An Exclusive Interview W/ Ken Hall From ‘The Umbrella Academy’
Ken Hall gives us an exclusive on playing Pogo and Herb in the popular Netflix series, ‘The Umbrella Academy’, his successful career in improv with comedian partner Isaac Kessler, and why he is a strong advocate for physical diversity in Hollywood.
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Comedian, actor, and motivational speaker; Ken Hall has appeared in numerous TV-shows and movies including Polar, People of Earth, and The Umbrella Academy.
Chelsie Overocker from AfterBuzz TV spoke with Ken about his two roles in the popular Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy, his successful career in improv, and why he is a strong advocate for physical diversity in Hollywood.
As we connected with Ken on the phone he told us how Covid has been affecting Toronto,Canada.
“Very interesting times. I’m in Toronto and everything is actually pretty good. Well see how things go and when everything starts again. Everyone is wearing masks and we went to stage 3. We can eat indoors at half capacity and can do stand up shows. We all are just staying positive.”
What else helps Ken have a positive attitude is the success his show, The Umbrella Academy, has received. It’s currently one of the top shows on Netflix and Ken has received positive feedback from his two characters [Pogo and Herb].
Pogo is the family’s caregiver who is an elderly chimpanzee. Ken walked us through the process of how he embodied Pogo and mastered his every movement.
Photo Credit: Netflix
“To prepare to do Pogo I worked with my acting coach and that’s part of my acting process. We watched a lot of chimpanzee videos and studied their movements. That’s what you were saying. He is very human-like and intelligent and walks with a cane as well and is elderly. I’ve done a lot of prosthetics work in the past but this was a new challenge and it’s so great to play this character in a course of a season. There is something confronting about the way he stands and moves; it’s very calming [laughs] it feels right and is a nice fit.”
Adam Godley is the voice of Pogo and Ken explains that it was easy to match up his movements to Adam’s voice.
“For me it wasn’t separating things out…to embody the movements I had to bring everything. For the first six months I was Pogo. He was my version of you bringing someone that is already fully cooked.The producers really appreciated that and It was lovely to hear that appreciation. I wanted to be prepared so that everyone could play to the best of their abilities.”
The producers took note of how hard Ken worked to play Pogo; they decided to give him an extra role and have him play Herb.
“After that they gave me another role and I also played Herb. I’m very grateful to play two characters on a great show. Very lovely to be recognized for working hard. There are a lot of things out of your control but if you show up, do good work, then people will recognize that.”
Great advice Ken! When you put in the time and effort more opportunities will come. Not wanting to give too many spoilers away, if we were to get a season three of The Umbrella Academy, Ken states his thoughts on where he would like to see his character Herb go.
“What I love about this world there are many worlds. It’s not even 2020 let’s go back to 1963. Herb is playing a significant role. I’m really taken back by how much people have connected with Herb and his good character. I love comedy in contrast to the darkness that we are experiencing and it’s nice to bring lightness to the screen. I would love to see Herb be himself and bring good and continue to be the wonderful clown in so many ways. Clowning is my background so I feel like Herb is written so well and easy for me to play on. I already have an amazing framework, the writing speaks for itself. I can relate to all of that. It’s really nice to play good hearted characters. I would love to do a deeper dive. What is Herb doing? Maybe he will join a bowling team?”[laughs]
Another good hearted character that Ken played was Jeff the Grey on the tv-show, People on Earth. You will be surprised at how long Ken was in make-up for and the challenging moments he had playing him.
Photo Credit: TBS
“You know it’s funny it wasn’t that long in the world of prosthetics. So much of my characters would take up to six hours. It only took me two hours. The head was in two parts…then they have to glue the chin and after that you are locked in there. It was really challenging at times..because it was so warm my glasses would fog up and the prosthetics would cover my ears so I couldn’t really hear.”
But despite the challenges of being on set, Ken loved working with the cast and crew.
“The cast was out of this world excuse my pun [laughs]. It was so great and those things that are the most challenging you gain a sense of satisfaction and you’re like wow I did that. The hardest things come first and you’re going to feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. I think show up and do the best you can do. I think things can work out that way. The experience reminds me a lot to when I first started counseling.”
Before Ken transferred into TV to become a full time actor and comedian he was a counselor. While speaking with Ken he often compares counseling to acting and we were curious to know if being a counselor helped him transition to becoming an actor.
“Yeah absolutely, great observation. I went back to school and started doing improv classes on a whim. With counseling and acting it forces you to be in the moment. Take in what people are saying and practice active listening. I still remember the nerves I would feel and being terrified..with improv it was hard because if there is a problem we don’t fix it. I was used to solving the problems. It took a while to recognize with improv my job is to make it worse and with counseling we want to fix it. The counseling is not that far from improv and both of the conversations had a purpose.”
