Jackie Tohn
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Warning: This article contains major spoilers from GLOW season 3, episode 6, “Outward Bound.”

It may have taken two and a half seasons, but Melrose (Jackie Tohn) learned some valuable lessons about racism and comedy as GLOW finally took a good, hard look at the racist characters the women use as their wrestling alter egos. Her BFF Jenny’s (Ellen Wong) frustrations with her Fortune Cookie persona came to a head during the previous episode’s Freaky Friday-like show when Melrose used offensive jokes while playing the Asian character. And when all the GLOW women went for a camping weekend outside the city, she tried to make up for it by hosting a Passover Seder for everyone and explaining some of her Jewish customs in episode 6, “Outward Bound.” But that’s when things got real for the usually carefree party girl.

Melrose became frustrated when some of the other women cut her off when she started to talk about how Jewish pain and oppression isn’t just a story about Passover. She broke down while revealing that her aunt Pestel and her eight children died in the Holocaust, and now her dad refuses to live in a house without a basement or attic in case Jews are persecuted again and they need a place to hide. That revelation prompted Jenny to share that while she was lucky to have made it to America, everyone else she knew died in the Cambodian genocide. That’s why she’s even more upset about all the offensive Asian jokes in the show. Melrose, finally understanding her friend in a way she never had before, apologized to Jenny, and everyone got up in a giant group hug as they let out their tears in one of the most emotional moments we’ve seen on this show so far.

Speaking with EW, Tohn reveals that she has an extremely personal connection to that scene. “A lot of our story lines come from our real lives,” she says. “Ellen, who plays Jenny, her parents are actually survivors of the Cambodian genocide. My mom is a first-generation Holocaust survivor. Ellen and I were at a Seder and we were talking about the Cambodian genocide and the Holocaust.”

That conversation inspired Tohn and Wong to approach the GLOW writers and ask to incorporate their different yet similar legacies into the show this season.

“It was just so crazy that a Jew from New York and a Cambodian girl from Canada, you’d never think we’d have that in common,” Tohn says. “Our characters play best friends on the show, and here we are having these intense, crazy conversations about what are very shockingly similar things that our very different families had to endure. And they wrote it right into the show.”

Credit: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

When it came time to film that moment, Tohn reveals that everyone was weeping.

“It was all so real,” she says. “All the girls knew it was real, so everyone was there with us, supporting us, and a lot of the time on GLOW, usually during peoples’ scenes we’re all chatting and joking because we’re all best friends. But you could hear a pin drop when we were shooting these scenes because it was all real life.”

The whole experience of bringing a personal connection to her character like that was “deeply” cathartic, according to the actor. But she actually took things one step further.

“I asked the writers if we could change the name of one of the characters when Melrose says her family was murdered in this concentration camp,” Tohn says. “I called my mom and said, ‘How do you feel about me asking the GLOW writers if we can change the name of the person that Melrose is talking about to your great-aunt’s name who was murdered execution-style with her family in Sosnowiec in 1939?’ And my mom was very moved and crying. Our writers were like, ‘Of course we can do that.’”

That’s why Melrose’s aunt’s name is Pestel. “So when Melrose is crying in that scene, I’m memorializing the name of my actual great-aunt who got murdered,” Tohn says as she starts to cry. “Dude. I’m crying right now. It’s honestly the coolest thing. Who gets to do that on television? What TV show lets actors go deep with her own ancestry? It’s insanity. I feel like I won the lottery. I have chills.”

Tohn hopes that this scene in particular “shines a light” on issues that need to be spoken about. “The atrocities that still go on in our country on a daily basis, people are in camps right now,” she says. “I don’t want to get political, but I hope that people recognize the similarities of what has happened historically time and time again, genocide after genocide, when we start separating ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I think that’s what the Cambodian genocide was about, that’s what the Holocaust was about, that’s what any of this is about.”

She pauses to take a breath, then continues. “It’s really powerful for GLOW because we always seem to be genuinely talking about things that matter. I don’t think our writers are trying to make the show relate to 2019. It just is. History repeats itself and this stuff keeps happening, so it’s really powerful that we get to talk about it. Season 1 we were talking about women being producers and getting equal pay for equal work — these are conversations our writers wanted to have, it just happened to be in the zeitgeist with the casting couch, the #MeToo movement, Time’s Up. GLOW is on the front lines of all of those conversations. It’s like we’re talking about today but it’s set in the ’80s. It’s wild.”

GLOW season 3 is now streaming in full on Netflix.

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