Legion Star Dan Stevens on Bringing X-Men Comics Character’s ‘Tremendous Darkness’ to Screen

Actor explains how FX’s Fargo creator adapted a comic book into a surreal dream

by | February 2, 2017 | Comments

LEGION -- "Chapter 1" (Airs Wednesday, February 8, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Dan Stevens as David Haller. CR: Chris Large/FX

In Marvel’s X-Men comic books and movies, certain humans are born with or develop mutant abilities — superpowers essentially, and a premise familiar to genre fans. Add to that formula Fargo series creator Noah Hawley, and the concept is suddenly not quite so simple.

It becomes Legion.

In the new FX series that premieres February 8, Dan Stevens plays David Haller, the mutant who comic book fans know will become Legion, but this show is not X-Men Origins: Legion.

Legion begins with David in an institution undergoing treatment for what have been diagnosed as mental disorders. As David begins regressing through his memories, he meets other characters claiming that they have the answers, but some are real and others are only in his head. Melanie (Jean Smart) tries to guide David through his own internal memories to unlock what she believes are mutant powers.

Stevens spoke with Rotten Tomatoes at the Fox and FX party for the Television Critics Association. The British actor became internationally famous on Downton Abbey as the estate’s heir and Lady Mary’s love interest Matthew Crawley, then starred in the cult film The Guest, the Liam Neeson drama A Walk Among the Tombstones, and family film Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. He next will appear as the titular beast in upcoming live-action Disney film Beauty and the Beast.

Find out how Stevens brought Legion to life for Hawley’s vision. (Also read our interview with executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Stevens’ Legion costars.)

LEGION - Pictured: Dan Stevens. CR: Chris Large/FX

Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Were you discovering David as every script came in?

Dan Stevens: It is a mysterious role. To an extent, yes. Some of it was shaped and formed in early conversations with Noah, the little information he gave me. Then it was up to me really to research, look back at the comics. We’re not adapting any of the comics directly, but there are certain elements of the various incarnations of Legion over the years that infuse the part. Physicality particularly. It was kind of a game of cat and mouse with Noah, really picking out the information that we needed to get going. There was also a lot of invention and imagination as well. It felt like a very alive production in that sense; that we were all figuring out between us what was going on and who’s who in David’s world.

RT: Do you have some superior knowledge to David because you know there are X-Men comics, you know there are X-Men movies, you know what mutants are?

Stevens: Yes, this is true, but I think other characters were given more information than I was about what was going on.

RT: Really? Who knew more than you?

Stevens: I don’t know.

RT: Jean Smart?

Stevens: Probably. Aubrey [Plaza], for example. Aubrey claims to know a lot more than me, but maybe she was just fucking with me. There was a lot of that going on. I think Noah deliberately kept me in the dark to begin with. I think for David, every single one of those realities for him is real. Any amount of knowledge would kind of give an indication as to which one is less real, and you start playing it in a different way. If you play this could be real right now, this particular scenario we find David in, and just living in that space where Oh, maybe this is the real one, however crazy it seems was a very fun way of plotting a script, each script that came in. They were wild.

RT: Is this at all what you expected when you signed on?

Stevens: Yeah, I think so. I suspected it would be really crazy, really cool and really fun, and he’d bring really nice people together. All of those things were true.

RT: Are all the surreal dream visuals, like the giant volume knob, all practical on the set?

Stevens: Yeah, the giant volume knob was the last thing I shot. It was an idea that we had. And the closeup on Jean’s mouth as she says, “giant knob.” Yeah, they made a real giant knob.

LEGION -- Pictured: Jean Smart as Melanie Bird. CR: Frank Ockenfels/FX

RT: Does Melanie actually have answers for David or just more questions?

Stevens: Well, she has answers but he doesn’t really understand them. I think it’s a unique experience for both of them. She hasn’t encountered anyone quite like David since her husband.

RT: You sort of played a superhero in The Guest. Was there any connection between The Guest and Legion?

Stevens: I couldn’t say really. That’s probably a question for Noah, but I’m fairly sure that I wouldn’t have been in the running for something like Legion without The Guest. I think the kind of mischievous darkness we found in that film has definitely infused a few other things I’ve done.

RT: But you weren’t thinking about The Guest when you dove into David?

Stevens: No, not really, but I guess no more than in all the roles you play are vaguely a part of you somewhere. Yeah, I think there’s tremendous darkness in David, and I think the potential for that, and Aubrey’s character Lenny — the involvement of that character definitely occupies a Guesty sort of mischievously dark place. I wouldn’t say any more than that.

RT: Have you at all mapped out what the powers or rules of the abstract logic are?

Stevens: I kind of have, but I’m not sure I could put it into words really. It’s more of a shape.

RT: Is Legion coming out at the exact right time where the real world is so surreal from moment to moment, we all kind of feel like David?

Stevens: I think that’s a very salient point. When you think we started filming this in February, the pilot, and we wrapped in November, the week of the election, we were working this over the crazy summer of ’16. I think [Hawley]’s got an interesting take on the comic book genre. It’s playful in the way that comic books are. They invite your engagement and your filling in the blanks.

