The following contains spoilers for Doom Patrol season 2.
Coming into the sophomore season of a critically lauded show like Doom Patrol is no easy feat, yet newcomer Abigail Shapiro is currently winning rave reviews for her portrayal of Dorothy Spinner. The daughter of the crew’s leader, Niles Caulder a.k.a. The Chief, Dorothy is arguably the most powerful member of the strange superhero team as well as being an immortal stuck in the body of an 11-year-old girl. It’s an infinitely challenging role, which was exactly what drew the young actor to it. “She has this incredibly complex mind and has suffered through all of this trauma yet is still so innocent and childlike,” Shapiro says.
Though you might not have heard of Shapiro yet, she’s a Broadway actor with an impressive catalog of on-stage performances. The Florida-born thespian got her first starring role playing Cindy Lou Who at Madison Square Garden as part of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. Doom Patrol is her first TV role and it’s a massive one, as she is the beating heart at the center of the sophomore season of the critically acclaimed show. But after braving the masses of MSG, Shapiro seems calm about leading a prestige superhero series.
Like basically everyone else who isn’t a diehard DC fan, Shapiro wasn’t familiar with the Doom Patrol before she self-taped her audition. Once she got the unusual role–after just one callback–Shapiro began to dig into the source material and found a lot to love. “I first read the Grant Morrison comics and I was amazed by them. I was like, ‘It’s so weird, but it’s so good!’ And the artwork [predominantly by Richard Case] in the Morrison comics is amazing. And I don’t normally read comics, so it gave me a whole new appreciation for them. Now I’m going to try to start getting into that world a little more because I really enjoyed reading the comics.”
Morrison’s run was a key research tool for Shapiro as it was the first instance that Dorothy went from a background sight gag to a full member of the titular team. When Morrison and Case took the reins of the super squad, they introduced the “monkey-faced girl” as a key member of the team. Her powers are like the rest of the strange supers: incredibly odd. Those surreal powers were restored early in the rebooted series, as readers were introduced to the imaginary friends the young girl was able to manifest, and later on to the terrifying Candlemaker who was living in her head. Those two parts of Dorothy’s backstory are also vital to the newest series of Doom Patrol.
Though Shapiro hadn’t been aware of the comic book the day before her audition, in a coincidental turn of events a friend had mentioned the DC Universe series to her. Once Shapiro watched it, like pretty much anyone else who has taken the time to try the series, she was hooked.
“I fell in love with the show because it has all of those really, really weird, quirky moments, but it also isn’t afraid to explore the darker sides of our humanity. So it has such a wide range and really delves deep into all of these issues about our humanity, which I really liked about it.”
Balancing the innate absurdity of the team whilst crafting striking emotional arcs for each character has been at the core of Doom Patrol’s success. And as was revealed in the finale of season one, Dorothy was the inciting incident for it all. If you haven’t caught up, look away now, but essentially the team was created by Niles Caulder’s maniacal experiments so that he could become immortal and protect/imprison his incredibly powerful and undying daughter. Shapiro gave Den of Geek her insights on that core relationship and what it means for Dorothy.
“She definitely has a complicated relationship with Niles. She loves him very much because he’s the only person who’s really taking care of her throughout all these decades. But their relationship is complicated because he’s locked her away for so long and she’s starting to realize that he’s done all of these terrible things. She really doesn’t want to see him that way. So there’s a little tension in that area. But throughout the season, you’re going to really see her begin to fear growing up, because she finds out as she grows up, she becomes stronger. And so she really is going to struggle to keep her powers at bay.”
Playing someone who’s both nearly a century old but also eternally 11 is no easy feat, but Shapiro created her own theory on Dorothy to help craft the process of bringing her to life. “She was basically held hostage for almost 90 years. When a person goes through that they’re kind of stuck emotionally at the time they were imprisoned, so she’s stuck emotionally and artificially too at 11 years old. When you’re 11 you don’t really see yourself as being a kid. So I tried to put myself in the shoes of an 11-year-old who’s been trapped for a very long time and tried not to look at myself like, ‘Oh, I’m playing a little kid’ but more like, ‘I’m Dorothy.'”
That thread is at the heart of not only Dorothy’s story but also the whole season as the ageless little girl begins to realize just what she’s been missing. As Shapiro shared, it’s really after the wild party in “Sex Patrol” that the young heroine begins to change. “At the end of episode four you see her start to realize the effects of being away from the world for so long and how much she’s missed. She lived underneath Danny (The Street) and she heard all the parties constantly, but never ever got to go for nine years and that’s so heartbreaking. So she’s realizing how kind of rough that actually was, so it’s just her realizing how much she’s missed out on.”
It’s a moment that changes everything and sparks a dangerous journey for Dorothy. “That really sticks with her. And she can’t stop thinking about the fact that she’s missed out on the world so much and she hasn’t had the opportunity to grow up, and that runs through the whole series.”
And as the fifth episode of the second season, “Finger Patrol” showcases, Dorothy isn’t on this road alone. She has the voices in her head, one of whom is the notorious Doom Patrol villain known as Candlemaker. In case the name doesn’t immediately strike fear in your heart, Shapiro gives a terrifying rundown. “The Candlemaker is one of Dorothy’s imaginary friends, but he’s one of the evil ones. Not all of her imaginary friends are good. She doesn’t have much control over him, and when she makes a wish it has dire consequences.”
With the battle for Dorothy being fought by not only Niles but also Candlemaker living inside her head, there’s a question of agency when it comes to Dorothy’s future, but Shapiro has a hopeful tease. “She’s kind of been giving in to the patriarchy in a way, but you’re going to see that throughout the season she rebels against both (Niles and The Candlemaker) and begins to find her own way.”