Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan & Aidan Gallagher Interview: Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy - Vanya

Ellen Page has appeared in such films as Juno, Inception, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Her most recent project is Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, an offbeat superhero drama based on the comic book series of the same name.  She plays Vanya Hargreeves, a violinist and the only member of the Hargreeves family without superpowers. Robert Sheehan has appeared in such films as The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Geostorm, and Mortal Engines. In The Umbrella Academy, he plays Klaus Hargreeves, a psychic that can talk to the dead and move things with telekinesis. Aidan Gallagher plays Number Five, a teenage time-traveler who has returned from an apocalyptic future.

Screen Rant: I'm going to jump around. The show's phenomenal by the way. Thank you. I really, really dig.

Everyone, did you guys read the comics? And what's the biggest change between your characters in the comics and the show if you did?

Robert Sheehan: I’m going to let our comic book specialists, Aiden, take it away.

Aidan Gallagher: I was definitely a fan of the comics beforehand and I don't know how much I can say regarding the show as far as spoiler territory stretch, but we definitely did the show justice. And comics fans will be happy with it. We have adjusted some things to make it more realistic and fit into this 10-hour Netflix format. But it's the same characters that we've all been familiar with.

Robert Sheehan: I think the comic book exists in a sort of a parallel dimension we're the kind of, the rules are different, the dream logic is enhanced. And so, Steve Blackman’s mission for the show I think was to bring the show to reality. Almost. There's still a little reserve of oddness around its edges, but I think very much, we all became as fully rounded three-dimensional real people as much as was possible.

Screen Rant: Well, I read the first graphic novel. And I was very curious about how it was going to adapt to a series. Because it visually, it's just so, it's crazy, right?

Robert Sheehan: You know what I think, I like the sort of absence of modern technology.

Aidan Gallagher: Yeah.

Ellen Page: Cell phones are just ruining narrative. It’s so hard. You can’t have someone just show up at a door. Or like, a couple of distance and someone drives— You just can’t-- It takes away all this s*** because someone would be like, ‘Hey, are you around?’

Robert Sheehan: Yeah [LAUGHS].

Ellen Page: I feel like I’ve been in so many movies-- like ‘I’ve been in sooo many movies.’ Multiple movies where we've just made a conscious choice of just like, ‘No cell phones.’

Robert Sheehan: Yeah. And people are dying for a break from, I think.  The show will offer-- even though you're probably watching it on a phone. But you know, you're offered a respite from a world where it's completely governed and obsessed by smart phones. It's a new way. Humans don't communicate the way they once did, anymore.

SR: Your character, Ellen, is more grounded than the rest of the cast in many ways. How does that make her stand apart as a part of all this madness?

Ellen Page: In terms of how she feels? Yeah, well, because of how she-- I mean, they all clearly were in an abusive household as children. And I think that just the compounding factor for Vanya was that she was also constantly being reminded that she wasn't special, that she was ordinary. So not only was she treated badly by her father, she was also treated really badly by the other kids. So very much just sort of ostracized by the entire family. And so now as an adult she really struggles with feelings of worthlessness, depression, has a very hard time having like intimate relationships, let alone friendships even.

Robert Sheeham: Oh, that broke my heart. Where you guys…I won’t say.

Ellen Page: So, yeah, that's sort of been her experience unfortunately. Being the different one from the group. Did I just answer that question?

Screen Rant: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Robert Sheehan: Quite lovely.

The Umbrella Academy - Klaus

Screen Rant: Robert, your character is one of, if not the most unhinged character of the series. How did you approach playing such a loose cannon?

Robert Sheehan: I don’t know. I mean—

Aidan Gallagher: Brilliantly.

Robert Sheehan: Well, this time, I try to do a few different types of approaches and see what would happen.  Kind of creatively-automatic, type of approaches. So, I put together a little visual diary, but the problem is I can't draw. And the automatic writing thing, the problem is I can’t write. So, I wrote loads, as the character, which was quite interesting. Because you start off with an unhinged thought. Something maybe to do the supernatural. But naturally, as you're just kind of writing, writing and trying to get into a sort of a flow state. Loads of stuff about the childhood actually would keep popping up and revealing itself that this is the voice that's kind of getting louder, louder in my head. These are the issues that he has. These are the things. So it was kind of like reverse therapy or something. So, that was interesting. All of that stuff was interesting. I mean the visual diary didn't go very well because I just kept Googling things I was trying to draw. I need to draw some taps in a bathtub and just Googled that for an hour. But, you know, trying to, I didn't really want him to be like mad, kooky. And I hope as the series goes on, that sort of wildness, that kind of unhinged untethered madness, is justified when you start to see what the alternative is. You know what I mean? In his journey. So, I'm eager for people to sort see all of Klaus’s journey before sort of fully knowing what Klaus is.

