‘The Umbrella Academy’ – cast members Mary J Blige, Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan and more reveal all about your weekend’s binge viewing

The trend for superhero TV shows to go super dark and brooding is far from new by this point, which makes the pop-art vibrancy, surreal dance numbers and weird comedy of The Umbrella Academy a welcome change.

Based on a comic book created by My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, The Umbrella Academy chronicles the lives of the superpowered Hargreeves siblings. The children, all born on the same day to women who showed no signs of pregnancy, were adopted by an eccentric millionaire who wanted to nurture their abilities and turn them in to a crimefighting band. His plan went wrong and the children went their separate ways.

The Umbrella Academy finds the dysfunctional siblings in the aftermath of their father’s death, with the thirty-somethings having to come back together to prevent an impending apocalypse – and try not to kill each other in the meantime.

To celebrate the release of The Umbrella Academy, NME  has put together a special issue which you can pick up for free now. In it, you’ll find exclusive interviews with the cast, and Gerard Way, and even a one-off, seven-page Umbrella Academy comic.

NME spoke to the cast and series showrunner to talk about the show’s origins, oddball nature and beating people up.

Steve Blackman and Ellen Page

Showrunner Blackman has written for shows including Fargo and Bones. It was his task to turn a brief comic book series into a lengthy tent pole series. Page , meanwhile, plays Vanya, the only Hargreeves sibling who grew up without any apparent powers. Sidelined by the rest of her family, she became insular.

When you started adapting the comic book into a TV show, what were the core elements you wanted to keep?

Steve Blackman: “I wanted to keep the absurdist elements and the whimsy. It was a hard thing to translate, partly because it was 40 pages of comic and we had to do a 10-hour show. I wanted to feel respectful to the fans of the graphic novel, so you’d enjoy it if you loved that, but also bring in people who don’t read graphic novels.”

Ellen, what do you share with Vanya?

Ellen Page: “Less her personality and more her emotional journey. I struggled with feeling like an outsider, growing up in an environment where it wasn’t always positive in terms of my identity. Navigating that and dealing with shame and how that internalises.”

You’re used to doing movies, so how was it being a character for so long?

EP: “So enjoyable. This was five months. I did five months with Inception, but the difference is that this is a 10-hour narrative. One of the reasons I was desiring TV was because I wanted to experience that.”

One sibling, Klaus, is LGBTQ+ but without it being a struggle or an issue, which is still rare in TV. What are your thoughts on that, Ellen, as someone who is gay?

EP: “It’s so important to have representation…It needs to be happening more and more. What I love about Steve is that already – knock on wood, we get a second season – we’re talking about how we can be more [representative]. It’s beyond important. It’s crucial. It just has to happen. That extends to inclusivity in general in the industry, not just on screen.”

What would you do with a second season, Steve?

SB: “I have a plan in my head. It would be another wild and crazy time with our characters, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Mary J Blige and Cameron Britton

Cameron Britton and Mary J Blige play Hazel and Cha Cha respectively, a pair of assassins sent from the future to kill a boy who might prevent the destined apocalypse (we promise it will make sense when you watch it). They make murder and violence look like a hoot.

How would you describe the dynamic between Hazel and Cha Cha?

Mary J Blige: “Cha Cha believes she’s the boss of everything and Hazel listens because he wants her to believe she’s the boss of everything. He listens because if he doesn’t he doesn’t know what she’ll do.”

Cameron Britton: “He doesn’t want to put in the work. Just let Cha Cha do everything. She’s happy to.”

The show involves a lot of time travel. If you could travel back to any time, where would you go?

CB: “2017 was great because I just didn’t have much to do.”

MJB: “1996. I was having so much fun, not caring. I didn’t care about anything. The music was amazing. People had their own identities. There wasn’t just one sound going on. Everybody had their own thing as an artist. I was young and new and fresh and didn’t care about anything. Living my life like a savage. Partying and making music. It was so much fun!”

What was the best point of that year?

MJB: “I had an album that went to number one. Everything I put out was number one. When you don’t care everything’s number one. Then when you start caring it’s like you’re number 35 in the charts. It was a good time. Music was good. Going from club to club, just doing young, dumb stuff.”

Mary, you’ve said you’ve always dreamt of playing an action character who beats people up and has shoot-outs. When it came to training for that were you as good as you dreamed you’d be?

