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Luther's ape muscle suit in Netflix's The Umbrella Academy was a huge pain to put on and wear
Netflix's The Umbrella Academy is not your typical comic book series — and that's intentional, as showrunner Steve Blackman told SYFY WIRE, saying he set out to make "a different kind of superhero show." That included taking a more realistic approach to the source material, Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá's Dark Horse series of the same name.
Still, there's at least one element of the show that feels ripped straight from the pages of a comic book: Tom Hopper's Luther (aka Number One) and his giant, Rob Liefeld-sized muscles.
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for The Umbrella Academy.**
Even so, Netflix's Luther isn't a direct page-to-screen translation: In Way and Bá's comics, Number One's gigantic physique is the result of an experimental transplant surgery, with Luther's head grafted onto the body of a Martian gorilla (this series has a real thing for apes). In the show, it's an experimental serum that transforms Luther in a bit of David Cronenberg-inspired body horror. ("We gave him these extra muscles and bones that only apes would have," the showrunner told The Hollywood Reporter.)
It's just one of the many changes Blackman made in order to keep this outsized story about superpowered kids, time travel, the apocalypse, and talking chimpanzees at least somewhat grounded in the real world. Although Luther is still comically big — when his adopted brothers first see him, they joke about "protein shakes" and how he's filled out — his body stays hidden under his clothes for the show's first few episodes. Which was just fine by Hopper, because it meant changing into his Luther muscles was as easy as putting on a jacket. "That was a two-minute job; you zip into it," he told SYFY WIRE.
That's compared to the three hours it took to put on the full, hairy, ape-inspired prosthetic that appears later on, like in Episode 3, when Luther's siblings see him shirtless for the first time. "That was a bit more elaborate, and laborious as well," Hopper says. "They stick it all on me and paint it."
Making matters worse, the actor couldn't even sit down during the applications, because that might tear the prosthetic. "If you sit down, the suit pulls," he explains. "Those suits are very expensive." And, as you can probably imagine, very hot.
"He had a coolant vest on under the big muscle suit, but then after a while, he abandoned using it," Robert Sheehan, who plays Luther's adoptive brother Klaus, says. That's because the artificial cooling system — where cold water's pumped through a vest — actually made Hopper heat up more, making it even more uncomfortable, according to Sheehan. "So he just suffered through it with a big English grin on his face, God bless him."
"I'd certainly try to complain about how long it took to glue yak hair to my face — which, by the way, I hope that hair came from around the neck area," Cameron Britton, who plays Hazel on the show, said, laughing.
"No, they told me it came from the other end," Sheehan joked.
"I'm sure it did. It sure smelled like it," Britton replied.
Still, if any of that — the hours in makeup, the smell — bothered Hopper, he certainly wasn't letting on, saying that, if anything, the prosthetic suit actually helped him get more into character. "It ended up being an amazing tool to feel what Luther is feeling every day," he explains. "Because he is still getting used to having this size. Having this body now is very new to him, and he's uncomfortable." So him being uncomfortable in the suit was a great way for Hopper to replicate that, saying it made him feel awkward and clumsy, as he was always bumping into the set or his scene partners.
"He had no periphery around his body," Emmy Raver-Lampman (Allison) reveals, who says Hopper was so heavily padded she'd be tapping him on the shoulder and the actor would have no idea.
That doesn't mean he couldn't feel anything through the padding, though — something he and David Castañeda found out the hard way during Luther and Diego's fight scenes. "In the first episode, when we were fighting, he actually had to come up to me, like, 'Hey, dude, you're actually hitting me in certain points,'" Castañeda says with a laugh. "Because he's a big fluffy guy when he's wearing the suit! You can actually hit him. But there were these moments where there was direct contact that I had to be more aware of."
That just had the added benefit of sending the two actors straight back to their childhood though, and Castañeda says he was constantly defending himself to Episode 1 director Peter Hoar. "They come up to you like, 'Don't hit him!' And I was like, 'I'm not! I'm not hitting him, Peter! Peter, I'm not hitting him!' I almost cried."
"Tom's a very nice guy, but also very intimidating," he continues. "He has, like, Van Damme's body. But he's 6 foot 5. He's huge." Not that you get to see much of that on the actual show, though — an irony that wasn't lost on Hopper's co-stars.
"He was certainly fun to tease. He's incredibly muscular, and you don't get to see any of that because he's wearing a giant muscle suit," Britton says, laughing. "It's like if you put me in a fat suit."