Behind The Scenes

The Umbrella Academy | Getting Into Characters

Episode Summary

The heart of this show is a family drama. In this episode we’ll be talking with actors Aidan Gallagher (Five), Justin H. Min (Ben), Tom Hopper (Luther) and Kate Walsh (The Handler) to find out what their audition process was like, what they thought of the comics, and what external forces influenced their characters.

Episode Notes

The heart of this show is a family drama. In this episode we’ll be talking with actors Aidan Gallagher (Five), Justin H. Min (Ben), Tom Hopper (Luther) and Kate Walsh (The Handler) to find out what their audition process was like, what they thought of the comics, and what external forces influenced their characters.  

Episode Transcription

Emmy: I heard a rumor… that you watched all the new episodes of The Umbrella Academy before listening to this podcast. Otherwise, things will be spoiled. 

In this season of Behind the Scenes, we’ve talked to the creative geniuses behind the Umbrella Academy comic books, the writers of the Netflix television show, the people who find and design the show’s sets and the team who creates the musical moments. 

But if you strip away the incredible effects, the massive explosions, the intense fight scenes and the unexpected song choices, you’ll find that at its heart, this show is a family drama … a show about the complicated, sometimes twisted relationships between seven siblings, and the people they become intertwined with. So for our final episode, we talked to some of the actors who brought these characters to life. 

Aidan: Hello, my name is Aiden Gallagher, and I play Number Five

Justin: Hi, my name is Justin H. Min and I play Ben Hargreeves

Tom: Hello there, my name is Tom Hopper and I play Luther Hargreeves

Kate: My name is Kate Walsh and I hold the boom on Umbrella Academy. I'm just kidding. I play The Handler.

And I’m Brandon Jenkins, the host of the Behind the Scenes podcast. Today we’ll learn how these incredible actors came to the show,  how they created their characters, and how it feels to inhabit them. 

When Aidan Gallagher got the call to audition for Five --  --- a middle-aged assassin trapped in his teenage body -- he didn’t need to do much research … 

Aidan: I approached Umbrella Academy very much as a fan. 

Brandon: So when you first encountered the books, i’m curious, who was your favorite character? 

Aidan: Oh, no doubt, Five.

Brandon: What about him appealed to you when you saw like okay, I'm a fan of the books but now I have to embody this, I have to carry on this torch? 

Aidan: Five is this brilliant, tortured mind that spent 45 years alone and then went on a killing rampage throughout history. And he's one of the most deadly, one of the most cruel, brilliant and coolest characters that I've ever had the privilege to read about. The fact that I got to play him was a very interesting challenge. 

Five (clip): I’m 14 days older than him. I have seniority here. So it is me you should be listening to here, Luther. I’m the daddy here1 

Aidan: When I first got the script, I wasn't expecting the world to be nearly as developed or as in-depth as the comic book was, because naturally, when you transition to film, some things get shaved away because it works better for a different format. But to my surprise and to my delight, the world and the characters were just as strange and off-the-cuff and weird and depthful as the comic book was. 

Brandon: Are you a fan of time travel shows or not really? 

Aidan: Big fan. Big fan, I love time travel shows. I find the concept of time travel really interesting. I like the nature of how time travel has functioned in comic books, and in movies and in television. 

Five (clip): Today you are going to attempt to time travel forward to 2019. However, you are going to screw up the jump and end up in this twip of a body. Trapped, forever, small, pubescent. 

Aidan: The luxury of being on the project that is using time travel is you actually get to ask the creators and the writers. So if I have any questions before we shoot a scene about how something works logically, I can always get the answers within a few seconds. So very lucky. 

Aidan might have had an idea of what to expect of Umbrella Academy. But things were different for actor Justin H. Min. 

Brandon: Before joining Umbrella like what did you know about the comics? Like did you have any knowledge of them? 

Justin:  Um, no, not really actually. But obviously, when i got the audition and after i had found out that i had booked the job, I sort of gobbled it up. I went to the nearest bookstore and got them and read them, I believe in one night. And I've been a fan ever since. 

