April Bowlby may have the poise, style, and glamour of a 1940s movie star, but she got her big break in very modern comedies like Two and a Half Men and Drop Dead Diva. Bowlby is currently bringing her comedy chops to DC Universe's Doom Patrol as Elasti-Woman, AKA actress turned superhero Rita Farr. Bowlby sat down to chat with us this week, and to answer some questions from our Community members. Here she talks about the perils of acting with food, channeling Katherine Hepburn, and being very, very displeased with butts with teeth...
What did you geek out over when you were growing up? What brought out your inner fan?
My Little Pony. [Laughs.] I love My Little Pony so much, and I was obsessed with She-Ra and He-Man. I loved She-Ra. I wanted to be She-Ra so much.
Yeah, exactly. Those classics. [Laughs.] Yeah, those were my obsessions growing up. Because you got to play, you got to make believe...and a princess of power? What little girl doesn’t want to be a princess of power?! [Laughs.] Yeah, those were the things. I never was introduced to comic books. I always felt a little bit outside of it, and then this beautiful gift came to me. First Titans and now Doom Patrol, and it was my way into the world, which has been so lovely and educational, and I feel very blessed to be a part of it.
Since Rita isn’t as well-known as Batman, Wonder Woman, or Superman, was it a welcome opportunity to craft her screen persona out of whole cloth?
Yes! That’s what’s so special too -- that it is what I make it, and I’m very honored that I get to be the first one to portray her in live-action. I feel extremely blessed. It gives you so much freedom because it’s never been done. There’s no archetype.
And no weight of expectation?
Exactly. There is no right or wrong, which frees you up to make bold decisions, which has also helped the writers craft the storyline. They get to explore too -- who is this character? WHAT is it? I think we found out together, which was a dream.
Our Community member @Eddypoe asks, "Do you ever look at the material and wonder how in the world you are going to pull it off?"
Yes, every episode. Every episode I read, I’m like, "How are we going to do this?" Then I read it again, and I read it again, and then ideas come, luckily from our writers. At first glance, you’re like, "There’s no way this can happen." Then there’s so much heart and strength weaved into these fantastical situations that somehow it works. So I think it’s just starting from the truth, and then you get to play in the world. Like, "Yeah, I’m going to throw out my giant arm and save this child," because it’s always rooted in a bigger human condition. So when you read it, you’re like, "Why is this cockroach talking to her? What is happening?" But then you’re like, "Oh, because there’s a good and an evil, and it breaks down that way." So every script is like, "I don’t know how we’re going to do this," and then I see it on DC Universe, and I think, "Oh my God, we did it. They did it!" Every episode, I’m like, "How did they do this?" So yeah, I still don’t know how it happens.
"Since you seem to pull it off so effortlessly and maintain that Rita Farr poise while doing so," Community member @manifest asks, "if acting with food props so often is the untold nightmare it appears to be."
Oh, yes and no. Here’s the thing... You’ve got to skip lunch, and you really have to commit. Everyone is so nice. The props department especially. They’re like, "Can you eat this? What do you want instead?" So they make sure that it’s something delicious, and they do make it delicious. But after the fifth, sixth, seventh take, it gets a little nightmarish. [Laughs.]
@Nathan.Payson asks, "What is it like to play a giant goo monster before special effects are added?"
It is the best thing to play a giant goo monster, because "giant goo monster" is also very fun to say. [Laughs.] It’s great because, when I’m a full blob, I actually am not even in there. And when Rita's leg blobs out, it’s kind of fun, because you just change your body position, and you’re walking a little differently, and you’re conscious of that. I think that helps with the performance a lot. Then they just do their magic with the CG.
@Nathan.Payson also asks, "What scene was the weirdest to film?"
Our whole show is so weird that it’s hard to choose one. I will tell you, you haven’t seen this scene yet. It’s in episode 15, there’s a confrontation moment that Rita has with a specific character, and that was extremely strange. But you’ll see in episode 15.
@DeSade-acolyte asks, "What are a couple of your favorite acting choices/intentions/motivations in creating the specificity and subtlety of Rita?"
I think her voice is very important, the cadence in which she speaks -- which I took from the movies of the '40s and '50s, the mid-Atlantic rhythm, like Katharine Hepburn -- and finding the voice. Then everything she says can be kind of sarcastic and a little funny. But she’s grounded, so it doesn’t go over the top. I love her wardrobe. I think she’s always got a drink in hand, which I think adds to behavior a lot. Her nails are very long, like how they were in the '50s, very manicured. That really helps with behavior, because she extends herself more elegantly than I would in my own life. So these are the little things that come together... She wears a wig. So even that, the fact that it’s not my real hair, that it's a wig that’s being put on, it’s almost like... I believe women in the '50s would do the wig, and then they’d be ready to walk out on their veranda with a scarf around them. [Laughs.] So it’s those little things that add such functionality in the choices.
@turborip.51190 says, "You are straight-up perfect as a 40s/50s movie starlet! Did you research much of that era to perfect Rita’s character?"
That's so sweet. That’s a very nice compliment... The research that I did do was just watching films from the '50s. So Sunset Boulevard was a really big one, with Gloria Swanson as the narcissistic actress. The Star with Bette Davis, brilliant -- these women losing themselves in their work, and what defines importance in their lives, and it’s the shallow thing that always makes it fall apart. So that’s mostly what I researched -- and the cadence in To Catch A Thief. Just how people would stand up straight and present themselves to the world. I think that is just wrapped all around Rita, because she must put herself together to present to the world. So it was mostly watching these amazing movies that were made in the '50s.
@YoYoFroYo asks, "What was the conversation like when the director told you that all of you would have to be running away from an army of butts? How did shooting that scene play out?"
Oh my gosh. It was so much fun. It was ridiculous, because we didn’t know what the butts looked like. So our writer Shoshana [Sachi] pulled up the drawing of the butt. It was terrifying because you’re like, "I don’t want to see a butt with teeth. That’s insane." So she was like, "Just so you know, this is what you’re running away from". Then once we had that visual in our head, it became a really ridiculously fun scene. Because you see the butts are coming, and you’re like, "What?!" It’s actually quite terrifying. I did not like the butts. [Laughs.]
One last question... If it was up to you, is there a particular direction you’d like to see Rita take in a potential second season?
Rita is stepping outside of herself, and she’s letting the fear that drives her fade away. I think she’s still propelled by fear, but it’s in a different way. Now she’s really getting the team together, and she’s going to find Niles. I am curious what will happen when she finds Niles -- IF they find Niles. I mean, I don’t know where she’s going to go... I would love for her to be a leader, but I just don’t know if that’s in her. She still is who she is, and I think she wants a family, but I don’t know if she necessarily wants to lead the family. I would love for Beast Boy to come into the picture. That’s in the comic books, where she is kind of Beast Boy’s mother figure.
We saw a little of that in Titans as well.
A little, yeah. But I’m like, "Come over to Doom Patrol!" Where’s my son? Where is he? Let me be a mother, you know? [Laughs.]