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Interview: ‘The Umbrella Academy’ Creator Steve Blackman on His Dysfunctional Super Family Show (With a Body Count)

The Umbrella Academy. (L to R) Emmy Raver-Lampman as Allison Hargreeves, Elliot Page, Tom Hopper as Luther Hargreeves, Aidan Gallagher as Number Five, David Castañeda as Diego Hargreeves, Robert Sheehan as Klaus Hargreeves in episode 301 of The Umbrella Academy. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

If you have slept on The Umbrella Academy because you are fatigued of superhero stories, you can be forgiven. You will also be making a big mistake. Huge mistake. The Umbrella Academy is one of the funniest, weirdest and most bingeable shows streaming right now. What separates it from a crowded pack is the ensemble. Based on the graphic novel series written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy follows the adventures of a dysfunctional family of super heroes.

“I think the logline I used is: a dysfunctional family show with a body count,” says Steve Blackman, the creator, producer, writer and showrunner for The Umbrella Academy. “I really felt there was a Wes Anderson story in there somewhere. And I don’t hide that – a lot of the show pays homage to him. So I got on the phone with Gerard Way, and his brain is crazy fun. He had wonderful ideas. And he was kind enough to give me the creative freedom to sort of make something that wasn’t a photocopy of the of the graphic novel, which would be would have been very hard to adapt. It’s very nonlinear. He said, ‘You do something great with it.’ I said, ‘thank you.’ and it’s been like, a delightful journey with this guy ever since.”

(You can listen to the complete The ‘Verse! interview with Steve Blackman below.)

Wes Anderson meets John Woo would be a fitting way to describe The Umbrella Academy. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it’s sad, it’s heartfelt, and it kicks a bunch of ass. One of the delights of the show is seeing the phenomenal cast thrust into different situations where they have to learn to trust and rely on each other even after a childhood of pain and betrayal.

“One thing these kids have in common is a shared trauma, which is that they’re raised by a crazy, dysfunctional alien father (Reginal Hargreeves played by Colm Feore), who used them as instruments and truly didn’t love them, or maybe he loved them in his own way. But it’s that shared trauma that brings them together. I do love pairing different groups. I mean, Robert Sheehan, who plays Klaus is is pretty good with everybody. But I think he’s quite delightful when he’s with Aidan Gallagher who plays Five, they are a funny combo. I also think Rita Arya who plays Lila is great with playing against Aiden and also her and David Castaneda plays Diego are hilarious together. I mean, just the the weird, odd chemistry of what their love story is about is my favorite scenes to write. I just think they’re just great scenes. Great fun. And the actors will do anything I write. They’re just great, easy, easy actors.”

The setting, of course, heightens the drama. No matter how hard they try, the The Umbrella Academy seems to be the cause of, and solution, to the end of the world.

“When you know that the end is nigh, and you have to stop this thing from occurring, the plot becomes very simple on that front. The interpersonal plots, those are really complicated. And then when you get into time travel, that’s when the show really goes upside down. We have wonderful writers in the room and we we fight endlessly about how the time travel things would work. And we have all these charts with circles and squares and things that we hopefully, you know, works, but it’s a deceptively simple looking show that is very hard to write because we are servicing 10 characters in 45 minutes an episode. I set us up for for for pain in the first season by saying each episode is one day. So each season has only been 10 days. And I’ve kept to that conceit.”

Even the most casual viewer can’t help but be impressed with the choice of needle drops. They Might Be Giants, Tiffany, The Kinks, Joe Tex, the music is an eclectic mix of old and new that simultaneously elevates and compliments the material.

