'Doom Patrol' actress Abigail Shapiro shares how growing up with a rare bone disorder helped inspire her to join the show's second season
- Warning: There are some minor spoilers ahead for season 2 of "Doom Patrol."
- Abigail Shapiro spoke with Insider about her role as Dorothy Spinner on the HBO Max and DC Universe series.
- The actress plays a girl who looks 11 years old, but is actually much older with a range of super abilities.
- At first, it took about three hours each day to apply prosthetics to Shapiro's face to transform her into Dorothy.
- Shapiro also told Insider about growing up with a rare bone disorder, and how it influenced her view of the character.
Abigail Shapiro grew up with cleidocranial dysplasia, a rare bone disorder that affects about one in a million people. The genetic disease, which both Shapiro's mother and sister also have, can affect the development of certain bones and teeth.
"I grew up having around 12 surgeries and constant orthodontia. My teeth weren't looking the best," Shapiro told Insider during a recent phone interview.
The actress, 20, joined the second season of DC Universe and HBO Max's "Doom Patrol" as Dorothy Spinner, a powerful girl with a youthful appearance and demeanor, despite being over 100 years old. The show follows a group of misfits who are brought together to begrudgingly save the world. On the season premiere, she's introduced in a traveling circus as the ape-faced girl because of her appearance.
Isolated from the rest of the world for much of her life, Dorothy's story helped influence Shapiro's decision, in part, to take on the role.
"I spent a lot of my life hiding my face and thinking I was really, really ugly, so that's how I relate to Dorothy a lot," said Shapiro.
Shapiro spoke with Insider about being an advocate for those with cleidocranial dysplasia who may not have insurance for surgeries. As she's been quarantining in Florida with her family, Shapiro shared what it's like to act opposite Dorothy's imaginary friends, and what it was like getting made up in prosthetics for a few hours every day on set.
Abigail watched the show after getting cast and says one of Dorothy's imaginary friends is actually acted out on stilts
Kirsten Acuna: How much did you know about the show coming in and, for the audition process, was there a specific scene that you acted out or maybe something from the comics?
Abigail Shapiro: I didn't really know much about the show coming in. After I got the callback, I started watching a little bit of the first season and I immediately fell in love with the show because it has all of those really strange, weird moments that it's really known for. It also wasn't afraid to explore deep into our humanity, so I really loved the show when I first started watching it.
For the audition, it was a scene between me and Jane in the first episode. It was that scene, but it was written a little differently. Then there was this scene where I was freaking out about the baby rat situation. It was written a little differently, too. The last scene I did was the very last scene, but it was written a lot differently. I originally had more imaginary friends than just Darling and Herschel and the Manticore and the Candlemaker. There are a little more of them. So, it was basically that scene but slightly different.
Acuna: Since you mentioned the imaginary friends, what was it like acting opposite some of them? Were you just talking to yourself when you were doing those scenes or was there a tennis ball or something on a stick when chatting with say the giant spider, Herschel?
Shapiro: For Herschel, there's nothing there. Sometimes I'd just put a mark on the wall. For the manticore, it's a guy in a CGI suit on stilts with a headpiece whenever he emerges, which is cool. Then, there is this lovely lady named Vanessa who plays Darling-Come Home. But Herschel, there's nothing there. So that was fun to do. It's kind of funny. It's usually the ADs [assistant directors] saying the lines too, so, it doesn't sound anything like it actually did in the show.
On playing a character who is perpetually 11 years old and feeling isolated like Dorothy while quarantined
Acuna: I have to admit, I didn't realize that you were 20 from just watching the show. You pull off playing a character that's physically and mentally younger than you. What kind of preparation did you do to get into that mindset of a girl who is perpetually 11 years old? I know you have a younger sister. Did your experiences help inform the role at all?
Shapiro: A little bit. My sister isn't that much younger than me, but just the memory of her being really young helped. I also play little kids a lot because I'm so small and I kind of look like a little kid because I look very young for my age. So I was used to playing very young. Also, when you're 11 years old, you don't think you're a little kid. I kind of put myself in that mindset.
Acuna: Dorothy is a character who has found herself locked away and isolated from society for years on end, and it almost feels immensely relatable in some respects as many people have been in lockdown and quarantining. Have you had time to reflect on that at all or notice those parallels?
Shapiro: Yeah. Actually, there were times during quarantine when I was back in New York because my mom, my sister, and I lived in a super tiny apartment. There were times where I felt claustrophobic and everything, so I was like, "OK, now I know how Dorothy feels."
