Brie, 34, covers the January issues of Gotham, Capitol File, Los Angeles Confidential and Michigan Avenue magazines, and PEOPLE has your exclusive First Look at the stunning shoot and interview.
Reflecting on her road to Hollywood, Brie, who grew up in South Pasadena, California, says she was “such an annoying little performer from the time I was a small child.”
“But it just sort of demands creativity, I think, being [in] a small town,” she adds.
It paid off: In 2007, she was cast as Trudy Campbell in the hit Mad Men, and two years later, as the bubbly Annie Edison in NBC’s Community. In 2015, both series aired their finale within a couple of weeks of each other — but Brie waited patiently to get back into TV, explaining, “I wanted to look totally different in the next thing I did.”
Enter GLOW (a.k.a. Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), Netflix’s original series about women’s wrestling in 1985 Los Angeles, which premiered in June to rave reviews. But for Brie, the casting process was an uphill battle — the producing team was looking for “someone more unknown” for the lead role of Ruth, an out-of-work actress who throws herself in with a group of misfits, hoping wrestling can be a path to redemption.
“I just beat them down,” says Brie of eventually landing the role. “They tried to make me jump through hoops, and I was happy to jump through those hoops. Give me more hoops!”
In the end, the producers realized they had their star. “They said, ‘You were becoming the character the more you were coming in, the more you were determined to get it,’ ” she recalls.
And of course, the series also gave Brie the opportunity to flex some serious muscle.
“In my adolescence, I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body,” she admits. “But the last six years, I have been working with a personal trainer.”
Inspired by friend and fellow actress Emily Blunt‘s physical transformation ahead of her role in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, Brie says she “set a private goal” to book an action movie — but beyond that, don’t expect her to change her body to “look the way they want me to look.”
Luckily, with GLOW, the producers “didn’t want us to change our bodies at all,” she says.
“They said, ‘We want all shapes and sizes of women to be represented on this show. We love you the way you are,’ ” she adds.
When it came to training for the show’s acrobatics, Brie and her costars focused on strength-building instead of body image, which she says was “incredibly empowering.”
“Being in my mid-30’s, I’m feeling satisfied in life,” she says. “I got married earlier this year. I think there are a lot of [areas] where I figured out what I want. I know who I am and I’m proud of it.”