The new Netflix series GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) is set in 1985 Los Angeles. GLOW follows Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), a struggling out-of-work actress as she auditions for, trains and eventually makes the first-ever women's wrestling TV show. Inspired by the short-lived but beloved show from the 80s, GLOW is a Cinderella story with body slams. Former WWE superstar Alex Riley makes a cameo in episode four playing the character of Steel Horse. Alex now goes by his real name, Kevin Kiley Jr. and I recently had a chance to interview him about his experiences with acting and professional wrestling. Kevin struck me as a very down to Earth, humble kind of guy and GLOW is a kick ass show. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already!
Was GLOW your first stint with Hollywood style acting?
Yes it was. My brother was very involved in theatre his entire life and I always had a very strong interest in it. I would even take classes with my brother. Wresting is a very theatre based sport or profession so after I finished playing football, theatre always helped me stay sharp for the mic work and improvisational work of wrestling. Acting classes are pretty demanding in a lot of different ways. That always helped me with wrestling. I stayed as close to acting as I could and as soon as WWE ended, it (GLOW) was my second audition and I got the role. I was very fortunate to have gotten this role. It was my first time shooting anything in Hollywood and my first time shooting their version of storytelling.
The show has only been out a week or so and it's already getting great reviews. Can we expect a season two and more cameos from you?
I would love to. I didn’t see any of it before it was released. They wouldn’t let any of us see it! I had seen the stuff I did, I had it on tape but I had no other knowledge of what else was going on in the show. When I auditioned for it, all they gave me was that one episode to reference for the role. I recently started watching it and just got up to and past my parts. I didn’t know how important Debbie’s role in the show was or wasn’t, so I was happy with that. The scene where we have a talk kind of motivates her character to take it more seriously. I would certainly say the door is open based on the interactions my character had with Debbie’s character. I had a great experience with Netflix and the people filming, directing and producing GLOW. I would love to go back and do anything I could to become more of a mainstay on the program.
How many days on set was it for you?
For me I believe it was two days. The first day was a half day just to meet people and re-connect with Chavo Guerrero, Jr. who was training the girls. It was awesome; me and Chavo have always had a great relationship. He was one of my first matches in WWE. He actually told a funny story as soon as I walked in. Now, I am not used to walking into a room full of twenty five legit actresses who are being taught how to roll and bump. The only person I knew in the room was Chavo. He was telling the girls stories of our matches in WWE to break the ice for me. It must have been one of my first or second matches up with the WWE traveling team like on the road and I was just blasting his brains out because I was nervous. I kept hitting him in the head and I just didn’t realize how hard I was hitting him because I was getting tired. A lot of people don’t realize that the hardest part about throwing a WWE punch, or at least the part that will tire you out is that you have to throw and then pull back right at the last second. It’s a little more cardio vascular than just hauling back and whacking someone. So, when you get tired, you tend to miss, and then you lay stuff in a little harder than you should. So, I’m on the top rope just beating his brains out and he finally says, “What the bleep bleep bleep are you doing?” and head-butted me. Then he hit his frog splash and we finished the match, but it was funny. (Laughs) He was great to see, he told the story and we all had a laugh about it. The next day was about eight hours. It was me, Joey Ryan and all the guys who were involved in actually performing the in ring wrestling on camera. We had to choreography that stuff and come up with a plan and all that took about eight hours by the time we were all done with it. The second day of filming, start to finish, took about fourteen hours. But, just that part that you saw on TV….the opening match, my stuff and the locker room scene took all day.
Did any of the girls ask you for advice as far as being a pro wrestler?
The girls were awesome. I’m kind of on their turf, so I was really the one that was trying to be respectful and learn and much as possible. There are certain codes in the WWE offices, there are codes in any office and I just didn’t want to be disrespectful to anyone. I was really in awe of them and what they were doing and how much of a commitment it is when a camera is four inches from your face. If you’re not really committed to the moment they’re filming, it looks just terrible. It comes off very, very bad. But yeah, they were all asking. How they should roll, how they should bump, what makes a good heel, what makes a good babyface. They were so engaged in the art of professional wrestling and it was really cool to see. They clearly had a respect for the business. Chavo had them in there every day. (Laughs) The LA weather isn’t as hot as the Tampa weather was when I was in FCW, but they’re in a warehouse with no air conditioning taking bumps for hours and hours and hours. Then when they were done they were practicing lines and it really did remind me of a wrestling camp. It was really cool to see.
Are you going to pursue acting further in the future?
Yeah I’m going to. I always wanted to give it a shot after WWE. I obviously had to close some things up with WWE and figure out a plan going forward. I really was so fortunate that this role came around and that I was aligned with my great manager who actually manages a lot of very well-known actors. I wasn’t even in Hollywood when I booked the role for GLOW. I sent in a tape from Tampa and then when I got the role, I packed everything up and moved out to LA. I figured, why not? I got a foot in the door already and it was something I always wanted to try. I love it now that I’m out here. I’m in an acting studio class and they take it very serious. I’m having fun so I am going to continue pursuing it.
Take me back to the time you spent with the Miz. What was he like and how was it working with John Cena?
