Elliot Page, ‘Umbrella Academy’ Showrunner and Writer on Weaving Viktor’s Transition Into Season 3
The actor, showrunner Steve Blackman and writer Thomas Page McBee discuss how they connected Viktor’s transition story to season two, the kind curiosity of his siblings, maintaining his relationship with sister Allison, and that end-of-the-world dance moment.
In The Umbrella Academy’s third season, Viktor Hargreeves survives the end of the world — again. But for the first time, he’s doing it as his authentic self.
A character as tempered as he is explosive, Viktor (played by Elliot Page) spent the hit Netflix series’ first two seasons fighting to be seen by his siblings and father Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore). Those fights, both within himself and with those around him, played a different part in the end of two versions of the world.
But after falling in love with Sissy Cooper (Marin Ireland) in season two, Viktor returns in the show’s latest season to yet another time period and a new battle. Only this go-around, he’s got a more sure sense of self. As Viktor transitions, his season 3 journey results in him becoming more assertive and taking on a more involved role alongside his siblings’ fight to save the world.
The character’s transition is a subtle part of his arc and one that mirrors in ways the real-life transition of Page, whose own journey gave the show a chance to pause and make adjustments behind the scenes as they brought his story to the screen. In its understated approach are powerful nuances that give “Number Seven’s” three-season journey new meaning and create space for the experiences of trans people in one of TV’s biggest shows.
Following the release of season three, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Page, as well as showrunner Steve Blackman and writer Thomas Page McBee, who is trans, about how they worked as a team to bring together an authentic story for Viktor in season three.
You lay the foundation of Viktor’s transition in his relationship with Sissy from last season. How did you decide that?
THOMAS PAGE MCBEE I really think that came from Elliot directly in terms of when we were all first having this conversation. I know I called Elliot and just said to him, “Where do you think this realization really came into Viktor’s awareness?” Because we all know trans people often understand our own trans-ness, even before we have a language for it. But, “Where do you feel that this originated in the character?” and it was absolutely Elliot’s pitch that his dynamic with Sissy was a way that — and Elliot, you could speak to this — he was opening himself up and able to really be authentic. I think Steve and I both thought that was a beautiful way of thinking about his story.
STEVE BLACKMAN Yeah, and in fact, if I could add that Elliot, I don’t know if you remember, we worked on that scene of you with Sissy the year before. And I used some of that as voiceover as Viktor was thinking through this and looking at himself in the mirror. That was actually the dialogue we wrote the year earlier. Without really knowing it, we were setting ourselves up a little bit, even in that previous season for the journey of Viktor.
ELLIOT PAGE Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, Viktor always resonated so deeply from the get-go, from the pilot when you first sent it to me, Steve, and when we first spoke about the character. I think the arc ultimately, and in retrospect, has been really clear in so many ways. Viktor’s discomfort and the walls that he puts up, I think without realizing, he’s just so folded in on himself and meeting Sissy and getting to feel more embodied and self-assured, and it was really, really quite special to actually reflect on that. I think through conversations with Thomas, we were really able to feel what that honest progression is.
Viktor’s arc, inadvertently, reflects the journey of many queer and trans people in understanding their sexuality and gender — as something that unfolds over time. Did you think about that when crafting his season 3 transition storyline and are you planning to continue exploring that in future seasons?
BLACKMAN I mean, I can only say that it will impact Viktor’s storyline. We have ideas for what we’d like to do if we’re lucky enough for season four. What I thought was nice is that it didn’t become the storyline of the show, and with these lovely people that you’re talking to, we were able to craft something that felt very balanced and real, authentic. We want to continue to do that going forward.
PAGE I think one of the most special things about this is how it’s handled. It’s not void of emotional moments with the siblings, of course. I think they’re each individually special and in relation to their specific relationship. The scene when Luther and Diego are coming down the stairs and Luther’s awkwardness and all these things, these were — simultaneously I’m experiencing all that, because I’ve stepped into this moment where I’m a trans person and perceived that way, and having all these new experiences I didn’t have before. Then these scenes were resonating with that, which was really incredible. We don’t see that when we’re not in control of our stories a lot of the time. So it felt really special. Like Steve said, it not being the main focus of the character, but naturally, moments and themes will arise that do relate. I would imagine. I’m not writing anything. (Laughs.)
