Doom Patrol star Diane Guerrero on what it's like playing a character with 64 personalities
Doom Patrol is a very weird show. The superhero team at the center of it — originally created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani — has been billed as “The World’s Strangest Heroes” since their inception, and the currently ongoing live-action series from the DC Universe streaming platform really doubles down on that. One character woke up from a car accident to find his brain transplanted into a robot body; another is only half-robot. A different character is wrapped in bandages like a mummy and contains a spirit of pure energy that can leave his body at will. But even amidst that menagerie, the weirdest character of all might just be Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), who gets a big spotlight in this week’s episode.
Like many Doom Patrol characters, Jane suffers from real-world problems that have been exaggerated to comic-book extremes. Thanks to her dissociative identity disorder, Jane’s mind contains 64 distinct personalities — and thanks to the absurdist superhero logic of creator Grant Morrison, each personality comes with its own superpower. Not all 64 have shown up in Doom Patrol yet, but the ones that have include: Hammerhead, a quick-to-anger fighter with super strength; Dr. Harrison, a psychiatrist gifted with the power of telepathic persuasion; Silver Tongue, whose words materialize as sharp weapons; Sun Daddy, a gigantic figure with a sun for a head who can shoot fireballs; and several more.
Got all that? You might have trouble keeping them straight, but Guerrero has them all mapped out.
“Right from the beginning, I started working with my acting coach on breaking every personality down through movement, through why she needs them or what their main characteristics are. Once my body gets in that space, then everything else can follow,” Guerrero tells EW. “I have a notebook, and I have basically every personality there. Whenever one pops up in the script, I can reference my notes, and I reference music. I like to think I have a lot of sides to myself that I can easily access at any given moment, like if I feel threatened or if I want something to go a certain way.”
So far, Guerrero says that her two favorite personalities to play have been Dr. Harrison (“I like her power of persuasion and being able to talk to somebody about their own weaknesses and then have her use reverse psychology on them. I like that she’s calm and uses her words”) and the childlike Baby Doll: “It’s interesting when people access their inner little girl or little boy. I remember doing tons of those exercises when I was in school, where you’re trying to dig into your vulnerability. There’s no mask for a child, so all those feelings are real. But also for Baby Doll, it’s scary because it’s a 30-year-old woman acting like a 7-year-old.”
Originally named Kay Challis, Jane suffered a deep and destructive trauma at a young age. It’s been hinted at before, but this week’s episode (titled “Jane Patrol”) indicates that it was physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. In order to survive, Kay developed these other personalities to protect herself. Her mind consists of an intricate architecture known as the “Underground,” where the different personas exist at different levels of a subway system. One of the personalities, Driver 8, is the conductor responsible for operating the mental subway. The other personalities take turns controlling Jane’s body as needed: Hammerhead when she needs to fight someone, Sun Daddy when she needs to destroy something, Dr. Harrison when she needs to persuade people, the teleporting Flit when she needs to get somewhere, and so on. The primary “Jane” personality, the only one without a power, is in control the rest of the time.
This system has kept Jane alive, but sometimes it falters. When “Jane Patrol” opens, Jane has suffered a new setback and lays catatonic at Doom Patrol headquarters. Feeling responsible for her suffering, her teammate Robotman enters her mind and tries to figure out what’s going on; he becomes our guide to the Underground. Robotman is typically portrayed physically by actor Riley Shanahan and voiced by Brendan Fraser, but when he enters Jane’s mindscape in this episode, Fraser portrays him in human form (in similar fashion, some of Jane’s personalities are manifested by different actors within the Underground).
“Her personality split as a defense mechanism, as a survival tactic. Otherwise, someone who has experienced abuse at such an early age and hasn’t been treated for it and has lived their life with that abuse, it’s very hard for them to cope,” Guerrero explains. “I find it interesting to play a character like that because I also deal with mental health issues and suffer from depression and have been there where you’re just so tired of not knowing how to deal with all these emotions at once, so you find little alternatives.”
Guerrero continues, “I think that through community and help and facing your fears and problems, then we are much closer to overcoming those demons. I think the show does that beautifully, to walk you through Jane’s emotions and her ups and downs. One minute she’s very positive and wants to help the team out, and other times she’s debilitated. Because we don’t talk so much about mental health and what that does to people, this character shines a light on that a little bit and I think that’s very special.”
Doom Patrol is overflowing with colorful and chaotic ideas. The most recent episode found the team fighting to save Danny the Street, a sentient genderqueer street block, from being oppressed by the Bureau of Normalcy; an earlier episode saw them tangling with Nazi clones. But even though the details are different, Guerrero thinks the show’s tone has a lot to say about the strange zeitgeist many viewers now find themselves living in, where many things are surreal but not in a fun way.
“We see our headlines from Washington about what our president is saying, or what’s happening in Brunei, and you’re appalled, like ‘I cannot believe this is happening,’” Guerrero says. “Doom Patrol is doing the most, and the wackiest things, but when you’ve been alive in this time, you know it’s actually not so wacky. Awful, strange, and inexplicable things do happen. I think that’s why this show is so centered in reality, even though you’re being teleported from here to Paraguay in a matter of seconds. It’s mirroring what is going on presently.”
But, as seen in the episode “Therapy Patrol” (have you figured out the episode-naming system yet?), the Doom Patrol is learning how to work through their problems — first and foremost, by talking to each other. Guerrero notes that marks an unfortunately big difference from the real world: “They’re dealing with their past at the same time as they’re dealing with their future. That’s the missing part from what we see now. We don’t see people dealing with their s—.”
“Jane Patrol” hits DC Universe this Friday. The first eight episodes of Doom Patrol are streaming there now.