Netflix's 'Umbrella Academy' showrunner on its 'dysfunctional family superhero show'
TV / 11 February 2019, 11:51am / Carmelita Mentor-Fredericks
Ahead of its 15 February premiere, IOL Entertainment had the opportunity to sit down with the cast and showrunner of the much-anticipated Netflix Original Series, "The Umbrella Academy," in London.
Telling the tale of six gifted superheroes — played by Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, David Castañeda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan and Aidan Gallagher — "The Umbrella Academy" draws from comic book series created and written by the former lead singer of the American rock band, My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way.
"The Umbrella Academy" comprises of seven children inexplicably born to random, unconnected women in 1989, who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. Forty-three children were born on the day, but only seven were adopted by a billionaire who creates the academy and prepares them to save the world.
Three decades later, the six surviving members reunite upon the news of their father's passing and must work together to solve a mystery surrounding his death. But the estranged family begins to come apart due to their divergent personalities and abilities, not to mention the imminent threat of a global apocalypse.
One of the highlights of the London press junket was learning the thought process behind showrunner Steve Blackman's vision for the graphic novel-inspired show.
Blackman describes the show as "a dysfunctional family with a body count".
"At its heart its a dysfunctional family show," he said. "Having special abilities are wonderful, but that's really just the incendiary part of it. I think it's this family coming together, regrouping, finding each other ... that for me was the sole vision."
When asked about how he adapted the story from graphic novel to a television show, Blackman revealed that while he wanted to be true to the fans, he also incorporated his own storyline.
"It was tricky because at the starting point I wanted to be true to the fans, I wanted to respect the material but the comic is 40 pages and we did 10 hours of television so I had to fill in the blanks and I had to take my own creative vision of it," he said. Adding: "I think the comic book fans will be happy that we respected the source material but at the same time there's a lot of new things for them to grow into."
Blackman also explained why he chose to put family drama at the heart of a superhero story.
First and foremost it's not trying to be different it's just different because we're dealing with a family. If you compare it to the X-Men, where you sort of have a choice, while these people don't. They're adopted and have no choice but to take this family that they're given.
"The Umbrella Academy" storyline also delves into each character, allowing the audience to understand each of their roles within the family and their choices. Explaining why he chose to do this, Blackman said: "To understand the family, you need to understand the players. In order to understand the family dynamics, you need to understand what they went through as children with their relationship with their dad and their inter-relations with each other.
"Being a dysfunctional family show you need to understand who they are, the family as a unit... so we took a lot of time to peel back the layers of the siblings, so you knew them and cared about whether they fail or not."
Describing the tone of the show, Blackman incorporated a combination of Wes Anderson and Coen Brothers, and while comic creator Way was part of the creative process, it was Blackman's decision to make the show's cast inclusive.
Blackman's version of "The Umbrella Academy" family is multiracial and includes an LGBTQI+ character. Speaking about why he chose this route, Blackman said: "We absolutely wanted to be inclusive from the very beginning. The original comic wasn't and I can't speak for Gerard, but I know in retrospect he wished it was when he wrote it years ago ... it was very important for him and me that we represented an inclusive group and we have ... this is the world we live in and these are the characters of our world.
The show also has a killer soundtrack that Blackman says he tried to "make its own character".
"I love music and try to make it its own character by not only dropping 10 seconds of the song. We wanted to play the whole song to sometimes feel like we're in a bit of a music video to tell the story. It really helped to sort of punctuate the world. A lot of the time I picked songs that were sort of counterpointing a violent action scene with a song that has no business being there but they still balance each other out," he said.