Published Feb 13, 2019You'd be forgiven for thinking that Netflix's upcoming series, The Umbrella Academy, was yet another entry in the ever-expanding superhero genre. Based on the comic books written by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, the show focuses on a set of estranged, superpowered adoptive siblings who reluctantly reunite, following the death of their adoptive father, eccentric billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore).
But speaking with the cast on the set of the show in Toronto last summer, it's clear that beneath the action sequences, special effects and fast-paced dialogue, The Umbrella Academy is, at its core, a family drama.
"There are moments that you forget that they are also superheroes, because it's so grounded in the family and the drama and the realness of the day-to-day that this family goes through," says Emmy Raver-Lampman, who plays Allison Hargreeves, aka Number Three or the Rumor. "Then the extra layer is, 'Oh right, this one can conjure the dead and that one can speak things into existence and this one's super strong, he can throw someone to the moon and back.'"
"Every sibling has something that anyone can related to," adds Tom Hopper, who plays the super-strong, inhumanly buff Luther Hargreeves, codenamed Number One or Spaceboy, "They've all got their problems, as all humans do. They've all got insecurities, they've all got things that they're working on in their lives, things that affected them when they were kids and now affect them into adult life. They've all got these issues which, across the board, in some way, everyone will relate to as a human being. That's what I love about The Umbrella Academy — they're not just superheroes. These are real people with real problems and they're dealing with these things through the show."
When the show begins, the siblings are still in the throes of processing their unorthodox, traumatic upbringings. "He's like a really mean Professor X whose legs work," says Robert Sheehan, who plays Klaus (aka Number Four or the Seance, who can communicate with the dead) about the character of Sir Hargreeves. "He's totally exploiting the kids, and that's why all of the 'super' elements of the show are seen over the shoulder of the dysfunctional family. That's what's so interesting about it all."
"The kids, in a lot of ways, were exploited: merchandise, action figures, comics, they became celebrities," says Ellen Page, who plays Vanya, the lone sibling who never manifested superpowers during childhood. As a result, Vanya was excluded from training by her adoptive father and the resulting fame that Vanya's siblings experienced. She was "really, truly ostracized by her family and her siblings, which obviously made her feel absolutely worthless," says Page.
Actor David Castañeta, who plays sharpshooter Diego (aka Number Two or the Kraken), says the gritty family dynamics remind him of his own. "I have a father and a mother and we all have very dysfunctional relationships. I think it's very universal that we have these between our family, but also we love them. We really love them, and when I see my sisters, my real-life sisters, I have this mentality of 'I can talk shit about you, but [other people] can't.' That's how I connect immediately with Diego going into this project, because there is this anger that brews inside of him that he only takes out on his brothers."
The cast is rounded out by Aidan Gallagher as pre-pubescent time traveller Number Five, and Mary J. Blige (yes, that Mary J. Blige) and Cameron Britton as a pair of time-travelling assassins, which only adds to the many dizzying layers of interpersonal conflict that The Umbrella Academy juggles, in addition to the superpowered action. And though things start off bleakly, viewers can look forward to watching the siblings' relationships evolve and grow over the course of the ten episodes of the first season.
"Each of them realize, in their own time, that they're actually better off together, even though there's that whole thing of 'You can't live with each other, can't live without each other,' and they are ultimately stronger together, and they go on their own journeys through the series, learning about what Hargreeves did, little secrets that Hargreeves had that messed them up even more," says Hopper. "But ultimately they need each other and care about each other and love each other, even though a majority of them think that they hate each other. It's a typical family show!"
The Umbrella Academy season one comes to Netflix on February 15.