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The Umbrella Academy's Aidan Gallagher on moving from comic book fan to series star - Exclusive

Any film or television show looking to adapt a popular comic book has a tricky balancing act to perform. On one hand, simply recreating what's on the page can be creatively restrictive and runs the risk of not honoring the differences in storytelling between written and live-action media. On the other hand, comic fans can, at times, be very passionate about the way in which properties they love are represented on-screen, which adds a certain degree of pressure for those involved in the endeavor.

How, then, to navigate that scenario when you're in both camps? Such is the situation faced by actor Aidan Gallagher, who plays the time-traveling, adolescent-bodied assassin Number Five on Netflix's The Umbrella Academy. Already a fan of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá's bonkers story of a dysfunctional family of super-beings, Gallagher was offered the opportunity to step into one of its showier, more complex roles — and he seized that chance with an aplomb that has made the character a viewer favorite.

In tandem with the release of The Umbrella Academy season 2, which dropped on Netflix on July 31, Gallagher spoke with Looper about what it means to go from fan to the object of fan scrutiny, and how he feels about the ways in which the show differs from its source.

From fan to on-screen Five, Aidan Gallagher finds the devil in the details

Going into production on The Umbrella Academy, Gallagher was well aware of the responsibility he bore as both a fan and an actor. 

"I was a fan of those comic books," he says. "So I always looked at it as, 'How can I do justice to this character?' It is such an incredible privilege to get to play the different complexities of Five because of how many things he's been through."

Gallagher continues, "At the very top of that is him being a 58-year-old inside a 13-year-old, time-traveling assassin, who spent 45 years of his life in this apocalyptic wasteland where everyone and everything he knew is dead. And then, he goes to the Commission and they use his DNA with that of these murderous assassins, so he's constantly quelling insanity and all of these murderous impulses that would just want to make him lash out like Jack Nicholson in The Shining."

It's a lot to bring to bear in a performance, but Gallagher felt fortunate that he had the source material to use as inspiration. 

"There's a lot of tension within the character. And so, with all of those different complexities, whenever I approach a scene with Five, I always want to make sure that I capture that, because the comic books did such an incredible job of portraying all of that all at once," the actor shares. "You have this cunning, and there's a certain sharpness to Five's eyes. So, down to that very minute detail, I wanted to make sure that I really did justice to that."

Aidan Gallagher on adaptation

While it's obvious that Gallagher and others involved with The Umbrella Academy approached the live-action version with a great deal of respect for the source material, the show does branch pretty far afield from the comic. This kind of thing might typically be a sticky wicket for fans of the latter, but Gallagher sees it differently. 

"My understanding of it is that the live-action and comic book version of The Umbrella Academy will parallel each other, but still keep their distance," he notes. "If you come from being a fan of the comics, because the comics are leading ... you have an idea of where the family is going to go, but when you approach a new season of Umbrella Academy, you can still enjoy it for the first time because you don't know every detail."

It's this new approach that, for Gallagher, really makes the show sing. 

"For me, I've always enjoyed seeing how [showrunner] Steve Blackman paraphrases some of the brilliant elements that Gerard and Gabriel bring to the page, and how he makes that new in his own way and approachable for TV audiences," the actor says. "As a fan, it's just fun to see the story told in a new way because we don't expect certain elements and you can enjoy it for the first time all over again. I think it's quite refreshing."

Still, that does mean certain elements get left by the wayside. Gallagher, however, says to never assume that just because we haven't seen, say, the Hargreeves kids battling a living Abraham Lincoln statue as they did in the comics, it doesn't mean it won't happen on the show.

"Nothing is off the cards," says Gallagher. "The thing about what Steve does is he'll pull elements from different graphic novels, and there are certainly hints throughout the series of the different adventures that the young Hargreeves siblings went on. So yeah, It's all within the realm of possibility. We'll just have to wait for future seasons."

The Umbrella Academy season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.