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Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy is even more ambitious than the show’s first and second seasons. There’s complex time travel, a sentient cube, and a whole host of other supernatural twists and turns. Not to mention a whole new superpowered family to meet: The Sparrow Academy.
Based on a comic series written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, The Umbrella Academy is a zany, ridiculous, and emotional show about a dysfunctional family who attempt to save the world from the apocalypse over, and over, and over again. The show has already significantly diverted from its original source material; at this point, it's become a separate entity. From a comic where characters may only get a few pages an issue to a fully-fleshed out TV show with ten-episode arcs, The Umbrella Academy has given Allison, Five, Vanya (now Viktor), Luther, Klaus, and Diego each a fitting live-action adaptation.
Steve Blackman, who created the show for Netflix, is excited for fans to see what the show has in store. The Umbrella Academy’s late sibling Ben, for example, is revived as a member of The Sparrow Academy, and he’s not happy to see his other family. Blackman says it’s a matter of nature versus nurture, but both Bens are the same at their core. “I believe, deep down even in the tough Ben of the Sparrows, there is a little bit of the old Ben that's just dying to get out, but he just won't let it out. Because that 's not who he wants to be.”
Another standout moment in the show is Elliot Page’s character, who similar to the actor in real-life, announces he’s transgender and has a new name: Viktor. Blackman worked closely with Page and GLAAD to work in Viktor’s storyline in a respectful manner. And it showed when they began filming Viktor’s scenes for Season 3. “I can tell you shooting on set was a very emotional moment,” Blackman says.
Blackman spoke with Men’s Health about Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy, discussing the identity of Lester Pocket, Viktor’s coming out on the show, and an explanation of the season’s finale’s post-credits scene.
Men's Health: What were some of the challenges of adapting the comic to the show for the new season?
Steve Blackman: The graphic novels, a lot of the time, they're very nonlinear. There's a lot of things that are just all over the place. Some things I just simply can't do because they wouldn't translate to television or just simply would be just too expensive to do. So my goal is to use them as inspiration as much as I can.
Gerard and I have come to this great understanding that the TV show and the graphic novel can coexist on their own separate tracks and they're two different media, but they help one another and inspire one another. I think sometimes Gerard sees something in the show, he says, ‘Oh, that's great for the graphic novel.’ And of course we springboard off all of his stuff to our show.
One of the biggest changes is the Hotel Oblivion in the comics becomes the Hotel Obsidian in the television show. How did that decision come about?
Well, I knew we wanted to do Hotel Oblivion. The story of Hotel Oblivion was a tricky story to do. One of the conceits of the shows when I first started it, which has become a bane of my existence, is that each season is a duration of 10 days long. So it's very hard to do some of the storytelling when one episode is a day, but we did want to pay homage to the Hotel Oblivion, just in a slightly different way.
We loved leaning into our favorite filmmakers in the looks of the hotel. There's definitely some Kubrick in there. There's some Wes Anderson in there. It was very fun to build that. We're also in a time of COVID, where we needed to be more set-based, so that hotel has no set extension. That is just a monster set we built, and that is all playable on different levels and floors. I just love the cinematic look of that hotel.
Were there any challenges to incorporating in the large cast and separate storyline of The Sparrow Academy?
I already had a bit of a template because Gerard had introduced it at the end of his graphic novel with Gabriel, but we didn't have much. So I said to Gerard, ‘I'm going to take them this direction.’ He's very supportive.
[The Sparrows] had to feel different. They had to have their own sort of personalities, their own dysfunctions and their own interpersonal problems. You can ask yourself if The Umbrella Academy never broke up, if they’d stayed together, would they have ended up like The Sparrow Academy?
Do you wish that you could involve even more of the 43 superpowered surprise children?
If there ever was a spin-off of the show–and right now, I have no plan to do one–I think there's a lot to mine with those other kids. A story where it's not a group story, but it's about one or two of the kids.
Allison went through a dark period throughout this season, really struggling with the trauma of Season 2. Can you talk about how you decided on that storyline for her?
I really love what Allison’s storyline is in this season. And Emmy Raver-Lampman and I talked a lot about PTSD. If you follow the story, she ends up in the Jim Crow South in 1963. Without a voice literally for the first year. She can't speak. And then when she does get her voice back, she's not allowed to speak because she's in a world of racism. So she meets a man she loves, Ray Chestnut, and then is torn from him just the way she was torn from her daughter.
Allison's journey this year, even though it's darker, is not about anger—It's about pain. She's dealing with the loss of the two people she loved the most in the world, and they don't exist in the same timeline. She took a chance to come here to get back her daughter, and her daughter now doesn't exist. So Emmy and I talked. How would the character sort of spiral out of control? Where we find this character? Ultimately, I think she finds herself in the end, but she has a tough road to get there.
I would love to know kind of how Stanley’s character came about, since it was a bit of a surprise.
Well, Javon Walton, I loved him from Euphoria. He's such an incredible actor. And I wondered, as I talked to my other producer, Jeff King, we thought, could he do comedy? And we're like, yeah, he's a great actor, he can do anything. So we persuaded him to come do this—he was a fan of the show. And we just wanted to see how Diego could react to being a dad.
