The New Superhero Show With A Difference
Mr Dan Stevens and Ms Aubrey Plaza in Legion, 2017. Photograph copyright 2016, FX Networks. All rights reserved
Everything you need to know about Fargo director Mr Noah Hawley’s new TV programme.
Anyone lamenting the length of their to-do list, or feeling the burden of professional responsibilities might want to look to Mr Noah Hawley for a little how-to. The author, screenwriter, and composer was recently overseeing production on his latest television show, Legion – which launches on FX on 8 February – while writing scripts for the third season of the multi-award-winning Fargo (which he also created), as well as penning the screenplay for the adaption of his latest novel, Before The Fall, which he was also touring around the US. “It’s a tough juggling act, and a running goal of mine is to do better at it, though I don’t recommend it,” says the in-demand Mr Hawley, whose schedule appears to yet take a toll; at 50 years old, he could easily pass for a decade younger. “There was a moment where I had three writers’ rooms going at the same time, and I would move between them, and sit on the sofa and say: ‘Talk at me for 30 minutes,’ and by that point, my head would get into the show.”
This fearsome multitasking, compartmentalizing feat is all the more impressive once one has peeked inside the complex, surreal world of Legion. The highly anticipated production is loosely located in the Marvel universe – Legion, aka David Haller, who is played by Mr Dan Stevens, first appeared in the X-Men comics. But this is a far cry from the slew of superhero franchise films that have flooded the entertainment scene in recent years.
Set partly in a stark, Mr Stanley Kubrick-esque mental hospital, there is a notable absence of capes (though Mr Stevens does sport a very fetching brown and yellow retro tracksuit). “The X-Men stories are the stories of outsiders, people who don’t fit into normal society and who are ostracised, and seen as an ‘other’,” says Mr Hawley. “David Haller is someone who has been diagnosed with a severe mental illness and who has lived most of his life, from his teens, in a different reality to the people around him.” It is then suggested to Haller that the diagnosis might, in fact, be incorrect; that what he has been billed as psychosis is actually a special power.
Whether that’s actually true, even Mr Hawley cannot, or will not say; David is, deliberately, the ultimate unreliable narrator. “So much of TV and movies is about telling you a linear story with clarity, but this is a very subjective show. David doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not real, and we wanted to create a subjective experience for the audience as well.”
Under Mr Hawley’s subversive eye, Legion is a trippy, lurid, psychedelic journey through flashbacks, memories, dreams, wholly unexpected dance sequences and even body-swaps. “We’re not exactly sure when in time we are or where in the world we are, and so there really aren’t many cars, because cars date a show,” he says. There is, however, a distinctly vintage flavour to the wardrobe, as well as to the décor, which Mr Hawley describes as “like a 1964 Terence Stamp movie”.
Luring Mr Stevens back to television after multiple seasons of Downton Abbey is something of a coup – he has admitted he was not looking to return to the small screen again so soon.
“You can get a calibre of actor that doesn’t want to commit to a longer run on television, and it’s an eight or 10-hour story that they can finish,” says Mr Hawley of his miniseries model. The third installment of Fargo will star Mr Ewan McGregor – who plays a pair of brothers – as well as Mr David Thewlis.
But Mr Stevens, they should note, has set the bar high for British performances, and a complete lack of self-consciousness. “Sometimes I’d tell him he was going to have to pretend that he was moving something with his mind,” says Mr Hawley, with a chuckle. “But he dove in and embraced it all.”
Legion will air 8 February on FX (US); and 9 February on Fox (UK)