to a boot camp!
A lot of people can look to you as an inspiration. You pursued your dream and made it a reality. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think the best lesson has to be to never give up on your true dreams and goals. Always go after it. Even more importantly, go after it in the path that makes the most sense for you. I think many people think, especially with acting, you have to move out to California, wait tables or be a barista and then you will get your big break. That’s not how I did it. I moved out to California, went to school and then worked in production for seven years. Now, here I am! I think that was the best path for me and I am so grateful for that path because I learned so much. It also allowed me to appreciate being on that side of the camera so much more than if I hadn’t been in production. You have to take your own path to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. It doesn’t matter the path you take, as long as you reach your destination!
Thank you so much for your time today, Britney. We loved you on the series and can’t wait to see what you have in store in the years to come!
Thank you, I appreciate your time!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.