Jackie Goldston on Doom Patrol’s Club of Sixty-Four Personalities

(Featured image courtesy of Bob Mahoney/HBO Max)

As an only child, Doom Patrol star Jackie Goldston had a lot of time to spend entertaining herself, with many hours spent in front of the TV. “I would go to family reunions, and my grandfather would say, ‘Everybody be quiet! Jackie’s watching the commercials!’” She didn’t watch the TV shows, preferring the exciting ads with catchy jingles and bite-sized stories. “That was always something that intrigued me.” Even though her dream growing up was to become a doctor, hindsight makes her path to the screen obvious. Drawing inspiration from Bible stories and parables, she would create plays to perform for her friends and family, who were encouraging of her entire journey (though she did joke that they may have had “a different level of support” when her goal was med school).

Instead of starting down the medical route, Jackie chose to attend Chapman University in Southern California, where she majored in communications with an emphasis in media performance theater and film and television acting. “My Chapman experience, I tell everyone that it meant the world to me. It prepared me for so much.” The school brought her lifelong friendships and invaluable industry knowledge and experience that has helped propel her to where she is today. “There’s just nothing like that.” While there, she participated in producing an experimental pilot with none other than the late, great Ed Asner.

Goldston’s first professional project was a national mattress commercial. She marveled at how it was “a huge thing to have a newbie do,” but that was part of the purpose. John Madden (former football coach and iconic sportscaster) was the narrator for the advertisement, and “one of his requirements was that he wanted to have… new people that he could Taft-Hartley on the project.” A Taft-Hartley is a report that a producer can file on behalf of an actor to get them a membership in the Screen Actors Guild union. It can often be difficult for actors to meet the requirements for eligibility, but when a non-union actor is hired on a union project, the Taft-Hartley is a shortcut an actor can take so they can be allowed to get the job done (it’s often used for extras who are unexpectedly needed to deliver a line of dialogue). John Madden stipulated that he would work with all non-union actors whose work on this commercial could put them on the fast track to a SAG card. “I thought that was really cool.”

Even though she felt incredibly lucky to be on the project, Jackie admitted, “I did everything wrong… I was a young mother. Not much sleep. Mattress commercial. You see where this is going…” The last scene of the day included Goldston’s character and a dog fast asleep on the bed, and she ended up giving one of her most naturalistic performances. “I fell asleep!” Readers, take this as proof that the mattress really was that good.

“Being the theater buff that I was, I didn’t go on dates in high school. I stayed home and read plays.” The theater programs for high schoolers in her small Georgia town were “top notch” and produced multiple other notable television stars, namely Wynn Everett (Agent Carter and Doom Patrol) and Kelli Giddish (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit). However, there weren’t many similar opportunities for adults, and Goldston saw her opportunity. She took the profits she’d made from the mattress commercial and created the non-profit community theater company CATCo. Exploring all sorts of plays and musicals, the company eventually expanded to include a murder mystery troupe and a radio show in the style of classic programs like Abbott and Costello. “One of my favorite things was to do the sound effects, creating the boxes that sound like a crash box, just interesting things like that. We had a lot of fun with it.” Unfortunately, local politics ended up becoming an obstacle, to the point where Jackie just had to say, “No more… [but] we were never in the red, and I’m really proud of that.”

One of Goldston’s most notable guest performances was her appearance on Amazon’s Tell Me Your Secrets. In the thriller, Hamish Linklater plays a convicted rapist who starts to manipulate the protagonists’ lives in dark and shocking ways, eventually kidnapping a woman played by Goldston. Despite the pitch black material they were working with, Jackie said, “Hamish is amazing, and what a joy he is to work with… He’s just as natural as can be. Every take was like it was a new experience.” Because of the nature of the scene, Goldston wanted to keep a certain level of tension between herself and Linklater, so she did her best to stay separated from everyone else on set during downtime, “so I wouldn’t get to feeling comfortable with anyone.” Being a naturally talkative and friendly person, Jackie knew that avoiding a certain level of comfort (at least until filming was over) would preserve natural feelings of awkwardness. “That’s just one of those things an actor does to make it work for them at the moment.” She went on to praise Linklater’s work in the new Netflix limited series Midnight Mass. “He is just phenomenal.”

Across three seasons and two different networks, Goldston has starred in Doom Patrol, the DC Comics-based series that has been hailed by some as the wackiest show on TV (and they’re probably not far off). Boasting a cyborg from the ‘80s and a former Hollywood star who occasionally melts into goo, the titular superhero team members aren’t your average Justice League. One of the leaders of the team is Jane, played by Diane Guerrero. Jane is the primary personality of Kay Challis, a woman who developed sixty-four individual personalities as a result of being abused by her father as a child. Due to some forced experimentation, each personality also has their own unique superpower, which can either be a help or a danger to the rest of the team, depending on who has control of Kay’s body at the moment (and how mentally stable they are).

