‘The Umbrella Academy’ Creator Unpacks “Bonkers” Season Three – The Hollywood Reporter

[This story includes major spoilers for the third season of The Umbrella Academy.

The third season of The Umbrella Academy picks up right where it left off with the Umbrellas now back in their original timeline. But nothing is how they left it at the end of season one.

There’s a new group of superhumans living in their home — and the Umbrella Academy doesn’t exist. After meeting six of his kids in 1963 during season two, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) decides to adopt a different batch of seven kids, who are known as “the Sparrow Academy” and are fiercer than the Umbrellas ever were.

Over the course of the new season, which was released on Netflix Wednesday, the Sparrows and the Umbrellas dance around each other (literally and figuratively), looking for ways to either defeat the other group of superhumans or convince them they’re trustworthy, only to betray them in one way or another.

By the end of the episodes, the Sparrows and Umbrellas find they are more similar than they originally thought: just kids trying to make their dad proud, only to find that their father never cared for them and has always had his own agenda, regardless of which group of children he decided to adopt on Oct. 1, 1989.

Umbrella Academy reveals how far someone will go when they’ve suffered trauma after trauma, explores the argument of nature versus nurture, and sends a positive message of how families can be loving and accepting of their trans relatives with how the popular series brought Viktor’s story to the screen following Elliot Page’s transition.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Steve Blackman opens up about those themes and how they’ve evolved throughout the series, as well as his hopes for a fourth season (while awaiting renewal): “It’s fun to play that these abilities can continue to grow through seasons and change as we as human beings change.”

After such a major ending with season three, what are your plans for a possible fourth season?

We haven’t been picked up — I have my fingers crossed. But I know what season four is in my head. I’ve already sort of worked out the beginning, middle and end of it. When I started this thing, I sort of knew four seasons of the show. I have nothing passed that in my brain, but I’ve sort of kept to a trajectory. So, I have a really good sense of what season four would be, and it should be just as bonkers as the other seasons — what a challenge these superheroes, this family has being powerless.

Sticking to the conversation of the finale, how is it that Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is able to get both Raymond Chestnut (Yusuf Gatewood) and Claire (Coco Assad) back in different timelines?

In the reprogramming of the universe that Hargreeves didn’t get to complete because Allison sort of chose the family over him in that last moment, he did get some of the resets done. The promise that he made to Allison was he’d give her back the two things she wanted the most: her daughter, Claire, and her husband, Ray, but they exist in two different timelines. So in the reprogramming of the universe — which is the place we’ll probably go to in season four if we get one — they now exist in the same timeline together. Ray’s not a ghost; he’s real. And Claire’s real. And they are now in a timeline together, which shouldn’t be. And that was the plan; a promise she made to Hargreeves to support him when he needed it. He got something back as well. He has his wife back, which should also provide some interesting places to go; how that works out. The intention is that this timeline, whatever we’re in now, has merged people from other timelines into one and that may or may not have repercussions in the future.

I’m sure it will if previous seasons are any indication. The last two episodes really upped the ante. I definitely thought Hargreeves had changed. Was that your goal?

You’re seeing a much darker side of Reginald. This is the same Hargreeves we met in season two, in ’63, but this Hargreeves never adopted those kids. He adopted different kids, but there’s an element of Hargreeves from both these timelines: He has his own agenda; he’s never truly loved these children. He has his own master plan and part of it is now afoot in season three, as we saw that he used just about everyone to pull the families together to get to Hotel Oblivion, and now he has his wife back, and what that means? We don’t know yet. How that’ll affect him, who she is to him and all of that will be hopefully something we can get into. But yes, Hargreeves has some edge at the end of this year. He’s much darker than we would typically have him be — especially when Luther. It’s one of my favorite scenes of the whole year.

That scene broke my heart.

Luther is so sweet and earnest that he thinks this is a legitimate, “Will you forgive me?” He so wants this moment with his father for once, and he gives in to it, with the unwelcome repercussions of that.

Throughout the season we see the Umbrellas and Sparrows still learning how powerful they can be, and at one point Hargreeves tells Klaus that was intentional. Did you always want to explore how they’re constantly learning more and more about themselves? 

