Based 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 Ellen Page and Robert Sheehan to talk about what intrigued them about the pilot script, the importance of finding the right tone, their biggest challenges with the shoot, bringing their own dance moves to the “I Think We’re Alone Now” dance sequence, getting comfortable with the violin, how the Vietnam love story evolved, the Vanya-Allison dynamic, and what they’d like to see in a possible second season. Be aware that spoilers are discussed.
ROBERT SHEEHAN: What’s on the back of your coat?
Collider: Oh, it’s Mickey Mouse and the locations of the Disney theme parks.
SHEEHAN: I remember going to Disneyland Paris, or Euro Disney, when I was like 18. I wasn’t that young. I went on an inter-rail trip with my pal around western Europe, and we started off in Paris. We got to Euro Disney and ate three of those massive sugar sticks, and then just spent the next seven hours running around the park like two complete Mickey Mouse lunatics. It was a good laugh.
When you guys read this, were you immediately interested, or did you have many questions?
ELLEN PAGE: Both.
SHEEHAN: I had a similar experience as Ellen, being very intrigued by the pilot script, and then having a good, thorough conversation with (showrunner) Steve Blackman and the writing team about where the journey goes and what sort of deviations it takes. That was the thing that really got my creative juices flowing. The journey that Klaus goes on is totally bonkers, in a very, very wonderful way. All of that promise, and all of that meat and potatoes, across the 10 hours, was the stuff that I was dying to get stuck into.
PAGE: My initial response to Vanya was that I just really related to her and the experience that she’s having, at that time, in the world. I had the feeling, the moment I finished the pilot, of wanting to read the next one mixed with just such a lovely conversation with Steve Blackman, who’s so wonderful and has an incredible track record. He explained the tone, the journey of the characters, and how he wanted to look. It really did sound like something that I had never seen before, and it sounded like something where you could have some fun mixed with some real depth. As an actor, there was a lot to grab onto. It just felt like a really nice combo.
Because of the unique, quirky material, it seems like it could have gone wrong, in so many different ways.
SHEEHAN: Tone is the thing. One of Steve’s true skills is identifying tone. Tone is this magic chemistry thing. It’s very difficult to create, especially when it’s so unique. It’s a very magical thing that has to be captured, and the show has an incredibly strong, unique tone to it. You get a lot of different strands, with the different characters.
Ellen, did it sometimes feel like you were making your own movie because Vanya is apart from her family for a large portion of the story?
PAGE: Yeah, I was often very separate. It was always such a joy when we did get to do family scenes, where we were all together. They would take five patrillion hours to shoot, but we did have a night where we were just laughing and having a good time. I worked a lot with John Magaro, and he’s such a superb actor. We got along wonderfully and were buddies because I was separate from everyone else, a lot. Hopefully, if we do a second season, maybe we’ll spend more time together.
SHEEHAN: Oh, I think we will.
PAGE: We better.
SHEEHAN: We should.
What were the biggest challenges, in doing this? Were there scenes that were technically challenging?
PAGE: I think the most challenging stuff was in the cold with rain machines. We would be shooting in minus weather with rain machines. I don’t mean to complain, but that was very physically challenging.
SHEEHAN: And the rain has to be the same temperature as outside, or else it evaporates. You couldn’t have the rain be warm, in any way. It had to be icy rain. Also, those scenes required so much coverage because there were eight or nine of us in them. It took a long time to get those family scenes done, but they were great fun, at the same time, especially when they moved us inside, and we were warm and had food and drinks. One scene that pops into my head, that was very, very challenging emotionally, happens right in the middle of the season and was incredibly, emotionally intense for Klaus. I had to go to great extreme places, on the side of the street in Toronto. That was quite a tough day, that was exhausting, emotionally and physically.
It seems really cool to be a part of a project where there are emotional moments and fight scenes, but you also get big dance sequences.
PAGE: And my wife (Emma Portner) worked on the show. She choreographed that beautiful dance, which was so experimental because Tom [Hopper] didn’t even know how to dance. He can dance now, though.
I love the scene where you get to see everybody dance because I feel like you get to learn so much about who these characters are by how they’re dancing.
PAGE: Yeah, you’re not used to that.
SHEEHAN: That was the first stuff that I shot.
PAGE: I like the little weird, wacky moments of the show.
SHEEHAN: It’s easier for me, on day one, to just act in front of a new crew with new faces. That dance was the first stuff that I shot. We were all alone, so there was no emotional support actor there to share the breaking of the spell, on the first day. It was just, “You’re alone. Now dance like no one’s watching.” That was a tough way to break the ice.
Did you at least get the actual song, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” to dance to, or did you have to dance to silence and pretend that it was playing?
SHEEHAN: Oh, yeah, we did. We had the song blasting.
PAGE: That’s always hard. I’ve done that in movies, with the beat track, or whatever they call it.
Are you at the point where you’re sick of the song and never want to hear it again?
SHEEHAN: I remember we did this nightclub sequence, years ago, on Misfits, and we were in there for about three days. The song was so wicked, but by the end of the three days, it was just a headache to even hear it. It was slow torture. But, it never got to that point with Tiffany. We got my stuff wrapped up pretty quick. I didn’t have anymore moves.
Ellen, did it take time for you to get comfortable with the violin and to look comfortable with it?
PAGE: Oh, my god, it was so hard. They say it’s the hardest instrument to learn, and I’m blown away by anyone who plays it. It’s so difficult. I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher, who was so patient and delightful, and so good.
SHEEHAN: You were pretty good, though. You could play a couple of tunes.
PAGE: You’re so sweet. My double, Imogen [Sloss], was this amazing 16-year-old who was fantastic. I just tried my best, but truly, even holding the bow is hard. It took time. I did my best to just look comfortable, so we really worked on holding it and bow strokes. I could play “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and a couple of little ditties, but that’s about it.
SHEEHAN: Just a smattering of Mozart. No big deal. Violins are such beautiful looking things, aren’t they? You look at one and go, “I wish I could play you, so that I have reason to own one,” instead of just having it as an ornament.
There are such interesting dynamics in this family. Were there relationships that you found most interesting to get to really explore and dive into?