From trou­bled gang mem­ber in Love/Hate, to su­per­nat­u­ral young of­fender in Mis­fits, Robert Sheehan is no stranger to the dark side. Now, as un­will­ing su­per­hero Klaus in Net­flix’s next big thing, The Um­brella Academy, he’s headed for the shad­ows once again.

Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Interview -

It’s a very cold, very wet win­ter’s day in Lon­don, but Robert Sheehan is dressed for the sun. When I ar­rive at the cosy-cool ho­tel in Soho for our in­ter­view, the Laois ac­tor is loung­ing bare­foot in one of Net­flix’s suites, wear­ing a pair of stretchy orange and black pat­terned leg­gings with a thin tank top un­der a hooded vest. “To be hon­est, I’ve just come back from the Ori­ent,” he starts to ex­plain, paus­ing to ru­mi­nate on his choice of word­ing and crack in a theatri­cal Bri­tish ac­cent, more for his own amuse­ment than for mine or that of the Net­flix PR join­ing us in the room, “That’s an old-school word — ‘I’ve just come back from the Ori­ent with some silks and spices! Any­way, I’m ba­si­cally still there in my head,” he shrugs, lean­ing back in his arm­chair and cross­ing his legs on the cof­fee ta­ble be­tween us. “I’m dressed for Bali sun­shine and I refuse to give up the ghost.” A week of med­i­ta­tion on the Is­land of the Gods is a long way from af­ter­noons play­ing the spoons at school in Port­laoise. The youngest son of for­mer Garda Joe and Maria Sheehan, he landed his first job at age 12 after his mother brought him along to an open au­di­tion for Song for a Raggy Boy. Sheehan went on to study film and tele­vi­sion at Gal­way-Mayo In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, un­til he failed his ex­ams a year in and didn’t re­turn.

Fol­low­ing ap­pear­ances in RTÉ’s med­i­cal drama The Clinic and BBC pe­riod show The Tu­dors, Sheehan’s break­through role came in Chan­nel 4’s su­per­nat­u­ral dram­edy Mis­fits, in which he played charis­matic young of­fender Nathan. The part earned Sheehan a Bafta nom­i­na­tion and le­gions of ar­dent fans, turn­ing him into a global heart­throb — but among Ir­ish view­ers, he’s best known as gang mem­ber Dar­ren in RTÉ’s crime saga Love/Hate. Since Dar­ren’s in­fa­mous exit from the show in 2013, Sheehan has com­bined work in pres­tige TV se­ries For­ti­tude and Ge­nius: Pi­casso with block­busters such as Geostorm and Dun­can Jones’ neo-noir Net­flix film, Mute.

It’s Net­flix, again, that prompted his trip to “the Ori­ent” (or, more specif­i­cally, Sin­ga­pore, fol­lowed by a hol­i­day in Bali): a pro­mo­tional tour for his new show, The Um­brella Academy, based on the cult comic book se­ries by Gabriel Ba and Ger­ard Way, for­mer front­man of US rock band My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance.

It’s the story of a group of seven chil­dren, adopted by bil­lion­aire in­dus­tri­al­ist Regi­nald Har­greeves after a bizarre world­wide event sees 47 in­fants born by women who had pre­vi­ously shown no signs of preg­nancy. Har­greeves forms the ‘Um­brella Academy’, a re­lent­less train­ing pro­gramme to raise his chil­dren as su­per­heroes, but as they reach ado­les­cence, the team starts to splin­ter. The first episode picks up 17 years later, when the six sur­viv­ing mem­bers, now in their 30s, are brought back to­gether in the wake of Har­greeves’ mys­te­ri­ous death.

The cast in­cludes Ellen Page, Tom Hop­per and Mary J Blige, along with a CGI chim­panzee but­ler voiced by Adam God­ley. We meet Sheehan’s char­ac­ter, Klaus, as he’s check­ing out of re­hab for the umpteenth time, and learn that he has the abil­ity to com­mune with the dead — when his mind’s not ad­dled by drugs, some­thing with which he’s far more pre­oc­cu­pied.

Sheehan ad­mits he’s “not too well-versed in the whole comic book world”, and had never heard of the comics be­fore the show. He’ll oc­ca­sion­ally read Bri­tish graphic nov­els from the 1970s, such as his cur­rent favourite, DC’s Swamp Thing, but says he’s not a big fan of su­per­hero sto­ries. “It sounds slightly ironic to say, but I’m not sure if I’m the best au­thor­ity on su­per­heroes, be­cause I haven’t seen many of the more re­cent [movies]. The last one I saw was Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” he says. When I point out that Star Wars doesn’t re­ally count as a su­per­hero film, he scrunches his face try­ing to re­call an­other ex­am­ple, even­tu­ally of­fer­ing 2016’s Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War and later, Black Pan­ther.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing about the su­per­hero land­scape is that it’s kind of mir­ror­ing tele­vi­sion, oddly. Cin­ema has be­come tele­vi­sion and tele­vi­sion has be­come cin­ema,” he muses. “A su­per­hero movie can’t ex­ist with­out world-build­ing, and that means it be­comes episodic, like a TV show. I think we’re at an odd cross­roads in terms of cin­ema, and the su­per­hero land­scape is at the epi­cen­tre of that cross­roads. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see if cin­ema car­ries on sur­viv­ing in the tra­di­tional sense — I’m not sure if it will.”

It’s an in­ter­est­ing time for su­per­heroes on tele­vi­sion, too. Net­flix re­cently can­celled three of its ma­jor Mar­vel se­ries: Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Dare­devil, which doesn’t bode well for the re­main­ing shows, Jes­sica Jones and The Pu­n­isher. While the plat­form doesn’t re­lease of­fi­cial stream­ing fig­ures, the lat­est sea­sons were poorly re­ceived, in par­tic­u­lar cross­over se­ries The De­fend­ers. Some crit­ics have pointed to the up­com­ing launch of a com­pet­ing stream­ing ser­vice from Dis­ney, which owns Mar­vel En­ter­tain­ment, as a pos­si­ble rea­son for the blood­bath, but in any case, it’s not an en­cour­ag­ing time for TV he­roes.

Which may be why Sheehan is quick to de­scribe The

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