It’s something I talked about with [comic book writer] Gerard [Way] early on, that their powers are always evolving. I don’t think it’s just a story device to give us places to go, which it does, but I think it was just always his intent. I’m good friends with Gerard, we talk a lot. Powers grow with time. As you grow as a human being, you learn new things about yourself, as do the powers. We got to see an extreme format with Harlan this year, who had 50 years with his power, and it was very well-defined. He understood it very well. That is sort of what the idea is — the longer they have the power, the more they learn about how they work — and how far they can take themselves with these powers; how far they can use those abilities. I think it’s fun to play that these abilities can continue to grow through seasons and change as we as human beings change.

Britne Oldford as Fei, Justin H. Min as Ben Hargreeves and Genesis Rodriguez as Sloane in The Umbrella Academy.
Courtesy of Netflix

I’m glad you brought up Harlan. I wasn’t exactly expecting him to come back this season, though his powers were teased at the end of season two. Did you always know you wanted to make him a part of this storyline? 

I put that piece in the end there because I wanted to be clear that Viktor wasn’t successful in removing his power in season two. He thought he had, and then in season three, we realize he absolutely failed. He didn’t remove all the marigolds or whatever drives the powers they have out of his body, and now it’s caused him to have a very hard life. And we get to see a bit of that.

Javon Walton’s casting was great. How did you come up with the storyline of Diego and Lila’s pretend kid, only to have her reveal she’s actually pregnant? 

Well, we got very lucky with Javon. He’s an incredibly talented young actor. One of our other producers, Jeff King, and I had seen him in Euphoria, and we’d seen some other actors that just didn’t hold a candle to Javon, and we said, “Do we think the kid could do comedy as well?” And we’re like, “Yeah, that kid can do comedy. He’s a good actor.” So, we fought and fought and fought to get him, and thankfully we could share him with Euphoria, but he was delightful. He was a great add. I always want to play the idea that Lila would want to test and sort of kick the tires of Diego being a dad, and she’s so out there, how would she do it? Well, let’s bring a real kid into it and see how he does, which is the most ridiculous way of doing it and over the top. But that’s who Lila is.

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Javon Walton as Stan.
Courtesy of Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

You could’ve brought her back as a minor cameo toward the end of season three, but by the end of it, she’s a part of the family. Did you always have the idea to bring her back early and ingrain her with the Umbrellas?

To be honest, I always thought Ritu Arya was a wonderful actor, but she hadn’t done a ton of things yet. So, as we got into season two, and I watched her perform, I’m like, “I love this character.” I made up Lila, who’s not from the graphic novel, I thought for a while it would just is be a seasonal thing. But then when I came to love her and the writers came to love her, and then when the fans did, there was no doubt in my mind that we had to bring her back. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a part of the Umbrellas now. She’s on Team Umbrella.

Lila brought out a softer side of Diego, which was enjoyable to watch. 

Diego is obviously a lot of bark — not so much bite — but we really see that he has a good heart, and he would be a great dad. He’s built to be a dad. He just doesn’t want to let you know that. He just would not want anyone to think he is. It’s his bravado, and it’s that face he puts on being a tough guy is how he sort of protects that he does have an emotional core. David Castañeda is such a sweet guy with so much heart. It was nice to see more of that even in Diego the character.

Allison has always been the calm, cool and collected one in the family, but we see a different side of her this season. She rumors Luther. She says all those horrible things to Viktor. She wasn’t exactly a fan-favorite character by the finale. How was it exploring that side of her?

She had a much darker path this year. What I was trying to get at was, in my mind, she had PTSD from her time in the Jim Crow South of season two, 1963, with all the racism, being ripped from her husband. Sort of all the trauma she went through of having no voice for a year, getting her voice back and dealing with all the racism of the time, and then thrust back into the now. All that PTSD is just coming out, and she’s fighting to try to hold it together, and hers is a downward spiral this year. She is progressively getting worse. She’s distancing herself from the family. She’s broken to the core by being absent from her daughter and her husband that can’t possibly exist in the same timeline — until they do. So yeah, it was a darker path for Emmy to take this year in terms of how she played Allison. It was wonderfully challenging to see a different side of Allison, because she is a good person at heart. But put in these circumstances and the PTSD of it all, I think really pushed this character almost over the edge.

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Emmy Raver-Lampman as Allison Hargreeves.
Courtesy of Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

When did you give up on the idea of Luther and Allison together? Were they ever endgame for you?