Ken not only likes to perform but he is a coach. While growing up he had to develop qualities that would help him feel more confident in his own skin. He understands that everyone faces tough battles and hopes to help people overcome negative thoughts. Right now, he is teaching a class on how to be mindful which he felt was an important topic to learn when there is a lot of uncertainty occurring.
“For myself I started doing mediation.. silent meditations and sit with the reality of what is going on. That practicing my own quality of life has greatly improved. I’ve experienced growing up and not feeling comfortable in my skin. In May I had this opportunity to teach this class and they knew my background.. I taught public speaking and on camera comedy. I was happy to teach this class. What I’ve experienced is negative feelings create anxiety and the more you can be present the more you can be grounded. I think it’s a secret weapon for auditions and doing a live show.. You are already setting yourself up for success. I’ve spent years working on myself and working on my technique. So for me as a comedian I want to be in a state of play…all of that prep is for nothing if I get nervous. There is so much more to it than teaching people to be comfortable in their own skin. It’s rewarding in its own way. For my own teaching experience this is what works for me. I really like the idea of walking, talking, and sharing. These things help everyone learn instead of an authority.”
Aside from teaching and acting improv is what made a big difference with his career. Ken regularly tours and performs at festivals with his comedic partner Isaac Kessler. Not only are these two successful comedians but they have shared many memories being on the road together.
“Improv has changed my life. This past July we celebrated 11 years being a duo and feeling blessed to play at festivals and travel. With Isaac who is my best friend.. We were having brunch somewhere and we were so close to missing our flights, actually we did that in Boston..we drove to the airport that was in Buffalo.. we were late leaving and when we got there to check in we missed it. They put us on another flight and in the meantime we decided to go to the Denny’s that was right beside the Buffalo airport…we then were doing some exploring and we hit traffic..and we missed the flight again. [laughs] We ended up getting into Boston 13 hours later which was one in the morning. Those are the best experiences.”
Unfortunately due to Covid, Ken and Isaac haven’t performed at any festivals but they still want to entertain their fan base. They both have performed virtually and are interested in looking at opportunities where they can still connect with their audience.
“We had the opportunity to do Zoom calls. We did a fundraiser and one of the things we love is being very clowney. What we do is not traditional, we like to break the rules. Issac is a master with Zoom and can do different filters. My job is to play off of that. ..we’re unpredictable and it’s very fun.That’s one of the things why the audience loves watching us. It’s about playing the moment and not worrying about the story. It’s a tone of play. We reenacted Dirty Dancing with the big lift .. Isaac did Jurassic Park in four mins and I get to act off of that it’s pretty wild… hopefully the audience has fun. With Zoom we can’t see the reactions and that’s how we build a connection with people. When we watch a screen we ask ourselves if this is entertaining ourselves? We take that philosophy and use that with our style..it’s more of an experience and we are trying to push boundaries…we have only done a handful of shows and have enjoyed everyone.”
While Ken continues to grow his success in Hollywood he is also an advocate for physical diversity. Proudly standing at 4 feet 7 ¾ inches tall Ken would like to see Hollywood hire more talents that are physically different. He believes people should be seen.
“There are not a lot of people like me on TV which is good, not a lot of competition [laughs] but the reality is I want people to be seen. One of the things I love is showing differences..I always felt different and saw people’s expressions and see this in the shows we watch. Differences aren’t bad and they enrich storylines. That’s why Umbrella Academy is popular.. I think these conversations that are happening are vital and these changes continue to happen. People who look physically different have more experiences and stories. It’s interesting how my own career has evolved. I would be casted to play Elf roles and I’ll find that comedy but I am much more than just my height. Where just more than who we are physically. It’s not about height and the casting directors in Toronto know my work.”
Ken had the opportunity to play a doctor in a film called Polar. He loved where he had the chance to perform on screen for his acting ability and not what he physically looks like.
“I got to be a doctor in Polar and it’s not about my height it’s about my quirkiness. Same thing with Herb and it’s lovely. I love that things are changing and evolving.”
But what’s more empowering is having people look up to you when they see you perform on screen. Ken shares a sweet story of a fan who reached out to him and admires Ken.
“Someone reached out to me on IG and it was very touching. They wrote, ‘I saw your work and I look like you,’ and that was flattering…that is something that I don’t take lightly. Be kind and be a good person. These people that have been reaching out to me have been inspiring. Stuff is possible and it’s hard because you will hear other voices that will make things challenging and there is room for all of us. It’s very lovely to inspire other people. It’s a good feeling I didn’t expect.”
We are excited to see where Ken’s career takes him next. Be sure to check out The Umbrella Academy now streaming on Netflix.
“Thanks for the great questions Chelsie.”
You can follow Ken on Instagram @thekenhall
Keep up to date with AfterBuzz TV for the latest news in entertainment.
Chelsie Overocker is a host for AfterBuzz TV. She grew up in Denver, Colorado and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in communications and marketing.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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