How growing up with cleidocranial dysplasia (CCD) affected Abigail growing up and how it made her relate to Dorothy's character
Acuna: Dorothy has some trouble accepting her own appearance at times. And on episode four she asks Rita if she's pretty. I know you're an advocate for CCD as someone who grew up with it and that you hope to inspire others to embrace their imperfections. Was that something that influenced your decision to take on this role as well or that you related to with Dorothy's character?
Shapiro: Yeah, it's something I related to with Dorothy's character. Cleidocranial dysplasia is a rare bone disorder. It's one-in-a-million that affects the volatile teeth, so I grew up having around 12 surgeries and constant orthodontia and my teeth weren't looking the best, so I spent a lot of my life hiding my face and thinking I was really, really ugly, so that's how I relate to Dorothy a lot.
Shapiro (continued): Also, one thing that was difficult as someone with a rare disorder was that most of the treatment that I needed wasn't covered by insurance, so I want to bring up this act called the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act, which was introduced in February 2019. It basically states that anyone born with an anomaly of some sort would be able to get the treatment they need to function properly covered by insurance because, as of right now, none of that's covered by insurance. Most people with a congenital anomaly of some sort have to spend a fortune or not get the treatment they need at all. If people can contact their representatives and support this act in any way they can, I would be very grateful because I think it can help a lot of people around the world with rare disorders.
It originally took about three hours to do the prosthetics for Dorothy's character
Acuna: One of the first things I wondered when your character was introduced onto the show was the prosthetics. I know you've shared some photos on social media. How long did that take to do each day? And what was the process like?
Shapiro: In the beginning, it took about three hours and then we got it down to two hours. For the majority of filming it was two hours. Then when we were filming the last episode, there's one day we got it down to an hour and 45 minutes, which was our record time.
Shapiro (continued): But I wore a fake nose and part of my cheeks were prosthetic. My chin, my forehead, ears, and then fake teeth and fake hair on my face, little sideburns. But the process for both of them, I zoned out. But the two guys, Derek and Eric Garcia, who are so, so talented, they did my makeup every day. We all got along so well and would joke around and make fun of each other. We had this '80s playlist that we would listen to with the cringiest '80s songs, so we always had a fun time together. It didn't seem much of a drag doing the makeup every day.
Acuna: Do you guys feel like you were almost pushing to see if you could do it faster as if it was like a challenge to see how fast you could get it done?
Shapiro: Maybe slightly. Also, I think Derek and Eric just got the hang of it more and they were just used to doing it so much that it just became easier and easier for all three of us. I think that's mostly what it was, but yeah, I felt honored, honestly, to be kind of a canvas for their art.
Acuna: Is it heavy on your face when you're acting? How does that affect you when you're doing the role? Is it hot at all?
Shapiro: Oh, yeah. It adjusts to whatever the temperature is in the room, kind of. So if we're in like a really hot setting, it gets really, really hot every day and it blocks your pores. You're kind of sweating underneath it, but the sweat has nowhere to go, so it feels gross in a hotter setting. But luckily when we were filming, and especially when we did the outside scenes, it was really cold because it was mostly wintertime, early spring, so it was still cold outside, which was a blessing for the prosthetics.
But it hurt my skin a little bit. In the middle of filming — around episode four through six — my skin wasn't in the best shape because it's kind of rough on your skin almost every day. But the whole makeup pain helped me find products and a skincare routine that really, really helped with that, so by the end of filming, my skin wasn't as much of a problem.
Shapiro has been auditioning during quarantine and encourages fans to continue to speak for human rights
Acuna: Outside of "Doom Patrol," how have you been keeping yourself occupied for the past few months during this epidemic?
Shapiro: In the beginning of quarantine I was in New York, so that was a little rough because we lived in a very small apartment and us three girls don't always get along when we're constantly together as any family, I guess. But then we came down to Florida to visit my dad, so I've been spending time with family, social distancing of course, and there's so much more space here and sunlight, so it's been really nice to spend time with my family. I'm just grateful that I'm in a good situation right now.
Acuna: I know some people are starting to slowly return to work in TV and film, have you been trying to work on any other projects? Have you thought about what would make you feel safe to return to work or would anything make you feel safe?
Shapiro: I've been auditioning. There hasn't been a lot of auditions [that] come in, so I'm just kind of waiting it out and seeing what ends up happening. I hope we get another season for "Doom Patrol," just putting that out there. That would be amazing, but right now it's all just kind of a waiting game to see what happens.
Acuna: Is there anything else that I didn't ask you about "Doom Patrol" or CCD that you wanted to share or the state of Hollywood and the world right now?
Shapiro: Yeah. One thing I just want to add is for people to continue to stand up for human rights and do what you can to use your voice and not be silent.
New episodes of "Doom Patrol" air Thursday on HBO Max and DC Universe.
This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
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