But reading up on the comics didn’t help him much...because Justin’s character, Ben — the dead brother — is barely featured in the original graphic novels -- which created some complications in his audition process. 

Brandon: And what were your thoughts when you found out that Ben was you know is effectively a ghost? 

Justin: The whole process was really interesting because even after I had  booked the part,  I actually didn’t know who I was. 

Brandon: oh wow. 

Justin: Yeah. It was funny because every time I auditioned for the part, the name had changed. So I wasn't sure if I was auditioning for the same character or a new character. And it was all very confusing. The only piece of information that I had I was given at the time of the audition was that this was sort of a reclusive introvert and that he was a loyal brother type of character and I am a reclusive introvert, so so that really resonated with me. But I had booked the part and my agents and my manager were frantically trying to find out. OK, now that Justin has booked this part like who is he actually? And we still weren't getting very clear information. And then finally, they had gotten the information that it was part of the family. By then, all of the other announcements for all of the other family members had already come out. And so I was like, wait, I don't understand how I could be in the family anymore. And then finally I'd gotten to Toronto. And then our showrunner, Steve Blackman, had sort of broken the news to me about how even though Ben is dead in the comics, that I would actually be alive somewhat. I'm making air quotes right now since you can’t see me, somewhat alive in the series. I was I was very excited to sort of create this character from ground up. 

Brandon: So what kind of research and preparation did you do to help create this this role? 

Justin: Right. so I would say the majority of my research was just in talks with Steve, again, our showrunner.  And to be honest, I actually was very thankful that he wasn't featured as much in the comics because I know all the other cast members they had to deal with the pressure of of trying to do this comic book version of whoever these people were. I never had to deal with that pressure. So it was amazing. And of course, a lot of discussions with Robby as well, because, you know, Klaus and Ben's relationship is integral to the show. So it was a lot of that and sort of building as we went along. 

Brandon: I'm curious, like, how would you define Ben's relationship with Klaus? Is it similar to how you define your relationship with Robbie Sheehan? 

Justin: Yes, yes, yes, yes. You know, I think from the first moment that I met Robbie, we got drinks, I'd say the night before we we shot our first scene and there was an instantaneous chemistry and we sort of had had an instantaneous rapport and we joked around then, you know, I think our characters are essentially heightened versions of ourselves, extensions of ourselves. So it really worked in that way. And I think the casting was great.

Ben (clip): You think I’m just gonna keep following you everywhere for another three years? 

Klaus: Well, you are my ghost bitch, remember. 

Justin: I think their relationship is very similar to most brother sibling relationships in the sense that they fight a lot. They're really dysfunctional. But at the end of the day, they love each other. They have each other's backs and they want nothing but the best for each other. 

Klaus (clip): What was it like driving all this hot business?

Ben: It was like having no skin, but still wanting to touch… everything.  

Klaus: Oh yeah. 

Brandon: By the time people finish season 2, they’ll understand that Umbrella Academy is great at cliffhangers. And one of the last scenes we see is the Sparrow Academy. So what can you tell us about Sparrow Academy version of Ben, how is he different, what can fans look forward to? 

Justin: Well first of all I should mention that I didn’t know that he was gonna come back as Sparrow Academy Ben. 

Brandon: What? 

Justin: So once again, I was left in the dark. So, it's funny because when we were shooting that scene with Vanya in Episode Nine and I was saying goodbye to her, it was a really emotional scene for me. 

Ben (clip): Can I ask you a weird favor? 

Vanya: Anything. 

Ben: Can you hug me as I go? 

Justin: Obviously, as a character. But even as Justin, because I thought at that point I was saying goodbye to the show. And even though Steve Blackman, our showrunner, was winking at me, I didn't really know what that meant. And then I truly did not want to, like, assume that I would be back. So it was it was really heartbreaking also, like no one else knew as well. So all the hair and makeup people and and all the other PAs and sound guys that I had gotten so close to were all almost saying their goodbyes, me and it was really emotional. And then to get the last scene, I was I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked. It's really exciting to play a completely different character. I mean, it's funny that we were just talking about how I was able to sort of build Ben from the ground up. And here is another perfect example of that. I mean uh, the Sparrow Academy does exist in the comics but Ben does not exist in that Sparrow Academy.  So we're once again able to build sort of a character from the ground up. I don't want to give too much away, but he's completely different from the Ben that we know of in the first two seasons. And he's not having it. He's not having it anymore. 

