If you spent any time walking around Toronto this past year, you probably already recognize the name The Umbrella Academy. The brand-new Netflix series about a team of sibling superheroes was filmed all across the city, from Yonge and Dundas to King West, in 2018. But if you didn’t — and/or still don’t — know exactly who, or what, The Umbrella Academy is… not to worry. We got you.
See, despite being based on an Eisner-winning graphic novel, the superhero group doesn’t have quite the same household name recognition as the Justice League or X-Men or Avengers. (Pro tip: the Eisners are the Oscars of the comics world.) Plus, we’re smack in the middle of Peak Superhero, where it feels like there’s a new comic book movie or show being released every other week. But The Umbrella Academy is different. Which is precisely its main selling point, and charm.
Created and written by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, the show —billed as “X-Men meets The Royal Tenenbaums” – follows a super-dysfunctional family of superhumans, who reunite following the death of their adoptive father (a real Professor X type, if Professor X was a total dick). And, what with this being based on a graphic novel and all, there’s also an impending apocalypse, time-traveling assassins, a talking chimpanzee, violent shootouts set to Queen and They Might Be Giants, and more than enough quirky, subversive fun to help the series stand out even in our current crowded superhero landscape.
At the heart of the team is Luther, the de-facto leader of the bunch. Armed with superhuman strength and the oversized, Extremely Comic Book muscles to match, he’s played by Tom Hopper (who you may recognize as the well-meaning, but short-lived Dickon Tarly on Game of Thrones). And Allison, who used her Preacher-esque power of suggestion to carve out a post-superhero-ing second career as a movie star. She’s played by Emmy Raver-Lampman, who you’ve seen in Hamilton, either in the original Broadway ensemble, or as part of the show’s national touring company (assuming you were lucky enough to have actually scored tickets, that is). Together, they’re essentially the Cyclops and Jean Grey of the group, complete with the awkward, “will they or won’t they” romance… if those two were adopted brother and sister. Hey, we told you this show was offbeat.
Last week, the cast returned to Toronto for The Umbrella Academy’s Canadian premiere, and we spent Valentine’s Day talking to Hopper and Raver-Lampman about their own complicated love story, Luther’s giant muscles, and the show’s appropriately epic soundtrack.
So I figure it’s only fitting to be talking to you guys on Valentine’s Day.
Emmy Raver-Lampman: Aww. Yeah!
Your characters definitely have the most… healthy relationship of any of the siblings.
Raver-Lampman: [Laughs.] Well, you know, it’s tricky.
Tom Hopper: What’s weird is that question hasn’t been asked a lot. As in, how do you feel about the romance of it? But also the fact that they’re brother and sister. No one’s really touched on that. Which is really interesting.
Raver-Lampman: I know. I think because everybody loves it. So they don’t want to break it up. They’re like, “We’ll just forget about it.”
Hopper: It’s incredibly liberal. [Laughs.]
I mean, if it works on Game on Thrones, right?
Hopper: I think that’s the thing. People have already had the extreme of it.
Raver-Lampman: And they’re actually brother and sister! So if people have come to terms with that…
Was that something you had conversations about on set? Whether audiences would be okay with it, especially if they weren’t already familiar with the comics?
Hopper: No. What was so great about it, actually, is that we didn’t. We just focused on their relationship. How they felt about each other. Because, also, it’s not dirty. It’s not, like, lust. It’s a deep, deep connection that they have. So it wasn’t something that we felt was taboo in any way. It just felt organic. That’s what’s nice about it, really.
True. It feels very innocent.
Hopper: There’s a massive innocence to it.
Raver-Lampman: Because it was when they were kids. And I think because it came to such an abrupt halt when they were kids, it’s almost like they picked up where they left off, and they’re still these awkward kids trying to figure out. Like, “Oh God. I still have that feeling and it’s been 12 years. What is that?” It’s uncharted territory. And they’ve both gone on and lived completely separate lives.
He was living on the moon. [Editor’s note: Again, this show is weird.] And she got married and had a daughter and became a movie star. They’ve lived so much life, but to then come back and still have this feeling… I think lust is not involved at all. It’s just, like, I see who you are and you see who I am, and I haven’t met a single other person on this planet who can do that.
So, do you have any Valentine’s Day tips for rekindling with a childhood crush?
Raver-Lampman: Ooo… I’d say be open to change. Depending on how many years it’s been, that person is a different person. So, one: take note of that. And two: just take it easy. It’s a different person, and that’s not a bad thing. But just don’t put the same expectations on the childhood version you have in your mind of that person…
Hopper: And, um, find them on Facebook? That’s a good start. [Laughs.]
Raver-Lampman: Yeah. Instagram. Stalk ‘em on Insta.
The show gets a lot of comedy out of Luther’s size. It actually made me think of – did you see those pictures of Tom Brady sitting on the sidelines in his giant coat? The second I saw that, I thought, They probably wear the same size coat.
Hopper: Oh, yeah, yeah. [Laughs.] I hadn’t thought about that, but definitely.
How much did having that extra bulk inform your performance?
Hopper: Massively, in the end. I didn’t expect it to, to begin with. I never really thought, “Oh, that suit is going to influence a lot in terms of my performance.” I knew it would physically. It would change the way I move. Initially, I was like, “Oh, it’s going to be a bit of a hindrance to try to fight in that thing.” And what it ended up being was an amazing tool to feel what Luther is feeling every day. That awkwardness.
And, like you said, that comes with some nice little comedy moments. Because he is still getting used to having this size. Having this body is very new to him, and he’s uncomfortable. So the suit was great. It made me feel awkward. And sitting down, I’d always be bumping into you. [Emmy laughs.] Or knocking someone’s coffee out of their hand. So there’s an awkwardness and a clumsiness to him.
Raver-Lampman: And also, when I’m close to a friend, I’m a very touchy, physically affectionate person. But when he’d have his suit, I’d always rub his arm or try to get his attention by grabbing him and—
Hopper: I wouldn’t feel it.
Raver-Lampman: [Laughs.] I’d be like, “Hey!”
Hopper: “I’ve been like grabbing you for 10 minutes.”
Raver-Lampman: He also just couldn’t see, because the traps were so huge. He had no periphery around his body.
Hopper: Spatial awareness was a tricky thing.
How long did that take to put on and take off?
Hopper: The suit underneath the clothes was pretty quick. That was a two-minute job, because you zip into it. Which was very handy when it got to the Hulk moments when you just wanted to zip out very quickly. The prosthetic one that I ended up putting on, that’s about three hours. That was a bit more elaborate. And laborious as well.
Music is such a major element off this show. Which only makes sense, given Gerard Way’s background. If all goes well, and you get a Season Two, do you have any songs you’d love to see make the soundtrack?
Raver-Lampman: Prince needs to show up, I think.
Hopper: Oh, Prince would be great. Expensive, I’d guess.
Raver-Lampman: Michael Jackson. I feel like Simon and Garfunkel would fit in there really well. Nina Simone.
Hopper: There’s multiple Queen songs. We have a Queen song in the show already, but I love Queen so much that I think you could pop another one in there. Man, there’s so many. And what I love about the music in the show is, it’s not just thrown in there willy-nilly. It’s very specific. It compliments the moments so well.
From a personal standpoint, I’d like to see Kasabian. You know Kasabian? They’re a big, big band in the UK, and they’re from my hometown, so I would love to see Kasabian in there. They’ve got some amazing tunes that I think would fit in our show really well.