It forces [Diego] to put someone else before himself for the first time in his life. So it's just a wonderful pairing. And as an aside, Javon and David Castañeda became very good friends. On weekends, they’d go boxing together. They were hanging out. So they really did bond.
And then when Javon had to leave us to go back to Euphoria, at one point, we missed him. I know the whole crew and cast were like ‘Aw, Javon’s gone.’ Everyone was a little sad for a few days, but I love the interaction between him, Lila, and Diego. I just thought you can believe they're a family. That that is his child.
Another great reveal was the identity of Lester Pocket. How did you cast an aged-up version of Harlan?
The boy who played Harlan in Season 2 actually had grown a lot. So we found him to do one cold open. But the actor who played older Harlan actually looked very similar to him and we de-aged him in a few scenes and we looked at how the young boy Harlan looked, what our de-aged Harlan looked like, and then Harlan who actually played in the show. And there was definitely a similarity. We compared and we believed that this kid was going to grow up into this man. So there was a bit of technology there.
Did you have a favorite character arc this season?
I did love Lila. Lila is so out of her mind in some ways that being pregnant with Diego's baby, in her world... it makes sense to kick the tires by bringing another kid in to see if Diego could be a good dad. It's absurd, but in her mind it makes total sense.
And I really did love the Luther and Sloan love story. I just thought it was sweet. It wasn't too earnest, but you were rooting for them and wanted them to be together all season.
What was the process of writing Viktor’s transition? Was Elliot Page involved?
Initially, I finished the season with all the scripts before Elliot called me. For a moment I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what do I do?’ Elliot to his credit, never forced me to do anything, never said you have to write it in: ‘I do not have to transition. I can transition. You decide. I trust you.’
We've become really good friends over the years. I didn't know a lot about being transgender and it was important for me to get educated. So I reached out to a great guy named Nick Adams at GLAAD, and then he put me in touch with a trans writer named Thomas Page McBee, who was sort of my guide through this. So, along with Elliot, we talked about how to craft a story that wasn't the story of the show, that became a thing that we could do and make it authentic and sensitive without overtaking everything else.
So once I worked with them, I went about writing the pages for that. Thomas was very helpful with that as well. And then the first person I sent it to was Elliot. I said, ‘Does this feel real to you?’ And he emailed me back and said it was beautiful, and he was very happy with it. I can tell you shooting on set was a very emotional moment. It really says that you can be trans and be absolutely accepted by your family. And then the story just continues, and we thought that was a very elegant way to handle it.
Music is a big part of the show. How did you go about choosing some of the songs for this season?
Well, I love music. So I'm always writing music into the script. I put songs in, and I encourage my writers to put their own songs in. And ultimately I have a list that I come to at the end of the season, that I work on with Jen Malone, our music supervisor, who is amazing. And she says maybe we could do better on that one or that one. But a lot of the songs I heard a year earlier. I discover some artists and I just think, ‘That is a great song.’
And sometimes I instantly know what scene I want to put it into or I'm writing a scene and then I'm inspired by something in the scene to connect with the song. But I love finding artists that are not widely known who will overnight go from having this many people for their song to suddenly 3 million people on their Spotify list—that's always fun for me. We just love music in the show. We love subverting expectations, sometimes with the songs and sometimes it's just Footloose.
Did you have a favorite song out of all the ones in the show?
I like the Rescues cover of Teenage Dream by Katy Perry. Oh, yeah, beautiful. I don't think many people have heard that cover. And it's just a song my wife and I love so it was a great song just to put in for those reasons.
And speaking of weird alien stuff, I was really curious about Christopher. Was that something that came from the comics that we haven't seen yet? Or was he created for the show?
Yeah, it came from the comic. It was just a cube named Christopher is what Gerard told me. So I said, ‘Well, you know, what is he made out of?’ And Gerard thought about it and he said, ‘He's made from, like, millions of dead flies.’ I'm like, ‘Oh…okay.’ So it was hard to do millions of dead flies, so I went with something that looked more like a rock.
It was very tricky to give him personality because at the end of the day, the actors were just acting to a tennis ball. We could only do so much. Sometimes we had just a square box that was floating around on this fishing rod. Once we got into post, and we started to animate him, we wanted to give him movement, and then we gave him a voice that no one understands, but you can get like he even sounds sarcastic in his voice, even though you have no idea what he's saying.
Are there any parts of the comics that you would love to incorporate in the future?
The guys from Dark Horse who published the comics, and Mike Richardson, who's the owner, would love me to do the Eiffel Tower story, where the kids fight the Eiffel Tower which is actually a machine. I keep saying it would cost the entire show budget to do that.
But there are some things I have on my wish list that I hope to try to get in before, whenever, however many seasons we have left. Some of them really would be costly to do, but I do have a small wish list. I think next year I can get a few things in that the purists who just love the graphic novel will really lose their minds when they see.
In the season finale’s post-credits scene, we see Ben on a train. What should the takeaway for viewers be?
I can only tell you it is the Ben from the Sparrow timeline. It is the Ben you’ve seen all season long. I can’t tell you why he's there, or what the glasses are all about, but that is the Ben from the Sparrow Academy. Everything else will be answered next year.
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