‘The Umbrella Academy’: Mary J. Blige & Cameron Britton on Playing Time-Traveling Assassins

     February 25, 2019

umbrella-academyBased on the popular and award-winning Dark Horse Comics graphic novels created by Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy follows the “children” of Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), a billionaire industrialist who adopts seven of the 43 infants inexplicably born on the same day in 1989 to random women who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. While they’ve been prepared to save the world, things are never that easy, and now that the impending apocalypse is very real, Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), Vanya (Ellen Page) and Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) must get over their own family drama, if they have any chance of stopping global destruction.

At the Los Angeles press day to promote the new series, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige (who play time-traveling assassins Hazel and Cha-Cha, respectively) to talk about their reaction to this material, playing characters with such a unique relationship, developing their own backstory for their performances, their favorite scene to shoot, the fun of playing a bad-ass, wearing the masks, the adversarial boss-employee dynamic with The Handler (Kate Walsh), and what they loved about working with each other. Be aware that some spoilers are discussed.

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Image via Netflix

Collider:  I loved this, and I love your characters so much!

MARY J. BLIGE:  Good!

When this came your way, what was your reaction to the material? Did you have a lot of questions?

BLIGE:  For me, I was so excited about the character. The whole thing was exciting to me. I was like, “Yes, it will be a challenge, but I can’t wait to see what it looks like, once we start shooting.” I dove into it.

CAMERON BRITTON:  For me, it was stressful because they gave us two episodes, and then maybe a third before shooting, and I didn’t know where these characters were going to go. They go on a pretty crazy ride. I didn’t fully understand the character yet. It’s that thing with the first season of a show, where you watch and, early on, the actors are still figuring out the characters. If you go back to Season 1 of The Office, Steve Carell’s character is a lot different. At the same time, I knew I was having fun. I knew we were doing something risky and unique, which was what drew me to it, in the first place. By the end of the show, I was super immersed in the plot and what was going on for Hazel. I find him to be really unique, so that was fun.

Hazel and Cha-Cha really have their own little journey that’s so interesting, but they don’t have a lot of backstory and we don’t get to learn too much about their history, especially initially. Did you develop that for yourself? Did you create histories for who these people are and where they came from?

BLIGE:  Well, not exactly where the character came from, but who she was is what I created for her. What are her inner thoughts? What’s making her into this horrible person? I had to conjure up a whole bunch of stuff that would make her into the person that’s now so empty. She’s an empty person and she doesn’t care. I had to find those places. I can’t tell you what they are, but they were really bad places.

BRITTON:  Yeah, I also found that very challenging. Whenever you have a role where you don’t get to know anything about the character, you have to invent it yourself. You have to feel like it came from somewhere. A lot of figuring that out was with the dynamics with Cha-Cha. I figured out a lot of who Hazel is by doing the scenes with Mary. It really helped develop it. I don’t think, when it started, that I was anywhere near thinking of them like a little brother/big sister thing, but it really felt like that, at the end. There were some really interesting, heavy scenes. It’s a man and a woman, but we weren’t interested in a romantic element to the show. There was a little conversation of that, but even friends didn’t really feel right. That little brother/big sister thing felt like the right place to go with it. That helped everything fit into place.

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Image via Netflix

Do you think that these two people genuinely care about each other, or are they with each other because they have to be?

BLIGE:  I think that because it’s been a long period of time that Hazel and Cha-Cha have done this together, Cha-Cha doesn’t care about anybody else in the world, but Hazel. Hazel is all she has to help her do what she loves, which is to kill people. She loves the heck out of Hazel because this is what they do. So, yeah, she cares about Hazel. She doesn’t care about anyone else.

BRITTON:  Yeah, they do. The only property they own is on their backs. They have to stay very incognito, in general. They live hotel room to hotel room. They’re always working. The last eight years, all they’ve had is each other. Anyone else they meet, they’re murdering. Eventually, there’s a pretty tight bond there. That’s when the show gets interesting when you’re finally seeing Hazel have enough and you’re seeing him say, “This isn’t a life that can make anyone happy.” Cha-Cha disagrees because she has no heart and no soul. She can just do this, all day. And I love Cha-Cha for that. When you have a character who really cares about no one, what happens when the only person she has any affinity for is pulling away from her? It’s pretty cool to watch, and it’s really interesting to watch. You don’t see many bad guys fight amongst themselves. Bad guys always know exactly who they are and what they want. Good guys are the ones who are a little confused about their identities. So, it’s really cool to be on a project where one of the bad guys is pretty mixed up and confused. It leads to some really interesting storylines.

I was surprised at how much emotionally connected to them and their story.

BRITTON:  Yeah, and that’s ideally the kind of projects you want. You don’t want to make performances, you want to make people. When a project knows, “Okay, my bad guys need to be a little sympathetic, and my good guys need to have a bit of a mean streak,” you’re off to a good start.

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Image via Netflix

Because you get to do so many crazy, fun things in this show, did you have a scene that you most enjoyed shooting?

BLIGE:  I had so much fun with everything, but my favorite scene was the fighting scene with Hazel because it’s what I so heavily desired to do. I wanted to see myself doing that. I imagined myself doing it, and when I did it, it was fun. It was fun fighting Hazel. He’s a big man, and I’m just crazy like that. That’s why Cha-Cha is who she is. That was my favorite scene.

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