Ben (clip): Who the hell are these assholes? 

Another character created for the show was the big bad herself, The Handler. In fact, this character wasn’t even created for a woman. But when Kate Walsh took on the role, she gave the Handler a whole new life, and a whole new wardrobe. 

Brandon: Do you remember the first time you read the script and saw the handler character? Like, what were your first feelings? 

Kate: Yeah, well, it was actually interesting because Steve Blackman called me and said we wrote this part called The Handler. We wrote it originally for Jon Hamm or like a Jon Hamm type. So I was like, that's a first. I've never gotten a Jon Hamm type. Sloppy seconds. So I was like, send it over. And I thought it was amazing and funny. And one of the things I really loved about it was the humor. And then he said, you know, look, there's not a massive budget because we've sort of we've hired everybody. But, you know, I was like, well, do you have a wig budget and costume budget? He's like yeah. And I'm like, okay, good. Then I'm going to go. He goes, you could do it ever you want like go to town creating this character. So Chris Hargadon, our illustrious costume designer and I and the and the hair and makeup department. We just went for it and leaned in and created this fabulous weirdo. 

Brandon: Have you have you sort of envision where the hand the words before the commission like what that story looks like for this person before we see her as this, like, you know, sort of corrupted monster, like where we see her in like season two. 

Kate: She's always been sort of a little devil, like a bad seed, if you will. You know, like even when she was younger in the commission, she was still plotting. You know? Looking for power. But I also think, like, look, it's super analogous. You could. I mean, you could stretch this and talk about this, you know, in many different ways. But, well, maybe she was frustrated being a female in a man's world. And is like, I'm going to take you all down, you know?

Brandon: Just burn it down. 

Kate: Yeah. Yeah. She's like a spider. That was why we used the spider motif in webs in this design and in in the costumes a lot this season in brooches with bugs and spiders, And like, even when we when she's in the warehouse with five sort of luring him and she's circling him and circling him like weaving this web around him for this big ultimate trap, you know. Like a black widow. 

The Handler (clip): Together again. I gotta ask, did you miss me, you little shit? 

Brandon: For a character like this that has like a ton of mystery surrounding her, but also like is fully formed like when you meet her, you understand who she is, how do you go about creating a backstory for a character like this? 

Kate: You know, every role is different. But one of the great things about doing this particular role in Umbrella Academy is the fantastical nature of it. So to actually come at it from…   it's not just because I can't act and I need a bunch of wigs, hair and makeup and props and wardrobe, but to really come at it with this exoskeleton. And that’s sort of where we’re coming at - so I worked very, very closely, in particular season two, with hair, makeup and wardrobe with Sarah. She was an amazing makeup artist, season two. And we  worked as this unit to create this, his progression of her into like I said, this sort of exoskeleton that she's wearing to kind of, the more corrupt she becomes, the more that she sort of wears it externally, like her insides are her outsides. And like this bug motif and this military sort of thing that starts happening. And again, it was all like armor. 

Brandon: Yeah. 

Brandon: Do you just feel like when you step into that and sort of get that first glimpse of yourself in the mirror, ;ike you feel transformed, powerful?

Kate: Yeah. You’ll be like who's she? I mean, it literally took a village to get me into those looks. And there were so many layers upon layers. And it started with a corset or would start with Spanx and corset. Then another pair of Spanx and then weird boob bras and weird. Oh, my God. It was really like becoming, like a Transformer, It was it was really quite something. 

The Handler (clip): Careful. I want that hem straight enough to cut throats. 

 

While Kate used costumes to get into character … Tom Hopper had to pull off a complete transformation, from his voice to his body.  

Tom: Hello there. My name is Tom Hopper and I play Luther Hargreeves on the Umbrella Academy. And yes, I'm not American.

