Fans trekked through the rain to the Hammerstein Ballroom on Sunday to catch a sneak peek of FX and Marvel Television’s upcoming show Legion.
The panel began with a 30-minute sneak peek of the pilot episode of Legion, featuring David Haller’s time in a psychiatric hospital, and his budding courtship with a fellow patient - who later disappears.
The cast then made their way on the stage, including Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Bill Irwin, Katy Aselton, Amber Midthunder, Jeremie Harris, and Marvel EVP of Television Jeph Loeb, produce Lauren Shuler-Donner and Legion showrunner Noah Hawley.
Where did this idea come from?
“The X-Men, that was my book when I was growing up, and I had the opportunity after the first year of Fargo, I heard from FX that Lauren and Simon Kinberg and Bryan Singer thought there might be a TV play in this world,” Fawley said. “I called Simon and we just started talking. I had to feel like I understood where this story was going, it had to be a strong character journey.”
“It really clicked for me this idea that this was this man who was either schizophrenic or he had these powers,” Hawley continued. “This show is a subjective, you’re in his head, you’re in his world, so you don’t know what’s real and what’s not, and I thought that was a fun idea.”
Fawley said the aesthetic of the show, it would be a 1960s Terrence Stamp movie, mixing retro and modern styles.
“It becomes a parable, a fable, almost.”
Schüler-Donner said that, “For me, this is exactly what I wanted - it is far away from the X-Men movies, yet it still lives within that universe. For the only way for the X-Men to keep moving forward, to surprise people. This is very, very surprising. This is very different.”
“When FX contacted us and said they were going to go venturing into this land, we always start at this very basic place, who is the storyteller? When they said Noah was interested, and Lauren was going to be producing, it took [very little time] for us to say yes,” Loeb added.
“For everyone who’s here who’s an X-Men fan, at the core, it’s about being different… and I think each of us at some point in our lives, and some of us, it was this morning, feel different, and don’t feel like people understand who we are,” Loeb continued. “We live in a world where diversity and uniqueness is something that’s on our minds 24 hours a day, it’s social media, it’s all of these things, and the X-Men have never been more relevant than they have been now. You’re in the for the most wonderful surprise ride that all make you laugh and make you cry and at the same time make you hope that we’re entering a time that people aren’t going to turn you away but will embrace you because you’re different.”
Stevens said he was holding out for something “omega-level” after his role on Downton Abbey, and when he learned of Hawley’s environment he was immediately on board. Once he learned about Legion as a character, he said he would be stretching himself for the role. “As an acting exercise, this has been one of the wildest rides ever,” Steven said.
Keller agreed, saying that “the team who’s making it, and my sister and I love the X-Men movies, that was the family thing we did, to watch them together. And this felt like a very different, creative way to tell an X-Men story.”
Discussing her character of David’s friend Lenny, Plaza said her character “wouldn’t consider herself anyone’s sidekick. But they’re friends.”
Aselton, who plays David’s sister Amy Haller, said that we will see more insight into David’s family and past. Hawley wouldn’t give any details as to whether or not Amy is a mutant: “This is someone who’s defined herself as normal, and as she goes down the rabbit hole, she’s looked at like she might be crazy as well - it’s a good lesson, that the line between sane and insane is very thin.”
Hawley was also fairly tight-lipped about Harris and Midthunder’s characters. “They play people with abilities - you saw David being interviewed in the room by some authority figure, and let’s say that’s one group, and let’s say there’s another group that David might find himself with that might have a different agenda.”
“I remember a lot,” Harris said of his character, Ptonomy Wallace. “I remember everything that happened in my life - and I can bring people through their memories as well, and serve to help them grow and heal.”
“My character is a doer, and fighter, she’s not one to dwell on things - and she has a very interesting relationship with someone else,” Midthunder said of her character, Kerry Loudermilk.
“If you lived your whole life being defined by the world as one thing and learned you were something else, you’d have to look back at your whole life and rewrite those memories to mean something different,” Hawley said. “We live in very polarized times, there’s a lot of intolerance, and I think a lot of that begins inside of us. Before he can have an opinion about anybody else, he has to figure out his own shit, and that’s something we all have to do. This story isn’t about a race towards a battle with an enemy, but dealing with the enemy within.”
Opening up the floor for questions, a fan asked about where Legion lies within the X-Men film universe. Does it take place within the universe of the film, or a parallel universe?
“There’s a certain degree where that’s to be determined - we live in this subjective reality of David’s, so it’s hard to tell,” Hawley said. “There’s all these alternate timelines and alternate universes, but we learn we’re also looking through this world through all the confusion and mixed signals that David gets. I like the idea of making things that are unexpected and yet feel inevitable, but I like to say we are true to the origins of the character and leave it at that.”
Who’s your favorite X-Men character? Hawley: Wolverine. Schüler-Donner: Xavier. Loeb: Cable. Stevens: Legion. Plaza: Legion. Keller: Wolverine. Harris: Storm. Midthunder: Deadpool. Aselton: Deadpool.
With all the shows that Marvel is doing, will we have connection to any upcoming future Marvel movie projects? Loeb: “All you’re trying to do is get me into trouble… this one is particularly complicated. It isn’t because the Marvel Universe isn’t connected, because it is, in this particular case, this audience is sophisticated enough to know that the X-Men characters live in the Fox world, and we live in a different world. The fact that I’m sitting here is indication of bridges being made, and people like Lauren who are helping facilitate that… but I don’t want to make any promises to explain to the next time somebody asks me.”
“Marvel heroes at their core are people who are damaged, people who are trying to figure out who they are in life, and it doesn’t matter if they’re X-Men characters or Matt Murdock or Peter Parker or Tony Stark,” Loeb continued. “We’re much more interested in the person underneath the mask… if you have a character as strong as David is and a storyteller as strong as Noah Hawley is, then in that sense it is all connected. We just want something that has truth to it. If what you watched feels like Marvel, then it’s all connected, and that’s all that matters.”
Will we get a hint of David’s relationship to Professor X? “I don’t think you can tell that story without that element to that, so I can say you probably will,” Hawley said. “There’s a wheelchair in the first scene.”
Final question: will we see guest stars from other projects? Shuler-Donner said, “Probably not, but you never know.” Loeb added, “Wouldn’t that be great?” “What I enjoyed about Fargo was in the first three hours it seemed totally unconnected from the movie because it had to stand on its own two feet, and I feel the same way about this show - we have to earn our way into that universe.”