There have been times when Diane Guerrero has looked at other projects, other roles — other careers, even — and wondered why those weren’t for her. “Why wouldn’t they hire me to do that?” she remembers asking herself, “Why can I be popular? Why can’t I be more, you know, like, say, Sally?” And even as she conjures up the whitest girl name she can muster, the Orange is the New Black actress, author and activist can’t help but refocus: “Then I remind myself of who I am. And you can’t be Sally, Diane!”
The slippage into the third person speaks, perhaps, to the way one character she has been tasked with playing has seeped into her own sense of self. In Doom Patrol, Guerrero plays “Crazy Jane,” a young woman who has built an elaborate mental and emotional architecture known as “The Underground” to house her more than sixty distinct personalities (all of them boasting different superpowers). The Colombian-American actress found in this character a rare opportunity to play all sorts of roles — from ‘Jane,’ the troubled primary personality, to Baby Doll, a young little girl as well as Driver 8, the conductor of the Underground subway.
At the heart of Jane’s narrative is a story about overcoming trauma. In fact, Doom Patrol as a show puts self-care front and center. All of the superpowered beings at its center — which include a disfigured Air Force pilot who lives with a negative energy inside him, a NASCAR driver whose brain now inhabits a robotic body and a Hollywood actress who can stretch her body — are forced to grapple with their own past traumas lest they come to define them.
Playing Jane necessarily forced Guerrero to look inward. “It definitely started me on a path of self awareness and self empowerment,” she says. Coming back to season two, she admits, was a struggle. Not only because Jane’s storyline was challenging (facing as she is a revolt from various of her personalities vying for control) but because Guerrero was dealing with her own personal issues.
“I remember walking around set as any given character instead of just me. And that sort of drove me a little nuts. So I was like, ‘You know what? You’re fine. You can absolutely go in and out of character if you just apply yourself and you just get yourself in that moment.’ It’s so intense that even doing that outside of work, or outside of the scene, can be very taxing. But I definitely did need therapy. I understood through this character that I also had a lot of unresolved issues. The character itself made me live in those dark emotions a lot, so I wasn’t necessarily the happiest person on set.”
“I’m now feeling like I have a hold on my life a little bit better,” she adds. “Or a little bit more. And I am feeling hopeful and optimistic.”
In talking about Doom Patrol and its band of misfits who need to look within if they wish to save themselves and the world they know, Guerrero acknowledges she was, like Jane herself again, of two minds: on the one hand, she knows there’s work to be done out in the streets to address the systemic problems facing the United States right now and on the other there’s her position as an artist wanting to promote her work. In the end, though, Guerrero has learned that, in her case, the two can be and should be intimately connected. From her work on Orange is the New Black to her memoir, In the Country We Love, and even her most recent feature, Blast Beat, it’s clear she’s built a career out of keying into urgent storytelling that’s no mere escapism.
The Esteban Arango film, which follows two Colombian teenage brothers adjusting to life in the U.S. after leaving their well-off lives in Bogotá, was a chance for Guerrero to not only work in Spanish and in Colombia for the first time, but also offer a different kind of immigrant story. “I think it speaks to who I am and the work that I’ve done and how I’ve decided to present myself and present my beliefs.” Orange, she says, put her on a path of “wanting to tell stories that had substance and that talked about issues that were difficult to talk about.”
Moreover Blast Beat opened her up to a whole new world. For too long, she says, she was running away from working in Spanish, guided by an idea of success that depended on assimilation and working in English language media. “Diane, no ha pensado hacer una telenovela?” her mom has often asked her, a question that still elicits a chuckle even as Guerrero seems less averse to what it’s actually asking.
Prompted by such candor I wonder what’s ahead or if there are anything she’s working on or looking forward to. Without missing a beat and living up to her last name, Guerrero was unequivocal in her answer: “I’m looking forward to ending white supremacy.”
Doom Patrol‘s second season is now streaming on HBO Max.