In the first season of FX’s Legion, Syd Barrett’s (Rachel Keller) journey from a self-quarantining mental patient to empowered mutant who can control her ability to trade minds with whomever she touches was one of the most compelling of the series. As she helped unravel the mysteries locked inside the mind of her supposedly schizophrenic boyfriend, David Haller (Dan Stevens), Syd comes into her own power and autonomy, fighting the uber villain Amahl Farouk (a.ka. The Shadow King) for David’s very existence.
As Legion Season 2 begins, it’s been almost one year time since a horrified Syd witnessed David disappear, trapped inside a tiny mechanical sphere. She’s spent that time desperate to find him, but moving on with her own abilities as a powerful mutant working alongside her adopted family from Dr. Melanie Bird’s (Jean Smart) former Summerland hideout. We sat down with actress Rachel Keller to discuss what it’s like playing in the existential sandbox of showrunner Noah Hawley’s mind, and how Syd is coming into her own even more this season.
The complicated love story between Syd and David is the emotional spine of the series. What’s the conversation been with Hawley about how Syd doesn’t lose herself in helping David figure out who he is?
Part of the journey that I've been in conversation with Noah about, and in preparation for, is how do we represent someone who's committed to someone else in that way? And in a lot of ways, is the wise, self-aware, confident one. When does she get to be doubtful and fearful and insecure, especially with her ability. When we start we're a year later, so we've seen a young woman in a maturation process. So, what does it mean to be better at who you are? Which has been interesting.
Where is she with her ability to control her mind-swapping powers?
Practically, she's been practicing switching places with people more often. But I think it's also in terms of when you get close to someone at all, emotionally or physically, how do you maintain yourself? That journey, I think, parallels what a lot of young women feel and go through.
Syd had a very different look last season with how she dressed and held herself from the world. Immediately, we see she’s moved beyond that this season with how she holds herself and what she’s wearing. How did that come about?
In terms of wardrobe, we had some pretty extensive conversations because it was important to me. A lot of my clothing last year was a kind of armor [that implied] let me show you my body so that you know where I am. So, it was tight clothes. It was tight pants, tight shorts, and covered. But I wanted to see what it meant to have a little bit more space. I'm a little bit more comfortable with myself. I feel a little bit better with who I am now, so I don't need you to see all of me right away. So, what does it mean to have a little bit more space between you and the world with your clothing in between? It was creating more t-shirt silhouettes where a little bit more skin is showing. That was really a fun process.
It also impacts how you interact with others in terms of Syd’s proximity and less distanced manner. Was that an organic change that came in the moment on set?
In terms of the relationships, I think it plays out the way it ought to. You get to those situations, you play those scenes, you work with your scene partners and you talk about what it means to really reveal yourself. Sometimes we're successful and sometimes we're not, so we have to experiment and try to find the right balance.
There’s a wonderful scene between Syd and Melanie in the premiere that illustrates how losing Oliver (Jemaine Clement) has trampled Melanie’s hope and she warns Syd that it’s never the same in a relationship after a long separation. Is that a harbinger of a rocky path for Syd and David?
Well, it's interesting if you think about a sense of community this year, which is a big theme that we're going for. Like communal insanity, communal planting of an idea and how an idea manifests and when it becomes a bad idea. So, I think that particularly for that relationship, [Syd and Melanie] mirror each other, they balance each other, they maybe try to advise each other. At the same time, they have different journeys, so when Syd is confronted with some kind of truth ... Again, with all of her doubts and insecurities, she has some blinders up. She's unwilling and unaware of maybe the depths of what the possibilities could be in the relationship because she's in it. I think Syd's in a really different headspace and just doesn't hear it in the same way.
Is there a character who has the most impact on Syd’s journey this season?
It's David, for her. I think she is in his orbit. They're magnets and they're completely engrossed in each other and she's following him. She wants him to be well. I think a strong, self-aware, wise women paired against a troubled, frenetic, energetic man can lose sight of who they are, so that's been the balance this year. She does have some trust questions and some jealousy and some deep sadness. Does she confide in anyone about that? I don't know. I don't know if she's even said that to herself. Yet.
This is your second project with Noah Hawley (after Fargo). You have to trust your storyteller in such a surreal storytelling landscape. Has it been an easy process to give yourself over to not exactly knowing what's really going on in the moment with Syd, or the narrative for that matter?
The truth is at the end of the day there is a lot of trust between Noah and I. And I am able to talk to him if I need to and I don't always. I think that we place meaning on things because we're scared that maybe it doesn't have meaning, but the truth is that it doesn't really mean anything. None of it really matters, right? So, if you're able to get out of your own way and arrive at the experiment and get your hands a little dirty and make some mistakes... For me, because I began and feel a deep connection with theater in a way that is part of me, part of who I am, this is exposing, especially this piece. Sometimes I don't know if Noah knows how much he writes, and how much that echos in my life.
It must be disconcerting see a lot of Rachel on the page when it comes to Syd’s journey?
It's exposing. It's revealing. And, it can be freeing. I have that choice and I'm fortunate. Those are the things that anchor me into the piece. And it's just a lot of fun if I let it be. It is a total existential dilemma to be in it, but it can be also very exciting and freeing.
Legion Season 2 airs Tuesdays on FX.