Adapted from Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s seminal graphic novel, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy is arguably one of the most entertaining and weird superhero television shows ever made.
Among its biggest highlights are arguably the unique and strange characters that populate the show, from time-travelling assassins Hazel and Cha-Cha to the eternally young Number Five, and how they interact with one another.
One of the more underrated characters of the show has to be Jordan Claire Robbins’ Grace, a robot who is created by Hargreaves to be a mother to the seven children.
In an email interview, Robbins recalls that she heard about the role from a friend, and found out that she got the role a week after she sent in her audition tape.
“I remember when I got the audition materials I was blown away by how different The Umbrella Academy seemed from other shows out there – it was a superhero story but was way more grounded than superhero shows usually are,” she says.
“It leaned way more into the relationships, and was extremely relatable regardless of being full of so many quirky, odd characters in unusual circumstances.”
Grace is a robot who is not quite a robot. What was it like preparing for the role?
When I got the role, I knew the challenge would be in finding a particular balance between Grace’s human and AI elements. It was important to give the audience that little something to make them constantly wonder what was going on under the surface.
She is an AI, which came with a certain physicality and way of speaking and processing information, but at the same time there’s always the question of something more human.
Music was huge in helping me get into character and I made playlists that were specific to what Grace’s mental and emotional state were at each point in the story, whether she was newly built and full of purpose with seven young children, or after 13 years of isolation in the house.
Grace was also built in the image of a perfect 1950’s housewife, so I needed to move and speak in a way that accurately represented women from that time period as well as honouring the fact that she was non-human.
To prepare for this I did ballet classes, danced around my apartment with books on my head, took voice coaching to perfect that mid-western accent and watched lots of TV and film reflecting women in that era, such as Mad Men, Leave It To Beaver, I Love Lucy and The Stepford Wives.
I also did lots of research into artificial intelligence to better understand how Grace might process information, and what was in the realm of possibility for her.
Grace also gets quite a number of emotional scenes, even though she doesn’t show emotion. Was that hard for you?
The writing was really great in creating that back and forth between “she’s just a robot and any love comes from her programming” and “she developed her own free thought, consciousness, and real emotions somewhere along the way”.
I always found the question of what makes us human really interesting to explore, and was excited by the idea that she evolved as her kids grew up, that she developed a love for them that transcended her programming and changed her from AI to something more.
For me, the really heartbreaking scenes were about having a lot of thoughts and emotions flowing under the surface for Grace, but always containing them and using more subtle vocal and physical choices to suggest a hidden humanity.
She would never emote the way a human would, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on for her underneath or that her displays of emotion stem purely from her programming.
How has the response been for your character in the show?
The response has been so overwhelmingly positive! Grace is such an amazing character and one I really fell in love with, so I wanted to do her justice.
The response of the fans – especially fans of the comic – meant a lot to me. Grace is a complex character, and her role in the Hargreeves family is a complicated one, plus she wasn’t in the comics a lot so it was a storyline that came as a surprise to anyone who was familiar with the comics. I’m really happy her journey resonated with so many people.
Is there anything you wish the series had explored more about your character?
I thought about the time Grace spent in the house after the kids left for all of those years, and how she made sense of having this lost sense of purpose.
It really does remind me of how women have historically been expected to child-rear and then lose that when their children leave the home. Other than the flashbacks with Luther, and the friendship we know she has with Pogo, we don’t really know what she did in that time.
It would have been cool to get some insight into how she spent this time, and how she coped. The thought of her staring into those paintings day after day is heartbreaking, and I wonder what else she did while waiting for her kids to return.