‘Legion’ Showrunner Noah Hawley on What May Be TV’s Most Unique Superhero Series Yet

     August 30, 2016

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With the fall TV season about to burst onto the scene with super-sized expectations for superhero properties, one of the strangest and most daring projects will certainly be FX’s Legion. The first true co-production between Marvel TV and Fox, Legion stars Dan Stevens as David Haller, Charles Xavier’s son, a man torn between the belief that he has mutant abilities and the uncertainty that he may simply be mentally ill. Fargo‘s Noah Hawley will act as showrunner alongside Marvel’s Jeph Loeb and Jim Chory and X-Men movie producers Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer as executive producers. Those are some big names, but it’s with Hawley himself that today’s news is concerned.

In an interview with IGN, Hawley talked about using the success of Fargo as a sort of template for his approach to Legion, creating his own take on the Marvel mutant, the show’s aesthetic, and what leading man Stevens brings to the table.

Also starring Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Aubrey Plaza, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Katie Aselton, and Bill Irwin, look for Legion to debut in early 2017.


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Image via FX

Here’s what Hawley had to say about Legion as compared to Fargo:

[M]y approach to the Legion material is similar, which is it’s about a respect for the world, but it’s not about telling stories in that world that the reader is familiar with. It’s about taking that character and really exploring, almost on an existential level, what it’s like… What a television show can do that a movie can’t do is it’s not just a plot delivery device. It’s not about action, it’s about character and theme and as we see in Fargo, you can really play with structure and you can deconstruct the story in a big way. Whereas in a two-hour movie, it’s ‘What’s the problem? Where’s the bad guy? Let’s go get him!’

 

So, I would be remiss, I feel like, if I didn’t deconstruct this, if I didn’t really try to do something for the genre that feels personal and interesting to me and to really explore if you have a character who for his whole life has believed that he’s schizophrenic, and is now starting to think that he may have these powers, but he doesn’t know and he doesn’t know what’s real – well, that’s the experience the audience should have. To be put into his world is to enter something that’s by definition surreal, because he’s hearing things, he’s seeing things… Are these things real or not real? What can you trust that you’re seeing? And he’s stuck in this moment until he meets a girl [Syd, played by Fargo’s Rachel Keller] and he falls in love and now he’s got something to hope for and that’s the catalyst that pushes everything forward. And, you know, I can never predict the reaction to the work.

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Image via FX

An introspective look at the uncertainty inherent within Haller is clearly something we haven’t seen before, and it allows Hawley and his creative team to use inward focus rather than the more traditional outward-looking action. Hawley expands on Haller’s conflict between mental illness and mutant abilities as follows:

Yeah, part of the discovery is that he’s not alone – assuming that this is real and that he’s not alone. But again, there’s the mental illness factor of it. That sense that you can never be completely sure. But because the love story is so tied into this discovery – that he’s not sick, he’s got powers – we the audience really find ourselves hoping that that’s true. Because the other aspect of this which is important, I think, to explore is that mental illness is not… It’s a tragic condition that people have, and so I don’t want to use it for entertainment purposes. There really is a sense, and you’ll see when you see it, that once upon a time he was a little boy who had his whole life ahead of him, and then he began to hear voices and to see things, and ended up institutionalized, and there’s a tragedy, a tragic nature to that. So if we can ground that for the audience, then the idea that he’s fallen in love and that he’s not ill, there’s a hope to that that the audience is gonna grab onto. But never forgetting we feel that hope, because the alternative is loss.

On the business side of things, Hawley briefly touches on Legion as the first true co-production between Marvel TV and Fox:

No, you know, it’s all new to me, and everyone has gotten along so well that I’m not really familiar with what the underlying issues were. But I think that what’s been very rewarding for me is that because everyone has come together because they are passionate about the material and so if there is a prior conflict, I don’t know about them. I just find that everyone is together and they’re very excited about what we’re doing … There’s obviously a rich history to this world and these characters, and they have a business model that works very well for them.


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image via Marvel

On the look of Legion:

It has its own visual aesthetic to it, and part of that is being a story kind of out of time and out of place. And the design of a show has to have its own internal logic … Once we started going down a path of a sort of, for whatever reason, mid-60s British design aesthetic, you have to follow that down the rabbit hole. But those visuals are really powerful.

Lots of folks may know Stevens best from Downton Abbey, but they should expect to see another side of him as Hawley’s leading man:

Dan is really accessible. He’s one of those people that is transparent in the best way to an audience. And yet he’s got the ability to close off, and as you saw in The Guest, he can be a very enigmatic character at the same time. But I think what you need in a leading man is their real skill is that you’re able to see what goes on behind their eyes. I’m not a big fan of having characters say their truths out loud, so you have to show them. But still, the audience has to know what’s going on in his head, and Dan is great for that. He’s also a great romantic lead, which I think we’ve seen, and he has a sense of humor, which is important to me. I did ask him, “Are you like a clumsy guy?” Because any version of this show, there’s gonna be some action, there’s gonna be some of that stuff. And I knew from The Guest that he was a physically capable guy but we definitely put him through his paces and he’s great.

Fans will get their best look at Legion once it debuts on FX early next year. For more on Legion, check out our most recent coverage below:

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Image via FX


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