Interview: Rachel Keller talks Legion
Amon Warmann | On 06, Feb 2017
The past few years has seen a steady increase in the amount of comic book-related entertainment on the small screen. Legion is the latest entry into the increasingly crowded genre. While the show is ostensibly an X-Men spin-off – the titular character is the mutant son of Charles “Professor X” Xavier in the comics, and the show may yet connect to the movies – the psychedelic visuals and reality-shifting narrative alone immediately helps it stand out from the pack.
While Legion is centred on Dan Stevens’ schizophrenic mutant, David Haller, it will also tell the story of Rachel Keller’s Syd Barrett, whose own mutation allows her to switch minds with anyone she touches. When VODzilla.co sit down with her ahead of the show’s debut this week, Keller reveals what drew her to the project.
“There’s so much Marvel material right now, and I’m such an admirer,” she explains. “Having Noah Hawley [whom she worked with on Fargo] and his brain and his pen behind it just felt like a way to stretch out something that we already really admire using a different style, and the fact that the story is not linear makes it new and interesting.”
Just like David, Syd is a patient at a mental hospital when we’re first introduced to her. Mental illness will loom large over the entire series, and Keller promises that the delicate issue would be handled with care: “Anything that we’re dealing with is going to be done with true care and love and respect for anyone who suffers from those kinds of illnesses. Some people actually experience that distortion of reality and they aren’t in a mental institution, they’re just living their everyday lives but they deal with it. So it’s also a comment on how we look upon those type of people in our communities.”
“On Fargo, we had people who had answers, but on this show there would just be another question.”
“I did some research on autism and anti-social anxiety disorders,” Keller continues, “but there was also a part of me that didn’t really want to understand it, or educate myself enough to know what the complete inner workings were. I had to stay aware of it but also ready to question it, because that’s where Syd was at the time – questioning how it’s been diagnosed and how she’s been dealt with.”
Given that Syd’s powers keep her at a distance from everyone around her, one of the more interesting facets of Legion will undoubtedly be the unconventional romance between Syd and David.
“The complications lie within himself and herself rather than between them,” Keller notes. “They’re really on their own self-worth, self-empowerment journey while they’re helping each other.
“The show lifts time and place from the story, so we get to say what the world is. You begin with this relationship and you know the rules of this relationship so then you’re not struggling with ‘are they going to fall in love?’ It’s there. That’s the truth of the situation. So then we get to go beyond that and ask what would a functioning, unique, weird, normal, cool, different kind of relationship look like, and I think that’s what we see over the course of the series.”
The central romance is not the only thing that’s unconventional about Legion. There aren’t many superhero shows that have full-on dance sequences – let alone Bollywood dance sequences – but Legion goes for both right out of the gate.
“It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Keller says. “When you’re dealing with such serious matters, keeping the levity in it, the brightness of it, helps people have fun and come for the enjoyment of it.”
Best of all, “there might be more musical numbers”, she teases. “Dan Stevens may have learned to play the banjo.”
“Dan Stevens may have learned to play the banjo.”
If the first episode of Legion is anything to go by, then there’ll be a few instances where we’ll be wondering if what we’re watching is real, and Keller notes that the shifting realities even confused the cast while filming: “There were some moments where I was like ‘Whose memory are we in? Whose reality are we in?’ That would be a constant conversation we would have on set.”
“On Fargo, we had people who had answers,” she continues, “but on this show you would go to someone and there would just be another question. For me, that’s an inspirational, but also challenging, place to be. Noah is a man of few words, which then allows you to arrive. Because he doesn’t tell you the answers to everything, he lets you think about it and gives you space. When you have that space then you come up with 10 ideas instead of 2.”
We’ll get to see some of those ideas when Legion debuts in the UK on Thursday. (Read our review of Episode 1 here.)
Legion Season 1 is available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky Atlantic to FOX UK. A 14-day free trial is available for new subscribers.