“Music is a huge part of my life. So I listen to music all the time. And music sometimes inspires me when I’m writing. And sometimes a song inspires my writing and works both ways. So I create a song list before I’ve even written the scripts of songs that just love. And sometimes I find I think as I’m listening to the song, I think, you know, this would work well with the scene I’m thinking about it putting together. But I also encourage my writers, we write the music into the scripts. It’s not like we do a show, like most shows, do they go into post and say, let’s put a song here. They’re written to the scripts ahead of time because I like to put the music and I like the actors sometimes to hear the song that’s going to be playing over [a scene]. And then I got a really great music music supervisor named Jen Malone who, if something doesn’t work, she’ll say, ‘try this’ and she’s very much outside the box thinker. But, you know, we’re very proud of the songs we’re putting the show over the years and you know, we’ve we’ve launched relaunched a few big songs that had fallen long off the list. Like “I think We’re Alone Now.” And suddenly Tiffany’s had a really good Christmas that year because of it being on the top of Spotify for about three weeks.”

Season 3 had the difficult task of introducing Elliot Page’s change from Vanya To Viktor. What could have been a shoe-horned or hamfisted storyline ends up being a wonderful primer for anyone who’s family member or loved one is transitioning.

“I’ve become very close with Elliot over the years, and I’m so happy that I can support his journey that he’s going on. But the truth is, the scripts were finished before he called me up and said, Listen, ‘I’m transitioning’. I did not know what to say, because no one had called me up and said that so I think I just sat like blankly saying, What do I congratulate you? Say Mazel Tov? I wasn’t sure what. In fairness to Elliot, he said to me, ‘write the transition, don’t write the transition. It’s up to you. I trust you do what you want.’ So ultimately, I decided to do it, but I had a lot of help. I went to GLAAD. And I had a wonderful help from the community glad. And then they got me in touch with a trans writer named Thomas McBee, who worked with me because the truth is, I mean, I could try to write it but I didn’t know the story. I didn’t know what that journey was. Thomas and I worked together to go back and find a way, we had to do it early in the season, we had to make the transition work. And I made the decision. I told him that Netflix wasn’t going to hang a lantern on it, it was going to happen. This family was going to be accepting and we’re going to tell a positive story about it. And that’s what we did. So I wanted it to be very elegant in the way we did it at the same time, to be honest and real. I think it’s a it’s a lesson that there are families that will be accepting and not judgmental, and you can share your your feelings with people you love. And I do love how they listen. ‘My name is now Victor’ in the show. And they go ‘Hi, Victor.’ And then they just start arguing with them again. I mean, when we did that scene, there are a lot of tears behind the camera because it was just honest. And you could see in Victor, you know, his shoulders dropping a little bit like, like the weight of the world was off his back. And both the actor and the character, and it was just sort of a wonderful thing to see.

At its core, this show is about family, and that, you know, families can accept who we are in any case. So being trans is not something to be afraid of. So that’s the story we wanted to tell. And I’m very glad that, you know, in most of the cases, the fans really loved it. We got a little bit of people who didn’t appreciate it, but they were in the minority, the vast majority people thought it was a good story to tell. And it was done well. So I’m very proud of that. And I’m proud of you know, Thomas, and Elliot for letting me be part of this sort of journey in this world. So it was a great thing to do. I’m happy we did it.”

The show is not static and neither are the heroes. Not only do the characters grow emotionally through each season, they also learn new ways to use their powers.

“We knew from the beginning that their powers would evolve every season, it was sort of an idea of that once they got to know themselves more, it was sort of a parallel as they knew themselves more. You know, Gerard, you know, has other places the powers will go but, you know, we as a writers room each year, so let what can we do to sort of, you know, alter their power, change their power a little bit. And we’ve really started to expand on that. I’ll think you’ll see a lot more of that than next season.”

If there is a next season. The Umbrella Academy season 4 has not yet been announced, even though the latest season has been on Netflix’ top ten since it’s debut at #1 over a month ago. So hurry up and watch or rewatch so we can convince the Netflix god’s to pick it up for a 4th and final season. Steve Blackman promises to answer some of the show’s biggest unresolved questions.

All three seasons on The Umbrella Academy are streaming exclusively on Netflix.

For more interviews with the people who bring your favorite cinematic universes, superhero and scifi/fantasy entertainment to life, be sure to subscribe to The ‘Verse!)

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Written by lukonianlogic

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