Believe it or not, we had been trying to set up an interview with the awesome April Bowlby of Doom Patrol for over a year and a half. Despite coming close for season one of the twisted, often dark and deep superhero series, it was appropriately for season two, the show’s first on the streaming service HBO Max, that we put it together with Rita Farr’s portrayer. While April Bowlby portrays Elasti-Woman, who is decked out in 1950’s hair, wardrobe and especially voice, Bowlby was incredibly different on the phone, but no less kind, as the growth of Rita Farr in season two is a big part of the reason to check out the series (it’s funny as hell, but super weird, as we see in season two bad guy Dr. Jonathan Tyme). Bowlby walked us through the season and though we picture her stretchy arm right next to us on the phone, this interview was done from across a continent, but feels very close, as Bowlby is a sweetheart.
The following is a condensed and edited version of an upbeat phone interview with the lovely April Bowlby of Doom Patrol.
Brief Take: Hey April! How are you doing?
April Bowlby: Oh my gosh, feelin’ good, we premiere today! [laughs]
BT: The DC Universe Doom Patrol Fan Q&A concluded a few minutes ago, and the fans of this show ask really great questions! How did you enjoy doing that and what was your favourite question?
AB: Oh my gosh, it was so much fun, the fans are amazing. I could have spent hours answering the questions, in fact, I feel like I only got to answer a few, but you know, I really enjoyed, someone asked if Rita had an ice cream flavour, what would it be? [laughs] I enjoyed that a lot, actually, it was great.
BT: Well, what is the answer?
AB: Oh, [laughs] you know that’s almost like a bad joke set-up. In which I’m like: “And…there is no punchline”. [laughs] The answer, I have it written down because I was like: “Oh, this is good, I have to…”, I think it was like: ‘Big Blue Blob Bubblegum’, something like that.
BT: The new season of the series looks incredible. Season 1 was a lot about building the world and Season 2 is a lot about taking control. Is that how it feels to you?
AB: Yes, it does. I feel like in season two, after the betrayal of Chief (Timothy Dalton), Rita finally looks into herself and starts asking the hard questions, and instead of beating herself up this season, she’s allowed this confidence and allowing her emotion to have a voice and she’s allowing her emotion to have a voice, and in embracing and hearing all the bad feelings, she’s sharing her struggle with the world and she’s working harder towards a representation of the human condition.
BT: How do you play Rita as a little more toned down and open in season two as opposed to season one?
AB: That’s a great question. I think I’m, April, is more comfortable playing Rita, and I think that shows. And Rita is more comfortable, but also Rita gets to be more comfortable because she’s been through a lot and there’s very much healing and changing happening. Like, she was pretty stagnant before we met her, in her origin story, she stayed in that house and kind of never left. Now she’s moving her body, moving her brain, connecting with people and healing the traumas that she’s experienced with this ragtag superhero team. Yeah, there is more of a comfortability with her.
BT: What does it mean to have Rita build up her close relationships? Episode three in particular is very moving.
AB: I think that it’s really important for the storylines and for our show. I think that it goes to show that no matter how lonely you are feeling and ostracized or the like, if you are dealing with PTSD or with what each character is dealing, you can’t do it alone. You must come together even if you don’t want to and these circumstances bring you together and when there’s someone you love at stake, you find a way to save them. I think that Rita loves Negative Man (Matt Bomer) very much, she loves Larry, and she has a moment of being able to show that and what she’s willing to sacrifice to save him. And it’s a really disturbing episode but it’s also really beautiful because it shows that relationship.
BT: It was interesting to receive the introduction to Doctor Tyme, a villain who is kind of non-typical.
AB: I know! Doctor Tyme (Brandon Perea) is great because he is a villain, but also like he’s a roller skating villain? With a clock face? Like…what? Yeah, it’s fun and we get into a lot of trouble, [laughs] but with the best intentions, and each episode there’s something blocking our way and each episode we try to move through it, as it comes.
BT: What have been a few of your favourite episodes and scenes to shoot?
AB: Right, well, I love ‘Tyme Patrol’, our Doctor Tyme episode, because it was the first time that I did wire work, because we time travel 25 feet in the air and then they drop you. It’s a fun trust exercise that you have to practice and I did that with the Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) character and Robotman (Brendan Fraser) and it was…I think everyone was scared, but we were playing it off, like “Okay, It’s fine. No worries”. [chuckles] Holding on to each other’s hands, and I remember Robotman’s hand was crushing my hand when we fell from the ceiling. [laughs] And I was like: “Okay, okay!’ That was really my favourite scene because we get to use such odd, strange things in this fun, colourful storyline. Not to mention, I got to take roller skating classes, because there’s many odd, fun things. And I think that’s personally my favourite episode, but for Rita’s journey I think that episode six is really fun. She kind of comes into her own in a completely new level that YOU GUYS WILL NOT EXPECT.