Brandon: I will say I’m a bit of a bit thrown off for what it's like, I'm so used to watching the show and I'm like, oh, okay. Yeah. I do not know how you are managed to nail the American accent so well and we cannot do it in reverse. We just don't have that ability. 

Tom: And I don't want is, man, like I grew up watching  your know American sitcoms, you know, and like I was obsessed with Friends growing up. I certainly didn't just have it naturally you know, I've taking classes and, you know and had one on ones to make sure that my accent is as good as it can be. 

Brandon: Well, you've had me convinced up until this very moment right now. 

Tom: Well, thanks, man. Well, that's good to know.

Brandon: Your character, Luther, is also the character that goes to the most physical transformation from the comics to television. How did you approach it? 

Tom: Yeah, I mean, it was a big conversation piece. Very early on. I mean, I was I was I think I was the first to be cast in the show. So it was a conversation me and Steve had very early on. And there was lots of chats back and forth about whether I was going to put on the majority of the size myself, and they were going to slim him down very much from what he was in the comic and he would just look a little bit off. But I think the first thing that we wanted to do was have me get as big as I could. That was one thing that him and Peter Hall, who directed the pilot. So we had a conversation over Skype early on and they showed me a picture, this reference picture of what they looked like. 

Tom: And I was like, oh, man, that's impressive. And they were like, Yeah, that's all you, man, you're going to get. And I was like, Oh, shit, okay. 

Tom: So I went to town on the weights and stuff, man. I like went really hard and I was doing everything, I was eating so much food to get as big as I could. They were like all this they want it's going to be big. So, and I'm a big health freak so I, I don't you know take any kind of chemical things or anything. So I was doing it all with real whole food and like vegetables. I mean all my diet is vegetables and stuff. So I was eating more sweet potato I think anyone has eaten ever in history. So yeah, I was smashing a lot of food and then very close to shooting when we first arrived in Toronto and I sort of ballooned I think this is the last time Steve would see me, but he was like, oh yes. So we were going to go with a suit. And I was like right. Like, oh, oh, sure, sure. So I did actually ballooned quite a bit, way bigger than what I like my normal fighting weight, you know. So you actually see as you go through the first season, it kind of works well because Luther has been up on the moon doing nothing. Yeah. So he's look a bit chubby, a bit like lazy. And then he kind of slims down in season- then in season two he's like fighting again. He's like a little bit leaner. He's been on the chicken and broccoli. You know, he's probably slimmed down. So many people ask me if that was my real body. It was hilarious. Looks like that guy's got muscles that no humans got. 

Brandon Yeah, that would be a science experiment, literally. 

Luther (clip): Look at what you did to me! Look at it! 

Tom: But I tell you, what the funny story was actually was when my my wife came to set. And she was like, “I think I find you more attractive like this.” And I was like, “Really? I'm of Simien proportions. She was like, No. There's something about it. I really like it. But then also my daughter, who was what she must have been about ten months, it was the most confusing moment of her life so far because she was like, “that's my dad, but it's not my dad's body. What the hell has happened to my dad's body.” Yeah. Burst into tears when you saw it. It took her a good 10 seconds to burst into tears, but she figured out that she did not like it. That's for sure. 

Brandon: Yeah, Can you walk us through the day to day of getting ready to play Luther? And by that, I mean like, you know, what time you have to wake up just to wear these prosthetics? 

Tom: Yes. I mean, I'm pretty... People think I'm nuts, but I'm pretty hardcore when it comes to my training and stuff. So I'm usually in the gym by, like, half three, four if I've got five five a.m. pickup. 

Brandon: Woah 

Tom: So it sets me up for the day. So I get in the gym, I get over to set and I'm that there's just like me in the prosthetics guys and like Maddy who runs the base camp there on set. So it takes about two hours to put it on. And, the guys are so good at it, they've got it down to like an hour and a half by the end of the season two. 

