NYCC: Noah Hawley on the ‘X-Men’ and Pink Floyd References in ‘Legion’

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·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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  • Dan Stevens
    Dan Stevens
    English actor
Dan Stevens in 'Legion' (Photo: FX)
Dan Stevens in ‘Legion’ (Photo: FX)

Legion is being billed as FX’s first foray into comic-book television, but based on a 25-minute preview presentation that screened at New York Comic Con, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is Noah Hawley’s version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with a dash of 12 Monkeys thrown in. In a panel after the event, Hawley himself described the series as “a 1964 Terrence Stamp movie,” where the audience, much like the central character, “doesn’t know what’s real.”

Here’s what we do know: Legion is the name of a popular X-Men character who has been part of comic-book continuity for over three decades. Originally introduced in 1985, his actual name is David Charles Haller and he’s the son of none other than Professor Charles Xavier, the founder and mentor of the X-Men. Like his dad, David has been gifted (or is that cursed?) with powerful psychic powers, ranging from telepathy to telekinesis. But where Professor Xavier is firmly in control of his abilities, his child’s mind is beset by a mental disorder that significantly ups his danger quotient.

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Neither Patrick Stewart nor James McAvoy — who have both played Xavier in the big-screen X-Men franchise — are spotted in the first half of the pilot, and David’s powers themselves aren’t made clear right away. What is obvious, though, is that he’s one seriously disturbed individual, a fact established with an opening off-kilter montage where we watch David grow to manhood framed in a tight close-up, while the people around him react with shock and horror to his emerging abilities.

By the time series star Dan Stevens takes over as the adult Haller, he’s confined to a mental institution also occupied by his buddy Lenny (Aubrey Plaza, doing an expert Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys homage) and mysterious newcomer, Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller). As one eagle-eyed audience member pointed out, “Syd Barrett,” was a founding member of Pink Floyd, and Hawley confirmed the choice of name was deliberate. “In the first conversation I had with the show’s composer, Jeff Russo, I said that it should sound like Dark Side of the Moon. Because that album is the soundscape to mental illness to some degree.”

In its second act, Legion introduces another wrinkle, cutting away from the mental institution to another place (and time?) where David’s being questioned by a cop (Hamish Linklater) about his role in an unspecified crime. But even the nature of that reality proves to be questionable, as the “detective” exits the interrogation room and enters a paramilitary set-up where David’s abilities are being closely monitored. Confused? That’s OK — Stevens says it’s a natural reaction. “We start from a place of great confusion, which is deliberate on Noah’s part. It kind of gets clearer as we go along.”

One thing that the panel wouldn’t clear up is how exactly Legion will connect to the larger X-Men Cinematic Universe, which is a separate creature from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s due to the fact that the X-Men’s screen adventures are still controlled by 20th Century Fox, rather than Marvel/Disney. Still, Marvel Television head, Jeph Loeb, took part in the Legion panel, and he said his presence onstage wasn’t accidental. “The fact that I’m sitting here is an indication of the bridges that are being made. [But] I don’t want to make any promises.”

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As for potential cameos from big-screen mutants like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and even Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), Legion executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner (who also oversees the film franchise) essentially told fans not to hold their breath. But Hawley reminded the crowd that the X-Men mythology is vast and complex enough to prop the door open for a potential crossover. “One of the things that’s attractive is that there are these alternate timelines and universes [with X-Men],” he said. “We’re seeing this world through multiple layers of confusion and mixed signals that David is receiving.” As to whether this version of Legion could still call Professor X “Daddy,” Hawley demonstrated the Minnesota niceness he’s acquired from Fargo, remarking with maximum diplomacy: “All I’ll say that we are true to the origins of this character, and leave it at that.”