Last week's announcement that FX would be bringing Marvel's Legion to the small screen left fans with many questions. Now, showrunner Noah Hawley has answered some of those questions, shedding some light on exactly how Marvel and 20st Century Fox arrived at their TV deal, and how he plans to fit Legion into the overall X-Men film universe.
"[Legion has] been in the works for a long time," Hawley told TVInsider. "Some of that was Marvel dealmaking process. Fox has rights to make movies and sort of tacitly the rights to do TV, but they've never done it before so they had to work out all the details."
As for how Hawley became involved in Legion, it was X-Men director Bryan Singer and producer Lauren Shuler Donner who brought him on board.
"I think Lauren and Bryan had talked to [Fox Networks Group Chairman/CEO] Peter Rice about seeing if potentially there would be interest in a TV expansion of this X-Men brand," Hawley explained. "Peter was very excited about it and looped in Gina Balian [who heads up limited series development] at FX. She's the one who brought it to me as a potential idea, and asked if there anything in this universe you'd be interested in."
Hawley also confessed that, while he didn't grow up with comic books, he has always been a fan of the X-Men.
"I'm not a huge comic person. I read a lot of X-Men growing up, but it's not something that was my life-long dream to do something like this. But what's nice is I just started the process, not even based on any of the characters from the universe, but I just started thinking about that world and if there is an interesting show to play around that idea of mutant-outsider identity. The thing about the X-Men franchise that’s so unique is it's a movie that starts in a concentration camp. And so you know that it's actually concerned with real-world morality and evil. It also has these diametrically opposed points of view that are both right."
Hawley said that the story of Legion came first, before he found the character to be the star of it.
"I basically came up with a TV show that I wanted to tell and then found the right character for it," said Hawley of how he arrived at the character of David Haller/Legion. "It was more about trying to find my way to what the show was. In some ways reverse engineering it. We found the perfect character. But it has to be a great show, it can't just be a great genre show."
"What I really like about him is, here's a character who is schizophrenic on some level, a character struggling with mental illness. Is he crazy or does he have these powers? The answer is, kind of both," he elaborated. "I'm a big believer that the structure of a story should reflect the content of the story. And so I liked the idea that if you have a character that doesn't know what's real and what's not real, that is also the audience's journey."
While he could not go into specifics how, Hawley did confirm that Legion will tie into the larger X-Men film and television franchise, saying, "It's conceived more as a standalone. I don't want to say too much more about it on that level, but certainly it's not constructed as a back-door anything. It's more just that there's a story that I want to explore that has to fit into that larger universe, which is exciting."
Despite this, Hawley did address the lack of X-Men branding in the announcement of Legion, explaining, "It's interesting; I do think that the show needs to stand on its own two feet. The people who care that it's an X-Men title are going to know it's an X-Men title. You're looking for the largest possible and most diverse audience, so that's not the most important thing. The most important thing is the show itself."
Hawley also went into further detail about the relationship between FX and Marvel as it relates to the development of Legion.
"FX Productions is the lead studio. My relationship is with FX primarily, and I'm just getting to know Jeph Loeb and the people at Marvel, and I think it's going to be collaboration in the best sense," Hawley explained. "What's great about working at FX is you'll have a lot of conversations about the right thing to do is, and at the end of the day it's my decision as the showrunner. That was something very important to preserve, that it's the artist's call and not the company's call."
Also announced last week was Hellfire, a Fox drama centered on the Hellfire Club. Despite taking place in the same universe, Hawley said he does not believe the two shows will crossover, speculating that Hellfire will have a more direct connection to the X-Men film universe. "
We certainly haven't had any conversations about crossovers. I don't know anything about it, but I think that one is more linearly taken out of the world of the movies. Ours has its own world to it."
Hawley also confirmed that Legion will pay homage to its comic book roots, explaining "I have both Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg to help steer me. All they've said to me is how exciting it's going to be for the fans, to bring these two different ways of thinking together and create something that is hopefully unique."
Finally, Hawley addressed his approach to adapting superheroes outside of comic bookss.
"It's exciting. It's rare in this day and age that you get to make a modern myth. To elevate a story to the scale of a myth, and to do it in a way that's not about action sequences and 'Can we save the world?' What are these superheroes? They're our Greek gods, our modern myths. We've seen the straight-ahead versions of it. I want to play around with the edges."
No premiere date for Legion has been announced, but Hawley says it will begin filming "by the end of January or early February."