Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the apocalypse is upon us. Again. Thankfully, for fans and humankind in general, it’s only happening in the second season of Netflix’s rollicking comicbook-tastic series The Umbrella Academy – which is streaming now (check out our review of The Umbrella Academy season 2 for more).
The finale of the first season saw the superpowered Hargreeves siblings fighting to save 2019 from the apocalypse (add your own joke about the real life 2020 one here). To do it, they used Five’s power to time travel and fix everything.
In season 2, we learn that their bold move has accidentally taken them to '60s Dallas, just before the assassination of John F. Kennedy – and now they have to save the world (from themselves) all over again. It mixes the real-life period setting with dark comedy, violence, out-of-this-world high fantasy, and endlessly stylish inspiration from Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s comic book that it's based on. The result is a series even more exciting than the last.
The family arrive in the decade at different times, though, which means when the second season starts, they’ve each started separate new '60s lives. Among their new occupations, Allison has found a new calling as a civil rights activist, and Luther is using his super strength as an underground boxer – while Klaus has started a cult.
As the group gets back together for season 2, we spoke to stars Robert Sheehan (Klaus) and Tom Hopper (Luther) as they reveal the behind-the-scenes secrets to creating the show’s season 2 Backstreet Boys-inspired soundtrack, how their characters would cope with lockdown, and the time period they’re already planning to jump to for The Umbrella Academy season 3.
This season’s plot deviates from the comic book source material – did you have any inkling about what might happen to your characters this time around?
Robert Sheehan: After the first season, myself and our showrunner, Steve Blackman, corresponded a fair bit. We were throwing ideas back and forth and, for Klaus anyway, it eventuated to how the show evolved in the second season, so I had a fairly clear idea of where things were going for my guy.
Tom Hopper: Steve is very collaborative, and we had conversations about where Luther was – there are certain elements of redemption he needed to make in the second season. He's also in a fairly dark place from the end of the first season. Now, he's dealing with it in his own way and he's a bit tougher. He's fighting for a living. He's found a way to channel that aggression about his dad, and me and Steve wanted to make sure that those things were to come through. He's not going to be moping around all season again. You always have to feel like your character’s moving on.
The soundtrack to the show is brilliant. When you're filming big set piece scenes that are set to one great song, do you have the track in mind when you're filming it?
TH: Sometimes it's written in the script, so we know, and then sometimes that song changes in the final edit. Often for the better, actually. Steve Blackman, who chooses the music, has got such a good ear, and eye for the tone of what it needs to be. He understands how music can affect the visual of a scene. He just gets it. There's a brilliant moment with the Backstreet Boys this season which I think is just killer.
Do you have a track in mind that started off as something else and was then replaced, either from this season or the first season?
RS: There was one Iggy and the Stooges track – oh bollocks, what was the track now? It was supposed to be episode three of season 1, when Hazel and Cha Cha show up to the Academy and Klaus is in the back, and he's got it playing on his headphones, dancing through the corridor to the bath while the shoot out’s going on – 'There's Gonna Be A Showdown'. But then it turned into something else. I'm long enough in the tooth now to know to expect [it] to change, if it’s a help to you to have it on and get the old juices flowing, great!
Given that a major part of the plot of the show is the apocalypse, and the world has become a lot more apocalyptic lately, was there any worry about releasing this now?
RS: Netflix can't get our stuff out quick enough, because the show, with all the dancing and the playful themes in it, it's about being a kid again. All the apocalypse stuff is just structure to keep things ticking along. It’s – dare I say it – cynically, a device for jeopardy. The show itself, tonally, is very playful in reminding everybody that we are just kids in grown-up suits.
TH: There are certain themes that we're dealing with which are very prominent, and I think they're dealt with very sensitively and appropriately and respectfully. Aside from that, it's a fun ride, it's not meant to be taken too seriously. Like Rob said, it’s about dancing around in your room and not caring, and that's what these characters encompass.
How do you think your characters would’ve coped with lockdown?
TH: I think Luther is well practised in it, to be honest, having been up on the moon for four years.
RS: Klaus wouldn't have done well at all in lockdown, he'd have been breaking protocols left, right and center.
How do you keep track of the rules of time travel in the Umbrella Academy universe – what are the rules?
TH: It's so funny because on set, we're always like, hang on! If we did that, then how can we do that? And why are we not doing that now? Honestly I feel bad for our showrunner, Steve Blackman, because we bombard him with questions about time travel.
RS: It’s because there isn't a rule book, we're fairly fast and loose. And actually there's a fair whack more time travel in the second series, and it becoming something that works for you. Five had a very volatile relationship with it in the first season. That's a hill that he had to take on. So it's time travel framed in the personal journey of this odd, old man, Five.
The graphic novels are on Chapter Three now, where does that leave you for season three? Have those conversations started yet, and would you like to do one?
RS: I'd love to do one.
TH: Yeah – it's quite a gift to have the kind of show we have, because, we have a showrunner who's very collaborative, which is a huge plus. It’s very freeing as an actor. So yeah, absolutely. It's great to have that source material to influence where we could go,and what we could do. As you've seen from the first two seasons, there are influences from the comic, but it also allows us to deviate from that structure, and I love seeing where Steve Blackman's mind can go, past the comics and how broad he can take it; what you can put these characters through. He has an amazing ability to put us all through hell and back in a very unique way. I'd love to go back and do a bunch more of these.
RS: Yeah, the graphic novels are pure comic escapism. They include time travel powers, they’re very unearthly, whereas I think Steve's intuition is always to bring it back, and couch it and make the journeys more human.
Have you started to have those conversations with Steve Blackman?
TH: You're always talking about future seasons. From season one, you're always talking about where the show could go. So yeah, there are always conversations happening about future seasons.
RS: I'm always hatching pipe dreams and sending emails to Steve. That's the fun part.
If you, personally, could choose any time period and location for the gang to travel to in a future season, what would you both like to see?
RS: Medieval times! In fact, there is one of them in Toronto, Tom. If they don't want to use medieval times, we could still go to Medieval Times. That would be a good laugh.
TH: Medieval would be interesting. I'd like to do the Eighties. I love the Eighties as an era. It’s the era that I was born, but also I'm a big fan of Back To The Future.
RS: What if they went back to the day they were all born in 1989? The whole 20th century was contentious, look at when the Berlin Wall came down.
TH: A lot happened in the Eighties... Live Aid! That Queen performance changed everything. Imagine Luther as Freddie Mercury, that'd be great. OK. I'm gonna work on a ‘tache...
The Umbrella Academy season 2 launches on Netflix 31st July 2020.
- The Umbrella Academy season 3: When we're expecting it