Legion premieres February 8 at 10 p.m. on FX; Plus, read our interview with executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Stevens’ costars in “10 Totally Mental Things To Expect From Legion

Tag Cloud

target 20th Century Fox blaxploitation Sony Pictures Showtime Cosplay blockbuster justice league 45 HBO Max game show American Society of Cinematographers cinemax Academy Awards Netflix films USA The CW aliens Star Trek Travel Channel telelvision spider-man BET Awards E3 Amazon SDCC Country cancelled television DC Universe Fox News name the review witnail Grammys hist PlayStation halloween tv Tumblr Hulu 99% TV book adaptation batman ratings fresh scary movies Apple Toys 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 2021 MCU ESPN Classic Film new zealand joker godzilla Black Mirror New York Comic Con Mudbound docuseries MTV japanese comic tv talk Freeform concert facebook Set visit parents hollywood Animation Awards political drama Teen werewolf 2016 NBC Year in Review news child's play a nightmare on elm street Premiere Dates Legendary Song of Ice and Fire politics Writers Guild of America Video Games twilight streaming movies dark composers halloween screenings new york TLC Trophy Talk Creative Arts Emmys documentaries Calendar canceled TV shows Television Critics Association TV renewals PaleyFest TV Land teaser unscripted Emmys transformers doctor who Martial Arts cars crossover HBO Drama robots rotten movies we love TruTV travel Pet Sematary BBC APB Shudder Adult Swim E! Valentine's Day Trivia Sundance Now heist movie 21st Century Fox sag awards psychological thriller ABC Signature new star wars movies latino Cartoon Network criterion zombie nfl Television Academy mission: impossible cancelled crime drama screen actors guild Film jurassic park dragons superman Tubi 72 Emmy Awards TNT obituary reboot FX on Hulu ABC Family international serial killer Superheroe Lifetime Christmas movies boxing theme song Shondaland FOX MSNBC Ghostbusters spanish language 2019 Britbox First Reviews cops Superheroes 2017 Nickelodeon period drama archives series movies WarnerMedia spain Interview TCA Masterpiece free movies technology AMC Baby Yoda SundanceTV Western CBS All Access war TBS toronto casting streaming USA Network Marvel Exclusive Video Crackle Sci-Fi richard e. Grant Amazon Studios Comedy Central DGA boxoffice Image Comics Spectrum Originals popular festivals A24 The Walt Disney Company romantic comedy cartoon rom-coms psycho Bravo jamie lee curtis indiana jones spinoff slashers Vudu 24 frames Disney streaming service asian-american Dark Horse Comics Discovery Channel best venice 2018 Stephen King comics documentary Comic Book worst zero dark thirty TV movies razzies Mindy Kaling Certified Fresh Kids & Family dogs stoner History biography deadpool Rock LGBTQ Winter TV BET Apple TV Plus canceled 93rd Oscars comic books what to watch elevated horror DirecTV prank children's TV Tarantino nbcuniversal based on movie Pirates FX kong YouTube Red Thanksgiving Countdown TCA 2017 Starz PBS crime thriller TV One RT History marvel cinematic universe high school Mary poppins Spring TV Fox Searchlight BAFTA renewed TV shows HBO Go Lucasfilm See It Skip It Paramount Plus Mary Tyler Moore zombies Sundance TV romance Logo stop motion First Look Trailer Black History Month A&E Pop TV french LGBT Musicals cooking game of thrones Esquire dramedy all-time GLAAD Podcast Brie Larson die hard Horror Lifetime Biopics critics Cannes Box Office italian supernatural police drama green book Hallmark Christmas movies Marvel Television GoT San Diego Comic-Con OneApp Syfy CW Seed Netflix Christmas movies Paramount Mystery Pride Month Sneak Peek cults foreign Warner Bros. scene in color Alien comiccon Disney+ Disney Plus Anna Paquin Red Carpet Musical ViacomCBS anime spanish Turner Fall TV king kong YouTube Premium Peacock Election book YouTube Family Avengers Disney Channel lord of the rings Rom-Com Film Festival cancelled TV shows science fiction golden globe awards Comedy talk show Women's History Month Elton John Reality Competition Disney Plus binge franchise CNN quibi Broadway Quiz crime 2015 laika Funimation TCA Winter 2020 Amazon Prime DC Comics Pacific Islander adaptation 71st Emmy Awards stand-up comedy golden globes Action Walt Disney Pictures Pop aapi Hear Us Out dceu IFC ITV Paramount Network sitcom saw Universal discovery Character Guide NYCC worst movies IFC Films hidden camera Disney video on demand Best and Worst Columbia Pictures finale Opinion independent Endgame remakes vampires hispanic docudrama ID kaiju TCA Awards Oscars christmas movies Marvel Studios Infographic breaking bad ABC Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt CBS 007 Holiday blockbusters strong female leads dc Acorn TV Music award winner WGN VICE emmy awards TIFF kids medical drama Captain marvel The Walking Dead Nominations diversity live action mockumentary VOD Mary Poppins Returns SXSW VH1 Chernobyl superhero cancelled TV series sequel RT21 X-Men disaster true crime comedies Tomatazos DC streaming service nature directors YA mutant 2020 Lionsgate Photos Extras Ovation festival Nat Geo Arrowverse Summer chucky El Rey Apple TV+ classics Sundance monster movies reviews GIFs cats video Christmas harry potter ghosts universal monsters toy story satire versus Polls and Games 4/20 Rocketman football FXX social media black Pixar natural history Watching Series National Geographic The Arrangement adventure movie Epix The Witch CMT Fantasy indie thriller Heroines space President The Purge TCM singing competition Ellie Kemper spy thriller trailers Reality Food Network australia Hallmark Awards Tour Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Turner Classic Movies south america Rocky james bond Holidays revenge Binge Guide Crunchyroll OWN rt archives BBC America scorecard The Academy Comics on TV Spike animated Winners Amazon Prime Video Emmy Nominations Star Wars historical drama Marathons fast and furious know your critic sports sequels BBC One rotten anthology Super Bowl Schedule television miniseries pirates of the caribbean women