It’s one of those things where you want to debut on Monday Night Raw as fast as you can, and then you’re assuming that there is going to be an adjustment period, just like anything else. For example, let’s say you get drafted to the NFL and you’re backing up Brett Favre, things are going great, then he gets hurt and then it’s you in the Super Bowl. (Laughs) I loved the NXT experience which I think aligned me perfectly. They basically said let’s throw him out there and if he’s good or as good as we think he could be, we’ll give him to Mike, The Miz. They had very definite plans for him when I got there. They were going to push him real hard and I think they had already used him on the NXT show and he was an established brand. They gave him to me to see what I could come up with that would help add to his character and further mine. I was really proud of the work that I had done in NXT, the one that was on SYFY. I think they were happy with it as well and then all of a sudden it’s the Brett Favre situation and I’m in the Super Bowl. Once it got going it was just moving so fast in a good way, and it was so adrenaline packed and I was having so much fun that it was just like, grab on and hold on for the ride. I was fortunate to work with good people. Mike was helping me out, Cena was helping me out. It was obviously their angle, but I was there adding what I could to it. So, there wasn’t a lot of pressure on me. I would be driving to the next city with Mike and we would joke around, I’d say hey why don’t we do this or that and he would yes or no them. The great part about him was that even though his character is very egocentric, he never was with me. In meetings with McMahon he would always say Riley should have a mic, Riley should say something, or he’s just going to stand out there and look like he’s got nothing to do. I really appreciated that. We made a good team and it really was a lot of fun. What an opportunity to be in WrestleMania in your first year.
Was the #FreeRiley a work sent down from management or was it a legitimate shoot to get them to notice you? It reminded me a lot of Zack Ryder's approach as well when he was being overlooked.
It was all me. Full disclosure, I had a lot of fun being a broadcaster for WWE. It was a great job. That being said, I didn’t go there to do that. I wanted to wrestle. I believed that I had the physical abilities that could help them in the ring. I was wondering why a Division 1A linebacker, semi pro linebacker is announcing. To put a 250 pound guy behind a desk like that was a very frustrating thing for me to go through. That being said, I was still very much a part of the WWE and I was still very active so that was a lot of fun. But I wanted to contribute more and felt like I should be contributing more compared to some of the people that they were choosing to give opportunities to at the time. I just went for it. I think there was about a year left in my contract at the time and I just kind of started losing it. They did a house show in Virginia and I got asked to be on the show. They were playing right down the street from my house and had me on the card as the “hometown babyface” and I had a really good match with Tyson Kidd. It was a fantastic match and someone had written something up about it and ended it with the hashtag Free Riley. It was really inspiring to me and really motivating. Certain people were fans of mine and were very behind me and there was another type of fan that just wasn’t. When it came to the hardcore wrestling, dirt sheet kind of fan, they more often times than not would push or get behind independent wrestlers, which I was not. So when this guy wrote about the match, he broke it down to a very technical level, and he loved it. I just remember reading that and just thought, I’m going to go with this. I got the #FreeRiley from that. It did ring very true to me so then I started posting pictures of me in a cage and all that stuff. Long story short, I did that on my own. I just kind of saw it like this, there’s so many people that could have filled that announcing role, it wasn’t one that I should have been filling no matter how in tune with the business I was. I always watched and I always thought I spoke very well. That aside, I didn’t think I should have been sitting there at that point in my career.
What was it like being in the ring with Shinsuke Nakamura? Was he any stiffer than anyone else?
The physical part of WWE never bothered me. When I was done playing football I felt like I was moving in slow motion a little bit. I was selling medical equipment and I was making a very good amount of money but I was very bored. I missed the physicality. I was always a fan of professional wrestling and WWE. My father was college roommates with Greg Gagne. So I grew up with Greg and Verne and all those guys. I really wanted to give it a shot. Football went decent so I stuck it out there until I could make the transition, but that part of WWE never bothered me. I welcomed it. Even when I was learning to sell, I felt like even if I don’t know what to do, if you kick me hard enough, I will. Not to be too weird, but there’s a piece of mind you feel when you just get your ass kicked for three hours. Either in a football practice or a wrestling ring, you almost sit there kind of calm. It’s like the scene in Fight Club after he gets the sh## kicked out of him; he’s just sitting there like everything is going to be ok. Everything bothers you a little bit less. (Laughs) So, I would tell the guys obviously don’t knock my teeth out and don’t kill me with a choke hold, but go ahead and put it on. Then I would really sell it and I would actually rather learn to sell that way. So, going in there with Nakamura, he was a hell of a guy. The way that match was structured, I really took a beating. It was 90% him, and he was very aware of that fact and very respectful. I never really cared about that kind of thing because business is business but I like that guy. Creatively he is a genius. To be able to do whatever he does on the way to the ring, almost like that Michael Jackson stuff, and get it over to a wrestling audience is admirable. I’m 250 pounds and he’s still whatever he weighs; he’s never really going to intimidate me. If he catches me, I’ll just catch him back. He laid it in for sure. But I think when I signed up for WWE, after the second or third day when I realized they’re actually kicking each other in the face and I stayed, that’s when I made the decision to never care about it.
What's next for you? Can we expect a WWE return anytime in the near future?
I think maybe one day. I really don’t want to say never. I watch the show and I see a lot of people returning, maybe even some that shouldn’t be coming back. (Laughs) The door’s never closed. I think that’s the greatest thing about McMahon and especially now that Triple H has sort of taken over and the stories I’ve heard about them mending fences. I can’t say enough about that. That’s very cool, I dig that. When you sign up for the WWE and some of these guys give them 20 years, there just aren’t many places that will accept your job application. "My skills are body slamming people." I really think they have an obligation as a company to always have the door open; to give the guys a home. Not put them on TV or anything, but just to take care of them. I think Hunter kind of made that a priority and that’s really cool. That being said, I would go back. There’s nothing I have against them and I’d hope they have nothing against me, but it would be a while. I want to try this out and I want to be an actor very badly. I had a great experience on GLOW. I don’t ever give myself too much credit but I had fun on the show and I don’t think I was bad. So, I want to see what I might be able to make of this. I’m going to stick it out.
An Interview By: Philip Meraglia
You Can Follow Philip On Twitter @phillyb1313