The Netflix wrestling series GLOW has a fantastic cast of diverse individuals but when it comes to being a professional wrestler, there’s only one person on the cast who fits the bill – Kia Stevens.
Stevens is a 16-year veteran in this business, having wrestled for various Japanese promotions, Shimmer, TNA, WWE, and other independent promotions in the United States. Maybe better known to fans as Awesome Kong in TNA and Kharma in WWE, Stevens plays the role of Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson on GLOW, and at the end of last season, she came in to steal the GLOW crown from Liberty Belle.
A fan of the original GLOW show, Stevens once asked Santa Claus to make her a GLOW girl when she was little so her participation in the show means a lot to her.
“My little brother and I used to watch every Saturday. He’d take a break from his usual agenda, ‘torture Kia by chasing her with the plunger,’ and we’d plop down with our faces just over 12 inches away from the screen and sing along with the rap songs,” Stevens told us for this interview.
She remarked how they loved to root against Hollywood and Vine, the characters played by Jeanne Basone and Janet Bowers. “We’d fantasize about what we would do and say to them if we ever came face to face. A kick to the shins maybe? Or even something devious involving a plunger?” Stevens eventually met Basone, who played Hollywood, years later and confessed that she didn’t follow through with the kick to the shin!
Her involvement in GLOW came when a friend of hers who is an agent, Brian Wittenstein, called her to see if she was interested in auditioning. Stevens said that she originally auditioned for the role of Cherry Bang rather than the character of The Welfare Queen she currently portrays.
“So I get the audition scenes just as my husband and I are headed for Aja Kong’s anniversary show and we put my performance to tape which involved some rapping in Tokyo Narita Airport and rolling around on my kitchen floor,” the former TNA champion recounted. But a few weeks later, Wittenstein called her to deliver some good news and some bad news.
“I get a call from Brian saying that they cast someone else for Cherry, however they loved the stuff I did in my audition and wondered if I would be interested in auditioning for a different part,” she continued.
The audition script delivered to her was for Tammé Dawson. “The next thing I know I’m pulling out not just my rattiest t-shirt but also my finest fur…faux of course, for any paint-tossers reading this!” For her t-shirt scene, she cut a promo and kept yelling at her “kids” off camera who she named after ex-boyfriends. “After a few takes I changed them to the names of my niece and nephews since my husband, Dan, was looking at me from behind the camera as if I were some kind of scarlet woman,” Kia joked.
For the scene with the fur, she got in the zone and focused on getting it just right. She felt her husband Dan, who used to wrestle in the Northeast as Freightrain, wasn’t feeding her the lines the way she felt needed. “It got a little tense. If you’ve ever seen the scene in Mommy Dearest where Joan Crawford is going over her audition for Mildred Pierce with her housekeeper, then you’ve got the idea!”
But her second audition was enough to land her the role of Tammé and a few weeks later she got the call to pack her bags and fly west to California.
For Tammé’s character on the show, producers and showrunners Liz Flayhive and Carly Mensch met with Stevens so together they discuss what the character’s journey would be and how her vast knowledge in the world of professional wrestling could help in the development of the character.
Being the only pro wrestler among the cast on the show meant that Stevens had to swap hats sometimes and help out her fellow cast members go through certain moves. But was it difficult for her to swap roles, going from a wrestler to a mentor?
“I saw it as the natural step in a wrestling career to pass on the knowledge that you’ve gained in this adventurous profession,” Kia explains. “Working with Chavo and our stunt director Shauna Duggins, I got to learn all kinds of methods of how to break down wrestling moves for the novice.” It is a skill that Kia says will surely come in handy if she ever decides to open up a professional wrestling school or even become an agent/producer/trainer for a wrestling promotion.
But along with filming a television show or movie comes along the dreaded hair and make-up process, which for some takes more hours than others. “Two-plus hours,” Stevens says. “Tammé is usually the earliest one on the call sheet. My makeup artist Maureen has gotten really good at putting makeup on a slumbering actor!”
After hair and make-up is done, it’s time to get in front of the camera and long hours of filming. “In film, you must capture the performance from all sides. Therefore, we must wrestle multiple times for each camera angle and manage to stay warmed up between camera set-ups and light changes,” Kia says.
And unlike a live wrestling show, each move must be done multiple times so big bumps are kept to a minumum since “no one wants to get powerbombed 20 times in one day!” Kia also noted the camaraderie among the cast, and while they’re always helpful to each other, “it’s amped up by the 100th power on days we do ring work.”
After a big finale in season one, her character Tammé is set to have a bigger role in the upcoming season. “This season you’ll see Tammé struggle to find a balance with the success of the show, the responsibility she bears of portraying any image as an African American and getting the most out of the whole situation while she can. In season two, we will also meet Tammé’s son, who is not that thrilled when he finds out his mother is doing professional wrestling on television, kicking off a personal mother/son storyline.
Outside of GLOW, women’s wrestling has changed for the better since we last saw Kia Stevens in the ring for WWE or Impact Wrestling. She admits that she has not followed either company for awhile, but she knows about the great things that are going on with the women’s evolution.
Earlier this year, the women of the WWE made history with the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble. Kia was not involved and she was not contacted to be part of the history-making match. Asked if she felt she was overlooked, she replied in the negative.
“When you pay to have Ronda Rousey on your show, you don’t have Kharma come out and steal her thunder,” Stevens said. “Plus, if all that happened in one night, what in the HELL do you have to look forward to? Hmmm?”
GLOW returns on Netflix on June 29 with all episodes available for binge watching. The show will be available in 4K HDR as well.