The Umbrella Academy star discusses her surprise season 2 return
Warning: This article contains spoilers about season 2 of The Umbrella Academy.
Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy, out now on Netflix, is different from season 1 in many ways. Not only are the characters sporting some new looks as they run around '60s Dallas instead of the present day, but there are also a few new characters for them to deal with, such as civil rights activist Raymond Chestnut (Yusuf Gatewood) and Texas housewife Sissy (Marin Ireland). But one thing the two seasons do have in common is a villain.
Though the Handler (Kate Walsh) appeared to have been felled by the end of season 1, season 2 finds her back in action. It's hard to keep a time-traveling spymaster down. But though we're used to seeing the Handler as a commanding presence — an authority at the Commission who bossed around the likes of Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige) — she begins season 2 as an underdog. Demoted in favor of a talking goldfish named A.J. Carmichael, the Handler has to claw back all the power and position she's lost — and more besides. Luckily she's got some help in the form of her adopted daughter, Lila (Ritu Arya), who she's trained for years to be a top-notch assassin. Turns out Sir Reginald Hargreeves isn't the only one who can adopt children and train them for specific purposes.
EW caught up with Walsh to discuss her role in season 2. Check that out below, and stay tuned for more coverage of The Umbrella Academy season 2 on EW.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Handler's return is a surprise. When did you first learn you would be coming back for season 2?
KATE WALSH: Either after we shot season 1 or after it aired, [showrunner] Steve Blackman called me and asked, "Would you like to come back and reprise your role as the Handler?" And I was like, "Well, tell me what you want to do. I mean, she did get shot through the head. How's that going to work?" Then he told me what he was thinking, and I was thrilled to come back and do another season. We're having fun playing with different timelines. I loved having a daughter in this season, all that is pretty cool.
How did the season 2 set compare to the season 1 set, with all the period-piece elements?
The scope of the show this season, everybody's kind of in their own movie, in a way. The Handler's always been kind of isolated in her own weird private Idaho with a lot of greenscreen and effects. For me, I love shooting because it is like shooting a big-budget tentpole movie, but with writing like a play. You get to do these scenes which are four-page scenes, and that's just not common in television. Even in streaming shows, you'll often have two-page scenes that are just cut, cut, cut. But you have these great scenes, like when the Handler first comes back and she's sitting there with A.J. and he's telling her she's been demoted. That's like a three-and-a-half page scene, it's like theater in a way, so as an actor it's delightful because you're really playing story arcs and there's a beginning, middle, and end to each scene. But I didn't really see everyone; we'd pass like ships in the night in hair and makeup trailer, until the end when we were all together and it was like, "Oh, hey, guys. How was your season?"
The season 2 finale really does have an epic feel to it. Was that heightened by the fact that you all as actors hadn't seen each other in awhile, much as the characters haven't?
Yeah, it was. It was also heightened by weather, because we had early snow in Toronto. That last stuff in the barn was not meant to be snow, but there was snow, so guess what? Well, it turns out you guys can manipulate time and space, so now you're going to have magical powers to make it snow in Texas in summer in the '60s. That was like a big, big piece. People were freaking out like, "How do we get rid of the snow? We're going to have to digitize it!" And then they just gave into it, like, "All right, it's snowing." It was freezing cold, a lot of money was spent on warming coats and heaters. I was wearing these stiletto boots, so I literally had to be placed in the field. It was pretty fun.
The Handler is rocking a colorful wardrobe this season. How did that match her more underdog attitude this time around?
It is always about wardrobe with the Handler. That was part of the appeal, creating this image, especially since the show came from a graphic novel, but the Handler's not in the novel. Steve Blackman was so supportive, and gave me a lot of leeway. So Christopher Hargadon, who's the costume director, and Sarah Craig, the makeup department head, and Theresa Bucconi, our amazing wig master this season, I just have to shine a light on those three because we worked in unison, plus the myriad assistants and the milliner who did all the fabulous hats, to create the archetype of the Handler. Obviously I had a good arc to play as well, coming back from being demoted and then ruling, that was really fun. It was great to explore both timelines: Commission Handler, past Handler, and '60s Handler. There were so many images and personas to play with, and personas in that way. The challenge for me this season was to keep her still grounded, within her growing sociopathy and madness, plus her hyperbolic way of talking. So I was like, I hope that worked!
A different dynamic for the Handler this season is her relationship with Lila. What was working with Ritu like?
Ritu was fabulous. We had a delightful time. The challenge was to keep that relationship intact and keep it real, and not play the end. Instead of her being completely suspicious of me, having that belief and trust, and the Handler's idea of being a mom even though she's using her and grooming her. It was really fun for me to play that. The lines are great because she's just insane. It's like this weird roommate situation. She's grooming her, and she's this weird mommy, and psychotic — would kill her in a second.
Did you play it as the Handler having some genuine love for Lila? Or does she just see everyone else as pawns?
I just think that she's a narcissist and a sociopath. So I think her pride, joy, and love is in what she created. She stole this kid and imprinted what she wanted on her to create her own assassin and use her for her own benefit. When that didn't work, she's like, "All right, it's curtains now." Any pride she has in Lila is in what she created Lila to be. She's a user. In a way it got a little lonely, like does she have anyone? There are all these other actors on the show who have these beautiful scenes about being human, while her lack of humanity is awe-inspiring.
But I took comfort in all the shiny, sparkling things we created that I got to wear. I loved working with Ken Hall, who plays Herb. I want a spin-off of just her and Herb. He was in season 1 as well but featured more this season. He's so f—ing funny, especially being in proximity with our physical disparity. It was just really fun to work with him.
You talked about A.J. a little earlier, so I want to ask: What was it like filming the scene where you eat him?
I haven't seen it yet. How does it look?
It looks exactly like it does in the comic when Number Five eats him. I've always had that visual stuck in my head of holding the little fish over an open mouth. Watching the episode, I was standing in my apartment chanting, "Eat the fish! Eat the fish!"
So it worked? That was the hardest thing to shoot because I had to pretend I'm swallowing the fish. So it was the weirdest. I was just like, please make it not look super-dirty! The funnest part was leading up to it, looking in that fishbowl, taking him out, and jamming it in there. The biggest challenge during those scenes is you want more takes, but because the show is so heavy on digital effects, you have to make time for those. There's so much fun writing. Like I said, one of the great things about the show is you get these longer scenes that are really filmic in nature that you just don't get on television a lot, even on streaming. But just to get in the context of a superhero show, to have scenes that are three or four pages and really about relationships, I think that's part of what makes The Umbrella Academy so special. It's not just a family of dysfunctional superheroes, it's just this incredible writing and storytelling within the context of superpowers. You have these great relationship scenes that all have a beginning, middle, and end. It's like doing little plays within the show. That's a tribute to Steve and the writers.
The Umbrella Academy