If you know anything about Netflix's The Umbrella Academy, you know Pogo was completely shortchanged.
The creepy old CGI monkey was the experiment of a megalomaniac who adopted seven children and gave them numbers as names. Yet it was the sentient chimp who became the subject of fan-hate for his role in keeping secrets from the Hargreeves, like the fact that one of them has superpowers capable of taking a chunk out of the moon. (If you haven't watched this show about a dysfunctional superpowered family who try to prevent the apocalypse — yes, it's nuts. And ridiculously entertaining.)
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Now spare a thought for the man who played Pogo. More specifically: Pogo's body. While English actor Adam Godley came up with his stately chimp voice and provided the facial performance captured by the folks at Weta (The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes visual effects magicians), Canadian Ken Hall joined The Umbrella Academy team as the body of Pogo, physically on set wearing the motion capture suit and saying all his lines.
His face would never be shown on screen.
Did that faze Hall?
"I know my lines inside and out, even though I know it's not going to be my voice at the end of the day," Hall tells me over a Zoom call from Toronto. "But to show up and play off other people is a huge benefit for them. I'm not just saying words. I'm physicalizing it. I am Pogo."
So short answer: No.
Hall was pretty much a regular member of the cast during season 1 production in Toronto and Ontario in 2018. His hard work, good attitude and physical performance skills honed from years as a veteran on the Toronto improv scene, didn't go unnoticed.
"A thing that I heard from some of the other actors that I didn't even know at the time, was the appreciation of how cool it was to play off of me. Because I was giving them a lot of really good stuff to react to," Hall says.
"I didn't know it had affected them in a deeper way."
Hall wasn't just a hit with the cast. Showrunner Steve Blackman, who built his adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba's comic book around a radiant, charismatic ensemble including Oscar-nominated Ellen Page, recognized Hall's effort and talent.
"Ken came knowing that he was going to be removed and gave a 150% emotional performance every day. Ellen Page and the other actors had this wonderful person to act against and with. So, it made a huge difference," Blackman told IndieWire last year.
Blackman went a step further, rewarding Hall with an offer halfway through the six-month shoot: A new role.
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"They wrote and were like, 'Hey, do you want to do this role?'" Hall recalls. "'I would love to, absolutely. Play a person.'"
So Hall became Herb, wearing a different suit this time as a Commission agent tasked with keeping tabs on the space-time continuum. Basically, making sure events that are supposed to happen, happen.
Herb appeared in one episode. But get this: Hall impressed Blackman again. So much that … Hall scored five episodes in season 2 (including playing Pogo in a funeral flashback scene — but not Baby Pogo).
"He really liked the job that I did and as you see in season 2, Herb gets to have a much bigger role," Hall says. "Again, I'm forever grateful to have that opportunity."
"You put in the work and people notice."
The season 2 game changer
Season 2 spoiler: Herb literally changes the game for the Hargreeves, helping Diego look at the timeline and figure out what causes Doomsday. He starts a resistance against The Handler, after she takes over The Commission and, in the end, is elected as acting chairperson, gifting the Hargreeves a time portal briefcase to go home, where they belong.
Herb goes from downtrodden typist from case management to a certified hero, with cheery lines like, "We also provide body removal services."
When he's not rising through the ranks of superhero TV, Hall has been getting back into Zoom improv shows as well as career counselling, his first job before his late step into acting (his first big break came in 2016 sci-fi comedy series People of Earth). He's also got an exciting new radio show in the works for people with disabilities, through a comedic lens.
The role he scored on The Umbrella Academy is a massive win for on-screen physical diversity.
"Performing has allowed me to be the best version of myself," Hall says. "And so I feel very lucky that I can use that to help other people."
Watch season 2 of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix now.
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