After making a name for herself on the New York stage, Marin Ireland has become one of TV’s most reliable character actresses, with notable roles on Homeland, The Slap and the Amazon original Sneaky Pete. Now, she’s part of two of the biggest graphic novel adaptations, playing Nora on the upcoming FX on Hulu series, Y: The Last Man, and romancing Ellen Page in season 2 of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.
When it comes to the former, Ireland is slated to play a new character in the series adapted from the popular sci-fi graphic novel series of the same name about Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer), the last surviving male after everyone with a Y chromosome simultaneously dies, leaving a society run by women. The series also stars Diane Lane as Sen. Jennifer Brown, Imogen Poots as Hero Brown, Lashana Lynch as Agent 355, Amber Tamblyn as Mariette Callows and Timothy Hutton as the U.S. president and is expected to resume filming the fall.
Described as the president’s assistant, Ireland says Nora works in the government and has a totally different skill set than what the actress is familiar with in real life. “I’ve never gotten to play somebody like that in this kind of capacity who’s now, like everybody else, on this plane of this kind of survival game,” she tells ET.
And despite the unexplained event that results in these women (and Yorick) fighting for their survival, Ireland likes that it’s grounded in reality. “The thing that I was amazed by was this idea that this is just our world. [Then] something crazy happens in the middle of our normal world, which frankly doesn't feel that dissimilar to what's going on in our lives right now,” she says, adding she’s excited to see what happens “when the infrastructure as you know it has crumbled and how do your survival mechanisms kick in?”
Ireland adds, “I do love a good superhero anything. If it gets good, I love it,” which is perfect considering her guest role on The Umbrella Academy, the comic series about a dysfunctional family of adopted superhero siblings who are forced to unite to prevent the apocalypse.
Season 2, which is now streaming, sees the Hargreeves family transported back in time to 1960s Dallas, Texas, where they must put an end to another worldwide event while also dealing with several unexpected and emotionally resonant storylines, including Allison Hargreeves’ (Emmy Raver-Lampman) getting married to a civil rights activist and leading a sit-in protest at a segregated diner.
Like Allison, the time jump also allowed her sister, Vanya (Page), to explore a new relationship, this time with Sissy (Ireland), a married woman and mother of an autistic child that takes her in while she recovers from amnesia. What unfolds is quite a tender and emotional arc for both characters, which Ireland describes as being “an independent movie in the middle of this action movie.”
“My sense of her was definitely as a woman who had never even thought about sexuality as something that could be different than a woman loving a man,” Ireland says of Sissy, who eventually realizes she has feelings for Vanya. “But then it really felt like there was something about really being genuinely seen by this woman and unlocking something for her in terms of being able to open up and experience real intimacy with this woman.”
One of the key moments for them comes when Sissy attempts to read Vanya’s palms and there’s a clear emotional charge between them. “There’s this real sensation of what it feels like to be actually close to somebody and not just physically close,” Ireland says of the moment. “There’s a real electricity there that wasn’t there with [her husband] Carl.”
Luckily for Ireland, it wasn’t hard to bring that chemistry between Sissy and Vanya to life. The actress says she and Page first met in New York through mutual friends before working on the series together. “We were like, ‘Oh, we’re friends no matter what,’” she says.
The two even met with GLAAD to make sure they accurately depicted what it would be like for these two women to engage in a lesbian romance, which unfolds at a time when being LGBTQ was illegal. “We talked along the way, making sure that it felt like it was told in a respectful and forward-moving way.”
What they did not want, Ireland says, was for either woman to end up in an asylum or killing themselves, making sure The Umbrella Academy avoided the oft-criticized TV trope of “burying your gays,” which leads to a deadly ending for LGBTQ characters considered to be expendable.
“I can’t imagine having done this with somebody else because of how immediately safe and trusting we felt with each other,” Ireland continues. “We both feel really proud of what we accomplished with that storyline. It was important to both of us.”