The viewer often sees Jane’s psyche descend into the Underground, an area in her mind where all of the other sixty-three personalities reside. Jackie Goldston plays Secretary, Kay’s no-nonsense personality who acts like a mother to all of the more unstable identities. “I like to call her the Spock of the Underground. She’s logical. She’s emotionless. She’s highly intelligent, and she’s kind of a blunt voice of reason for Jane.” Several times throughout the series, we see Jane go to Secretary for help or advice. The personalities may bicker and fight, but at the end of the day, they are all working for Kay, “to keep her safe, to keep Jane safe, to keep all of us safe.” After all, they do share the same body. “When something happens to one of us, it actually happens to all of us.” Then again, that doesn’t mean that the other personalities always like what Secretary has to say. “She doesn’t carry as much emotion as many of the other characters do, or any of the characters do.” Because of this, Secretary often acts as the voice of reason, especially when tensions are running high between Jane and the other sixty-three personalities.

“I’m very smiley, and I love to hug people. For me, this character is so stoic and emotionless [that] it’s very hard to do that being the people-lover that I am… I think in my younger years I was more like her, very stoic and serious, but I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a lot more fun.” Of course, though, playing an ice queen doesn’t mean that things are the same when the cameras turn off. “We have created a little family amongst all the Janes, and it’s all of my sisters and me… We have a lot of fun on set just being ourselves.” Goldston highlighted those personal moments off-camera as something to be treasured, the moments that she’ll always remember most fondly from filming. “As actors, we’re told, ‘Don’t take your phone in. Don’t take pictures,’ but as the series went on, I loved taking photos with all of my cast mates. I want a picture with all of the Janes.”

When looking at Goldston’s Instagram bio, a unique phrase stands out: Collected Memories Not Curated Artsies. Many artists and actors have their social media accounts very specifically and rigidly constructed, everything sorted into a theme and nothing out of place. “I just collect my memories and put them out there for my family, my fans, and my friends. That’s me. I enjoy life, and that’s what I want people to see about me, not the stoic, serious Secretary.”

Besides Secretary, Jackie named Hammerhead, Pretty Polly, and Driller Bill as her favorite of Jane’s other personalities. “I think everybody’s favorite is Hammerhead, and she plays it phenomenally… She gets to say all the bad words and have all the personality!” Hammerhead is one of the identities who ends up surfacing most often, but in the third season, we saw Secretary’s first appearance controlling Jane’s body “up top” to help the team look for vacation spots. The trip didn’t go very well, but “we’re going to blame Rita for that!” It was a very brief moment, but what would a day out with Secretary and the Doom Patrol look like? According to Goldston, “I think that she would probably still be that blunt, emotionless voice of reason for everyone… I think she would just keep people on the straight and narrow.”

As mentioned, Doom Patrol is wildly different from pretty much every other show on television, superhero or not. As evidenced in Kay’s story of childhood abuse, the writers have no fear in tackling heavy subjects, and every character has their own personal demons to overcome. Of course, the show takes these struggles very seriously, but it still allows for fun and dark comedy to bleed through. Goldston had nothing but awe for every aspect of production, from the “clever” writing to the “spectacular” cinematography and lighting and the “phenomenal” soundstage used for the Underground. “I look forward to every script…. They hold nothing back for this show.” Every episode boils down to such potent and raw emotional drama, and “those stories are what all of us deal with on a regular basis in some form or another, and I think we can all identify with each one of those characters, and each one of Jane’s personalities.”

Right before the original COVID lockdown, Goldston was working with other performers to put together a committee through the local SAG-AFTRA specifically geared to help actors in the Atlanta area. After a few colleagues took their own lives, Jackie felt compelled to reach out to her local officials to help create a committee to raise awareness for mental health within the industry. “As actors, we get rejected every single day. Building that thick skin, it’s very hard to do… Performers have a different mindset, that maybe they’re not good enough. I think it’s very important for all of us performers to have that mental health check, every year at least.” Unfortunately, the pandemic has presented too many obstacles for that organization to gain its footing, but conversations about ways for this initiative to continue are ongoing.

Jackie is also involved in the Be Rich organization, “a movement of generosity” that is built on the basic foundation of Give, Serve, Love. “It’s about giving, not only of money but of yourself and your time… No matter where you are or your financial position, you can always be somewhere to help someone else.” Years ago, Goldston would visit women’s clinics around the holidays and organize free photos for families to bring some love and cheer to the season and capture it all on film. It’s a service that has become antiquated since the introduction of cell phones, but “it was important to me for these women to feel they’re just as important as anyone else.” She also participates in a program that recruits underprivileged teens interested in the arts for classes and sessions to help prepare them for the industry, with the kind of advice and expertise that Goldston herself wishes she had when she was first making her way into film and television. “Mentorship for me is very important to me, seeing people taking the right steps instead of getting caught in some scam or other. For those who have taken off, it’s like watching my own children succeed.”

When asked about the rest of season three and beyond, Goldston of course had to stay coy. “Secretary will show up in subsequent episodes. I can’t give anything else away than that, but we’re all huddled close together and hoping for a season four.” Count us huddled with her as well, as we can’t wait to hopefully watch the messy family inside Jane’s head for years and years to come.

Doom Patrol is currently releasing new episodes every Thursday on HBO Max.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article included errors pertaining to where Goldston lived before attending Chapman and when creating her theater company, as well as incorrect identifiers for Rita Farr’s character and Goldston’s committee through the local SAG-AFTRA. The errors have been fixed.)

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