Screen Rant: Aiden, Number Five, is wise beyond his years. How did you approach playing someone that is an adult trapped into teenage body?

Aidan Gallagher: Well, I had, I started off with the physicality. I wanted to make sure that I got visually what Gabriel had done with the comics. I wanted to get that right. So I worked on his posture and the way he would look just standing there. The way he would interact with physicality, how he uses his hands. And that was the very first thing that I started with. And as I got some more of the scripts, I started to work on his mentality and how he would react to things. And through that I sort of just developed this sort of second mentality. And we got the chemistry of the different characters who worked on the dynamics. That got more filled out as the series went on.

Robert Sheehan: Yeah. We did have a lot of messing around in a room time, before actually filming. Which is priceless.

Aidan Gallagher: Yeah. To really figure out what the motives were.

Robert Sheehan: Yeah, especially when you're trying to conjure these very complex relationships and that’ve been there since childhood.

Ellen Page: And preparing for a 10-hour thing. That was so new for me. Having to be so mindful and like really trace your steps and be mindful of time and to be patient and to…Yeah, so fun.

Robert Sheehan: Yeah. Some days, you know, from a logistical perspective, one block would have gone slightly over in the schedule, let's say episodes four and five. And we’d be gone on six and seven. So, there was a constant awareness—

Ellen Page: Or you could be shooting something for three…

Robert Sheehan: So yeah, as you get to the end, they were inevitably scraps that you've missed along the way. So you're having to dive back into like three, when you're doing nine.

Aidan Gallagher: You have time to think about it, which is very helpful.

Ellen Page: Because physicality is a great example. It can be a huge part of an arc--

Aidan Gallagher: But there was also, oh yeah, there is a thing there.

The Umbrella Academy - Five

Screen Rant: It's crazy, because you said physicality, and the way that you stood out or straighten out for a second.

Aidan Gallagher: Well, visually, that was a big part of it. But more so than that, there's a lot of mental ticks, and I'll use the comics as a reference because I don't know how much of a series I can actually say. In the comics, there's a lot to sort of digest with Five. He's 58-years-old. He's trapped in this body. He has a genius level intellect. He's insane. He has a wife who's a mannequin. And when you're reading this on the page, it's just like, ‘Wait, wait, what?’ And it keeps getting-- nothing’s explained it. It just keeps going. And you're like, ‘Wow!’ So bringing that into reality, there was a lot to figure out. Okay, what's his motive? What was this like? Try and figure out more of the offscreen backstory that happens to Five in the apocalypse. So mentally and physically, those were two things I worked on.

Screen Rant: That's awesome. Ellen, in what ways is Vanya the eyes for the audience on this journey?

Ellen Page: Well, I think it changes. I think different characters sort of become the eyes at different points. I think we sort of open with her perspective in terms of going home. I think she has this thing sitting on her shoulders, this memoir she's written about the family, and the sort of feeling of impending doom in terms of how she's going to be treated by them. As they're kind of angry, and she’s sort of the one that’s entering the home and bringing us in. And we're meeting the characters for the first time and such.

Robert Sheehan: I think it's nice that you started off as that character that brings you in.

Ellen Page: And I think it starts to branch.

Robert Sheehan: You feel separate to everyone.

Aidan Gallagher: There’s a constant divide.

Ellen Page: Yeah, it starts branching in. Everything sort of comes back around. And I think probably I would imagine different people will relate to each character. And each character has their example of like how abusive trauma is manifested in their case. And so, I imagine different people will relate to how it's manifested in Vanya’s life versus Klaus’s life, et cetera, et cetera.

Screen Rant: A drug addict that can talk to dead people is a tough sell. How has these elements affected Klaus in his childhood and adulthood?

Robert Sheehan: Well, I think it's sort of made him crave numbness at all times. This was a stroke of great genius by Steve Blackman, taking the being plagued by the dead to concept and essentially turning it into something more akin to our reality, which is drug addiction. People take drugs to silence the demons in their heads.  So, you sort of take that and abstract it's likely.

And, well, how did it affect him as a child to completely destroyed any sort of idea of having a safe environment in his childhood? And those scars last a lifetime. So, it's a big one. I think ultimately it completely arrests Klaus. Like, it's funny when you meet-- I used to know someone who, when they were about seven or eight, their father left, he had to leave. And sometimes that person would be seven or eight, you know what I mean? Like for long stretches of the day. And it was like part of them had been arrested by this traumatic event in their childhood. And I think that's what happened to Klaus. When we first meet Klaus, he's like this, wooo! Like this giddy child because he kind of still is a child. So I suppose he never got to grow up.

SR: That’s amazing. You guys are great. Thank you so much for your time.

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