[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 2 finale of The Umbrella Academy, “The End of Something.”]
When it comes to the Umbrella Academy, just because you’ve stopped the apocalypse, it doesn’t mean that you’ve actually saved the world. Jumping time and finding themselves scattered in and around Dallas, Texas, over a three-year period starting in 1960, has disrupted the timeline and started a doomsday clock. As they work to reunite, figure out what caused the nuclear destruction, find a way to put a stop to it, and return to their present timeline, they must survive assassins, romantic relationships, and a number of other oddities, if they’re going to rebuild their family and make it out alive.
Aidan Gallagher, who plays the member of the Hargreeves family known only as Number Five, recently got on the phone with Collider to chat all things Season 2 of the Netflix original series The Umbrella Academy, adapted from the graphic novels by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. During this 1-on-1 interview, he talked about building on the first season, how he feels about always wearing the academy uniform, Five’s deepest connection outside of the family, exploring paradox psychosis, how Five feels about not having a name, his favorite fight scene this season, just how technical the opening sequence was, and that shocking cliffhanger and what it could mean for the characters.
Collider: What did you most enjoy about doing the first season of this show, introducing this world and these characters, and then returning and really building on that and digging a lot deeper, for the second season?
AIDAN GALLAGHER: Well, you summarize it quite perfectly. The whole first season for me was imagining what the world would be like. I really used the graphic novel for context because, as an actor, you’re there and you understand what it’s like on set because you can see how the sets are built, you can see how the characters look and how the actors or portraying them, and when they call “Action!”, you’re locked in and they’re not a character, they are a person. And you are no longer yourself. You step into this other body, this other brain, that takes over, and now you are inside the scenario written within the scene. But outside of the set, you’re locked off. You want to give yourself context for, where are we? What type of world do these characters live in? So, I really used the graphic novels to give context to the type of weird and unique world that our show is trying to portray.
Going into Season 2, you now have 10 episodes of history with each of these characters. You understand your own character a lot better, and their relationship to their siblings and to the world, because you’ve spent so much time with them. But interestingly enough, because you know your character so well, you know where the holes are and you know the areas in which they haven’t really explored yet. The writers did an incredible job of keeping what was so appealing about Season 1, while introducing new context, new arcs, and a very thick, details, complex, and full circle plot, for both your character and the rest of the cast to go on. After continuing on with that character and trying to pushing it to evolve, it was incredibly challenging, but very interesting. It’s always fun to do another season of The Umbrella Academy.
With this season being in the ‘60s, a lot has changed and it seems that a lot of the characters get some fun, new looks. At this point, how sick are you of having to wear the shorts? Did you ever try to come up with a reason to change out of them?
GALLAGHER: Well, originally Five was going to have long hair and wear a Wonder Woman costume, but last minute, we just stuck with the uniform. No. I love the costume. I think it’s really cool. But the way I always imagine it in my mind is that Five hasn’t had the time to visit a tailor. He’s thrust around from event to event, for his entire life, and his only goal is to survive, get back to his family, and save the world. He’s never had time to figure out who he is as a person, and the costume is a good metaphor for that. It’s the salt in the wound for Five, being in his younger self now. This is the only thing that fits him, and there’s no time to actually get a proper suit or anything. You’ll probably see the costume change, if Five ever gets the chance to slow down.
I love that we get to see Five reunite with Hazel. What do you enjoy about that dynamic, and what was is it like to have Cameron Britton back?
GALLAGHER: Cameron is such a delight to work with. He brings a certain sweetness and authenticity to Hazel that was really interesting. I always imagined Hazel and Cha-Cha as these two completely murderous and insane, faceless characters. That was really interesting, but how do you do that for a live-action interpretation because you’re going to hear their voices, so it’s not going to be nearly as intimidating. It was a really interesting choice to cast Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton in those roles, and they certainly brought a lot to them. So, getting to work with Cameron again was nice because the relationship between Hazel and Number Five is like they’re these two co-workers, but they’re buddies. They’re like two cops who go out to a bar and have a drink, after a long day at work. There’s an understanding and a certain respect between those two. Remember, Five is nearing his sixth decade being alive, so most of the people he interacts with are a lot younger. He’s nearly twice the age of his siblings, so when he interacts with Hazel, especially after Hazel has gotten so much older, there’s a certain connection that you only see with maybe Hazel or Hargreeves. There’s a certain wisdom and relaxed-ness that comes with that and that you can see very clearly, even in the dialogue. So, it was nice. Five connects to Hazel like no other, I would say, and it’s a joy to work with Cameron.
