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David Castañeda helps save the world, a lot, in Umbrella Academy

The Mexican American actor plays the knife-wielding Diego in a dysfunctional family of superheroes. In a new episode of I'm So Obsessed, he explains what makes his onscreen family tick.

Ellen Page and David Castaneda in The Umbrella Academy
Ellen Page and David Castañeda in a scene from The Umbrella Academy.

This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

David Castañeda knows that The Umbrella Academy on Netflix isn't your typical superhero story and that the character he plays -- No. 2 -- is far from the rah-rah version of a hero. But as fans like me will tell you, it's watching the unusual characters come together to save the world that has you rooting for their success. 

Based on the popular comic books of the same name, the series tells the story of seven of 43 kids all born on Oct. 1, 1989, to moms who didn't even know they were pregnant until their labor began. The seven -- who we meet as Nos. 1 through 7, sans names -- are adopted by an eccentric billionaire named Reginald Hargreeves. He discovers their unique powers and raises them, with the help of their nanny robot mom, Grace, and an intelligent chimp named Pogo, to "hopefully be protectors of the world," Castañeda says.

The series opens when this dysfunctional family -- Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, No. 5 (no name for him), Ben and Vanya (played by Ellen Page) -- get back together for the funeral of their "father" after years apart. That's when things get really weird, with the apocalypse looming and a secret organization called the Commission in charge of making sure no one, including the Hargreeves' Umbrella Academy, disrupts the historical timeline.

Castañeda plays Diego, or No. 2, whose skills include an amazing ability to curve the trajectory of anything he throws, typically knives. But No. 2 also feels he was never his father's favorite and so sets out to prove he's worthy of his superhero status. In season 1, which premiered last year, he does so in a "selfish way" that leaves him as sort of an attention-seeking jerk. 

"He was never given the credit of being good enough," Castañeda says, in a wide-ranging interview with me for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast.

"Even though his father has recently passed, he's still trying to honor his dad's presence, [but] he's becoming very selfish, he's becoming extremely insecure. And so he feels like there's a way of helping others that helps himself, but it's very selfish. It's not pure," the actor says. "By no means is he going out and giving up the rest of his bread to feed someone -- he's doing it to make sure that he's noticed. And because his father never noticed him, that's the only way that he can ask for attention. And to me, that's who Diego is really, to the bottom of it."

If season 1 is about Diego and his siblings and their hesitancy to come together, Umbrella Academy Season 2, which dropped on Netflix on July 31, is about the members of the Umbrella Academy realizing they need each other. And, of course, the fate of the world depends on them working together.

I talked to Castañeda about how good he really is at throwing knives, about how he's been spending his time in COVID quarantine painting, doing puzzles and binge-watching The Bachelor, and about what superhero power he'd really like to have. We also talked about his upbringing in Mexico and about how he cried as a kid the first time he saw Titanic. 

He also told me about why he's obsessed with Mexican seafood -- ceviche, callo de hacha and camarones. "All of these things."

Listen to my entire conversation with Castañeda by subscribing to I'm So Obsessed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. In each episode, my co-host Patrick Holland and I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.

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