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Umbrella Academy’s Kate Walsh on If The Handler Is Dead in Season 2
This article contains spoilers for the ending of The Umbrella Academy Season Two.
The thing that makes The Umbrella Academy such a blast is that the bad guys are just as funny and unforgettable as our super-powered Hargreeves family heroes. But that also made the end of Season One kind of a bummer, because it brought all our favorite baddies’ storylines to a close. Mary J. Blige’s workaholic time traveling assassin Cha Cha was obliterated in the apocalypse, while her partner Hazel absconded to eras unknown with his newfound love, Agnes—right after shooting their boss, Kate Walsh’s The Handler.
Thankfully, Season Two proves that a bullet wound to the forehead can be only a minor setback to a scheming middle manager charged with safeguarding the stability of the space-time continuum. That’s right, The Handler is back, and she’s still trying to take down the Hargreeves while climbing the corporate ladder in a pair of stylish retro pumps. This time, she’s armed with a trio of stoic Swedish brothers filling in for Hazel and Cha Cha, as well as an assassin who’s even more dangerous—her daughter, Lila, who’s armed with some serious combat training and one big secret.
We caught up with Walsh, who also starred in Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, to talk about The Handler’s return from the near-dead, her wildest Season Two costumes, and learning to speak Swedish.
Did you always know that The Handler would be back for season two?
No, I didn’t at all, until Steve Blackman, the creator and showrunner, called me. He was like, “Hey, would you want to come back?” And I was like, “Okay. Yeah. What are you thinking? She did get shot through the head, but yeah, I’m listening.” But it was obviously, super fun and I was super excited to come back. And when he pitched me what the whole the arc of the season, it was like, “Oh yeah, this is really cool.”
Of course, the great thing about the show is the timeline, and being able to play dress-up. You can see her costumes are out of control this season. It’s just great, though to then have the added element of the relationship with Lila. And I always love playing with Ken [Hall], who plays Herb. And A.J. Carmichael! It was so out of control, but I just loved it.
You had so many amazing outfits this season—what were your favorites?
Oh, my gosh. Thank you. I loved that red suit that she comes back to the commission in. That was a dope one. And then I loved her young handler look with a long blonde wig and that lavender sort of houndstooth. I think it was when she decides to steal the file from A.J.’s desk and has Five assassinate Lila’s parents. We just had a great time with the hats, and the hair and makeup and wardrobe department. It was like we were in our own little movie making stuff up. It was really fun.
You mentioned doing scenes with A.J., the fish, and I was wondering what those scenes were like to shoot.
Okay. So, he’s basically a guy in a suit and he’s not actually wearing the fishbowl, but he was wearing like a green stocking cap basically over his head so that they could do to the green screen visual effect in there. And he was such a good actor, and it was so much fun.
That scene was really fun to shoot. Because the great thing about this show is, not only is it fantastic and the sky’s the limit in many ways, but there are rules to the show. They write almost like plays, so, you get these long scenes. They’re not common in television, where everything’s kind of keep going, move, move, move. But you get these three and four page scenes that are just so fun as an actor to play. They all have a beginning, middle and end. And that was one of them. That scene in his office when he tells me I’ve been demoted. I love that. Did they have the the steam room scene in?
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Oh yeah! That was a really fun scene. What was shooting that like?
That was the most insane thing to shoot on the entire planet. Literally, I was losing my mind. Swedish is not an easy language to learn. So, they had to have a teleprompter with my phonetic spelling of Swedish for the entire scene, and it was literally taped on the Swedes’ heads. It was the hardest thing to shoot—and seemingly naked! Just tape across my breasts and flesh colored underwear. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done and I was screaming at the end of it. And then Steve called me from the editing room, he was like, “I promise you, this is going to look amazing.”
It did look amazing in the end.
In another interview that you mentioned that The Handler was originally a man, which is so hard to imagine after watching your performance. And I was just wondering if you knew any more about what the early vision for the character was like?
It was modeled on Jon Hamm type, sort of like the ultimate boss, in that Mad Men world. [Blackman] said originally they conceived it as a guy and then they’re like, “But you could do it.” And I was like, “Just don’t change anything because of the gender change. Just keep it.” Because it was so funny and witty and weird.
Does The Handler have a name? Because I thought it was a job title, but then she’s demoted, and she’s still The Handler.
I know, it’s just the Handler! Jenny, The Handler [Laughs].
The Handler doesn’t really fight, but she still projects so much power. How do you do that in a show where everyone else has very violent, physical power?
Oh, I’m glad that that was your experience. Part of it was, I was wearing a corset pretty much in every single look. So, to varying degrees my ribs were being crushed. That will keep you calm and grounded. And when you have those shoes, the costumes, and especially the corset, it makes your whole physicality change. That really informs the way you stand and the way you look. That keeps this physicality and this stiffness, or structure to it.
The Handler’s relationship with Lila is so great—she’s raised to be her personal assassin, but then the maternal scenes also feel so real. Did you feel like there was real maternal love between those characters, or is it just purely an act?
No. I feel like she’s a real person even though she’s a psychopath, ultimately, and a survivor and a loner. Even if they were just roommates, or she’s her protege, she’s still her kid and she’s doing the best version of mom that she could do. Right? It was just completely twisted and weird and manipulative, but yeah, you’re still going to have those moments of getting her ready for prom—stand up straight, take a picture, smile. Ultimately, she’s always watching with an eye of studying her and seeing what she’s up to because she trusts no one.
Is the Handler really dead this time?
Yes, I think she is. I asked that too, but yeah, so far as I know I just did this season. So, I don’t have any future plans to come back, but you never know in Umbrella Academy.
Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.
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