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Doom Patrol Star April Bowlby Talks Season 2 - Exclusive Interview

There are a lot of superhero shows to choose from right now, but there's nothing else in the comic book media landscape quite like Doom Patrol, the DC Universe streaming series based on the comic of the same name. On some level, it's yet another story about a team of heroes and the challenges they face both separately and together, but Doom Patrol is not content to play by the same comic book rules as its peers. This story of a human brain in a robot body, an irradiated man with a strange spirit living inside of him, a young cyborg determined to be a hero, a movie star turned human blob, and a young woman with 64 different personalities is about much more than saving the world from supervillains. In its first season, Doom Patrol set itself apart as a series about overcoming trauma, figuring out who you truly are, and finding unconventional family in a broken world. 

April Bowlby, who plays the former movie star Rita Farr, has been a part of Doom Patrol since the beginning, which puts her in a prime position to see how things are changing for the cast and the characters they play in the show's second season. In a chat with Looper, Bowlby talked about everything from new characters to the changing cast dynamic to why the series is the perfect thing to watch during these very strange times.

Beginning season 2 of Doom Patrol

How did you approach returning to the character for season 2 after all the changes at the end of season 1?

So, Rita is pretty heartbroken about the betrayal of Chief, as the whole Doom Patrol is. So we're a very broken unit at this point. And I think when we came into the first episode, it actually felt a little heartbroken. The cast, we had arrived in Atlanta and it's this kind of reunion, but then we also were like, "Okay, get back to work." And to have to start on an episode where everyone is so fractured, it actually took us a while to connect as a cast because our characters were so disconnected. And I think that's really how we went into it. It's just taking the reality of what's happening in the script and then using what's around us to inform it. And I think because it had been a while since everyone saw each other, there was this natural disconnect. So I used that a lot. And then also, Rita's hopes and vulnerabilities being exposed and then being betrayed. You just add that in and there you have season two.

Speaking of using what's around you, it's a lot of fun that you basically do the entire season premiere as tiny people. What was that like?

It was so much fun. Because, our set was... Really everything was there. It was like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, actually. You just use what was around you and that informs everything. So, it was great to be a tiny person. The popcorn that they gave us, this giant popcorn, you're like, "Cool, how do I eat this?" And we had the giant pancakes. So everything was a challenge. And I think that translated pretty well. That's where we lived for a while, in this tiny little world with giant, oversized things. So it was really, really fun to do.

New characters and a new dynamic

You also have a new cast member in your ensemble this year with Abigail Shapiro. What did she bring to the ensemble for you?

Abigail is incredibly talented and I can't imagine anyone else playing this role. She changed the dynamic of the Doom Patrol. I think it's a very special season because it's different. She adds so much, her choices were so strong and magical and she made really heartbreaking choices in this season. And Rita gets to see this child, who's a danger, but also completely vulnerable, like herself. And Rita has never been a mother, and so there are these really nice moments where Rita connects to Abby's character, Dorothy Skinner, and tries to mother her a little bit. And there are really beautiful, gentle moments of that aspect. And Abby, just having her there completely changed the dynamics. So now we're all focused on Dorothy Skinner and hating the Chief. And how do we get out of this, once again?

What did having Timothy Dalton around a lot more with the whole group do for the whole cast dynamic this time around?

Oh, it's so much fun. Timothy is such a professional. He is the Most Professional professional I've ever met. It was really fun to see him just work and admire his ability and stamina, because he can shoot 17-hour days, just with us. And he's incredibly talented and he added so much. He's the actor that... He's been working 14 hours, they've shot his coverage and we need a reaction on the other actor and he'll stay. He's like, "You need me here." You're like, "No, you can go." And he's like, "No, I'm going to stay." He's that dedicated and it really shows. So it's kind of hard to hate him as Rita because he's such a lovely human being.

People know about Matt Bomer and Brendan Fraser, but there are two other actors who physically portray those roles on set. What's it like working with them?

There's no way we could do our job without them. It's Matthew Zuk [who] plays Negative Man and Riley Shanahan plays Robotman. And they embody [the characters]. That's who I perform with. That is the person who informs my performance. And they leave their heart on the floor and they're also completely professional. They give their all, and they bring magic to the set. We're very blessed to have them.

What Doom Patrol can offer right now

Doom Patrol is a show that can turn on a dime from serious to funny and back again. Does that ever get easier to walk that tonal line? Do you feel like it got easier this time?

I do think that it got easier because in season one, I think we were all really trying to figure out "How is this possible?" Each script we got, we [would think] "This is impossible." And then they made it happen. And also we were shooting it and we didn't know how it would look, how it would read, what is the tone? We're trying to figure that out and we're doing the best we can. And then to see the show and [realize], "Oh, that's what we're doing. Oh my gosh. Oh, okay. It makes sense now." To have that history and apply it to season two, it does make it much better. You now know more what you're doing and why you're there and what the final product hopefully will be.

No one could have planned for the world to be this way at the time the show came back, but what do you feel like season two has to offer to the world that were unexpectedly in now?

Right, that's a really good question. Well, I think our show focuses on real issues like mental illness and LGBTQ acceptance, and it's through the lens of superheroes. I feel it's that coming together over your differences and applying it to help each other and our show, although quirky, really deals with vulnerability and not being accepted and what is the human condition? And the only way that you can deal with that is to embrace each other. And that will lead to healing each other and sharing the struggle with the world will bring us together. And I feel, to be vulnerable is step one. And what is happening with the world right now is that there's a shift and a transition and we hope to be transitioning into something better, but in order to get through it, you need to break down what isn't working.

And I think our show is definitely that. You can't move forward unless you look at yourself and deal with your past issues, and if you can't be brave enough to look at the past then you can't move forward. And I think we're looking at the past, I think we're admitting — well, we hope that we admit — where we made mistakes so that we can fix it, and you need to be vulnerable. You need to be honest to do that and our show is that stance of finding how vulnerable you can be, how you do that, where are your people, how do you move through this world?

What can you tell us about what the rest of season two will bring for Rita?

Rita is learning how to express herself emotionally, not just with Chief, but also in general. And she's trying to learn how to become a superhero and she's leading missions and she's talking with Cyborg and she's trying to be a good student and she's learning how to use her anger when she gets uncomfortable. Instead of melting, when she gets stressed out, she's actually stretching and she's growing into a better person who can protect people. So that's her journey; just facing that and learning how to grow.

Doom Patrol Season 2 is now streaming on HBO Max and DC Universe. New episodes arrive on Thursdays.