Dysfunctional superheroes in The Umbrella Academy

(From left) Robert Sheehan, Tom Hopper and David Castaneda star in The Umbrella Academy, a new Netflix fantasy series. PHOTO: NETFLIX
(From left) Robert Sheehan, Tom Hopper and David Castaneda star in The Umbrella Academy, a new Netflix fantasy series. PHOTO: NETFLIX(From left) Robert Sheehan, Tom Hopper and David Castaneda star in The Umbrella Academy, a new Netflix fantasy series. PHOTO: NETFLIX

The Umbrella Academy is akin to a "dysfunctional X-Men", says Irish actor Robert Sheehan, one of the stars of the new Netflix fantasy series.

While the academy in the X-Men franchise served as a "sanctuary" for the superheroes, in The Umbrella Academy, they did not choose to be part of the academy.

The 31-year-old adds: "They were bought as infants, raised in a very neglectful fashion and then turned into world-famous crime fighters at a very young age when they didn't have the mental sophistication to deal with crime, justice and fame.

"This is where the characters' emotional stuntedness roots from as they age and wilt. So, to put it simply, it is kind of like a dysfunctional X-Men."

The Umbrella Academy is based on Gerard Way, lead vocalist of former rock band My Chemical Romance, and Gabriel Ma's cult comic book series of the same name. It is centred on a group of adopted superhero siblings who come together as adults to solve the mystery surrounding the death of their eccentric billionaire father.

Each of the seven siblings is given a number for a nickname and each displays different powers or skills.

Number One (played by Tom Hopper), for example, is an astronaut with super strength, while Number Five (played by Aidan Gallagher) can jump through space and time.

Sheehan plays Klaus, or Number Four, the flamboyant drug addict sibling with the ability to talk to the dead.

Even though the drug addiction is a huge part of the character, the actor consciously chose not to think of him that way.

He says: "When someone is having a crisis of their mental health, whether it's drug addiction or depression, they don't see it like that. If they did see it in those terms, they would be on the way to recovery.

"Klaus is certainly not on the way to recovery. I just delved deep and left no stone unturned. Klaus is incredibly endearing and lovable, but he is extremely untrustworthy."

The actor was speaking to The Straits Times and other regional media at See What's Next: Asia at Marina Bay Sands, an event that promoted Netflix's new slate of programming for the year.

He was joined in the same interview session by his Mexican-American co-star David Castaneda, who plays Diego, or Number Two, the sibling with no supernatural powers but is a skilled fighter who has a way with knives.

Castaneda, 29, says: "To me, it was the most interesting character from the standpoint of actually not having supernatural powers. I like Batman, so there's a correlation to it."

The training he had to undergo for the role was tough, though.

There were regular training sessions with top martial arts instructors as well as sparring with Olympic taekwondo athletes.

"I got my a** whooped," he says with a laugh.

"There was once, while in rehearsals with Tom Hopper, I did a high kick and accidentally hit my nose with my knee. I was pretty flexible at that point. I dropped and started bleeding from the nose."

Sheehan gasped dramatically when he heard this.

He says: "I feel like I got the longer end of that stick because I had no training. It was great. I sat at home, smoking a bubble pipe and watching old re-runs of Scooby Doo and Seinfeld."

• The Umbrella Academy is streaming on Netflix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2019, with the headline 'Dysfunctional superheroes'. Print Edition | Subscribe