‘The Umbrella Academy’ director Stephen Surjik on keeping wild storylines grounded in emotional reality [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“This whole story is a lot about dysfunctional family,” says director Stephen Surjik about the superhero family at the heart of “The Umbrella Academy.” But “somehow that dysfunctional family is a great illustration of what a family should be for each other. They should be there to support one another.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Surjik above.

“The Umbrella Academy” follows the Hargreeves siblings, who were all born under mysterious circumstances on the same day around the world. They’re adopted by a billionaire who raises them to be a superhero team while gravely neglecting their emotional needs. In season one they joined forces to stop the apocalypse. In season two they’re transported through time and trapped in the 1960s, where they have to stop another apocalypse.

Surjik directed the second and third episodes of the season, “The Frankel Footage” and “The Swedish Job,” which include such wide-ranging plot developments as a talking goldfish who runs a commission that polices the space-time continuum, a potentially history-altering twist in the JFK assassination, and a sit-in at a segregated diner. “In something that’s sort of comedic and at times very dark, there’s a very delicate balance,” Surjik explains. “But there is something that’s very serious about what we’re doing as well.”

Even at its most outlandish, the show is about a “modern family” of misfits who understand each other deep down, and “I think people relate to it on that level.” With those themes and other sensitive subjects regarding race and identity, “I don’t want to undercut that with comedy.” In addition, he welcomed input from the actors “to inform us and to help us understand what it is the character’s going through.”

Surjik also learned from other superheroes. Before “The Umbrella Academy” he directed for the Marvel universe of Netflix dramas including “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and “Iron Fist.” “It informed me how to ground the characters and the situations in an atmosphere and in a universe that we’re all familiar with.” In any story with superhuman characters there’s a risk of getting bogged down in “phony shit.” The key to making those stories compelling is to “ground the characters, make the universe real … They’re characters who have relationships, and those relationships are flawed. And we recognize those flaws and we identify with them.”

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