It certainly takes one to know one.
For actress Diane Guerrero, it was a shared experience that allowed her to tap into her own personal experience with depression and trauma, which led to her breakout role of “Crazy Jane”, comics – and now TVs – very own poster child for mental health and representation.
While Doom Patrol, based on the DC Comics series of the same name might be casually referred to by its comic book roots, it’s definitely unlike any typical super-powered group of all-American heroes who go around saving lives. In fact, it’s the complete opposite as the members of the Doom Patrol are super zeros – metahumans who are reluctant to save anything, even themselves.
Whacky, weird and out of this world, Doom Patrol’s mockery of the superhero genre sheds light on real life issues and teaches viewers the importance of mental health and acceptance, which is where Geurrero comes in her portrayal of Jane, the dominant personality of Kay Challis, who has developed 64 different personalities to protect herself.
“I myself have experienced manic depression and different emotions that were either high or low and with very little balance and I just try to think about myself in those moments and let that lead me,” shared Guerrero.
“I got to experience Hammerhead a lot for season one and that emotion of anger is probably one of the easiest to access,” she explained, of one of Challis’ other personalities with an aggressive personality and enhanced strength.
Better known as Maritza Ramos in Orange Is The New Black and Lina in Jane the Virgin, Guerrero’s Jane is a complex and dark character. Jane suffered from childhood sexual abuse, psychiatric violence and dissociative identity disorder and in preparing to portray her character, Guerrero found herself needing to draw parallels from her own experiences. For one thing, her real-life anger is incredibly valid.
In 2016, the mental health advocate and activist for young immigrants released her memoir titled My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope detailing her trauma of being separated from her family, her depression and suicidal ideations.
“I felt like no one was listening because of all the awful things that have come since I released my book. Seeing everything that’s been going on at the border with the family separations, children in cages and all of these awful detention centres that are causing lifelong damage on families and young children made me feel very disillusioned with my decision to talk about this,” said Guerrero.
“But as I see the world opening up, the people around me making similar demands of equality and to see the humanity in people – it’s lit a fire inside me.”
Needing to relive her trauma to portray Jane meant that the 33-year-old actress had to seek therapy again. Guerrero underwent Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy – a therapy designed to alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories – to help her realise that she’s not in actual danger and that no one could hurt her whilst filming.
“Your past trauma is something to look at, to evaluate and to take seriously because it does affect you in so many different ways. It’s not something that you can just say, “Oh, you can get over it.” No, it has to be addressed. Otherwise, it’ll stay with you and, and and you can’t get better,” she stressed. “Just because it happened to you a long time ago, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect you later on. It’s something that always stays with you and essentially shapes who you are.”
In the coming season, Guerrero will continue to channel Jane and her 64 personalities. Whether we will see more of Jane’s other personalities on screen is unclear, but viewers are promised a journey where Jane finds her purpose apart from protecting Kay Challis and her struggles with substance abuse.
However, Jane isn’t the only character with trauma to overcome. Other members in the Doom Patrol team are forced to confront their individual pasts and learn to accept themselves too. Larry Trainor aka Negative Man has to work through his internalised homophobia witnessed throughout the first season. In the seemingly Pride episode titled ‘Danny Patrol’, the hero met genderqueer character Danny the Street and saw a glimpse of what he could be if he accepted himself as a gay man.
Speaking about the queer identity the actress said: “However you look, what your sexual preferences are, does not determine how much bravery you have inside of you, how much heart you have, and what you can give to this world.”
Doom Patrol does not shy away from representation – making it one of Guerrero’s pride and joy of working on the show. Superhero media can lack diversity, and Guerrero’s Jane is possibly one of the few representations of Latinx superheroes we have on screen.
“Representation is important because we have to feel seen and be seen in order to really thrive. I grew up essentially not really seeing myself represented and it affected me negatively. I can imagine what it’s like for people who see even less representation like people who are queer, or transgender,” she reflected.
“I’m really proud of Doom Patrol for representing so many different people and issues. It should reflect stories that we tell, the people who are watching – which is everybody of different colours, shapes and sizes and different creeds. I look forward for Doom Patrol to do more of that,” beamed Guerrero. “Danny the Street is one of my favourite characters and honestly, they have taught me so much about how I want to live and what world I want to live in.”
Guerrero is warm, charismatic and incredibly passionate. To her, validating experiences of those who are often unheard or invisibilized is of great importance. Apart from her memoir, the actress has been protesting in the #BlackLivesMatter movement online and on the ground and is vocal with issues regarding immigration and the pressing dangers of detention centres.
“No matter how you look, no matter your experiences, you are worthy of love, and worthy of friendship and community,” asserted Guerrero.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, for behind all this makeup, is a geek just like you. To simply put it, Superheroes, Harry Potter and Star Wars makes this girly girl swoon.