With Marvel’s “Logan” bringing the original “X-Men” movie franchise to a close, FX’s “Legion” continues the mutant dream on the small screen — with Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird carrying Professor X’s torch triumphantly forward.
Every week, Noah Hawley’s series has proven to be a delightful surprise — opening up the possibilities of what a comic-book TV show could and should be. Working in multiple styles and narratives, “Legion” and “Logan” have raised the genre bar — hopefully paving the way for a whole new trend in comic-book entertainment.
As much as the series has been picked apart and celebrated, it wouldn’t be what it is without its stellar cast. And while Dan Stevens is blowing us away with his brilliant portrayal of unhinged supermutant David Haller, the whole “Legion” ensemble is doing gamechanging work.
Every team needs its leader guiding the way, and it’s the clear sight and powerful hope of Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird that paves the way. But after David’s latest visit to the astral plane, and subsequent confrontation with The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) — Dr. Bird’s fear that David’s power might fall into the hands of Division 3 is coming ever closer to becoming a threatening reality the whole team will have to face.
Ahead of Wednesday’s (March 8) episode, Screener spoke with Smart about her experience working with Noah Hawley, the addition of Jemaine Clement to the series and the whole mind-blowing experience she’s had in bringing “Legion” to life.
From script to screen — what has your experience been like seeing ‘Legion’ come to life?
I have never been in any project where the anticipation of each episode was not just about not knowing what to expect — but also knowing it was going to be fantastic! Yes, I felt that way about “Fargo,” the editing and the music were so spectacular — but this is just a whole other world. I was talking to Katie Aselton, who plays Amy, and she was saying that when she goes in to loop a scene, she’s constantly going Is that what that scene was!? Is that what we were supposed to be doing!? It’s so true! All this stuff is going on…
For instance: There was this scene last week where I was in the cryogenic chamber with my husband and the whole room was covered in frost and ice, you could see our breath and everything — all of that was added later. Of course, it makes sense — but when we were shooting it, we were in a set where everything was just normal. I forgot that of course that’s what it could look like!
Are there any scenes in this week’s episode you can point to that surprised you in that sense?
There’s a scene… [Laughs] The director [Tim Mielants] was so great… There’s a scene where I’m looking at some video frames of destruction. I’m assuming it was David’s doing, with soldiers and everything laid to waste, and there’s one particular screen at the end, where he wanted me to really be kind of fascinated and horrified by, and [Laughs] he said, Imagine you’re watching your husband having sex with another woman…
Well, that is quite specific!
It gave me a really clear picture of the reaction he wanted! It was hard not to laugh during shooting, though.
Speaking of husbands — we finally got to see the astral plane and meet Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) for the first time. Is it possible Melanie’s husband will ever return to reality?
I would say that’s possible, sure. And I just love Jermaine’s character — I think he’s absolutely hilarious and so fascinating, and so perfect for the show. As soon as they told me they had cast him in the part, I was just ecstatic — first of all, because I’m a big fan, but really, I just thought, he’s perfect.
Every week we would all look at each other and say, Out of the mind of Noah Hawley… You know, he just comes up with these unique things. And this whole idea of Oliver! It’s almost like he has dementia. He searches for words, his brain is not working perfectly, and he lives in the past… It’s just crazy. I’m picturing him dancing with his martinis, now.
It’s just perfect, and kind of incredible. Honestly I hope he uses Jemaine as much as possible.
On paper, ‘Legion’ is a comic book show — but it explores mental health in such a unique and interesting way. At the end of the day, what is the ultimate message you hope viewers come away with?
Well you know, that is precisely the thing that fascinated me about the show from the get-go: It was about this whole new take on mental illness. I would never accuse Noah… I use that word fully tongue-in-cheek… I would never accuse him of having a big message, but — guilty as charged, Noah!
I think he always has a very important underlying message in his work. Even in “Fargo,” there were nods towards feminism, and what was emerging at that time in this country. There were anti-war sentiments: You can look at the bookends of those two Vietnam veterans in “Fargo” — between the made-in-America war veteran and Patrick [Wilson]’s character: One who has just been somehow able to survive it intact, and the other one who has been pretty much ruined by it.
And then, of course, there’s the issue of racism as well. Again, never once is that the message he wants people to come away with: The message always has to be very subtle, and I think that this show… I think that’s one of the things he’s done with mental illness.
I think we are learning to look at people who are different, you know, as not necessarily damaged goods. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses — and a lot of people who you think of as somewhat impaired also have other gifts that may go beyond what most of us have. I love that, I think it’s fantastic.
In that scene where David is tortured by voices and you see his pain: It’s such a visceral reaction. And you think, My God! For the people who do live with those issues… I cannot even imagine what their existence is like. Again, it’s just a way of looking at something from a different perspective — and in this day and age, it’s really important.
Is there one lesson you’ve learned working with Noah Hawley on these FX projects?
Well certainly, working with someone who’s as cerebral and intellectual as Noah is such a gift: It’s just like an oasis in the desert. You know, I came from the theater, where you sort of are used to mostly having great words to play with… That sounded kind of like something Donald Trump would say: I have great words! I have big words!
I’m being silly, but yeah — you’re used to having great dialog, and usually on television, there are time constraints and all sorts of other things where the writing isn’t sometimes quite what it could be. So for someone to like Noah to come along, and to be able to work with him — it has been such a gift.
Even if I don’t understand everything in “Legion” as much as… For instance, in “Fargo”… I guess what I’ve learned as an actor is just to trust. And that is kind of like teaching an old dog a new trick — but it’s just the thought process of, I’m going to go with it and see where it ends up!
When I finally forced myself to do that, it became freeing.
The same probably applies to the audience: We have to trust the ‘Legion’ story is taking us down a fulfilling path.
Yeah, this is not a show that you should get up, make a sandwich and then come back to: You’ve got to really watch.
“Legion” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.