Jackie Tohn epitomizes “triple threat” in every sense of the word. The musician, actress, comedian has managed to integrate her many mediums while playing Melrose, the not so nice girl in Netflix’s hit series GLOW, which encompasses the lives of the women in the infamous Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling crew. Most notably, the role of Melrose is the actress’s first recurring role in a series.
Unmistakably, Tohn has made an outstanding stride towards the forefront after playing the
small but noticeable role of a DJ in the Tiny Fey, Amy Poehler comedy film Sisters. Moreover, the actress gives a brilliant performance as Gilda Radner in Sundance’s Futile and Stupid Gesture and is gearing up to release her Powerfox EP this Summer. Her irrefutable talent and creativity tell us that she’s in for a career of longevity.
You’re a musician, comic and an actress— what has it been like for you working various mediums in the industry? What inspires you to create within multiple mediums of artistry?
Working in various mediums of the industry has be deeply gratifying. It has also been just as challenging. When you feel seen for creating something that is truly a part of you, be it a song, a joke, a performance - there is no better feeling. That said, there have definitely been times when producers, casting people, managers - people in a position of power - have said, “so are you a singer? or a comic? or an actor? I don’t get it. It’s hard to sell you because you’re doing too much. Are a singer who acts? An actor who sings?” And I was always thinking, why would I pick one? Can’t I show you all the pieces of me? I aspire to be like the entertainers from the 50’s who did it all.
As far as what inspires me to create in multiple mediums, all I can say is that I’m wired to. I need to sing and write songs and write jokes and perform all the time. It’s just inside me and the need to share it is very real.
What preparations did you do for your role on GLOW? Was any sort of wrestling training involved?
Before Season 1 and season 2, we do 4 weeks of full-on wrestling training. We train with our coach, wrestling legend Chavo Guerrero and our stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins. They keep us safe while we kick each other’s asses. On the first day of training for season one, we didn’t even know how to enter the ring - like do I slide under the bottom rope or bend through the middle ones (ha)- and now we’re body slamming each other. It’s deeply empowering.
What did you contribute of yourself to Melanie? Are there any similarities--any personality traits, or perhaps athleticism / physical traits?
So much of who I am goes into Melrose. My fight. My bite. My sense of humor. My need to be seen. My insecurities. Just like Melrose. She and I both have filthy mouths and love a good joke. Though I will say, Melrose goes way further than I ever would when she feels threatened or minimized (see Season 1, episode 2). She has a vengeful side that doesn’t show up in me. And our writers are incredible at writing dialogue that feels so real and true to the person speaking. They also write to our strengths. So Melrose gets to sing in season two!
GLOW has a stellar ensemble cast, some veterans and some newbies--have you learned any special tips from any of the cast that have informed the way you approach your scenes?
Ali and Betty, our fearless leaders, are always prepared and professional and KIND and ready to work. All the women on the show are. When the bar is that high, you rise to the occasion.
What kind of character development can viewers/fans expect in Season two?
In Season 2, Melrose is up to her same old tricks (planning a sex party, trying to make the girls money selling merch and autographs, etc.) but she is much more a team player than she was in season 1. In Season 1, she was out for herself and didn’t understand the meaning of being part a team. Before GLOW, I had never been part of a team, so Melrose and I are learning a lot of the same lessons at the same time. It’s a trip.
I know you’re probably limited on what you can say about Season 2, but if there’s anything you can tease, please tell us! What can we expect next?
More guts. More glory BABY! Ha. No, I mean, that’s true. The story lines go deeper. The wrestling gets crazier. My leotards get smaller. Which, I know, seems impossible.
How fun is the Eighties fashion on the show?! What’s your favorite aspect of growing up in the Eighties?
Our costume designer Beth Morgan is unreal. It’s always so exciting and sometimes shocking to go into your trailer in the morning and see what’s hanging in the closet for you to wear that day. Seeing how small it is, how little of your body it’s gonna cover and then think, “oh and I have to wrestle in it too!” It’s kind of the best.
One of my fave parts of growing up in the 80s was stationary stores. Just tchotchkes on tchotchkes on tchotchkes. I collected stickers and erasers and pens and wallets and sunglasses and bizarro kitsch mugs. I still have most of it.
Oh and there were things called Human Beans that I loved!
You’ve been pursuing a creative career path since childhood, when did you realize an acting career was something you wanted to pursue and how did your support system initially react to your career decision to pursue acting?
I knew I wanted to be an actor and perform since I was a teeny tiny kid. Like 5 or something. it’s nuts when I think about it. I started acting professionally when I was 9. And I am so so so so lucky because I couldn’t have done any of the things I did without the support of my parents. My mom sacrificed so much to take me on auditions whenever they came up and fly to California with me for jobs. My mom is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and my dad is an insane musician and songwriter so they supported my dream from the beginning. I’m so lucky.
