Leading into the Legion finale, Noah Hawley talks X-Men inspirations, casting and more

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Mar 27, 2017

With the first season finale of Legion dropping Wednesday night, executive producer/showrunner Noah Hawley talked to a select group of reporters today to discuss how the first season of the Marvel-inspired series developed creatively. Already renewed for a second season, Hawley confirmed their goal is to premiere Legion Season 2 in early 2018, with the intention of expanding that season to 10 episodes.

While the show has gotten critical praise, some viewers have complained that the show is inscrutable because of its non-linear storytelling and surrealistic set pieces. Hawley explains his thought-processes in regards to the show's inventive storytelling, casting and more. And after the finale, we'll post the rest of the interview where Hawley explains some of what happens in the episode, "Chapter 8," and his specific plans for Season 2 in relation to the X-Men film and comic book mythologies.

Was there anything you wrote or shot that was just too bizarre for this season?

No. Everything is there for a reason, which is to help you understand David better and to see the world through his eyes. The season was constructed that, in the beginning as David didn't know what anything meant, we were seeing subjectively a lot of imagery that was divorced from information. The devil with the yellow eyes in the first hour was just a glimpse of something monstrous. Of course, the more [David] learned, the more we learned. In the end, now that he's very clear on everything going on, we are as well. It was never my goal to create something with style over substance.

In terms of the scope of the show, should we consider it to be an alternate timeline narrative like those explored in the newer X-Men films?

David's origin story is the same as in the comics. That said, we know even from the movies these last couple of years that the timeline has changed. The X-Men tell stories in alternative universes, so there are many universes where Professor X could be David's father. I don't feel that I've limited myself to present day America, or now lost the ability to make this world its own world because we know who David's father is. Moving forward, I don't have it all worked out yet as to what the second season will entail. What viewers responded to about the show is its inventiveness, and its sense of emotional grounding, if not literal grounding. I want to continue to deliver something unexpected and where the possibilities are, if not infinite, are playful.

Do you have a sense of when Season 2 will premiere?

Our goal is to hit the same airdate next year.  All that means is a lot more work for me in the future but I've got nobody to blame but myself.

Should fans expect more connections to stories from the X-Men world?

As we do with Fargo fans who are really familiar with that world, they appreciate certain connections and being rewarded for knowing the story so well. At the same time, my goal is to always use character as a way to have a conversation, and tell a story that was my story and was interesting to me to try and get to the heart of who this character is and this journey for him without re-enacting storylines from the comic book. So you won't see the show suddenly be beholden to the comic books for storyline, but you may see ideas, characters or images that are familiar to you.

Aside from David, the mutant characters in Legion are original to your story. Did you craft them with their power in mind first?

The powers tend to come more from the function of character than the reverse. The love story at the heart of the show is complicated and not a sure thing in terms of its long-term viability. It became interesting to me to think of Syd as untouchable on a certain level.  There's a physical challenge that makes it impossible to be together so I thought that justified the power, and that created a person on some level. You can't touch people without consequences, which is psychologically more interesting for me. And as I was thinking about the two Cary's and populating this world and considering how many characters can I justify, I thought about having two characters in one body. I could have one of them at a time -- like the female is more action-oriented and the male is more science-focused. The fact they live in the same body means when I need action I can have one, or brains when I need it, or I can play with them both as a collective whole. I use the genre as a way to boost and intensify the personalities of the characters.

You often cast comedians, such as Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin, or Jemaine Clement, in dramatic roles. What does that unexpected casting afford you when it comes to storytelling?

It's something that I am attracted to in general, and something that I did in Fargo as well, which is to take comedic personas and put them in dramatic roles, or take dramatic personas and put them in more comedic roles, or at least give them both sides of the coin to play. I'm not a big believer in typecasting but I also think there's a certain energy that an actor playing comedy can bring to dramatic roles. Usually comedic actors are more spontaneous and have an Improv background. We don't improvise on the show but you take actors and putting them outside their comfort zone and that tends to lead to really interesting work. With a performer like Aubrey Plaza, there's no other actor who fills that space or the same with Jemaine. It's not like you can get the "next best Jemaine" because he's such a specific persona and that becomes part of the character's DNA which I find interesting.

In executing the huge ambition of the series, are there lessons you learned that you'll apply to producing Season 2?

There are a lot of things we have to contend with. We have a limited budget. We want to try and make 10 episodes. Now we have the opportunity to broaden it, but practically it's a very hard show to make. There is a lot of stuff we have to invent. Aside from episodes two and three, no two episodes are alike. In terms of the producibility, we can think in terms of block shooting and shooting episodes in pairs. You want to be as Inventive as possible, but then you have to put on your producer hat and ask how do I actually make this? I find those limitations a creative challenge when you don't have all the money in the world to throw at VFX. How do I make something people haven't seen before and not break the bank?

The Devil with the Yellow Eyes looks like the X-Men character, Mojo. How did that character design for the show come about?

It was a conversation I had with our production designer, Michael Wylie. He said he was obsessed with the reality show, My 600-Pound Life, which I hadn't seen. But I did respond to the idea that whatever was inside of David, was feeding on him over time and as a result, there was something engorged and  tick-like, so it had been feeding and reached a very corpulent state. So our approach in looking at the season and the full title, the Uncanny X-Men, and the word uncanny, along with an essay by Freud about the uncanny. It's about the supernatural, and why people are afraid of the things they are afraid of. The thing that scares us the most is when familiar things operate in unfamiliar ways. A house shouldn't be haunted house. It freaks us out because that's not what a house should be. And there's something similar in the idea that we have a visceral, human reaction when we see human beings of [the demon's] size because that's not how humans were designed to be; that large. Then we found this 6'8" skinny guy and we built the suit around him so that adds to unnaturalness. It's designed to have visceral impact.

Check back on Wednesday after the Legion finale for the rest of Noah Hawley's conversation about the finale and more.