Brandon: Woah 

Tom: Yeah  they were really they were very efficient at it. And yeah, it was you see the big bulk of it on the torso is is all one suit. Right. So you put the torso on. The thing that takes the time is the neck piece and the handpieces. So they're the bits that, you know, there's all the painting and the gluing and especially if I've got any facial prosthetics. Like this year, I had all the beat up makeup as well, which was a big facial prosthetic as well. So you've got that as well. Yeah. You're talking about sometime in between two and a half, three hours to get that thing on. 

 

Brandon: Geez

Tom: The biggest, the hardest thing is you've got to make sure you have gone toilet before you get in that thing because there's no exit tube out the back, if you know what I mean. 

Brandon Yes. 

Tom So if you have a situation during the day, that could be a problem, cutting you you out of that thing. But they've been kind enough to give me a zip hole. So I do get to pee. But very often, you know, I sweat so much, you know, I especially want to do a fight. You know, those fight scenes at the beginning of season two? Man, I was sweating so much, I barely peed the entire day. 

Brandon Just all this just as heat of this suit. 

Tom Yeah. Oh, God, yes. Because, I mean, you're doing this. I mean, it must weigh, I don’t know how much it weighs now, for about fifteen pounds, I guess, 20 pounds. 

Brandon That's wild. 

Brandon: I’m wondering, how does Luther's physical appearance affect you as an actor? Like, how does that translate to him and his character? 

Tom: Yeah, he's actually willing to put the suit on. It was I thought, oh, my God, this is gonna be quite cumbersome. You know, you can be really tough to maintain every day. And then actually, as soon as I started playing Luther with it on, it was like it was so good because that suit, you know, that body that Luther has, that's a burden to him. You know, he's a real. What makes him so self-conscious in that deep rooted insecurity that Luther has that we see in this show, very often, it all comes in this body that he just never wanted. He wasn't supposed to be this way. You know, he's got a deformity in his head. And what was so great every time I put that suit on, it felt uncomfortable. It felt hot. Felt the this, this guy I was portraying was uncomfortable. And every day I put that on. It was like I put Luther on. You know, and it made it so much easier to access what it was like to feel like he did, you know, insecure and like a big guy and internally is feeling very small and insecure. 

Luther (clip): What if we’re just a bunch of freaks who have no business changing the world for everyone else. 

Diego: Everyone changes the world, Luther. Everyone. And it’s scary but that’s kinda the deal. You know, you are so goddamn big, sometimes I forget what a sensitive bastard you are. 

It takes a tight knit, dedicated community to create any season of television and we only had the chance to speak to a handful of people on the incredible team that made Season 2 of the Umbrella Academy happen. But we hope this gives you even a small glimpse into the hard-work and talent required to make the fun and exciting tv shows you love … you know what... I’ll let Tom Hopper tell you … he said it best, with his British accent …  

Tom: So the biggest thing for me is all that work that everyone put in, the entire team, that family, Umbrella Academy family, everyone This crew worked tirelessly in the snow, in the baking heat. And same for the social media team and everyone who does the marketing and makes the show the product that it is. You know it's a huge hats off to a massive team effort. And I'm I'm so proud to be a part of it. 

This was the final episode of Behind The Scenes: The Umbrella Academy, Season 2. And we really hope you’ve enjoyed our journey through time – learning more about the Academy, the Commission, and the amazing creators and crew that brought this series to your screens. 

Behind The Scenes: The Umbrella Academy, season 2 was produced by Netflix and Pineapple Street Studios. Our executive producers are Rae Votta, Max Linsky, Jenna Weiss-Berman, and Bari Finkel. 

This production was led by producer Melissa Slaughter. Our senior producer is Eric Mennel, our associate producer is Maria Robins-Somerville. 

Editing by Maddy Sprung-Keyser. 

Hannis Brown is our engineer extraordinaire who made everyone’s at-home recordings sound amazing. 

Special thanks to Mackenzie Carlson, Rae Murillo, Meghan Tucker, and Matt Harper. 

And finally, I’m your host Brandon Jenkins.

Make sure you rate, review, and subscribe for the next season, where we’ll be diving into another fantastic Netflix series. Till next time.