Stephanie Corneliussen on ‘Legion’ and Joining the Final Season of FX’s Drama

     July 18, 2019

legion-stephanie-corneliussen-interviewFrom show creator Noah Hawley and Marvel Television, the FX drama series Legion is back for its third and final season, as David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who believed himself to be schizophrenic only to discover that he is the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen, is forced to confront his actions and the decisions that he’s made. With the dark voices in his head lusting for power and at odds with everyone he once considered a friend, David is now leading a commune to satisfy his need for adulation and he’s enlisted the help of the young mutant Switch (Lauren Tsai), with the hope that she can help him time travel and repair the damage that he’s caused.

While Season 3 was still shooting, Collider got the opportunity to tour the incredible sets at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood and participate in a series of interviews to talk about all things Legion. Here are the highlights from what actress Stephanie Corneliussen, who’s playing David Haller’s mother and wife to Charles Xavier, Gabrielle, said during a group interview on set where she talked about what made her want to play this role, being a super fan of Legion, the relationship dynamic between Gabrielle and Charles, exploring mental illness, how the romance between Gabrielle and Charles mirrors the one between David and Syd (Rachel Keller), and the coolest thing about being a part of this world.

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Image via FX

Question: What made you want to do this?

STEPHANIE CORNELIUSSEN: I’m such a huge Legion fan. When you work in TV, you don’t have a lot of time to watch stuff, even though people think you do. They’re like, “Oh, you’re an actor, so you love everything that has to do with acting.” And I do, but I’m doing it, so I don’t have time to watch much of it. But Legion was one of the shows that I was really, really obsessed with. I remember shooting Mr. Robot and watching the first season of Legion, when I came home at night. So, being a part of Legion was huge, and being a part of the Marvel universe was huge, but then, also getting to portray something that was so different than Joanna and not a villain, for once, was really nice. She’s a good person. Gabrielle is a really, really good person, and it was nice to be a good person.

Did being a super fan help you get this role?

CORNELIUSSEN: No, it was a really random thing that came up. I was in Denmark, back home, visiting my family, and my agents called me. With the hierarchy in acting, you are either a co-star, a guest star, a recurring guest star, or a lead. I’m at that age where I would like to have a little more security in my life, so I said to my agents, “I would like to only do series regulars or movies, from now on,” so that I know what I’m doing. I don’t want to do guest stars. We had just had that conversation, and then the next day, my agent calls me and goes, “I know you don’t want to do guest stars, but Legion . . .,” and I was like, “Yeah we’re doing it! What are we doing?” And he was like, “Well, they wanna see an audition.” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it right now, on my iPhone.” I booked it like that. So, I wanted to do something different, but it was such a cool job.

Have you gotten to do any fun time travel related hijinks, this season?

CORNELIUSSEN: No. When we catch Gabrielle, we’re seeing her in past tense. David has had quite the journey and wants to change some things in his life, so he goes back in time to find his birth parents. We’re seeing Gabrielle living a life with Charles, or Professor X. True to the comic style, you see them meet in the hospital, and then they fall in love, and they actually have a really beautiful love story. It’s very easy to fall in love with Harry Lloyd, she said laughing and blushing. I’m married, but it was very easy to fall in love with Harry. It really is just two people who instantly get each other. So, they have this story, and they move into this beautiful house, and they have this baby. And then, not long after, Professor X leaves to go on his own journey. He has to find out some stuff about himself, and Gabrielle is left with David. She’s in a fragile state of mind, at this point. Before, when they meet in the hospital, she’s actually in a catatonic state, and Charles uses his powers to bring her back to life. They have this beautiful moment, but as he leaves, she’s losing that person who has helped her overcome those aspects of being a human, like learning to speak and walk again, and it’s difficult for her to manage on her own, and then with a newborn baby. Because of the time ripples that are being created, reality is not as it seems for Gabrielle. So, not only is she dealing with having come out of this catatonic stage, she’s a new mom, she has mental health issues, and she’s also being haunted by time. You’re seeing quite a difficult journey for her. You see some time stuff, but it’s not self-inflicted, so to speak. She’s being pressured by time, and everything else. It’s so cool.

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Image via FX

Mental illness is a huge part of who David Haller is. What did you want to dig into, when it comes to having a full understanding of that aspect of his life?

