Michelle Gomez is one of our generation’s best character actors. She’s been blessing genre fans with incredible performances like Missy in Doctor Who, Madame Satan in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and most recently as the dynamic and dangerous Miranda in The Flight Attendant. So the announcement that she’d be joining HBO Max’s groundbreaking superhero series Doom Patrol was a match made in heaven. Gomez will be playing Madame Rouge, a sometime ally, sometime antagonist of the motley crew. To celebrate her arrival, we spoke to Gomez about her new role, her penchant for playing complex women, and the grotesque hilarity fans can expect when Madame Rouge joins the show.
Madame Rouge is a lesser known character, like most of the Doom Patrol team. How would you describe your take on her for viewers who are excited for her to join the team?
She’s kind of complicated and a little eccentric. She arrives at the manor and she has this very specific mission, but she can’t really remember what it is. She’s fairly enigmatic.
You’ve been on a roll with these complex, and in many cases, villainous roles with Missy, Madame Satan, Miranda, and now Madame Rouge, if she follows her role in the comics. What draws you to these kinds of women?
I think it’s just my face. It’s hard to act out from under this particular set of features, so I’ve kind of leaned into that over the years. I have fun with it. In terms of screen and for casting, I guess these angles are my strengths. I’ve heard myself saying this many times in interviews before but it’s true, I have a face that was born to play witches and bitches really until the day I die. Listen, if there’s a casting director out there who wants to cast me as Fiona or Alison the girl next door, I’m ready to play a decent, loving human being!
What’s that like for you? You obviously embrace these roles, you’ve carved out this space for yourself, but how does that feel? Have you shaped it into something you enjoy? Or are you still like, where’s Alison, where’s the girl next door?
You know what? I always play the girl next door. You just have to look for her. And I hope I’m not being two dimensional and playing good or evil. I would hope it’s more complex than that. Certainly for me as an actor I try to make the baddy as well rounded and as lovable as possible. But then I guess that that’s always the danger as well, you can’t really afford to let your guard down and get too close. But along the way I’ve embraced it. I enjoy it because I get to be reliably bad in a good way. Unpredictable in that unpredictability. You can sort of unsettle the audience and there’s fun to be had there.
With Sabrina and now Doom Patrol you’re carving out a space as a go-to performer in these cult comic book shows. Would you call yourself a comic book fan, or have you become one through playing and researching these roles?
I certainly have fallen in love with that genre. Then to transpose that and turn it into a show where we get to kind of bust out of the page is such a delight. I’m still pinching myself that I was in Doctor Who playing the Master. And now I’m trundling into my second “Madame” role. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and I’m so flattered and privileged really to be part of it and to be part of that world, where I think we all need a little bit of fantasy at the moment.
You’ve had some intriguing powers, from timelord-ing to impeccable knife skills, but Madame Rouge has some unusual superpowers of her own. How much fun was it to dive into a truly weird full-on superhero world like Doom Patrol?
I felt like I had come home. I really felt like with all the shows that have gone before, it was all kind of leading to Doom Patrol. I really felt immediately comfortable in this world because it was bringing to bear everything that I’d done before. The thing about Doom Patrol is that it’s a show for adults that enjoy the sort of anarchic world that we’re all actually living in on a day to day basis. But it takes that stuff, a crazy world where people are really struggling with who they are and are kind of running in the opposite direction of whatever their powers may be. It’s like an illustration of where we’re at as human beings.
It’s about the great questions that we’re constantly plagued with. Who are we? Why are we here? What are we doing here? It’s that sort of massive existential crisis that you pick up as you’re becoming an adult, like ‘Oh shit, this stuff is real, I don’t get to be a kid anymore. I need to work out how I fit in the world.’ Doom Patrol is kind of like that. How do these people or these creations, how do they fit in the world? And how do they exist and survive?
Then, of course, you have the struggle and the drama and the comedy. I mean, it’s funny but it’s not funny for no reason, it’s funny because we relate to it. Then it’s just bonkers, right? There’s an episode where she shows her powers; she’s a shapeshifter, she can basically turn into anything she desires or just kind of thinks about. And when I turn into something which I’m not going to reveal… you cannot believe what I’m about to turn into, there is no way. In fact, I would love to set you the challenge to try and imagine what it is you think I’m going to turn into in Doom Patrol because none of you will get it.
You touched on this earlier but Doom Patrol can be a really funny show And while The Flight Attendant and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina both have a dark comedy to them, Doom Patrol definitely leans closer to the comedy of your early days like Bad Education and Green Wing. What was it like to return to that?
It’s so strange. I’m asked about this a lot and the thing is it’s always a surprise to me that I’m funny or that I’ve been employed again. So I never come to it trying to be funny, right, it’s the situations that are funny. And a lot of the situations in Doom Patrol are kind of tragic, and you can’t play the tragedy without the comedy. That’s just basic flip of the coin, mathematics, you can’t just be doing one thing without the other.
I have to say that because you mentioned Green Wing and you mentioned Bad Education. Those were kind of my early years. There’s a lot that has happened between Green Wing and Doom Patrol. And it’s been a journey for me. What I have picked up along the way, what I have learned, has been useful. With each job you learn a new trick, or you learn what doesn’t work, or you want to explore something more. So with Doom Patrol, as I said, I really felt like I had come home, I really felt like everything was there. Green Wing was there, Bad Education was there, me being in Taming of the Shrew was there. All of those experiences were allowed to blossom, they were allowed to live. I felt very comfortable, and for good reason because all of that made sense, right when I walked on that first day. Walking on a set with others that had been there before, and the whole team, the whole crew, the whole cast were so welcoming, it felt very effortless actually just to kind of bleed into that world.
One of Doom Patrol’s biggest strengths is its in-depth emotionally-driven character explorations that hide behind the odd powers and eclectic heroes. Could you tease that journey for Madame Rouge?
I think she’s like the other characters in that she has a journey through discovery. She’s finding out things about herself that may or may not be things she can live with. I can’t really say more than that, but it’s similar to the other regulars in the show, and where they’re having to live with themselves. And how do you do that, when some of it is pretty dark and at times unacceptable? And how do you decide to move forward? And so that’s in there for her, too. And it’s a pretty crazy ride that she goes on, not just for herself but with the others as well.
Doom Patrol Season 3 hits HBO Max on Sept. 23.