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Ritu Arya and Marin Ireland on joining The Umbrella Academy's second season
Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy starts off with a bang — literally. The Hargreeves siblings, now in some potential projection of the future, are all teaming up to face down an untold number of enemies in an Avengers-style sequence that displays the full scope of their abilities... until a nuclear bomb gets dropped on the entire scene and lays waste to everything in its radius. Now, it's up to Number Five to save the rest of his siblings — and by extension, the world — from an apocalyptic fate once again, but in order to do that, he'll have to find them where they've been scattered throughout time, each sibling dropped into 1960s Dallas a year apart from the rest of the bunch.
Time travel is a well-worn conceit in genre, but in the case of The Umbrella Academy, it allows for the introduction of a brand-new supporting cast of characters, including Ritu Arya as Lila Pitts, adopted daughter of The Handler (Kate Walsh) who has a quiet fondness for Diego; and Marin Ireland as Sissy Cooper, a married mother who meets Vanya immediately after her arrival in Dallas and develops a connection with her.
After The Umbrella Academy's second season drop on Netflix, SYFY FANGRRLS had the opportunity to speak to both Arya and Ireland by phone about joining the cast and the relationships their respective characters got to explore.
Warning: Spoilers within this interview for Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy.
In terms of insider info, neither of the actors were given that much advance knowledge about who they'd be playing on the show — aside from what teases were provided to them by creator Steve Blackman, which, like the series itself, came out in bits and pieces rather than one big info drop.
"I didn't know that much about Lila when I auditioned," Arya said. "I'd never even heard of Umbrella Academy, so I watched a bit of it and loved it so much. I thought it was really weird and alternative and grounded. So then it was Lila's character that I fell in love with. She was really sort of funny and weird and spontaneous and unhinged and so very, very fun for an actor to play. And then when I had a call with Steve saying that I had got the part, he told me she was going to have a love storyline with Diego, that she had powers too and she was [actually] one of the siblings. I'd just thought she was in one episode and then it just became this much bigger thing — which was an absolute dream come true, to get to really sit in a character like that for a long time."
For Ireland, learning Sissy's backstory was an important component, but so was making sure that the season didn't fall prey to any harmful storytelling tropes that often revolve around queer characters. "I had a long conversation with Steve, and he laid out for me that it was 1963 in Dallas, that she's married. She's got a son who is on the spectrum and doesn't speak, and all of those particulars. And then really from there, I didn't know anything more. I just knew that [Vanya and Sissy] were going to fall in love. And then halfway through, Ellen [Page] and I thought, 'Let's make sure that she doesn't die. She doesn't end up in an asylum.' Because we were wanting to make sure that we weren't reinforcing any of the damaging stereotypes and the storylines that already exist out there."
Of course, while romance is a major linchpin of the Hargreeves' relationships, another aspect established across the scope of the story — not just this season, but in the show in its entirety — are the complicated family dynamics that exist, especially between parent and child. For Lila, whose backstory gets revealed like a trail of puzzle pieces scattered over the course of Season 2, her collision with Diego propels her toward some surprising revelations about her true parentage and connection to the Hargreeves, as well as the truth behind The Handler (Kate Walsh), the woman she had grown up only ever referring to as "mother."
"In that moment, when she finds out that her mom has been lying this whole time and she murdered her actual parents, it's the most horrific thing you could ever hear," Arya said. "It's so hard to process, it's that shocking. It breaks her. And that's what causes her to run away. Because she so badly wants to be part of this family, but her whole life she's been so lonely, she's had this upbringing where her mom's trained her to be this incredibly skilled assassin from a very young age, and she hasn't had siblings like they have. So she's really alone.
"I'd say when she meets Diego, sort of the first person she's connected with ever, and then gets, 'Hey, you're part of our family. Be with us.' It's what she's been dying to hear. She just wanted a family, and now she has it. But it's just all way too much in that moment to be able to stick around." But according to Arya, working with Walsh was an experience that allowed the complicated mother-daughter dynamic to unfold very naturally on-screen. "She would have so much gravity and power that it was so easy to have respect as well as be afraid of her. And also love her, because she's such a lovely person."
On the other hand, Ireland, who represented arguably the best parental figure on the show (who isn't a robot) to date, looked to certain real-life examples, in addition to working closely with Justin Kelly, who played Sissy's son Harlan, to accurately depict a mother trying to raise a child with autism. "We talked a great deal before and during a lot of those scenes, about what those scenes looked like, about what it'd feel like. And we took that very seriously as well. The responsibility of that, too. And I remember the shooting of some of those scenes was emotional and challenging. Some of those scenes, especially the one where he starts breaking the records, it was just me and him. They allowed us to improvise around that. When I sit down with him in my lap, that was something that we found as we were shooting it.
"But it definitely was complicated and very, very delicate. I'm really blown away by Justin's work in that way. For somebody that young to be able to tap into something that feels so complicated as he portrays was really special."
By the time the season concluded, both Ireland and Arya told me that it was a culmination of a journey of sorts — especially in getting the chance to finally work with the rest of the cast on the final episode after everyone's stories inevitably converge on Sissy's farm.
For Arya, the challenge came on a physical level, via the official unveiling of Lila's abilities in her big showdown with the rest of the Hargreeves siblings — her siblings too, as we inevitably learn. "It was a lot more work, there was more choreography and there was a lot of emotional scenes, a lot of big moments that happen to her. During the episode — not just the fight, to be honest, which are actually really the harder thing in terms of doing it justice of what this character is going through. But yeah, I would just work it to death. I was having so much choreography and training before we got around to it just so that I knew I'd be able to play it on the day and enjoy. So there was an ounce of me that felt like I wasn't ready, but then I was able to just jump off that cliff and be in the scene with whoever I was with."
Ireland, however, shared with me that Sissy's relationship with Vanya was what allowed her to find more of herself on an emotional front — and finally being more open and upfront about what she wanted from her life by the conclusion of the season. "I was really trying to find a way to let us feel that that fire has always been inside of her. She does know something deep inside of herself, that she can do something more. She just has never, literally, has never imagined it. She was sometimes stretching past what she was actually ready for.
"But the fact that she actually keeps trying to overstep those things, that's so brave and beautiful to me, and I feel like I wanted to definitely honor that about her. I kept thinking, 'Who'd be somebody that's worthy of Vanya's love? Who would Vanya fall for?' It's got to be somebody who's brave and big, and somebody who has this adventure. Someone with a real something that's going to spark inside of them too. Someone with internal electricity."
Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy is streaming on Netflix.