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There is no shortage of comic book television shows that are gonzo crazy, but Doom Patrol continually sets itself apart. Yes, the HBO Max series features flying butts and giant apocalyptic cockroaches, but the humanity behind each character shines through and is always the most important thing on the screen.
Season 3 of the series brought in Michelle Gomez as Madam Rouge, (Doctor Who, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), as well as the Sisterhood of Dada. All of our heroes spiraled out in different ways, and that’s usually how growth happens on this series. No character had more growth in Season 3 than unexpected time traveler Rita Farr, played by April Bowlby.
The old school actress (who sometimes turns into a stretchy blob) has had plenty of show-stopping moments in seasons past (“My bees!”) but now she is letting go of her shame and her need to prove herself. She is becoming a leader, and it is Bowby’s heart and spirit that makes her journey a triumph.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Bowlby ahead of the S3 finale to talk about Rita’s arc, working with Gomez, and what secrets the finale might hold. Piffle paffle.
***WARNING: Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 3. If you’re not caught up with the series, then blow away in some dada fog***
SYFY WIRE: Rita seemed to think in previous seasons, and at the beginning of this one, that if she wasn't world renowned for something, then she was a failure. Halfway through this season, that changed. What do you think replaced that drive within her?
Bowlby: I think that what replaced the drive was that Rita fell in love. I think that kind of cracked her heart open and woke her up. Especially with her time traveling incident of forgetting the shame of what kind of drove her to meet that love, “love” I put in quotation marks, of the world to see her as a world renowned dot dot dot, fill in the blank. When she fell in love, like real love, she had real love in her life. And that shame went away. She became a different person, sadly, when that love was taken away from her… she became another person who was bent on revenge. But I think that is the thing; love made her stronger.
Would you say that Season 3 is the biggest showcase that both Rita and yourself have had on the show?
Yes. Oh my goodness. Season 3, I feel like was, “don't mind if I do.” I feel like it was Rita's season. I feel like she grew the most. I feel like she was so separated from Doom Patrol most of the season in the Dada world that I think that allowed her to really kind of shine, and go through the growth that was needed for her to become the leader for this season. And really step up to the plate.
Niles [Timothy Dalton] has departed for now, but in came the chaotic energy that is Michelle Gomez, who you have a lot of scenes with. How did her energy affect your performance?
Oh my God. She is a force. She is, as I'm sure you could tell by watching the show, she just… one thing is for certain, you must come prepared when you're working with Michelle Gomez, because she has, I don't know where it comes from. She's got a whole bag, a Mary Poppins bag of energy and doings and skills, and can just turn you in circles.
So it brought a lot of life. And I think that it was absolutely necessary for our show to have that kind of energy walk in and kind of throw everyone off, throw them back off their heels. So it was an absolute pleasure, and exciting. And I loved doing scenes with her because you just never knew what she was going to do.
That's part of the fun of watching her, but while watching you think that none of you know what she's going to do either.
No, we have no idea.
You keep Rita so honest and so human, and all of these very emotional moments are happening in the middle of a show where people get literally eaten by butts. How do you keep yourself grounded when all of that's happening around you?
Oh, that's amazing. You're absolutely right on butts flying around. I think that's the great thing about our show is that the writing is so good and connected to the human condition and the relationships around us and the butts flying are just, they happen to be zombie butts flying. That's a circumstance, but the real relationships are so deep and connected that if you're in touch with that, then it's going to be pretty effortless because the characters are so driven in the real human condition.
Our writers are incredible, so that makes it possible. If the relationships weren't as deep as they are, then I think I would be very distracted by the butts.
In terms of the weirdness, have you ever read something in a Doom Patrol script and thought that someone was pranking you?
Every episode, every episode. And I honestly, every episode I'm like, how are they going to do this? And then… I’ll ask one of the cast members, I'm like, does this, did I read this right? Is this a zombie butt? Is this a giant robot? How does that work? Is this our season finale, there's a giant sack of balls? Did I misread this, what's happening? No. And they make it work. So that's a testament to everyone behind the scenes.
In terms of the season finale, do you have any teases as to what fans can expect? There's a lot going on.
There's so much going on. I think, well, I did say we have a hairy sack of balls coming our way. Very exciting. I think there is a giant robot. There is a part towards the end where Rita has an incredible speech where she genuinely wants to know why they can't be superheroes, why can't they write their own story? And this is the moment for everyone to really step up because we've been through so much and we've faced our subconscious and we've grown and changed so much that there's only one place to go, and it's up. It's becoming superheroes, and we save a town and that's really important and big for her.
That's amazing that moment will come from her, especially after all of the Dada questioning of “why are you” throughout the season.
It will be answered. Excellent. Yeah.
Are there any real actresses that you based Rita’s persona on?
Oh yeah. Betty Davis is in this movie called The Star. So definitely that, some Katherine Hepburn in there and just, I watched all sorts of lovely old movies and kind of that helped. There's a great Twilight Zone episode that I watched, it kind of had the same tone of our show. Those informed me.
If Rita had been able to deliver her two lines in the play in Season 2 [“My bees!”] she would have been amazing, right?
Yeah. It would've been amazing. She would've had her moment. Theater is theater. There are no small parts. She would have been great.
The rehearsal scene in Season 2 was heartbreaking, you poured out all this truth and it morphed into "my bees" and you're thinking everyone's going to clap, but nobody cares.
Right? Exactly. Nobody cares. It's so heartbreaking. It's what our show does so well, those awkward really cringe moments, and the character and the audience suffer for it. But then we move through and we find a way to heal it. But yeah, that was brutal. I remember watching it and I was embarrassed for her. I was like, oh no, honey, stop.
What might be on your own personal wishlist for Rita when it comes to Season 4?
Now that she's kind of faced her own worst nightmare, like falling in love and then losing the love of her life and she's come through it, I think there's going to be a nice strength and stability in her that I would really like to see come through in Season 4, but I'm sure there will be many things to throw her off of that path. I think that's what I would like to see for Rita.
The Season 3 finale of Doom Patrol streams on HBO Max on November 12th.
This article was edited for length and clarity.