MCBEE I think Elliot deserves so much credit, which I’m sure he doesn’t want to take, because of the humble guy he is, just in terms of offering himself to us as a way to create an authentic story. Because we did have such a constraint production-wise, as I think people have reported on, in terms of just where it lined up with when Elliot disclosed that he was trans and the scripts being locked and so on. So we really had to just get to the spirit and heart of this story so quickly. I transitioned 11 years ago, but talking to Elliot early on about what he was dealing with and things he was thinking about, I was just delivered right back to my own first year into my own transition. And something Elliot and I share, and I don’t think we consciously thought of this at all, of course, but we both come from queer community. So we’ve had experiences of being queer-identified before being trans-identified.
I don’t think that we thought, “Oh, let’s make sure that’s in the story.” But it makes a lot of sense that in Elliot’s reading of his own character, he would see that connection. Certainly, I resonated with that idea, too. That sometimes you evolve in who you are and you evolve in who you’re becoming, and it sometimes happens over time. I think that’s what happened with Viktor. It’s certainly what happened with me, and I don’t want to say that’s what happened with you Elliot, but we were able to find some real truth, I think, very quickly because we had to. I think it’s really to Elliot’s credit that he was willing to allow us to put so much of his own emotional journey into the story.
BLACKMAN Also to your credit, Thomas, but I also say along with Elliot being so open, I couldn’t have even started down this road without you being a part of this. When Elliot first told me that this transition was going to happen and the scripts were finished, I went into a bit of a panic after I hung up. A, because no one had ever called me to tell me they were transitioning before, and then I was sort of ignorant and I didn’t know very much about the trans community then. I’m glad I’ve learned so much more and I’m still learning, but what was wonderful is that Thomas was quickly introduced to me by Elliot and through Nick Adams of GLAAD, and sort of became my guide to understanding it. Because it had to be an authentic story and it had to be done right. So together, we got it there. But Thomas is a big part of it, too.
MCBEE Well, not to continue the love fest, but briefly, I will say I think what’s important about all of this is that Steve knew to ask. I don’t think a lot of people do. I mean, I know — I work in Hollywood — that a lot of people don’t really commit to telling these stories right. Steve’s instincts were so good in terms of, not bringing me on, but of wanting to really on a producer-writer level stop and pause things until we could do this the way it needed to be done. Also, a lot has been said about the family’s reaction to Viktor and how much of a model that is for how people could react to a trans sibling coming out. A lot of what I felt excited about joining this project and being part of this was the way that Steve has created a show where kindness really is at the heart of the show. The characters are authentically kind with all their dysfunction. He was able to very quickly identify how all these characters would react honestly to Viktor. And the answer was inevitably with a level of kindness and acceptance that’s really what the show’s about. What family can really mean.
BLACKMAN I think you’re totally right, because, at the core, the show’s about family and that these families accept who we are. In the case of Viktor, being trans was nothing to be afraid of. Trans people are part of our community and we should be accepting of them. That was what I think our starting point was. We thought that’s where they would begin. I mean, there wouldn’t be any other way this family would treat it. And just so it’s clear — because I’ve had a few people asking, “Why did I feel forced to do this?” I wasn’t forced by anyone. In fact, Elliot, I don’t know if you recall, in that first call, you said, “Deal with it however you want to do it. If you want to write it in, great. If you don’t, don’t.” No one made me do anything. Ultimately, I’m glad we did it this way, but it wasn’t pushed upon any of us by the studio network or Elliot.
You noted that you had GLAAD in the beginning and Thomas you were brought on to write. Which means that for this story something that’s still pretty rare happened: you had input at nearly every stage. How did having so many voices representing Viktor in so many different places help?
BLACKMAN I’ll let Elliot take the part on set. I can just say for myself and Thomas, it was much trickier. We were in the height of COVID and being able to be on set with the actors was often difficult because of quarantines. It was very tough in Toronto. But Elliot, I’ll let you talk about what your experience on set was and how it felt.
PAGE I felt so supported by everyone. We were shooting right after I disclosed that I’m trans, in total isolation. That was definitely an overwhelming period, but I feel so lucky that I was going to work and getting to be with so many supportive people. I’m so lucky to work with this cast. And in any moment that I did express fear and anxiety, I felt listened to and cared for. And obviously, that should be the case all the time, but we know how things are. So, it’s special. And that Steve, you would make the choice to do this and commit to doing it the right way. I feel like that’s the kind of showrunner you are and have been doing that the entire time we’ve been making the show, including last season with Sissy. So it was just building on already that you’re so wonderful because you have your distinct singular vision mixed with being so collaborative and I’m really grateful for that, always.
