Betty Gilpin narrates the audiobook for her debut collection of essays, All the Women in My Brain: And Other Concerns, but she wouldn’t be caught dead listening to it. “I can’t do it,” she says over Zoom. “What if I’m in a horrific car accident and I’m found upside down on the 101 and my own audiobook is just playing, echoing out into the highway, and that’s the headline for, you know, Lamps.com that reports on my death?”
Interviewing Gilpin is not that much different than reading her book, out Tuesday from Flatiron Books, which feels like a transcript of her internal monologue, complete with the same sly barbs and self-deprecating jabs. In All the Women in my Brain’s opening pages, Gilpin assures readers that she hasn’t written a typical actor memoir. “I don’t have any delusions that the octogenarian auctioneers who have seen my Off-Broadway theatre canon are clamoring for my childhood timeline,” she writes. “Nor do I think the gentlemen who send me eight-by-ten printouts of my own breasts to sign are petitioning for my book—I’m not aware that they know I can read.”
Though Gilpin is a three-time Emmy nominee for her work in beloved but abruptly canceled Netflix series GLOW, and has starred in movies alongside Chris Pratt and Hilary Swank, she didn’t want readers to feel like they needed to know who she was to enjoy the book. “There are so many things about being an actress that are a pretty perfect allegory for just being a woman in the world, feeling like you have to cycle through selves to give whoever’s in front of you the girl that they want and feeling like you have to audition for the job you already have,” says Gilpin, who will next be seen in Showtime’s adaptation of the Lisa Taddeo novel Three Women. “I think that a ceramicist in Dayton could see themselves in that.”
Even so, her essays—about being raised by working actor parents, her drug-filled boarding school days, and her attempts to tamp down the dark thoughts and feelings that roil in her head—are deeply personal. So is her withering commentary about Hollywood, where she toiled for years before landing a recurring role on Nurse Jackie—only to be introduced to viewers in flagrante delicto on a hospital gurney.
Gilpin also writes revealingly about her marriage to Cosmo Pfeil and shares, for the first time, details about becoming a mother, to daughter Mary Babe, during the pandemic. The morning that we speak, she’s decamped from her family’s rental in Venice, CA—they live in New York when she’s not in Los Angeles for work—for a hotel in Burbank. She hopes to catch up on sleep while filming Mrs. Fletcher, a secretive new series from Watchmen creator Damon Lindelof and Young Sheldon writer Tara Hernandez, in which she stars as a nun battling a powerful artificial intelligence. Taking time for self-care is something Gilpin learned while working on GLOW. “Internally, I’m Eeyore smoking a Marlboro Red, and that’s just always going to be kind of the baseline,” she says. “So why not take some fish oil and get some sun also?”
Vanity Fair: You published several essays before writing All The Women in My Brain. When did you realize you had enough for a book?
Betty Gilpin: I had maybe five essays published. The word published feels so parchment-y, so Harvard-y, and my version of “publish” is I sat at my computer and sent an email. But at the beginning of the pandemic I had, through my acting agent, a writing agent, and she sort of suggested, “Why don’t you sit down and write a book of essays?” I was pretty nervous. Anytime my brain is aware of math or a result, creativity shuts down. And I was really worried about starting a book knowing that it was for a result by this date. But I think that the post-baby hormones were the perfect antidote. My daughter really upstaged any neuroses that I had. There’s that point postpartum where it just feels like there’s constant swelling classical music and magical butterflies in the room and you could move a Mack Truck by blinking—you’re just this sobbing superhero. I wrote the book during that time. Then the hormones, God, they change. [Laughs].