The Umbrella Academy star previews Ben's season 3 transformation
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When EW visited the Toronto set of Netflix superhero series The Umbrella Academy back in 2019, we witnessed filming of the climactic season 2 scene when Ben Hargreeves' (Justin H. Min) ghost saves his sibling Viktor (Elliot Page) from becoming a victim of their own destructive powers. Min was convinced that scene was the last he would ever shoot on the show, he tells EW now. After all, saving Viktor uses up the last of Ben's energy, and we see his ghost form fade away after hugging his sibling one last time.
"That was a very emotional day for me because I thought it was my last day on set," Min says. "I was in a complete haze. I remember going up to my hair and makeup people and being like, 'thank you so much for being with me on this journey.' I gave them thank-you cards!"
But as usual on The Umbrella Academy, things zigged when you thought they were going to zag. Most of season 2 took place in '60s Dallas as the team of adopted superpowered siblings worked to avert another apocalypse. By the end, they thought they had succeeded with flying colors, and returned to the present day in triumph… only to find a different family living in their house.
It seems their adoptive father Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) was so disappointed with their '60s meeting that he decided to adopt an entirely different crop of superpowered people born on that fateful day in 1989. This is the Sparrow Academy, and they count Ben — a living, breathing Ben — among their number.
The Umbrella Academy we know and love are goofy, eccentric, and not always wise in their decision-making. The Sparrows, by contrast, are efficient, well-trained, and merciless.
"The way I thought about about season 3 is, the Umbrellas are a family that didn't know how to be superheroes. The Sparrows are superheroes who never knew how to be a family," showrunner Steve Blackman says. "That is the fundamental difference in how they go about being superheroes."
In season 3, Min finally gets to play a living character who interacts with the people around him — as opposed to ghost Ben, who could really only talk to his medium brother Klaus (Robert Sheehan). But this Ben grew up in a radically different environment than the one we've seen before, and is a lot meaner as a result.
"Steve and I really talked at length about this balancing act between nature versus nurture, and what that would do to someone like Ben," Min says. "I think Ben, in his essence, is a very impressionable person, so I think nurture is a huge striving force behind whoever Ben is and whoever Ben becomes. So in this alternate reality where they're being trained as these assassins and mighty superheroes who are famous and well-known, these are all things that we talked about leaving a great impression on Ben."
The Umbrellas are delighted to see their brother in the flesh again. As the one sibling who all the others unanimously liked, his death had a huge impact on their family. But the Ben they remember is not the same as the person they now face.
"I wanted the opportunity to bring a whole new life to this character and throw our family off," Blackman says. "They remember Ben as being a kind and thoughtful person, but that is not who this Ben is. I wanted to see how they reacted to this totally different characterization of Ben."
It's not just his personality that's changed, either. Min transformed both his voice and body to match this more competitive, and more fit, incarnation of the character. Ghost Ben always wore heavy black clothes, while Sparrow Ben loves showing off his physicality in tight uniform.
"To be honest, it was exhausting," Min says of his season 3 transformation. "I got to work with a voice coach while I was filming to slightly lower my register, as well as learn how to project more. And they wanted me to physically embody the character, so I had to go to the gym for the first time in many years. Having those external factors in place in terms of body and voice really helped me to inhabit the character in a real and convincing way."
Perhaps most notably, the Sparrow Ben has a very different relationship to his powers than the Umbrella version did. Ben arguably has the coolest powers of all the Umbrella Academy members: He can unleash monstrous tentacles from inside his body. But while the original Ben seemed reluctant to use this power unless absolutely necessary, the new Ben likes to flaunt it.
"I think the previous version of Ben was fearful of his powers. It was something he never fully learned how to control on his own, so when these tentacles were unleashed, he didn't know what would transpire," Min says. "But since the Sparrows have been trained since such a young age to utilize their powers during combat, it's something the new Ben feels much more control over. It's a casual way for him to assert his superiority. In the very first montage where we introduce the Sparrows, you even see him using his tentacles to smoke a cigar and drink. It's something he whips out as a party trick and will do very casually. He has control over it and he's very proud of it."
Get ready to meet the new Ben — and the rest of the Sparrow Academy — when The Umbrella Academy season 3 hits Netflix on June 22.
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