Forgetting that everyone says they’re siblings — I mean, they’re not biological siblings — but the fact was, it was only puppy love. The only time they ever kiss was in the day that wasn’t from season one, so they’ve really never been together. They’ve had feelings for each other as kids have puppy love, and Luther has kept that puppy love until he’s now growing up, and he’s met Sloane and had a real relationship. Allison, I think let go of that puppy love long ago and just likes Luther as a friend, but there was no intention of ever really bringing them together as more than just sort of that season one: As they come back together after 15 years, where’s that puppy love? Obviously, Allison was much more mature than Luther when they see each other again back in season one. But, no. Luther had his first grown-up relationship this year with Sloane.

I kept waiting for Sloane to turn on Luther, getting close to him with some ulterior motive. 

Oh, no. They’re Romeo and Juliet. They’re love at first sight. They just were so sweet. Thank God they had chemistry together, the two actors. I wanted it to be a really sweet love story.

Including Elliot Page’s transition this season was incredible to see. You spoke with THR in detail about that creative process and collaboration. How much did Elliot contribute to the script?

When Elliot phoned me up and said he was transitioning in real life, I did not know a lot. Like many people, I was unfamiliar with what it means to be transgender. So, I was very fortunate. I’m close with Elliot. In sort of cracking the Viktor storyline, I consulted with a number of people. I consulted with a lovely person named Nick Adams at GLAAD. I worked with a writer named Thomas Page McBee, who is a trans writer who gave me a lot of guidance and expertise, alongside Elliot, to craft a storyline that was authentic and sensitive, which was really important to me so that it didn’t feel like a cis man tried to make the story up themselves. It was a truly collaborative process with these people, and I feel very sort of honored and humbled that we were able to craft something that I think sends such a positive message about that. Families can be loving and accepting of anyone, and you can be a family and be a trans person in that family and still be loved.

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Tom Hopper as Luther Hargreeves with Elliot Page as Viktor Hargreeves.
Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

All of the Sparrows are different from the Umbrellas, except for Ben, who was kind of an antihero in season three, which was different from the Ben viewers had gotten to know in the first couple of seasons. What was the thought process in bringing him back that way?

I had a long talk with Justin Min about the nature-nurture argument: Who are we in different environments? There have been lots of studies on it, twin studies, some interesting things. So, at his core, there is the same Ben. It’s the same person. The Ben in this timeline didn’t die, and he was still picked as one of the children. Hargreeves never met the other Ben because that other Ben was dead in seasons one and two, but I really wanted to keep some of the core sweetness, and it’s really buried in this new Ben. Honestly, I really wanted to see where we could go. Justin was really excited to stretch his legs as an actor and show another side. Not only did he physically transform himself, working out and all of that, he spent a lot of time working on his voice and how intonated his voice, how he projected himself. If you hold up Ben in season two and Ben from season three, they sound and act very different, but it’s still I’ve found such an interesting character to see what different types of upbringing could do to a person. Theoretically, it’s the same Ben, a different kind of upbringing, with this Hargreeves in a slightly different timeline.

How did the opening dance-off in the first episode come to be?

It was so much fun, and I’m going to brag a little bit about the actors. The way it came to be was Jayme’s power is when she shoots her sort of goop on you, you hallucinate. That’s what her power is. So, I had to think to myself, what would Diego hallucinate? He could hallucinate anything. So, I was just thinking of something absurd. I said, “He would imagine them having a dance-off,” because Diego’s a great dancer, we’ve established that. So the absurd became, “Can I get all of these actors to learn how to do the dance?” That was the challenge and to do it during COVID, because we did this in the height of Toronto’s lockdown.

We started teaching the dance over Zoom. The actors would stand in front of their laptops. We had a wonderful choreographer working with them, and they practiced at home, and then they were in a practice facility with masks and shields on. I’m proud to say there’s no dance doubles. All of that is them. They spent months getting it together. It was a lot of fun shooting. A lot of some of those little interludes are impromptu, but, along with Jeremy Webb, our director, who was just a really fun thing. We were so down over COVID, so depressed, that we all came in, and we started doing the Footloose. Everyone was just elevated, and we all just were smiling and laughing. It was just such a wonderful thing to get us out of the dark days of COVID. I smile every time I see it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The third season of Umbrella Academy is now streaming on Netflix.

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