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The Umbrella Academy's Aidan Gallagher On Going From Fan To Five, And Season 2 - Exclusive Interview

The Umbrella Academy's first season was a breakout hit in no small part due to the chemistry of its ensemble cast, particularly the actors portraying the super-powered Hargreeves siblings. While each had their moment to shine, and while some of the season's best moments featured all five (or six, if you count the deceased Ben Hargreeves) of them bouncing off each other, one made the biggest splash: The time-traveling, teleporting adult assassin in a teenage boy's body, Number Five.

Bringing the character to life offered up a unique set of challenges. He needed to carry the world-weariness that comes with having lived in the post-apocalypse for decades, but also the physicality of a much younger man. Fortunately, actor Aidan Gallagher was up to the task, and his idiosyncratic performance made Five distinctly compelling, which is saying a lot when his onscreen competition included everything up to and including a talking chimpanzee.

Now, season 2 of The Umbrella Academy has arrived on Netflix, offering up more time-tripping adventures for Five and his family. On the eve of its release, we spoke to Gallagher about his comics fandom, the cast dynamics, and bringing something as insane as Paradox Psychosis to the screen.

Aidan Gallagher goes from comics fan to Number Five

The first season was based on a popular property, but it was an unknown quantity. Now you know you've got a fanbase, you know you've got a following. So how did it feel going into production this time around?

Well, regardless of the size of the Umbrella Academy fandom for the live-action interpretation of it, I was a fan of those comic books, 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. 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 all throughout that, there was this building insanity to the point where he had to rely on a mannequin as a mental crutch. That was a real relationship for him. And it was certainly a way to deal with the trauma.

And then he goes to the Commission and they fuse 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. So he never fully let loose. 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. You have this cunning, and there's a certain sharpness to Five's eyes. Down to that very minute detail, I wanted to make sure that I portrayed that, I did justice to that.

Going into a second season, you have more history with the character, you know him a lot better. And that means you also know where the weaknesses are, where the unexplored areas are for that character. And it just makes you want to do it even better. It just poses an even bigger challenge. How can we keep this so fans still love it and are still a fan of it, but how can we also bring this character to new areas? And Steve Blackman and the writers definitely wrote some incredible arc that I got to explore as an actor and really imagined how much Five reacts in those scenarios. But yes, the things the fans love, but everything gets expanded as we go deeper into the rabbit hole.

This is a show that diverges pretty wildly from the source material, which for comics fans can sometimes be an issue, but for some reason that hasn't seemed to be a problem here. As a fan of the comics, how do you feel about the way the show diverges from the original work?

Well, 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. And so what that does is, if you come from being a fan of the comics, because the comics are leading, Gerard Way is currently ahead of these in terms of putting out a new story, you've already read the comics, 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.

So at least for me, I've always enjoyed seeing the paraphrasing of 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. So yeah, 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.

So you're not sorry that you didn't get to battle living Abraham Lincoln statue?

Oh, I think we're all sad we didn't get to battle a giant Abraham Lincoln statue, but nothing is off the cards. The thing about what Steve (Blackman, showrunner) 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.

Number Five and the shifting family ties of the Hargreeves siblings

How do you feel the events of season 1 change the character? And how do we see that represented in season 2?

Another interesting thing that was written in for Five was that his relationship to his siblings almost flips. In season 1, Five starts out stubborn, and he's very un-inclusive. He feels he needs to do everything himself. He doesn't really open up with his family members. And also to him, he's nearly twice their age and he hasn't seen them, so they're almost like little children running around with their petty arguments and quarrels. And he's thinking about an impending apocalypse, the end of the world, and so he's very close-minded. But at the end of that season, he realizes he needs his family's help.

And so going into season 2, it's a continuation of that. And in a way it's flipped, because he goes to his family for help and they reject him. So there's this vulnerability and openness to that character in the beginning of season 2 that we haven't necessarily seen in Five. And so I was really excited as an actor to get to portray that shade of the character. That's how he's different.

Let's talk about that interplay with the other members of the Hargreeves clan. Can you speak a bit to the dynamic and how it's grown over the time that the show has been in existence?

Well, for one, you have 10 episodes under your belt, so you now have history with these characters. And if you think about it, Five left when they were 13, and then they all grew up and split off and haven't seen each other in years. And within that time, they're now 30. They're finally starting to become fully formed people. And so it's almost like they're all meeting each other for the first time in season 1.

And for Five at least, season 1 and season 2 are within the span of two weeks. So he meets them, and then all of a sudden it starts building. He picks up where they left off, really figures out, "Okay, who has my family become?" So in season 1, there are these strangers who are brought together, and in season 2, they really become a family. And you see that especially towards the later half of season 2.

It's so much fun watching you guys all bounce off each other. Is there a particular character combination that you really enjoyed, either as an actor or a viewer?

Well, I've always appreciated the subtlety that Vanya brings out of Five and the challenge that it poses as an actor to keep up in a scene with Ellen Page. But there are also some really interesting arcs this season with Diego and me talking back and forth. Those two have a tendency to sort of butt heads and really fight for dominance. But Five is this very poised, very short, very analytical character, and Diego's this more humanistic character. And to see those two first sort of fight each other, but then sort of come to a sense of ease with one another, it was fun. It was just fun to act with David (Castañeda) because in season 1, we didn't have nearly as much time together. But yeah, each of us have our own little arcs with different siblings in the season.

Aidan Gallagher talks season 2's Five-on-Five action

WARNING: This section of the interview contains spoilers for season 2 of The Umbrella Academy.

Let's get into what it was like to play off Sean Sullivan as an older version of yourself, because that whole arc in the season was amazing, when it's younger Five and older Five scheming against each other. Did you and Sean Sullivan coordinate on certain mannerisms or elements that would connect the characters across the age gap?

Well, that would have certainly been an incredible opportunity for me to ask him about his process. I did notice that in season 1, for example, the way he holds a rifle is how I did in the scene when I'm confronting Luther. So I think there may have been some correlation in terms of him getting to see some of those scenes and pick up on what I might've been doing with the character.

But yeah, that whole arc where I got to cross an older/younger version of Five was really fun. And especially the whole Paradox Psychosis arc was a really interesting thing. Whenever you get to build a new element of your character as an actor, it's exceedingly interesting. I did that for the blink, what the physicality might be like, but for Paradox Psychosis, before every tape I would sprint. I would sprint into mark and I would contort my body in all these weird ways and really just quick, this sort of stress and all these different little weird takes on his emotions that didn't necessarily make sense within the context of the regular team for Five, but were completely at home and cohesive with the paradox psychosis.

So Five, you never really get to see Five's insanity fully come out. And occasionally that does bubble over when he goes to assassinate the Commission, but the whole paradox psychosis arc was a completely different version of insanity. And it's fun to imagine, Okay, there's rageful, vengeful, vile insanity with five goes around just creating a blood bath with an axe, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. But there's also this interesting time-traveling insanity that happens when you encounter a younger version of yourself. So yeah, the whole paradox psychosis thing was something that was very fun to play as an actor.

The Umbrella Academy season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.