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SYFY WIRE The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy's David Castañeda talks dance moves, fridging, and his character not being a dick

By Jessica Toomer

The Umbrella Academy’s David Castañeda knows you think he’s a dick.

Well, not him personally, but the character he plays on the Netflix superhero series, which was just renewed for a second season.

There’s not much Castañeda, or the man he plays, Diego Hargreeves, can do about it. After all, if you were sold as a baby to some strange, aloof billionaire who had dreams of starting his own X-Men squad and so placed you in the care of a robot and a talking monkey-butler while he ranked your abilities and screwed with your psyche, you’d have behavioral problems, too.

"It's so interesting because when I have these interviews, [people are] like ‘Yo, your character was such a dick. You're so mean.’ But when we were shooting it, I was so cemented in who Diego is and where he comes from that it never felt like that with me,” Castañeda tells SYFY FANGRRLS. “Obviously, when you come from a sense of not being enough, which is what Reginald did to Diego, that's gonna build, that resentment. But it never comes from a place of spitefulness. It comes from a place of just wanting to be loved.”

Diego, or Number Two, as the chip on his shoulder reads, is the only Hargreeves sibling to make good on his father's dream of his children saving the world when we meet the family as adults. He’s mopping floors in a boxing gym by day, prowling the streets with knives strapped to his chest and snarky one-liners to hurl at the bad guys by night. He has a combative relationship with the police, an even thornier bond with his brother Luther, and doesn’t mind breaking the law to do, what he views, as the right thing. 

But Castañeda had little background on the character’s major daddy issues when he first read for the role. He certainly had no clue how big the show would become with its legions of comic book fans. 

“Thankfully, I was unaware of it,” Castañeda explains, saying the cast was given room to flesh out their characters away from the spotlight while filming in Canada. “I found out that it was huge once we wrapped when we were going to Comic-Con and all that. Obviously, you never know how the final product is gonna be. But, I'm very happy that it's turning out the way it is, right now.” 

The show is earning praise from critics for just how hard it leans into its weird origins.

Created by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, the graphic novel, and now the series, follow this rag-tag group of orphans, thrown together by a man who seeks to use their abilities for his own gain. They’re a dysfunctional family to be sure, and their sibling squabbles aren’t made better by their supernatural abilities—powers like time-travel, resurrecting the dead, or altering reality just by whispering a “rumor” into someone’s ear. One sibling who possesses the gift of super strength has been experimented on and had his head stitched onto the torso of a gorilla... in case you’re wondering where this series falls on the batsh*t crazy spectrum. 

Diego, by comparison, possesses a fairly “normal” ability, the power to bend the trajectory of the knives he uses. Sure, compared to time-hopping and seances with spirits, knife-throwing doesn’t sound like an enviable skill, but Castañeda put in more work than any of his co-stars when it came to bringing his character’s superpower to life on screen. 

“Let's put it this way, I still suck at darts,” Castañeda jokes when we ask him just how confident he is with a blade. “But I did have to train enough to wear them. It was an extension of my body when I was fighting with them especially because they were real. I'd say about 95% of any time you see me pull out a knife, it's a real knife. And I take a lot of pride in being able to make everyone feel safe on set, so it did take a lot of preparation.” 

In other words, Castañeda was not about to be the reason a co-star like Mary J. Blige got sent to the hospital. 

The Umbrella Academy Cast
His character, however, has no problem doling out physical punishment to those he deems deserve it. In fact, compared to his siblings, Diego feels like the most authentic version of what we imagine a superhero to be. He’s a man that takes the law into his own hands, who seeks justice, who uses his gifts to help others. Is he doing it for the sake of his own ego? Castañeda thinks probably, but that hubris is just another layer to the character, one that makes us step back and question why we worship these kinds of superheroes the way we do. 

“I think it's hedonism, that wanting to help people only because it makes you feel good rather than actually being good,” Castañeda explains. “It's the sense of, ‘I'm going to help you and then I'm going to remind you that I helped you.’ He doesn't know any better, especially with the way they were raised. So, when everyone kind of tried to break away and do their own thing, whether it's Allison starring in a movie or Klaus getting into rehab, Diego is still out there. Somehow, deep down inside of him, he just wants his dad to be like, ‘Good Job.’ That's all he wants.” 

As an afterthought, Castañeda says this in defense of his character. 

“Reginald's a dick.” 

But Diego seems to leave broken relationships in his wake, whether it’s his siblings, his mother, or his ex-girlfriend, a detective named Eudora Patch. The two had some kind of relationship that fizzled out prior to the beginning of the show, probably because of Diego’s vigilante antics. Detective Patch is a by-the-books kind of cop while Diego prefers to throw the book out the window and watch it be bulldozed by an 18-wheeler.

When Detective Patch takes Diego’s advice and pursues a lead on her own, she’s murdered, and Diego’s left to take the fall. 

It’s a troubling turn of events for the character—he’s forced to examine his lifestyle, his beliefs, and his renegade way of doling out justice—and it skirts a bit too close for comfort to the fridging trope that seems ever-present on screen these days. 

“That's the first time I've heard of that,” Castañeda admits when we mention the term.

“Usually, when we talked about it, there was obviously a want to further along the storyline of Diego and Patch. I would've loved to. But I have the utmost respect for shows that are willing to just kick away any character early in the season because then you’re like, ‘I don't even know where this is going now,’ because there's this person who you felt would have a full season arc and suddenly [they] die. It leaves everyone vulnerable.” 

The show manages to handle Patch’s demise in an interesting way, skipping the formulaic path of revenge and instead, asking Diego to consider how Patch would want her memory honored, how she would handle the situations he finds himself in following her death. 

“Diego still finds a way to save the academy rather than bolting out and being this vigilante. It’s not just immediate gratification when it comes to avenging Patch, it’s more of, ‘What it is to be someone that protects the law and justice, in general?’ Diego at the beginning of the season, would not have thought about that. In my opinion, it’s a very beautiful arc that you don't see that often.” 

And Castañeda will have plenty of room to grow his character now that a second season has been confirmed. He became a bit of an internet sensation thanks to his skills on the dancefloor during the show’s iconic montage in the first episode of the season, a scene Castañeda was nervous to shoot. When we talk to Castañeda, a second season is still up in the air and the actor jokes he might have to start practicing again. 

“I’m trying to see if I can do some [better] dance moves this time around.”