MJB: “It was hard, but I was good. I was determined to be great and let people see me fighting and do some of my own stunts.”

If the world ended tomorrow, what would you do with the final day of your life?

CB: “Not much. Hang out with my wife, make a couple of calls, maybe watch Team America: World Police and probably get a steak.”

MJB: “I would spend time with my mum.”

CB: “I would like to change my answer to that.”

First-look image from The Umbrella Academy – Credit: Netflix

Robert Sheehan and David Castaneda

David Castaneda and Robert Sheehan’s Umbrella Academy characters could not be more different. Castaneda plays Diego, a knife-throwing death machine who rarely, if ever, smiles. Sheehan plays Klaus, a drug-addicted lunatic who takes almost nothing seriously. So obviously they were paired for our interview.

Klaus can talk to dead people. If you could talk to any dead person, who would you choose?

Robert Sheehan: “I’d probably go Salvador Dali and ask, ‘What were you thinking, man? What was with all the clocks?’”

Diego’s path is really heavy, compared to the other characters. Does that still make him fun to play?

David Castaneda: “At times, yeah. I tried as much as possible to live in a routine, because he can be a very miserable state to be in 24/7…Once the weekend hit or we got to hang out, there was some decompression.”

Robert, you were in Misfits too, which was a show about superpowered young people. Do you see comparisons between the shows?

RS: “I suppose there are similarities, in terms of the broad set-up and structure. This is a bunch of ‘misfits’ who are thrown together and go through this unique, life-changing experience. I suppose it’s very different. Klaus is this sort of butterfly, because he changes his form all the time. He’s always in a state of transformation. That’s the key to his magic. If we go on, I think he has to keep reinventing himself. Nathan [Sheehan’s Misfits character] was never someone who could change. He was just himself and he was always going to be that way.”

If you could play another character in the show, who would it be?

RS: “I think Number Five (the time-travelling brother who has a middle-aged brain trapped in a teenage body), Hazel or Cha Cha, because I really like all the reckless killing. Klaus never does any reckless killing. I’d like to be in a big gun fight.”

DC: “Hazel would be fun. He complains so much. And eats a lot of donuts.”

Emmy Raver Lampman and Tom Hopper

Emmy Raver Lampman and Tom Hopper play Allison and Luther. Allison, the only girl in the Umbrella Academy crime fighting squad, grew up to be a movie star, but has struggled behind the scenes. Her superpower of being able to distort reality has rarely been a benefit. Luther was sent to live on the moon by his weirdo father and has become an understandably insecure adult, despite his enormous size.

Your characters have an unusual relationship. They’re adopted siblings but they’re also romantically interested in each other. Is that a bit weird or are we ok with it?

Tom Hopper: “You can’t stop two humans who gravitate toward each other like magnets. Yes, they’re technically adopted siblings, but they’re also two people who have been brought together from different sides of the world and they connect.”

Emmy Raver Lampman: “It doesn’t ever feel icky because there’s no lust involved. They’re just two souls who understand each other better than anyone else.”

Tom, you wear prostethics do give you this giant, muscled ape-like body. What was your first reaction when you saw yourself like that?

TH: “My head looks small!”

ERL: “In the screen test they paired him and Ellen [Page] together and it was hilarious. She’s this tiny little thing and he’s enormous.”

If you could have any power of anyone in the Umbrella Academy, whose would you choose?

TH: “I would choose Number 5’s, because he can time travel and I’d like to do that. But I think the coolest is Allison’s. It’s unique. When I read the comic I thought that was a gnarly power.”

ERL: “I have spent so much time talking about my power and then spent ten episodes not using it. I was the most un-superhero superhero in the show.”

You’ve got a real mix of nationalities in the show – American, English, Irish, Canadian. Did you pick up any slang from each other?

TH: “I’m from the midlands and still live there so I have all these sayings that I use and Emmy would be constantly like, ‘What’s that now?’ I’ll say, ‘Oh sound’. And she’ll be like…”

ERL: “‘Huh??’ I picked up ‘Smashed it’ from him. It’s like ‘nailed it’, right? It’s mostly me making fun of him.”

TH: “I’d love Emmy to meet someone from Liverpool or somewhere like that. ‘Ahright mate. ‘Ow’s it goin’ It would be like a different species to her.”

The Umbrella Academy is available on Netflix now.