With Viktor’s siblings, there was acceptance, but there was also a kind curiosity when it came to his transition. How did you approach tackling those conversations Viktor would have, especially those who are going to have questions?
BLACKMAN I can say this. I spent a lot of time working on that Luther scene, who’s the last to find out about Viktor. He’s with Diego and says, “So what do we do? Do we throw him a party? What’s the right thing to do?” And then Diego says, “Look, it’s not all about you, pal.” Then they go down, they find Viktor’s on the stairs and Diego sort of sums it up and says, “Do you feel loved Viktor?” And then Luther’s a little bit on the spot. He makes a joke and says, “Your face is nicely framed by your haircut.” I think that was, for me, a scene that was important to show that not everyone understands what it is. So I wanted at least one of the family to ask a few of those questions. “What are we supposed to do? What’s the next step?”
Whereas I think that first scene when Viktor approaches the table and says, “I’m Viktor now.” The family said, “Great. We’re happy for you,” and then starts to berate him for making decisions about how he’s done things with the Sparrows. I thought it needed a more innocent unsure voice of, “How do I deal with this?” I think that’s the purpose of putting that scene in. Then obviously there was a much more emotional scene that Thomas was really instrumental in, which was the Allison and Viktor discussions they had, just the two of them. Two siblings walking on the street. It was a really beautiful scene about, “What do you see when you see yourself in the mirror?” So, I mean, we tried to get it on a few different levels, and I think that was important.
MCBEE Just to add, I think all that’s so right. Steve, you really wanted to do that Luther scene and I think it came out so beautifully and was such a nice addition. I remember that came a little later in the process and it’s so good. I think the important thing about all of these scenes though, the scenes that Viktor is in, he’s driving them. This is his story. So even though, of course, this is about to some degree how the family is reacting to him, I think it would’ve been very easy and would’ve been a really different version if this was about Viktor mentioning it once and then we follow all the family as they all process everything they’re feeling. It really wasn’t about that. Of course, there were some thoughts and feelings and being unsure. I think Steve you did such a good job of nailing people. And, of course, someone’s going to ask a question. I think that’s just real. But the point is we really saw this story from Viktor’s point of view, and that was really, really important to all of us.
BLACKMAN 100 percent.
Allison and Viktor’s relationship has been one of the show’s most emotionally powerful and honest representations of sibling relationships. Can you talk about maintaining that and why continuing that very specific arc was important versus taking it in a different direction following Viktor’s transition?
BLACKMAN I will just start by saying that we’ve worked for seasons to bring these two siblings together. They start off in such a bad place in the first episode. They’re just so distanced from each other, that it seemed no reason why the relationship would not continue to grow through this. I never even stopped for a second to think that the story of Viktor would change the fact that these two have worked so hard to become friends together, to become real siblings.
MCBEE For me reading the scripts before we got to work on them and just as a fan, watching the first two seasons, I think that the relationship between Allison and Viktor is my favorite relationship on the show. So I know Steve wanted to continue that relationship, and I know coming in, I was just really excited for all the siblings, but it felt really immediately like the scene you wanted to see was Viktor and Allison having this conversation. I know for me, I was really excited to find a way to kind of have that nuance of what happens when maybe one person does feel like they lose something when a sibling transitions. But then, of course, they gain something so much deeper. I think Allison embodies that. That we watch her have that realization on screen. I think that’s a part of a lot of people’s experience of having a trans sibling.
PAGE I think, too, in so many ways her feelings are not being acknowledged. She was in the ’60s as a Black woman and is now dealing with PTSD issues and no one is being there for her. She has that line and that big fight in the living room where she says something like, “Everybody’s so concerned about your pain” — I forget the line exactly — “but it’s so easy to dismiss mine.” And I think that in many ways Viktor is getting this love and focus and she’s not, and people aren’t acknowledging that and seeing her feelings. I think too, that’s a big part, rightfully so, in many ways of her feeling emotionally abandoned.
MCBEE Yeah, and just to briefly and really quickly add to that, I would say, part of what’s exciting in this conversation about Allison and Viktor is that Viktor’s not a saint. He’s not a saint and he’s not a villain and that’s part of what’s so exciting — to see a trans character on screen who makes mistakes and hurts people, and also connects with people, and also makes big decisions about the end of the world. The idea, the reality of these are preexisting relationships, time doesn’t stop because you come out as trans. Time doesn’t stop because you figure yourself out. You’re still in relationship with the people around you. I think it’s really cool to see that onscreen. I don’t really think we’ve seen that ever, and to this degree of nuance. So that’s really exciting in terms of Allison and everything else.
