2020 is a weird time for, well, basically anything, and that's not lost on David Castañeda. Castañeda is getting ready for the premiere of the second season of The Umbrella Academy, and it's an experience that's going a lot differently from when the first season premiered back in February 2019. Back then, things were normal—"flowers, sunshine, and not a care in the world," he describes—but now things are different, and he knows it. And he also knows that right now people can use a reprieve from all that's going on in the world.
Castañeda sees a silver lining in all of this, and is thrilled that he gets to bring a second season as his superpowered knife-throwing character, Diego Hargreeves, to fans around the world. "It can feel a little bit narcissistic to share something that you’re so proud of in these weird times," he says of putting out 10 new Umbrella Academy episodes. "But if I really look at it from an outsider’s perspective, there’s a lot of beauty in them, in getting people some entertainment."
Like everyone else, the last few months have given him a plethora of free time. In his case, outside of keeping in touch with his family and making sure everyone's OK , that's meant time for painting, time for writing, and time to really visit and see London for the first time, where he actually wound up staying for just around six weeks (he had been there before, but only really going right in and right out for press trips).
Also like everyone else, he's been spending time catching up on TV shows he's missed, and has a familiar favorite that he's really excited about: Ozark. "Wow! Wow! Man. Have you seen that show? Dude...I mean, the second season was good, but this season..." he says with an excitement in his voice. "That cliffhanger was… I think I saw that last scene maybe, like, 10 times!"
Like The Umbrella Academy, Ozark is another uber-popular Netflix original. And while Netflix hasn't crossed any of its original series over quite yet—think the New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine gangs crossing paths on FOX—he thinks putting the very serious, very dangerous, blade-shooting Diego into a show like Stranger Things, Ozark, or On My Block would be wildly entertaining.
"I’d always be interested in seeing Diego cross over into, like, one of those shows where he would just be a fish out of water. Just see him navigate it. You ever see Blast From the Past, with Brendan Fraser? I think something like that would be hilarious—especially because Diego’s character can really thrive," he says. "Not to mean 'thrive' like be successful, but his dynamic in a fish-out-of-water scenario would actually… I think it would be hilarious."
But before getting into any other shows, he had to make sure Diego was in perfect condition in his own show. And for season two, that meant acclimating to an entirely new time period. After a first season finale that saw an asteroid cause the literal apocalypse, a little TV time-travel magic brought our protagonists back nearly six decades in the past, landing Diego in the tumultuous early '60s. The hero that he is, Diego knew that the John F. Kennedy assassination was going to happen, and set out to prevent it—behavior that promptly landed him in an insane asylum.
To prepare for the character's 67-day stay in an institution, Castañeda watched some of the classics of the genre—like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted—and particularly took notes from one of the most legendary movie stars of all time in Cuckoo's Nest's Jack Nicholson. "The dry humor that he carries along, you don’t really know if he’s joking a lot of the times or if he’s serious," he says. "But he always had this tongue-in-cheek thing that he does with Nurse Ratched."
It wasn't just movies that he looked at for his asylum research either. In addition to some of the more canonized pieces of cinema, he also found himself going down rabbit holes on YouTube, watching documentaries and footage of real people, and learning about the symptoms and attributes that led to their commitments.
Castañeda also took the preparation for his action/fight scenes extremely seriously—Five compares him to "Batman, but lower," after all. Living up to Batman billing for season two meant a month-long trip before filming to Thailand, where he spent 22 days at a fight camp in Sam Roi Yot. "When I was there, I had a little room by myself, and my trainer didn’t speak a lick of english," he says. "So that was the first beat of trying to understand being in a different area, and trying to communicate."
And that's just so he could perform his own stunts and fight choreography. From an acting standpoint, a pair of movies also inspired what he was doing—Lynne Ramsay's violent revenge thriller You Were Never Really Here (with Joaquin Phoenix), and A24's A Prayer Before Dawn, (which features Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole almost entirely in isolation).
A second season of Diego Hargreeves on televisions also means a second season of something not often seen on major hit television shows: diverse representation. The show never explicitly references Diego's background in seasons one or two, but it's worth noting that the comic series depicts Diego as a white man with blonde hair; Castañeda was born in Los Angeles, but raised in Mexico and his family is of Mexican heritage.
He says that the opportunity to portray the character is an honor, and the fact that his ethnicity isn't openly pontificated over on screen is important. "It’s not about the diverse cast, it just is," he says. "Right? Which is the world that we live in, and we don’t really have to explain it as much."
When the role was being cast, he says, he truly believed it came down to best man for the job. And in this case, the best man was him.
"I think that equal opportunity is very important. I’m sure that if I wasn’t good enough, someone else would’ve been hired," he says. "I look at it in that sense of, like, I just need to do my best job, and not feel like they hired me because of this specific thing. It’s more about 'Can you tell a story where you can feel like you can love a robot mother, and beat the hell out of a 7-foot tall, half-man, half-gorilla?' Can you tell that story genuinely, and truthfully, and then from there, move forward?"
Still, though, he understands what it can mean for people to see someone who looks like them not only on-screen in a big show, but as a badass superhero with kickass powers.
"I get tons of my family from Mexico, and friends, and just people that connect very dearly to the character because of his nationality and my nationality," he says. "Selfishly to say, there is a lot of pride in that. I do love that. I’m sure there’s kids in my school, that was a large percentage hispanic, looking at me and going, 'Shit, I can do that. I can fucking do that.'”
And with any luck, Castañeda will get to keep playing Diego on those screens for years to come. The Umbrella Academy hasn't officially been picked up for a third season just yet, but last fall Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba released a third volume of the comic series of the same name, titled Hotel Oblivion (the first two seasons of the show somewhat loosely followed the first two comic volumes), and Way has also given showrunner Steve Blackman an outline of his entire plan for the story, which he eventually plans to have 8 comic volumes.
Castañeda also hinted that Blackman is already working on ideas for a third season of the show, but that he tends to keep those ideas close to the chest until he gets the official go-ahead from Netflix. Still, he has some ideas of where he'd want Diego to go in the future.
"I just hope that he gets closure with his father. Maybe he gets a bigger opportunity that doesn’t have to deal with him trying to save the world," he says. "More of an internal way of saving himself."
And after two full seasons of saving the world, and an actual 2020 that could probably use the help of The Umbrella Academy, a smaller and more intimate story might be exactly what everyone needs.
You Might Also Like