Talk to Aidan Gallagher, the breakout star of The Umbrella Academy, and it quickly becomes clear that the 15-year-old actor is as sincere as his character is snarky. In the new Netflix series about seven misfit superhero siblings, Gallagher plays “Number Five,” a 58-year-old time-traveling assassin trapped in his 13-year-old body. He comes back from the future to warn his dysfunctional family — who’ve reunited due to the death of their emotionally distant dad — about the impending apocalypse. After Five outsmarts the pair of trained killers (played by Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton) sent to stop him, their boss, a mysterious woman named the Handler (Kate Walsh), steps in.
Though Gallagher was a big fan of the graphic novels by My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá, on which the show is based, showrunner Steve Blackman says the teen actor was the last to audition for the role. Gallagher had just finished up a four-year run on the Nickelodeon series Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, and says he thought he was too late. “I went into the audition knowing how I wanted to play the character, knowing that most likely I wasn’t going to get it,” he told Vulture.
Not only did Gallagher get the part, when he met Way and asked for a selfie, the musician wanted one with him, too. Turns out Way and his daughter were fans of his Nick show. “You can imagine the excitement that I had just getting a picture with him, and then finding out that he wanted a picture [with me] as well,” he says. “All of the experiences I’ve had with Gerard have been incredible. I definitely hold that one close to my heart.”
Here’s what else the teen actor — who’s working on his own music career — had to say about his uncanny ability to channel an old soul, the importance of his Umbrella Academy costume, Five’s less-than-platonic relationship with the Handler, and why he never wants to do a Ferris Bueller remake.
I read that you were a big fan of the comics, and you even made a video about your audition. Why did you want to play Five so badly?
He’s really a dream role for anybody, whether you’re a fan of the comic or just a regular 14-year-old actor. I get to play a 58-year-old time-traveling assassin. The role had a lot of layers to it that I knew would be fun to break down and figure out the motives behind. But also I had been this huge fan of the entire world that Gerard and Gabriel were able to create through the first two graphic novels. So for me, it was a dream project.
How does a kid know how to play a hard-drinking, misanthropic 58-year-old killer trying to save the world? You’ve said you brought some of yourself to Five. What specifically?
The 58-year-old part is definitely an interesting detail, but I’ve always approached it as a regular character. You get familiar with how he reacts to certain things, and what the dynamics are between characters. The writing was very good — very authentic to what Gerard was able to do with Five in the comics.
As far as what part of myself I brought to Five, I’ve always considered myself not really my age. I don’t know that I would say I’ve felt like a 58-year-old, but I’ve never felt exactly my age, or in the right place. So I could relate to him in that sense.
You don’t sound like you’re 15, so you’re an old soul.
[Laughs.] I guess so.
When Five’s sister Vanya asks him how he got back after 17 years, he says he had to “project my consciousness forward into a suspended quantum state version of myself that exists across every possible instance of time.” Do you know what that means, and did you have trouble keeping track of the timeline you were in?
I wanted to understand the timeline as well as he did, so as I got the scripts, and as I saw how Five is jumping to alter time and change different events, I tried to keep track in my mind of exactly what was happening. How the different timelines affected each other. As far as suspending himself in a quantum-state version that exists across every possible instance of time, that was a mouthful for even me to digest. But Five knows what he’s talking about.
Five is having — or thinks he’s having — a 30-year relationship with a mannequin named Delores. From his side of their conversations, it sounds like she mostly calls him out on his drinking. Can you explain what’s going on between them, and why does he ultimately take her back to the department store?
I’m not exactly sure. I think it started off as a souvenir and eventually he started to talk to her and they developed a relationship. But Five, to some degree, understands that she’s an inanimate object, even though he has shared this 30-year relationship with her, and she holds a special place in his heart. So it’s very hard for him to finally return her and try to live this new life. She will always be a special part of him and someone that kept him company through all those years.
He tells the saleswoman to make sure she gets some nice new clothes.
Yeah. What did he say? That she loves sequins.
What about Five’s relationship with the Handler? She knows he’s an older guy. Is she flirting with him?
That was one of my favorite things about the show — finding all those backstories to the characters who had very thick and detailed dynamics. As far as Five and the Handler, we were slightly hinting that the two of them may have engaged in a relationship when Five was working as an assassin at the Commission. But I don’t know that we’ll fully ever see that story play out!
What about shooting that scene with Five and the Handler in adjacent bathroom stalls? Kate Walsh seemed to be having so much fun — and we learned what a “ruga” is.
Yes, that was one of the oddball scenes the writers were able to pull off. Very funny, especially when you get the script and you’re reading about rugae. I’d love to see the bloopers for that. She wasn’t really peeing.
I read that you’re a singer-songwriter and play piano and guitar, so I assume you were familiar with Mary J. Blige’s music. What was it like working with her? I know she wanted to do as many of her stunts as possible.
Shooting with Mary was an absolute delight. As a fellow musician — I can’t even put myself on that level — it was an honor as an actor. She’s just an absolute joy on the set. That fight scene in episode two between Five, Hazel, and Cha-Cha at the department store was a lot of fun to shoot.
Did you talk about music and get to play for her?
Playing would have felt out of place. We brought it up once at lunch, but other than that, I don’t think there was too much discussion.
You had to act in shorts on a cold Toronto set. Did you just want to burn your Umbrella Academy suit by the end of the shoot?
No, I really cherished that costume, especially what it means to me as a comic-book fan. Whenever I put it on, I instantly feel a bit closer to Five. That’s how I get into character. I feel like the character is made to be in a suit.
You’re writing and recording songs for an EP, and I read that you want to tour with it before shooting the next season of The Umbrella Academy. Is that right?
Hopefully, yes. I don’t know that there will be a second season. I’ve heard hints, but Netflix likes to give the official word. My theories about what season two could be based on the last episode are all just as a fan. I don’t know what Steve has in his head.
People on Twitter have suggested that you play Holden Caulfield and Ferris Bueller. Do you know what your next acting role is?
Those are two very, very interesting roles. I don’t know that I could ever really pull off Ferris Bueller because that was done in such an iconic way already. Holden Caulfield would definitely be an interesting role, but I think there was some problem with the rights. As far as projects, I definitely would like to get into something like that. But right now I’m busy with school and recording music.
This interview has been edited and condensed.