News

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

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