What was it like to do scenes with a version of Five that looks so much older on the outside, even though your version is still older on the inside?
GALLAGHER: Whenever I approach the scene, I look at what Five has been through, whether it be his broken upbringing, his traumatic years in the apocalypse, and his really crazy and intense years with The Commission, being an assassin throughout time. And on top of all of that, there’s now a head trip. There’s this standoff-ish moment between the two characters, young and old. They’re both like sharks. They’re on edge and they are watching each other. They’re these two apex predators. I understand that the younger version of me knows that I understand what’s in their head, so they try to change what their strategy is, but I know where they would go to. So it’s this head trip of trying to outsmart each other. It’s very much like a chess game with deadly high stakes, for both versions of Number Five, should the other gain the upper hand.
On set, it was fun to prepare for that, and then to be locked in as those two characters and have all of that running through your head, as you deliver all of these different lines of dialogue. That whole arc, with even the paradox psychosis, was an incredibly brilliant stroke writing. That was very fun as an actor to portray because there were all of these different elements of paradox psychosis that had to be portrayed at once, and we’d never seen that before. It was a great opportunity to showcase a new form of insanity. Five always has this rageful, murderous insanity, but this is induced by the space-time continuum.
As an actor, I could go anywhere I wanted, within the boundaries that they set, so I really did the best I could to bring all of this angst to it. Whenever they would queue up to do a take, I would sprint to my mark from 30 or 40 feet away, so that there was this out-of-breath, jittery, angsty, rageful look in Five’s eyes. And I would contort my body in these strange ways and play these different lines of dialogue in new and unexpected ways that, in any other context, wouldn’t make any sense, but within the context of having this paradox psychosis overtake you, it’s completely cohesive. That really opened up a lot of different doors, as an actor, to explore because I could take the character anywhere in my portrayal. That was a brilliant arc, and something that was very, very fun to think about.
Do you ever feel frustrated that Number Five doesn’t get his own name, or do you think that it really defines the character, that he’s the one that’s continuously referred to by a number?
GALLAGHER: In Season 1, they referenced each other by name there, and Five was in that, but he’s never gotten a name. I suppose Grace was choosing names for the children, and there may have been one for Five, but it’s my understanding that he rejected it. That’s how I think about his relation to a name. A number always superseded him. It was almost a resentful, spiteful action, in the face of Hargreeves. I don’t really think he cares about such things as a number. Five has always been this brilliant, very cunning, and weird little mind, so a number suited him, in a way, and he grew accustomed to it. The younger version of him is this bitter, not very sharing or necessarily caring person. He’s incredibly self-centered and overly confident, and that really changed when he got stuck in the apocalypse and Hargreeves’ words of, “I told you so,” haunted him for 45 years.
That was a big turning point for the character. Any scenes that were before that, he’s a very bitter and resentful character. He probably rejected the name because he thought it was petty, or something like that. I don’t know that Five was a good person before he got stuck in the apocalypse, in a way that really made him a bit more open-minded. It grounded him a bit more, in a way that he never had. I think he felt special, growing up, or better than people, and that really changed for him when he was proven so wrong by Hargreeves. He got taken down by such a notch when he got stuck in that apocalypse. That changed him forever. And then, his trauma breaks him. At first, the change was for the better, but then eventually, it starts eating away at his mind.
You get to do some interesting fight scenes and sequences in this show. Did you have a favorite one that you got to do, this season?
