The Umbrella Academy’s Emmy Raver-Lampman Will Put You Under Her Spell

If there’s one thing I’ve struggled to buy about Allison Hargreeves in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, it’s that she needed a “rumor” to make someone fall in love with her. As played by actress Emmy Raver-Lampman, Allison is an adoptee of the eccentric (and predictably wealthy) Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), who raises seven children—all born under unusual circumstances on the exact same day—into dynamic but dysfunctional young superheroes. Allison is Number Three, arguably one of the more effective crime fighters, with the mysterious power to manifest her will into reality with the words, “I heard a rumor.” She grows into the Triple Threat that Raver-Lampman, 31, embodies, her honey-sweet voice a butter knife dipped in poison. Allison’s sister, Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page), is billed as the real villain, but realistically Allison could change the course of history; she could overthrow dictatorships with just the words from her lips. Instead, she chooses simple, selfish directives, and it’s suggested that she uses her “rumor” on her now ex-husband, goading him into love and marriage.

But here’s the thing about casting someone like Raver-Lampman as Allison: Her grin is bright and wide like a supernova. She’s had her face on a pizza. She played Angelica Schuyler in the national tour of Hamilton, nailing every infamously difficult rhyme in the character’s magnum opus, “Satisfied.” She’s so intensely likable, even as the undoubtedly screwed-up Allison, that the idea of her—or even a character she’s playing—having to manipulate people into loving her feels faintly ridiculous. Ask any one of her many fans: Loving Raver-Lampman is something that just sort of happens. Surely, Allison would have that same magnetic glow.

But when you talk with Raver-Lampman, you realize part of the spell she casts is fueled by her understanding of nuance. She can see why someone like Allison might be tempted to abuse her power. She knows what it’s like to want what’s next, to be less than satisfied with the now. As her character time-travels from the 21st century and lands in 1960s Dallas at the start of Season 2, she experiences anti-Black hatred—the sort of attack that might stir someone powerful to equally powerful retaliation. But Allison better understands herself and the impact her power can have on world around her now. Raver-Lampman does too.

An adoptee herself, Raver-Lampman was raised in Virginia by two academic parents before moving to New York City at 18. As a child, she was active in sports and performing arts, but eventually pursued the latter. Early in her career, she earned a role in the musical Children of Eden, and the gigs kept coming. Soon, it was Hamilton; then, The Umbrella Academy. But just as Allison has learned “honor and dignity” in Season 2, Raver-Lampman has understood her own capacity for quick success: “You have to focus and enjoy the journey, because you cannot focus on the thing you want. The second you get the thing, there will be another thing.”

Here, Raver-Lampman talks to about this philosophy, what it’s like to be adored by thousands, and why Allison’s race is finally becoming a prominent part of her story.

How did this transition from Broadway actress to Netflix superhero come about?

I was playing Angelica on the first national tour of Hamilton, and we were in San Francisco for six months, and then we came to L.A. for six months. I had put all my stuff in storage in New York, because I knew I was going to go on tour for at least a year. After having been in Hamilton, I kind of was a little bit like, “I don’t know what musical is going to top this for me at the moment.” You know what I mean?

I’m just saying, personally, I’m not expecting any musical to ever be the global phenomenon that Hamilton was. I hope there is one! We need one! But I’m just saying, those are kind of lightning in a bottle—the way that Hamilton made me feel, being onstage with so many people of color and telling the story the way that it’s told.

So I could feel myself shifting away from theater and being more interested in learning how to be an actor in a new medium. I’d never been on TV before. I’d never been in front of a camera before, so it kind of intimidated the hell out of me.

Self-taping for a musical is a very rare, rare thing. So I didn’t really know the self-tape game and how to do that. The pilot for Umbrella Academy came through, and it was one of my first auditions that I’d done. I really was like, “I just got here. There’s no way. There’s millions and millions of actors. But I’m going to take this as an opportunity to get better at doing self-tapes, and then figure out Dropbox.” Because I’m terrible at technology. [Laughs.]

I sent in the self-tape and didn’t hear anything for four months. And then four months later out of nowhere, my manager called me and was like, “Hey, you’re never going to believe this. I just got a call from casting, and they want to test you for The Umbrella Academy.” And at that point, I literally was like, “For what?”

You’re like, “Remind me which one this is?”

I literally was like, “Can you bump that email to the top of my inbox? Because I don’t even remember.” I was sending in tons and tons and tons of tapes, just trying to kind of get out there.

So I went in, and I tested, and, like, two days later, I found out I got it. Mind you, this entire time I was still doing Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre at night. I found out, and then I had about a month until they needed us up in Toronto to start prep. So I immediately had to put in my notice. It was so fast. I didn’t have time to think, like, “Oh, my God, I’ve never been in front of a camera before. I don’t really know what I’m doing.” Because I blinked and I was in front of a camera doing a scene opposite Ellen Page.

You’re thrown onto this set, and all of a sudden, you have to treat these strangers like they’re your long-lost siblings. What was it like developing that Hargreeves family dynamic?

We were up in Toronto for two weeks before we started shooting. This family is ripe with complications. There’s a lot of trauma there, there’s a lot of hurt, they were all essentially abused by their father and exploited for their abilities. But you have to believe the moment you see all of them together, this dynamic that they have is at the core of the group. So at night—there were nights we’d go out and go karaoke-ing, and we’d go out and have big family dinners.