CORNELIUSSEN: For the show, you need to know that David, even though he is one of the most powerful mutants in this universe, also has serious struggles, and they do come from his mother. The way we, as a society, stigmatize mental illness is sad. I think it’d be much better, if there was a lot more talk about it, and free, open talk about it, instead of making it so taboo. What you’re seeing with Gabrielle is a lot of the things that David tries to hide. You see them very clearly in Gabrielle. We all each have our faces when we’re in public. We’re not our true selves. The Gabrielle that you’re gonna see, in the beginning of the season, is her true self. That’s the person that you see when you close the door, and you have to flip the light switch two times before you exit the bathroom. I personally do that. You’re seeing the real, raw essence of how it is to live with that, and I think it’s important because David lives with that, too. We focus so much on mutant side of him that he gets from his father, and not the broken part of him that actually makes him a whole person.

We meet Charles Xavier at the start of his career, trying to find other mutants like Farouk. How do you feel about him leaving his young child and wife to go on a search for others who he feels are more like him?

CORNELIUSSEN: It’s so funny because, when we were shooting it, I was really angry at Harry, some days. Besides the mental illness and being haunted by time, and I’m not saying that women can’t have children and do it all – single moms totally rule and that’s awesome – but at the state of mind that she’s in, and being left like that, I don’t think he should have done that, and it shows that it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. In the end, she’s right, but it’s hard. If you put yourself in Charles’ shoes, we all try, in some sense, to be special. I think everybody wants to be a little special, at least. If you don’t, then you’ve cracked the code of life and you’re awesome. We all have some insecurities and we want to be good at something, but here you have somebody who’s actually really special, and is so lonely and feels like he’s the only one in the entire world. If you found out there was somebody else, wouldn’t you pursue that? You would. I don’t think in his head, he feels like he’s making a sacrifice, but in Gabrielle’s head, she feels like she’s being sacrificed.

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Image via FX

Xavier and Gabrielle meet in a hospital, where she’s dealing with things. How did it feel to have your storyline echo your son David’s love story with Syd?

CORNELIUSSEN: It’s so amazing. It’s so cool. It comes from the comic book, so I was aware of it, but I think it was really cool. Charles and Gabrielle have a very different story. Their story in the hospital is quite charming and beautiful. John Cameron, who directed the episode where we see them meet each other, is so cinematically aware and such a cinematic genius. I feel like he knows everything about cinema. It’s crazy. He’s a trivia buff. The way he tackled that made it feel so timeless and really beautiful. I feel like, even though fans of Legion haven’t seen these two characters before, they’re gonna root for them immediately, with the way it’s being shot.

It sounds like the show is doing a lot more than just explaining why David is the way he is, by going back to your character. Do you feel like she has a flushed out storyline, this season?

CORNELIUSSEN: I feel like they’re actually taking a pretty deep dive into Gabrielle and Charles. It’s so hard not calling him Professor X. I feel like Noah made a point of going deep with carving out these two characters. Obviously, Professor X is a super important character for the whole universe. Whether you’re playing with an alternate version or not, it’s Professor X. I think they’re doing justice to them, for what it is. It’s one season, but I think it’s cool.

With Professor X being so important to everything X-Men, and your character is such a big part of his story, is there anything that you were most concerned about making sure you got right?

CORNELIUSSEN: This is an alternate version, but in the comic, you see this very strong side of Gabrielle Haller. She’s a powerhouse, she’s a lawyer, she fights for human rights, and she does a lot of things, but here, you actually get to see the real frail version of her. When I read that was what we were going at, for me, it was just important to make her a real person, and give her real life. I don’t think she’s been portrayed before. If I’m wrong, I apologize profusely to that actor, but I don’t think she has. So, for Marvel and for fans of Legion, I thought it was my job to try to give her real life.

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Image via FX

As a fan, what have you most enjoyed about this show?

CORNELIUSSEN: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Our parents grew up in a certain way, with a certain view of how the world works. And then, all of the sudden, Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene came out and were like, “Hey, what about this quantum stuff?” I’m of the generation that was super into that, and everything that pertains to sci-fi, but that seems real, and time travel. The way Noah Hawley’s brain works is just wild. Legion really takes you into something completely surreal and different, but in the coolest way because a lot of the stuff that happens is theoretically plausible, it’s just not proven yet.

Legion airs on Monday nights on FX.

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