Pop-Culturalist Chats with Marianna Palka
Marianna Palka is not your average actress. Arriving in New York as a young seventeen year-old, this Scottish transplant has kept things in perspective.From her acting role on GLOW as Reggie Walsh to writing-directing-and starring in films like the award-winning Good Dick, Marianna Palka approaches each project with a reverence and mindfulness that allow her to really invest herself into whatever role she is tackling. We were able to chat with her about creating meaningful stories and why acting is her calling.
P-C: What drew you to acting?
Marianna: I really wanted to change the world with what I was doing and [with] storytelling. I wanted to find an avenue for my passions and feelings that were going to escalate as I got older. I managed to find something that was healing and divine. It’s such a devotional thing to be an actor—to listen, to tell the truth—those concepts and feelings. When you’re making a movie, you’re being healed and you’re healing those around you. It’s a really important thing to do.
P-C: You have a background in theater too.
Marianna: Yeah, I did a lot of plays in New York. When I was seventeen, I went to the Atlantic Theater Company, and I did plays there.
P-C: Going from theater to screen work, what was the biggest challenge?
Marianna: I don’t really see any challenges. I feel like it was a gift. It feels a bit angelic, graceful, or a gift to be able to act in anything. So to be able to make a movie was something I felt really profoundly grateful to do that I couldn’t see anything challenging or difficult about it. I think that plays are like movies. They’re stories where we are literally using a character to heal ourselves on a physical level and then healing the audience on a deeper level. There’s something about it [that’s] so cathartic. It’s intense, but I wouldn’t say challenging.
P-C: How did you get involved with GLOW?
Marianna: Actually my grandmother died, and I feel like she got me the job. I was working a lot with manifestation, and I wrote down that I wanted to work with Jenji Kohan like six months before GLOW was even on my radar. My niece and my sister were visiting that summer, and I felt like it was the first time I got to read scenes with my niece. She’s like a little magical fairy from Scotland, and it was really great to feel like we were all in it together.
I felt so much self-belief that I hadn’t felt before. I really believed in it, and I realized that that’s why people want to hire you. They’re not trying to hire the character or, like, your intellect or anything like that. They’re hiring your self-belief and your self-love; if you go in with a great attitude, a lot of grace in you, and you thank them for the work they’ve already done, I think that that will stand you in good stead.
I also made a lot of really big hand gestures and took up a lot of space in the room. For the first time, I wasn’t slouching in my chair and just talking. I was actually standing up and walking around the room—allowing myself to be present.
P-C: How much training went into that role? Did you work on an ensemble bond with everyone before filming?
Marianna: We trained for six weeks. We did work that I’ve never done on a physical level. None of us had wrestled before apart from Kia Stevens who is a real wrestler—her name is Amazing Kong. She was really kind and graceful so we understood that wrestling is really graceful yet badass. You have to maintain a [trust and] devotion to your teammate. That was something that broke all of our hearts, in a way, but also taught us what it means to be alive. It felt a lot like if we all had to do one show before we die, it’s GLOW. It’s about women supporting each other, and it’s not about the guys. I love that about it. I would lie down in traffic for those women in a way I wouldn’t for other people. There’s such a deep level of physical connection when you’re essentially putting your life in danger to do a move. I can’t over-emphasis how beautiful that was to do and what a purpose it gave us all. Some of us were mums, and we hadn’t done anything in a while; some [of us] this was the first thing [we’ve done]. We came from our prisons and could be be freed by this TV show. Therefore, the whole world was freed by watching us be freed. It was really compelling to watch everybody else: all fourteen women on GLOW. Their dreams were coming true while my dream of getting to do it was coming true.
P-C: If you became a GLOW wrestler, what would your persona be?
Marianna: It would be a wrestler that embodies the sexuality of women. I want to empower women.
P-C: Another recent project of yours was the film Bitch, which was at Sundance. What inspired you to write that film?
Marianna: I was trying to invert that word. People use it, and they don’t really know what they’re saying when they use it. The same way when I made Good Dick (the first feature I made was about a woman who had been sexually abused). I read a statistic that one in three women are sexually abused in America as children. I was like, “Ok. Now I have to make a movie called Good Dick about what good dick really is.” So, with Bitch, I wanted to illustrate to men and women that everyone is a human being and you don’t have to name call anyone. The woman in Bitch has no chance to do her dream because her husband never lets her do it. He’s cheating on her and has four kids—so of course she’s going to go in the basement and start acting like a dog and eat dog food because it’s homicidal ideation on a certain level. She’s, like, doing it to herself instead of doing it to other people. She’s lashing out on herself. I read about things like this happening to people. It’s called a “5051” [by police] when that happens. It was something I was compelled to write. So, I was like, “Here’s what it looks like when it happens in your family. To your sister, your mum.” I wanted to make it true to life.
I like to make films hurt in the way that makes people understand [themselves and others] on a human level. I feel like there is stuff you can’t say in your relationships. Theres’ stuff you don’t tell anyone, but that’s what you cry about when you’re watching a movie—when the movie is saying something you’ve said to yourself. I find that really profound as an audience member. That’s why I watch films. I’ve been healed by films, and I want to heal the world with stories and great cinema. I came from a school of filmmakers in Glasgow that made me a better person.
Bitch is coming out this fall when I’m shooting season 2 of GLOW. I just finished shooting another movie called Egg. That movie is awesome. We had a 100% female set. I work very practically and very kindly. So everyone is working with kindness on set. I think fear-based filmmaking is dead, and it’s time to make movies in a relaxed, loving way. That’s also how I feel about my time on the planet.
P-C: For the films you have written, directed, and starred in…you embrace all of those roles obviously, but is there anything difficult about multi-tasking like that?
Marianna: I’m drawn to them all equally, and I like doing them all at once. They inform each other. You don’t need to do them one at a time to make them work.
P-C: Do you have a dream project you want to do in the future?
Marianna: Each movie I have done so far has been my dream project. Very humbly, I feel like I’ve been able to make a dream movie each time I’ve made them.
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
I have hundreds! Right now I am reading Thomas Wolf’s Look Homeward, Angel. I love to read and re-read books. I love Cloud Atlas. House of Leaves. Jane Austen novels. Leaves of Grass. Hemingway.
Guilty pleasure TV show
The Mighty Boosh from Noel Fielding
Artist you could listen to on repeat
Simon Neil, Biffy Clyro
Favorite play or musical
Someone You would like to meet someday
Photo Credit: James Branaman