Honestly, it has never felt like pulling teeth. We all still to this day get along and have so much fun on set, and recommend books to each other, and take weekend trips and see each other when we’re not shooting. Justin [H. Min, who plays Ben] lives in L.A., and David [Castañeda, who plays Diego] lives in L.A. I see Justin all the time. And whenever Tom [Hopper, who plays Luther] visits L.A., sometimes he stays with me. Every time I’m in New York, I hang out with Ellen multiple times. We’re genuinely friends and do really get along.

If you really think about what Allison can do—say something aloud, and it becomes reality—she’s actually one of the more terrifying heroes on the show. But you play her as someone who’s grounded, even gentle. What went into that characterization?

If we’re looking at it on paper, Allison has only ever used her power for selfish reasons: When they were out as kids fighting crime and their dad needed them to save the day, or potentially to have her ex-husband fall in love with her, and potentially to get the career that she has.

I don’t think she fully understands the magnitude of her power, because she’s never really been asked to use it that way before. I think we see her start to understand that in the second season, because she’s decided to not use her powers when it comes to being a part of the civil rights movement. Because, sure, she could say, “I heard a rumor that the civil rights movement came to a swift and peaceful and correct close.” But I think she realizes the butterfly effect of that is not worth the risk. She knows now that she has a biracial daughter decades in the future, who could be affected by a quick selfish decision on her end in regard to this movement.

I think in the second season, we’re watching her understand the magnitude of her powers. When you’re young and you’re a teenager, it’s cool to have these powers—you’re showing off for your siblings. And then you leave home and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I can have a house and an amazing career and cars and money and fame and a handsome husband and a beautiful daughter.” I don’t know if at that point Allison was ever thinking, And then I could also end world hunger and systemic racism! Even though the Hargreeves kids are all in their 30s, I think they’re severely emotionally stunted adults.

What was your reaction to the scripts for Season 2?

We had already had conversations with [showrunner Steve Blackman] about what was going to happen. I think instantly my reaction and my response to Steve was, that’s amazing. Allison will be Black and in Texas. That was something we couldn’t ignore. It’s an undeniable fact.

The second we found out we’d been renewed for Season 2, I immediately wanted to start conversations about it. Because [the civil rights movement] is a really important moment for African-Americans. So I knew there was no way that Allison wasn’t going to be living around it, involved in it, or having to do something with it. So, of course, I was excited, but I also was so, so nervous. I didn’t want her to just get caught up in this thing. I wanted her to be in the trenches.

In the first season, we’re all, of course, aware that Allison is Black, but it’s not something anyone explicitly mentions. It’s not a key part of the story. But as you’re saying, if you’re going now to 1960s-era Dallas, it’s impossible for that not to become central to the story. So what was it like having that part of her identity acknowledged the way it perhaps always should have been?

I completely agree. I think the representation on our show of Ben being played by Justin, and David playing Diego, and Ellen playing Vanya, and me playing Allison—it’s so important and vital, and there’s something nice that [our races and sexual orientations] are not addressed. But I also think it’s really important for it to be addressed as well.

I think as Americans, we’re not told enough about our own history. We’re especially not taught enough about the brutal realities and violence of our own history when it comes to the African-American experience. So I was excited for the opportunity to have some of that history depicted and represented on millions and millions of TV screens. Not only in our country, but all over the world.

This is still the same fight that was being fought during the civil rights movement. We are fighting for the same things.

And I think it is so important, especially now in relation to everything that’s happening in our country, because now the Black Lives Matter movement is global on so many levels in so many different countries. This is still the same fight that was being fought during the civil rights movement. We are fighting for the same things.

What ambitions do you have for acting projects that you want to do next?

I think the further I get into my career in this industry … I am representation of the Black experience. Being a part of things that are produced by, written by, written for, starring, created by Black people and people of color is becoming—the door has been swung open in a way that it never has been before. I am really extremely and maybe only interested in giving voice to Black artists and Black writers and Black representation on both sides of the camera.

You’ve developed a sizable fan base from these two wildly successful shows, Hamilton and TUA. What has it been like seeing your influence up close?

I’m not great at the social medias, and the Tik of the Toks, and I don’t even have Facebook. I have a Twitter, but I think the last time I tweeted was in 2014? So I just think the fan base is remarkable.

I’m so honored to have been part of something like Hamilton—y’know, the Great White Way is exactly that. You know what I mean? Being a part of Hamilton and having so many young people of color and Black little girls come up to me? It’s been amazing.

I think I get that question a lot of like, “What did you want to be when you grew up?” Or, “Who were your idols? Who did you look up to? What was your dream role on Broadway?” And I never had any, because I never saw anybody that looked like me in any of those mediums. And, sure, there are unbelievable female Black artists in every medium, but I think specifically being a high school musical theater nerd, it was Audra McDonald or bust. And I loved Audra McDonald! But I don’t sing like her. So I just was like, “She has this amazing career, but we don’t sound anything alike.”

I feel like now, we’re just hopefully creating a world of entertainment where young people of color can see themselves in more mediums and in more ways, and being the superhero and not being the villain.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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