One choice she doesn’t have to make is which career path she’s taking, because the answer is a decisive “all of them.” Guerrero, who rose to fame for her role on “Orange is the New Black,” is currently starring in the DC Universe superhero web series “Doom Patrol,” taking (longhand!) notes for her third book, and working on ideas for a TV show and film — as well as doubling down on her activism for immigrant youth.
We caught up with her at a table off the lobby of the Line hotel in Adams Morgan ahead of the GALA Theatre awards ceremony to talk about superheroes in our midst and why series finales will never make viewers happy.
How did you get connected to the theater?
They reached out to me, and I was very surprised. So I read about GALA and saw what they were doing, and to me, their message is really important: to support Latinx artists and also bring the arts to the youth. That’s what I’m all about, because that’s how I came up — arts in school was pretty much what saved me. I went to a performance arts high school, which was my guide for life.
In your books and elsewhere, you’ve shared the story of your parents and brother being deported to Colombia when you were 14 and being separated from them. Do you feel like being open about your experiences has made a difference, and how are you seeing that?
For me, it’s connected me to amazing people who are doing a lot of work with the youth and our community. I’ve had a chance to talk to students from middle school to college who have been able to relate to my story. Hopefully, I’ve helped people not feel alone in something that you would normally feel alone in because it’s such a traumatic experience. I hope people will be able to hear my story and not be so fearful.
Fear in this world is a given, especially for the Latinx community. There are a lot of mixed-status families, DACA students are being threatened by deportation, and then people seeking asylum are being separated from each other, so it’s a volatile time. So right now is the time to unite through storytelling and through art, and that’s what I try to do.
Do you see any hope for immigration policy and reform right now?
Children keep dying at the border and they’re not accounted for. Families are being separated. Immigration reform is long overdue, but I don’t think we’re going to see it with this administration, especially now that we’re seeing so many other civil rights taken away, with a woman’s right to an abortion in certain states. That’s something we thought, as women — as people — living in a democracy that would never happen.
What I do see is a lot of active young people. The generation that is coming now — they’re smart kids and they’re participating civically. I think we’re going to see a change, and I’m hopeful for that.
What’s your plan for 2020 — who’s your candidate?
As of now, I’m not sure yet. I’m listening to every candidate. I look forward to working with someone who cares about human rights and understands our history — that is literally the only thing I’m looking for. A lot of us are watching now, but I don’t think a lot of people are going to be sitting this one out.
Since you first talked publicly in 2014 about your parents’ deportation, the context has changed so much.
Yes, when it happened to me, it wasn’t a conversation in school, it wasn’t something I was seeing in the news. The conversation has changed. I hope I have been a positive voice, if only to share my experiences as a child of trauma, as a person who is of value who often, because of her parents’ status or the way they came to this country, is looked at as less than. I hope people have been able to see how determined I am and how American I am.
Are you able to see your parents much?
Switching gears, you’re playing a character [on “Doom Patrol”] who has 64 personalities. How do you prepare for that?
As an actor, it’s such a treat. To be able to exercise so many different feelings to such extremes is fun. And it’s cathartic in a way — because it’s how I feel often — I have extreme feelings all the time. I have an acting coach … and we’ve been working on giving each character real specificity.
Do you have a favorite? Or is it like being a mom and you can’t pick one?
It’s funny — depending on my mood, I pick a different one. I guess I like Dr. Harrison. She’s calm and sort of acts like a psychologist, which in a past life I would have liked to be, to help people with mental illness. She can manipulate people through her words, and when you look into her eyes, you get dragged in deeper — that’s her superpower.
Why do you think superhero stories are resonating so much these days?
We need a hero, clearly! It’s because everything we’ve been going through in our country, we’re all in search of a hero. But really, I think we’re all searching to see the hero within ourselves. Sometimes we’re hypocritical and sometimes our morals clash with our actions and what we wish we could do. Like, “I care about this, but I don’t know how to approach it. I care about causes, but what can I do? I wish someone would just do all the work for us.”
So we just have to look a little deeper, and see that we’re all flawed — that’s what I like about “Doom Patrol”: all these superheroes are flawed. But just because they are flawed doesn’t mean they can’t actually do some good.
We should connect that with ourselves: Yeah, we’re human, we’re flawed, but we can also do a lot of good. It can be the simplest thing. Even by telling yourself, “I need to see who is representing me in my county or in my city, and I have to see who is running, and I’m going to be there at the town hall meetings.” Or just, “I’m going to vote according to my values.”
That is being a superhero for yourself and your community.
What’s going on with “Orange Is the New Black”? Are you coming back for the next [and final] season?
I don’t even know what I can say about that. They have been putting me in the promos. I hope I am back. If I do come back for this last season, I think that fans are going to be surprised, and I know that the story line is going to have some meaning to it.
People have been talking a lot lately about season finales after “Game of Thrones.” And it’s the same with “Orange Is the New Black” — people have been living with these characters for years. Is it possible to end it in a way that makes people happy?
No one likes a … finale because no one wants anything to be over. Ever. And I don’t think you can please everyone. People don’t want things to be over and they want everyone to have a happy ending, and writers are never going to give you that.
I have to say, I saw the first season [of GoT] and it was so intense and so involved that I had to tell myself, “I’m gonna get back to this.” And here we are, eight years later and I haven’t been back. I am going to get into it when everybody else is not watching it and spoiling it.
Okay, other than bingeing “Game of Thrones,” what’s next for you?
I’d like to write another book. It will be my contribution to what’s going on and how it pertains to me, a young woman of color in this world trying to make sense of it all. I would like to write a children's’ book about immigration so that younger audiences are able to learn about immigration and what it means in this country.
Then I’d like to create a TV show and a film. I’m in the process of all that. I have so many projects that I’m starting. It’s good that I can do that while I have a series going. It makes it easier for me to work on other things because I’m not like, “Oh, my God, I have to audition for this, and I have to make money.”
I’m in such a great place and I’m so grateful.
What’s your creative process like?
I’m so old school: I keep a notebook and write everything down. I have a computer that I don’t even use! I’ll write everything down in different sections and then compile it in a Word document.