Over three seasons, Viktor has been looking in a lot of mirrors, desiring to be seen, to be treated and valued the same as his other siblings. But the moment when he goes to the barbershop and he looks in the window reflection, he validates for himself who he is. It’s a really beautiful moment in the arc. How important were those literal mirrors this season in telling Viktor’s story?
PAGE Thomas, you were obviously integral in terms of writing that scene.
BLACKMAN Yeah, that really was Thomas speaking through that scene. Thomas explained to me what it was to him to look in the mirror.
MCBEE I think you’re right about how the show has set that up so beautifully. There’s obviously this ongoing relationship Viktor has with his own sense of self and seeing himself. So I think to your credit, Steve, you were able to find that overlap there. But I think it’s important, too, to think about the fact that it’s actually not a mirror anymore. There’s a tropey thing about trans people and mirrors, right? We’re always looking at ourselves in the mirror in film and TV. Actually the thing I think I had mentioned to Steve and I think Elliot and I talked about this, too, even, is for me, early in my transition, I remember just walking by — and Elliot, you probably experienced this all the time in New York — all these store windows and places where you’re just being reflected constantly back to yourself.
When you’re walking around a city and you’re having that experience and suddenly it clicks and you are seeing yourself — you’re not expecting that mirror. You’re not looking to be reflected, but then you get caught by that reflection. It’s like that feeling of being in public and seeing yourself. It’s not alone in a mirror in a bathroom. It’s walking down the street and seeing yourself reflected. I feel that for me was a really important part of the scene that it was in public. And that this was a way that Viktor was able to see himself in the world, not just privately.
PAGE I think we talked about that specifically because I had the same thing. Especially in the first summer with the t-shirt and you’re reflecting — pardon the pun (Laughs.) — on what that was like previously. It’s just such a game-changer. Then I think we do just see Viktor embodied and happy and even in the difficult moments, just the most present he’s been. It’s just really exciting, and to be on a show that just has this reach, it’s like, “Whoa, what?”
BLACKMAN It’s funny what you guys have just said because when we shot those scenes through a couple of versions of them, Elliot, I don’t know if you remember, but one of them was clean where it was just you looking in the reflection. Then there’s one where we had a background walk past the frame and sort of not make it as pretty. I chose that one because of what Thomas had said about New York, which is, it’s not just when you’re by yourself, but in the real world, when you walk by mirrors and those other people. So we ultimately chose the one where it wasn’t just Viktor looking at himself in the mirror. That we had someone inside moving past to make it like when you’re in the real world. It’s not just your mirror. That’s why we took that take over the one that was fully clean. And I’m glad we did, because it’s actually far more emotional to me than the other one.
You’ve talked about how this came together and the nuances of certain moments, but do you have a favorite moment for Viktor this season?
PAGE I’ll say something that visually just came up, which I think is such a beautiful moment. Steve, it’s so gorgeous when we know the world’s going to end and it’s the end of the wedding, and we’re all dancing in slow motion with that beautiful music. I found that so deeply moving and just seeing Viktor and his body moving, present, eyes closed with all the siblings — that to me is a special moment.
MCBEE I think Elliot nailed it. I don’t know, I mean, it’s hard to top that because I was just thinking there’s so many great Viktor moments this season. And I think we’ve talked about a lot of them, but I just keep returning to the continuity of Elliot’s performance and really watching Viktor’s embodiment over the course of the season. It’s so incredible to me. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve never seen a trans person in real-time transitioning onscreen and becoming himself in a story where that’s part of the story, but it’s not the point of the story. It’s in the background for a lot of the story, which I think is perfect and exactly right. Watching Elliot’s performance over the course of the episodes and watching that embodiment and the culmination Elliot just picked is really — that seems really right to me.
BLACKMAN I agree with everything that you’re saying. Look, I love all the things you do Elliot, but I do feel like there was something sweet in that moment about the dancing. For just a sec, even with the world spinning around them, Viktor seems so remarkably at peace in the moment and with himself. I can’t put into words why I feel that way either, but it’s just a very sweet, tender moment — that short little montage of them together as a family.
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