Doom Patrol's Elasti-Girl, April Bowlby, on the 'crazy and weird' superhero show

·6-min read

This article contains spoilers for Doom Patrol Season 3.

The Doom Patrol is one of the DC Universe's most offbeat superhero teams, so creating a television series about them may seem like an odd choice. Yet that hasn't stopped Doom Patrol from being a runaway success, with its third season having just debuted yesterday (read a review of the first three episodes here).

The superhero drama series is set in its own continuity (meaning that it's not part of the Arrowverse stable of shows like The Flash and Supergirl). Its most famous member is the technological superhero Cyborg (that same one from Justice League and Teen Titans, although portrayed by a different actor), and its other members include:

  • Jane, a woman with many multiple identities and a different superpower for each one

  • Larry Trainor, a former pilot who is completely bandaged up to prevent an energy being living inside him from poisoning others with radioactivity

  • Cliff Steele, a robot with the human brain of a former race car driver

  • Rita Farr, a former 1950s Hollywood actress with a stretchy and rubbery body who has to focus to keep her human form

April Bowlby plays Rita Farr on Doom Patrol. (Still: HBO)
April Bowlby plays Rita Farr on Doom Patrol. (Photo: HBO)

With elements like talking cockroaches and Danny, the living genderqueer street (yup, you read that right), the series manages to differentiate itself from the copious superhero shows out there, without devolving into incoherency the way the later seasons of Legion did. 

We spoke with April Bowlby, who plays the stretchy Rita Farr, who's called Elasti-Girl in the DC Comics. She talked about her experiences on set and the crazy scripts that they get from the writers.

"I never expect the level of crazy and weird that comes my way", said Bowlby about the scripts they receive. "It always surprises me. In some scripts, I get really nervous, because I don't know how we're going to be able to pull it off."

Given the quirky nature of Doom Patrol, with a concept that's not easily defined and explained, it's understandable how the scripts may be difficult to visualise for both cast and crew.

"But somehow, the costumes arrive and the make-up comes and the characters evolve. And all of a sudden we're shooting it," said the 41-year-old. "My favourite part is when I actually see it, when you guys get to see it. And I had no idea that was what we were doing, I didn't know it was possible."

"So it's always exciting and scary to get a script."

Rita Farr is a former 1950s Hollywood actress with a stretchy and rubbery body in Doom Patrol.
Rita Farr is a former actress with a stretchy and rubbery body.

Besides the magic of production, Bowlby also talked about her character on Doom Patrol, Rita Farr. Before this role, Bowlby had played recurring character Kandi on the comedy Two And A Half Men and model/actress Stacey Barrett on fantasy dramedy Drop Dead Diva.

"To play a superhero is a dream come true. And I also think that Rita is really such a woman in my eyes. And I feel like [with my characters on] Two And A Half Men, Drop Dead Diva, they were girls. I feel like [they] were fun, lovely girl characters that I was playing. But Rita is a woman who has had a really hard life and has punished herself a lot."

"To be able to get an opportunity to play that depth in a character is mind-blowingly exciting. So that's a nice evolution for me and work as an actor, to sink my teeth into this kind of a character. And on top of that, she's a superhero."

To prepare for her role, Bowlby watched many Catherine Hepburn and Betty Davis movies.

"In the beginning, what informed my character the most was this Betty Davis movie called The Star. Betty Davis plays this really narcissistic woman clinging to her former glory. And I was like, oh, that's Rita! That's her."

The upcoming season of Doom Patrol was not an easy one for Bowlby though.

"In Season 3, it was a difficult season, because my storyline departs from the Doom Patrol storyline. So I felt on my own. That's exactly how Rita felt, she felt very on her own. And it kind of seeped into my feelings as well, and I actually had to talk to my partner."

"Am I crazy? Have I been abandoned? Where are my friends? And he was like, 'no it's just the storyline'," she said of their conversations.

April Bowlby plays Rita Farr on Doom Patrol. (Still: HBO)
Rita deals with loneliness in Season 3 of Doom Patrol. (Photo: HBO)

But on the set of Doom Patrol, there are many lighter moments as well — such as many of the cast members being fans of the video game The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild on Nintendo Switch.

"I got into playing Zelda on my Nintendo Switch. And then, as soon as I started bringing that to set, because I became obsessed — Brendan Fraser is apparently a Zelda king! And he cracked the game a thousand times, got a motorcycle," she said. "Then he kind of helped my game, which was very exciting. Riley [Shanahan] is also addicted to Zelda. So we were all playing Zelda together, and that was really fun!"

Both Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan play Cliff Steele in the show — Shanahan plays the robot form of the character, while Fraser voices the character and portrays his human form.

As part of her preparation to play Rita Farr, Bowlby read the Doom Patrol comics. In terms of DC geekery, what was her favourite era from the Doom Patrol comics?

"My favourite is the Grant Morrison [version] because it's so psychedelic and I don't think we could have such an incredible show if we didn't do the Grant Morrison take. It's so wacky and fun and strange. And also the characters that Grant Morrison puts in there are out of this world. So I choose Grant Morrison — he's cool."

The Doom Patrol comics began in 1963 and has had several runs, under different writers, since then. Grant Morrison, who is known for having revitalised the Justice League of America comic by reimagining the team as a pantheon of gods, took over writing duties in 1989.

April Bowlby, Riley Shanahan and Diane Guerrero as Rita Farr, Cliff Steele and Jane in Doom Patrol Season 3. (Photo: HBO Go)
April Bowlby, Riley Shanahan and Diane Guerrero as Rita Farr, Cliff Steele and Crazy Jane in Doom Patrol Season 3. (Photo: HBO Go)

And of course, no interview with an actress who plays a superhero is complete without knowing who her favourite superhero is.

"I like Madam Rouge right now. She's a shapeshifter. So she can shift into anything and take any form, and I think it's really cool. Also, she's Scottish, which I kind of love. And she's got a really bad temper. I'm into that," Bowlby laughed.

Madam Rouge is introduced in the third season of Doom Patrol as a supporting character with inscrutable motives.

The first three episodes of the new season of Doom Patrol are now streaming on HBO GO. New episodes are available every Thursday.

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