GALLAGHER: The fight scene between me and a new character, near the end of the season, is one of my favorites because it was so last-minute. Generally, when you prepare for a fight scene, you have a day before, where you’re going through hours of choreography and getting comfortable with the different moves. But it was a pretty quick day because there was so much going on in the last episode, so I only had an hour to prepare for this fight scene with the other actor. I would say there’s a certain comfort level when you’re generally doing fight scenes that I didn’t have there, not so much in my ability to do the moves, but it didn’t feel fluid. It was thought about, with each move, so it was a lot more messy, in terms of how it looked. That suited the tone of that fight scene, and of the relationship between those two characters, because they were so equally matched and yet so poised. That was a crazy fight scene to shoot, almost like no other. That was just me and Lila, going back and forth.
Because of the power that Five has, you have some wild moments this season. Was there a scene that was the most technical to shoot?
GALLAGHER: That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know. I’m sure there is. We shot it so long ago that you almost disassociate. I remember, the very first shot of Five, in the very first episode, is incredibly technical because the camera was set for a very specific motion. It’s one shot, so timing-wise I had to be exact. As you go from take to take, your performance will naturally vary slightly, as you fine-tune it and find exactly how it should fit the scene. It was a major issue, for timing reasons, because Five lands in a puddle, and then looks up at the vortex. I couldn’t look at where the camera was because it was behind me, but I had to be in the right place, in order for everything to line up. There was so much going on, in that first sequence. It was going to be one take, and that it meant that you had to really take your preparation to a new level because you had to be dead on, in the exact position, at the exact time. Sometimes that can impair your ability to perform the humanity of the character, but I really worked hard to make sure that it didn’t interfere with that. We did that, over and over. He looks up at the vortex and he sees a tank and a bunch of soldiers cross by him, and then, all of a sudden, the camera following him sees that there are jets racing over and he sees the war down the street. He goes to the newspaper and he says, “This can’t be right.” And then, you go to the other siblings, and crane all the way back around to him, at the tank with Hazel, and then it’s done. They shot it in pieces, but at least the part that I performed, it was a long take, so we really work hard to nail it, in one shot.
Last season ended on a cliffhanger, and this season ends on an even bigger and more shocking cliffhanger. What was your reaction, when you found out where things would end this season and what that could mean for the next season?
GALLAGHER: I think we were all shocked. It was really cool. I knew they were going to parallel the comic books, but it was really interesting because the way Season 2 ends, the writers can take it in any direction they want to. Think about it, if you solve one thing in the timeline, you therefore change the timeline again. You have an endless butterfly effect. You can never fully get back to the original timeline. When they jump back to 2019, for all they know, everything’s different. They assume everything’s fine, but when they see that it’s now the Sparrow Academy, that’s a hint of the mayhem in this different world. They’re now in an unfamiliar landscape, yet again, and they’re all in it for the first time. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the characters, as we find them at the end of Season 2, deal with this new timeline. And also, Five gets a new ability at the end of Season 2, with the ability to jump back a few seconds. To see how that’s going to work with fight scenes, in the third season, is going be cool. If come back for a third season, that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.
Do you have your own theories about who these new Sparrow Academy members are and what this will mean for Ben?
GALLAGHER: Yeah. I have a theory that the cube’s name is Rubiks. I have a theory that that’s going to be how that plays out. But in terms of Ben, I don’t know. I’m super glad, though, that Justin isn’t leaving us. We all legitimately thought, even Justin, that his character got killed off. He’s as much a part of the family as anyone else in the cast. Even if you never, as a character, got to really interact with him, since you were a sibling, he’s still there on set, every day, so it was like losing a family member. So, even if it’s not the same Ben that we’re used to, Justin still coming back for the third season was quite a relief, and really interesting. That was a great way to end the season. A character that we love is dead, and we’re not going to see them again. We see them again, but they’re different. Now, there’s a completely new context and home. There’s no place like home, but now their home doesn’t even exist. It’s different. It’s no longer their home. They’ve been kicked out. So, Season 3 can go anywhere, and I love that possibility. I love what that means. Based off of what I’ve heard, with different hints from the plans that we have, if we go back for a third season, it’s going to be fun. So, fingers crossed.
The Umbrella Academy Season 2 is available to stream at Netflix.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.