BT: You work on this show with people that you like and trust. What does the offscreen dynamic mean for what is on screen?
AB: It translates absolutely beautifully. I think that our characters on screen are full of depth and life, because as human beings offscreen, we’ve really connected and we rely on each other a lot, because as well, we’re in such incredible circumstances, like how do you play this relationship with a roller-skating evil time doctor? But also make it about the connection with the people and how we were past our issues in life. I think because our relationship as human beings have grown throughout the two years that we have been blessed to work with each other, I think it really shows on screen and that the journeys are intertwined.
BT: The nature of the environment on Doom Patrol informs the series. What do you like best about shooting in and around Atlanta, Georgia?
AB: I love the people. We have such an incredible crew and they work hard to make our show happen. Every day you walk in and I would get lost all the time because you could never find lunch, and every day we would walk into this studio and it was a completely different set than it was the day before. [laughs] It was like: “I don’t know how to get around here!” because the people worked so hard to make it such a magical experience. That’s really what I love most, and the same for when we shot Titans in your hometown of Toronto. It’s amazing how lovely the people are behind-the-scenes and how important they are at making the show come to life. That’s really my favourite.
BT: When we pick up in season two, you’re still fun-sized, and they actually built a full-size version of Robotman’s racetrack. Are you consistently amazed by the sets on your show?
AB: I don’t know how they do it! I am in awe all the time. Like: “Who’s in charge of making the giant pancakes? Why do they taste good? What did they use for syrup? Like how…[giggles] Who made the giant matchstick that holds the tent up?”. The talent and the creativity that goes into these shows is wild. These shows meaning our show, like it really there’s [laughs] only one.
BT: How does your podcast 75reads inform your work in this series?
AB: In having my podcast, it affects my worldview. I think it helps me get out of myself because I think when you’re doing a job like Doom Patrol, we shoot really long hours, it can be very tunnel vision. To have the podcast and have the ability to focus on other work is very important. And the reading list is incredible, it’s David Bowie’s reading list. To learn and to try to take things from another artist, then to fuel my art, I can be full when I show up for Doom Patrol to perform and maybe I got an idea from one of the books, like maybe something is different today about my performance, maybe because of where I have been putting my time and influence, I think it’s important to have that.
BT: How do you play into the different genres of the series, comedy, drama, horror, and how does it affect your worldview to offscreen events?
AB: Doom Patrol is an incredible, unique show. I think because we cover all the genres that it delights me to live in that world because I get to perform across from a robot and what he’s saying is: [chuckles] he’s really voicing the actualization of the human condition, but he’s a robot. I look over to my left and there’s a flying sex ghost. I think that it’s an incredibly deep and informed show because we deal with many issues like PTSD, body image, and subjects like that. I think that it’s the perfect balance. Sometimes it’s hard to talk directly about the human condition and these issues from which we suffer as humans. But to be able to add this otherworldliness to it makes the pill a little bit easier to swallow, and it’s almost more relatable because you do feel like the broken robot, maybe you do feel like the vulnerable, shattered Blob girl. I think that people can really find themselves in this show.
BT: How much of an immersion is there into Rita Farr? How easily do you fall in and out of the character?
AB: Pretty easily now. [laughs] I feel like she comes naturally to me now. I can always learn more about her and I get informed by our script and by the cast performance as well. Sometimes, one of the cast members, in character, will do something completely offensive in Rita’s opinion and the line that I was going to say in a haughty way will instead be more heartbroken. I’m constantly learning about Rita, but I can definitely step more easily into her for season two.
BT: What would you go about doing if you had Rita Farr’s powers in real life?
AB: What would I do? Well, I mean, what wouldn’t I do?! [laughs] I feel like I would love to try and save humanity at this point because we’re in a really intense time and I don’t know how Rita would do that. Emotionally, I just want to wrap my stretchy arms around the world and give it a hug. [chuckles] But at this point, I haven’t come up with anything more than this. But I am searching, still.
Doom Patrol airs on Thursdays at 9pm ET on HBO Max and CTV Sci-Fi Channel