Why do you think GLOW’s unconventional characters resonate with so many people?
Because we’re all the underdog. Every character on GLOW wants to be understood, wants to change their lives for the better, has something to prove, has obstacles to overcome. That resonates with people because all those things are true of people in real life. We all want to feel seen and loved.
What’s a day on the GLOW set like, I feel like it’s gotta be a pretty chill and fun set being surrounded by all these talented and diverse women?
It’s the best. Being part of a sisterhood is new to me. And the whole place is women. Of course some of our amazing crew are men. But our directors writers actors are almost all women. It’s beyond a special place to be.
How do you define success as an artist with multiple mediums?
I define success in a lot of ways. I feel successful when I feel seen. When people are affected by a thing I made or helped make.
Of course I always want to create more and be in more things and do more. I’m always looking forward. But having struggled for so long, I define success as working on a cool thing that I’m proud of.
How do you think the general public receives female comedians? Are you changing or co-existing within this narrative and how so?
I think, in general, the general public receives female comedians with open arms. It’s the business that has needed to catch up. And the tides are turning in the entertainment industry - where executives are seeing that people will tune in or pay money to go see female driven comedies / projects. I think GLOW is adding dialogue to a long overdue conversation about women in Hollywood. It’s such an exciting time.
You were on American Idol Season 8, what was that experience like for you?
American Idol was like a fever dream. In a good way. Can a fever dream be in a “good way”? It was such a crazy experience. 108,000 people auditioned that season and 36 made it to the televised live show. I got eliminated immediately after the live show and it looked and felt like a disappointment. I mean, it was. But looking back, I made it that far out of that many people. That was an enormous success for me and I wish I looked at it more like that at the time. I turned business savvy and I was able to parlay the Idol thing into a life on the road for a couple years following my time on the show.
What motivates you the most in life?
I have always had a sort of internal combustion engine in my sternum. In my gut maybe. It’s hard to explain. I just go go go. I always have. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. Creating motivates me. I love writing and thinking and making and doing.
We loved your performance in the biopic, “A Futile And Stupid Gesture”. How did you prepare for your role as the iconic Gilda?
Playing Gilda was a dream. Of course. She has been one of my comedy heroes since I was a little kid. I, FOR REAL, played the Gilda Radner Greatest Hits of SNL VHS tape regularly as a kid. So when I got the audition for that role, first I cried a little. Then I prepared my butt off. I had been doing impressions of her characters my whole life, Emily Litella, Judy Miller, Lisa Loopner, and Roseanne Roseannadanna so I just had to brush up on them. The crazy thing is that the timeline in the movie preceded Gilda’s time on SNL. So the scenes I read for the audition weren’t any of those characters. The director, David Wain had told casting director / HERO FOR ACTORS, Allison Jones that if the actor wanted, they could do some of Gilda on SNL so the producers could get a vibe but that it wasn’t necessary. So I auditioned with the provided scenes and then did 10 minutes of Gilda impressions. With full costume changes. I was worried I would look a little try-hard but this was one shot and I was gonna give them everything I had.
Who are some people who have inspired you and are there any artists that you feel have really shaped you or trickled into your craft?
I love Joan Rivers and Gilda Radner and Bette Midler. Watching Bette be funny and profound and an incredible actress and sing the way she does made it feel possible for me. Musically, my dad and Patty Griffin and the Indigo Girls shaped the way I write songs and sing them. Comedically, I get my chops from my mom. My mom could have been a comic. She still could! She’s so insightful and quick and has the sharpest wit around.
If you’re able to speak about Elsewhere, tell us a bit about your role in it.
I play a character named Rita who is working three jobs in a small town to make ends meet. Her husband left her and she has a crush on the main character, Bruno, who is mourning the loss of his wife. She is very reasonable and her presence sheds a lot of light on the main character’s instability and questionable decision making.
What do you hope to be remembered as?
I would like to be remembered as a person who loved a lot, loved deeply, laughed a lot and made a lot of people happy. A person who was wired to share her stories and thoughts and talents with as many people who would listen.
It’s important not to get too comfortable as an artist—there has to be something at stake that keeps one growing. What for you is at stake when you act? And what keeps you grounded as your success grows?
I think what keeps me the most grounded is how hard I’ve worked to get here and how quickly it can all be gone. Not to be fatalistic, it’s just the reality of the entertainment business. I know what it feels like when the phone doesn’t ring and people don’t take your calls. I know what it feels like when it’s almost you for a part then it goes another direction. I know deeply what it feels like to wish I was working on an incredible show. And now that I am working on an incredible show, I feel grateful and don’t want it to go away.
Photographer: Storm Santos
Stylist: Wilford Lenov
Makeup: Cici Andersen using Smashbox
Hair: Caitlin Krenz