'The Umbrella Academy' Actor Jake Epstein Is Having Fun Under All Those Prosthetics

The Toronto-born performer sounds off on admiring Elliot Page and giving local recommendations to his co-stars
'The Umbrella Academy' Actor Jake Epstein Is Having Fun Under All Those Prosthetics
Photo courtesy of Netflix
When The Umbrella Academy, the superhero series based on Gerard Way's comic book, returned to Netflix last month for Season 3, a lot had changed. This season, the super-powered siblings arrive in a time-altered 2019 to find their adoptive father, eccentric billionaire Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), has created a new family called the Sparrow Academy.

Joining the cast is Toronto-born and -based actor Jake Epstein (a.k.a. Craig from Degrassi: The Next Generation, Chuck in Designated Survivor and Brian in Suits) as Sparrow Number Four, Alphonso Hargreeves. We sat down with Epstein to discuss his character, working with the cast and his favourite Toronto haunts.

Do you remember the moment that you found out you were going to be a new cast member on the series?

Yes, I do! I was so excited. I've been a huge fan of the show and I was really excited for the next season, regardless of being part of it. It's pretty surreal to know you're going to step into this world you've been a fan of. Also, in my head, I was like, "Oh, this is great. I'm gonna get like a trainer, I'm gonna be a superhero, I'm gonna get a six-pack. I'm gonna be ripped!" And then I laughed really hard when I came in to the studio, and they showed me the design for my character. Here's an entirely different body and here's your melting face [laughs]. It's totally wild to be given that.

What did you love about the series before you joined? As a fan, it's a different experience to be able to love a show and then to join it later — in what ways did the cast surprise you?

I just think it's such an interesting mix of so many fantastic genres. All together in one, it's this superhero show. It also has this sort of Wes Anderson, indie film, relationship drama element to it. It's also this totally larger-than-life comedy, which I love. So I feel like that's what people connect to, and it's the best part of so many different genres all in one and feels like everyone can relate to the characters, or at least one character; everyone can say, "Oh, that's me. That's definitely me." I'll speak for myself: dealing with family, it's always challenging. The show is about this complicated relationship with a family.

I'm a huge fan of Elliot Page as well. I have been for many years. Not only as a fellow Canadian, but just from all the movies he's done and the incredible roles he's played. So again, just to know that I was going to get to work with him was really exciting and the cast were great. They were so surprisingly down-to-earth. I met everyone because our first sequence of the show is this Footloose-imagined dance sequence that happens in the first episode. I was so nervous to meet everyone. But that all goes away when you're all learning a country line dance together, because you can't be cool. There's just no way to be cool learning a line dance with other people [laughs]. So it was a really, really surprisingly cool icebreaker.

You mentioned that everyone relates to a particular character on this series. Which one was that for you?

I love the character Klaus. I think Robert Sheehan is incredible. I didn't even know he was Irish, first of all. Secondly, he's sort of the black sheep of the family and I related to that a little bit. What I think is so cool about his power is that he can speak to the dead, which, at first, seems like it's the most useless power of everyone's because he can't really fight. But as the series goes on, you realize how incredible his power is, to be able to talk to generations past and get advice from other people. I feel like that would be the superpower that I would want, to be able to talk to people from the past.

I love Alphonso's sense of humour. You must have had a lot of fun with this character!

I did. I mean, you put on the face, and the suit and something happens to you; you start walking in a different way. And it kind of gives you license to start improvising and having a lot of fun. Alphonso is kind of the big weirdo of the family. So I really took that role on with pride and had a lot of fun on set.

Who would you say challenged you the most as an actor, especially when you're doing group scenes?

I mean, to be honest, the challenge of the character for me was navigating the full face and body prosthetic. I mean, that was a bit of a mountain, because I'd never worked in that way before. You have very little vision and you're coming in about four hours before everyone else on set to get into the thing, and it is so hot and so uncomfortable. Just to be in the thing, and then you put your costume on top of that. You have a team of about four people who are making sure that your weird cuts and bruises look horrifyingly grotesque. Then you're required to be present in the scenes and to try to have fun, and so I found the prosthetic was just figuring out how to move in that way. I'm really playing against type and I'm given this body, which is a very different body — a very cute beer belly, which I grew to love. 

It sounds you had a lot of fun on set, and it comes across on screen. How did the cast even keep it together while filming?

We were extremely unprofessional sometimes [laughs]. There's a great scene with Tom Hopper, who plays Luther. When the Sparrow Academy kidnaps him, we have this scene where we're all eating and having breakfast together. I just ate my food as I thought Alphonso would constantly be stuffing his face with stuff. And Tom was just like, "I can't look at you!" [laughs]

What was it like filming in your home city of Toronto?

It was awesome. What a highlight. I had no idea that The Umbrella Academy filmed in Toronto. And yeah, it was great. I mean, I was one of the few Canadians on the show, so it was great to tell people where to go eat food.

It was a lot of: "You want to stay away from this area, go check out the Annex, go to the Distillery District…" I was trying to point people in directions I thought they'd really enjoy. We shot it at the beginning of COVID, before vaccines, so I was just in this place where I didn't even know if filming was going to be possible. Then, to suddenly find myself on this major show shooting in my hometown, it was such a gift. It was really lovely to get to go home at night rather than go to some strange hotel in a city that I'm not used to being in.

What's next for you?

I shot a season of The Hardy Boys, [airing in Canada on Disney+ and YTV]. I play a really interesting role. I just finished a solo show at the Royal Alex Theatre in Toronto called Boy Falls from the Sky, which started as a as a Fringe show and then [Toronto theatre producers] Mirvish picked it up and it's all about my crazy story of a dream I had of working on Broadway. It went really well, so we did a six-week run at the Royal Alex. So I'm in the midst of figuring out what's next with that show.