There’s hardly a force that can thwart The Umbrella Academy. Except maybe…buttons?
Star Emmy-Raver Lampman laughs remembering her favorite day on set for season 2 of the Netflix superhero series: The Hargreeves siblings are confronting their father inside a Tiki bar when Luther (Tom Hopper) jumps out of his seat, screaming “look at what you did to me!” Ripping open his shirt, he reveals his gorilla-like torso. The scene is supposed to be melodramatic, but every time the director yells cut, the cast and crew drop to their hands and knees, searching for the buttons that popped off Hopper's shirt so they can be reset for the next take.
“When I watched the scene, I had to pause the episode. I was laughing so hard,” Raver-Lampman, who plays Allison Hargreeves, tells ELLE.com. “It was so ridiculous, but it was such a team effort. That's the show: Everyone's trying to get the thing done and make sure everybody has what they need to keep moving.”
Raver-Lampman is familiar with this kind of collaborative atmosphere. She got her start in musical theater, performing in Broadway's Hamilton and national tours of Hair and Wicked. The Umbrella Academy is her first starring TV role, and season 1 introduced audiences to Allison, aka Number Three, the Hargreeves sibling capable of bending reality with a simple utterance—“I heard a rumor”—followed by a statement that soon becomes fact. But after realizing her rumors are responsible for a path of destruction and betrayal, Allison is much more reluctant to use her powers. Thanks to a time travel getaway gone awry, season 2 finds her thrust into the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s Dallas, where she finds another way to use her voice—sans superpowers. Here, Raver-Lampman opens up about Allison’s fight for equality, why her powers are so nebulous, and more.
The season 1 finale ended with a great cliffhanger: Vanya blowing up the moon and the siblings jumping into time. How did the writers break down what was happening in season 2, specifically with Allison's story arc?
Steve Blackman, our showrunner, and a couple of the producers were interested in following the graphic novel as far as the family going to Dallas, dealing with the JFK assassination, and living in that moment. Because they had cast a Black woman to play Allison, you're going to be throwing her into the segregated South. That was an unavoidable conversation. The Civil Rights Movement is happening during that time, especially in Texas, and Allison’s going to come head-to-head with that. It was made very clear early on that all of us were interested in having her be an active part of that, and not just caught up by her surroundings and circumstances. What does that mean for her, because she is the only Black woman in the family? Her journey through the ‘60s is going to be very different from everybody else's. Is she going to be using her powers?
Early on, there’s a really striking scene when the police come to the house to take her husband Raymond away, and a cop even points his gun at Allison. Can you take me through filming that?
It's not difficult for me to imagine what that would be like. As an American Black woman and as a Black woman in general, I have experienced my fair share of racist remarks, microaggressions, discrimination, and unjust treatment. For my entire life, I have watched police brutality play out on the news and on the internet and especially now in this moment, in the wake of George Floyd. There's not much of a difference between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement; the only true difference is the amount of time between the two, but what is being fought is the same thing. A lot of my scenes for this season deal with social injustice and systemic racism, fighting that and dealing with police brutality—and just people fighting for their lives.
I did so much research to have a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and the voices and movers and shakers of that time. We are not taught enough in school about our own history. We're not taught enough about the harsh realities of the Black experience and the African-American experience. I wanted to do my due diligence, to really understand what it would have been like to live then, but I also can understand it because we are living with very similar treatment of people of color now.
Did you have any nerves about Allison’s storyline coming under scrutiny because of what’s been going on over the past couple of months?
The nerves come from a place of wanting to be respectful, wanting to do right by all of the men and women who put their lives in jeopardy to end oppression and systemic racism. We're fighting this fight every day in brutal conditions and outright violence. The loss of Congressman Lewis a couple weeks ago really brought that home for me. That man dedicated his life’s work to the betterment of Black people and fighting violence. Ruby Bridges, who was the first Black child integrated into an all-white school, is only 65. [The show] is dealing with a time period that a lot of people like to think was a long time ago, but it is so important to understand that those struggles are still a reality.
At the end of the day, Netflix is a massive platform; millions and millions of people are going to watch the show, and that's not just people in this country—that's people all over the world who might not know anything about the Civil Rights Movement. A lot of young people watch the show, so I hope they can walk away with a better and a broader understanding. And maybe it opens up a window for communication with their parents.
It’s always great to see the Hargreeves siblings on a break from saving the world. There’s that one scene where Allison, Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and Vanya (Ellen Page) get a little tipsy while hanging at the hair salon. What was filming like?
As a cast, we all [play] off each other so well. For that scene specifically, Robert, Ellen, and I were actually taught a completely choreographed dance number. We were supposed to get tipsy, then the song would come on and we were supposed to dance. We did the scene and were joking around and improvising, [and] we [realized] that to suddenly bust into a choreographed number felt laborious and out of touch. Our director, Tom [Verica] was like, “Let’s scrap it, you guys are having such a good time enjoying each other. Just turn on the music and let’s see what happens.” So that whole scene ended up improvised, with Tom on the other side of the camera yelling out ‘60s dance moves: “Do the twist! Now do the jive!”
The big twist at the end of this season is that the Umbrella Academy returns to their original timeline but something’s off: There’s the Sparrow Academy instead. In this alternate universe, who do you envision as your counterpart?
Oh man, I wonder what Sparrow Number Three would be. Allison’s inner struggle is always that she has been encouraged to take the easy way because of her power, and always has. She never really has to work hard for anything. She's a starlet—is that because she’s actually a good actress, or is that because she rumored it to happen? She has all the fame and money, she was the poster child when they were growing up, so what she actually earned is debatable. Allison’s relationship with her power is tricky because it's always a little askew. It's not always permanent and there's this roundabout way of getting to the thing she wants. For her specifically, it'd be really interesting to meet a character who's fully realized and has a full understanding of her power, and is genuinely all those things we question about Allison.
Going back to the ’60s, we get to see Allison’s style switched up. What was that like?
Coming from theater, I love costumes, wigs, and makeup. I really enjoy that part of the process. So much of becoming a character is putting on a wig, which pulls you away from you and into the body of the person you're trying to portray. This season was so fun because almost everything I'm wearing is actually vintage. Christopher Hargadon, our costume designer, spent months scouring Canada, New York, and L.A. to collect as much vintage clothing as he could. He filled up almost an entire warehouse at our studio in Toronto with unbelievable vintage clothes, purses, hats, jackets, and shoes. Every time I had a fitting, it was like a ‘60s department store. Christopher is really collaborative and wants everybody to feel good in what they're wearing. If I really liked a dress that didn't fit, he was the first person to be like, “We'll find a fabric that’s like it and try to recreate it.” It furthered my character development of going to set, taking off my athleisure, and putting on these ‘60s dresses that are exclusively made of polyester—and kitten heels galore.
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