Superheroes and other comic-book themes aren’t exactly undiscovered territory for television these days. But with FX’s “Legion,” Noah Hawley has taken several steps forward, flipping the genre on its head in an innovative, beautiful, creative way.
Based on an idea by executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner to bring the minor — but crucial — character from Marvel’s beloved “X-Men” spinoff “New Mutants” to the screen, “Legion” premieres Wednesday (Feb. 8), as created and realized by “Fargo” genius Hawley. Like AMC’s “Preacher,” its prestige-cable treatment of a comic-book universe is so groundbreaking in its approach it’s assured that we’ll be seeing ripples in the industry for seasons to come. There is just no easy comparison to be made.
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We got the opportunity to speak with Rachel Keller — who plays the clever, gentle Syd Barrett opposite Dan Stevens’ David Haller, and received great acclaim for her “Fargo” appearance as the rambunctious Simone Gerhardt — about her creative process, the story as she sees it… And some fun insight into life on a Noah Hawley set. (Hint: He puts together some excellent playlists.)
So, how does it feel being a part of the MCU?
It feels immensely right for me to be a part of the Marvel Universe in this way: It’s under Noah Hawley’s hand! Marvel chose the perfect person to keep expanding that Universe. I’m a huge fan of the movies. They’re the most entertaining, and they’re stories I go to when I want to keep in touch with something that’s magical. So to be a part of it — something that I feel is new and fresh — is really exciting.
The overall look of the show is unique, spellbinding and incredibly different from anything else on TV — how did the sets and wardrobe help to inform your that for you?
I think a part of the way that Noah Hawley works is: Filling out an entire world from the ground up. And when you do so in that way, the costumes, the makeup, the hair are so important — in fact, crucial. Especially when you’re creating people who have abilities in the way our characters do on this show. So: How would wearing all black, with a little bit of orange, inform a girl who doesn’t want to be touched? Having those conversations with the designers was an incredibly fun and important part of the process.
It all alludes to something bigger. I still am not quite sure what era the show takes place in!
It’s very surprising, right? It’s touching — what I think we do with the style: Time? Not so important. Place? Not so important. A linear storyline? Maybe not so important. But really, what does the story we’re telling feel like? What are you getting that’s separate, maybe, from the things that you thought you’d be following?
For me, in the beautiful television landscape that we have right now, that has a place. That has a real place.
You made a big impact in Season 2 of ‘Fargo.’ What is the allure in teaming back up with Noah Hawley?
I’m taken by the group of people that we’ve brought together. I think that’s another one of Noah’s talents: To bring together unique and talented people.
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So you’re building something from the ground up, right? Year one, day one — we’re realizing this world. You’d hope we’d all have some sort of collaborative stamp in there. And the way Noah works is: If you’re willing to come at it, and you’re wanting to throw some paint on the wall, it’s considered. Whether that’d be a conversation about design, your costume, or a certain moment.
Is this the type of show where the actors get a chance to play and improvise?
It is television, so things move quickly — so you know, you become trusting of the script: For me, my experience on “Fargo,” that was our bible. That was our answer to everything. I brought that to “Legion,” in the sense that everything I needed was on the page and with the people.
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You’ll see, later in the series… A scene that happens in a “White Room” — and I’m thinking, Cool, okay, sure, a white room… I walked on set and I was moved emotionally! And that happened when I walked into a dentist office we were shooting in, or a cubicle we were shooting in. There was something about the world they were creating that was so immersive. It was so breathtaking. That, for me, was something true and real to connect to.
Music plays a big part in ‘Legion.’ If you had a choice to make a playlist to help get into character, what is the first song you’d select?
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd… But the Milk Carton Kids version of it.
I was expecting a Pink Floyd comment. But, really, that choice is quite specific.
Noah introduced me to The Milk Carton Kids. Actually, he builds some pretty extensive playlists for us. He did that for “Fargo,” and he did it here for “Legion.”
That sounds like the absolute perfect experience.
You have no idea! I would listen to that playlist a lot — it was epic and so eclectic. “Fargo’s” playlist was specific and filled out in a very particular kind of way. But in the one for “Legion”… Suddenly, The Muppets were singing, then it was a French song and Bridget Bardot was singing and suddenly, a weird song would come on by Bon Iver. It was very surreal — different, and wonderful.
“Legion” premieres Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.