INTERVIEW: Legion’s Rachel Keller talks new Marvel’s X-Men spin-off series
It seems superhero television shows are all the rage right now, with Netflix’s many Marvel collaborations and Sky’s DC superheroes teaming up for a musical adventure.
The newest superhero show on the block is FOX’s Legion, a new series about the enigmatic character from Marvel’s X-Men comics. It focuses on David Haller (Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens), a troubled young man believed to be suffering from schizophrenia. He’s been in and out of mental institutions his entire life, but could there be more to his visions than what meets the eye?
We spoke to Legion‘s Rachel Keller, who portrays Syd – a young woman who meets David at the mental health institution and becomes drawn to him, despite her inability to touch other people without swapping bodies – about what makes Legion very different to other shows before it.
The superhero genre has become very popular over the last few years in film and television. What was it about Legion that made you want to take the plunge?
There’s so much Marvel material right now and I am an admirer. I think having Noah Hawley’s brain and pen behind it felt like a way to stretch out something that we already really admire and love, using a different style. [It’s a] little bit more of a character-driven long-form narrative that felt really curious to me.
So it’s more like a character study than some of the other superhero shows on Netflix?
It is to be a subjective experience. There’s a character – a young, troubled man who’s not quite sure what’s real or not. How do we build a show where an audience gets an experience of [not knowing] what’s real or what’s not real? It doesn’t follow any linear, objective story, which makes it new and interesting.
Do you feel like that is a big risk to take?
Why would we do another TV show – especially another Marvel TV show? How do we speak to people who feel different, using that seed of a mutant, young person who has something about them that they’re confused about or maybe has been ignored or rejected or just not cultivated in a way where they know how to express themselves. I guess that’s a risk but that’s a risk worth taking.
How does the show handle schizophrenia?
We begin the series in Clockworks – which is the mental hospital – so I don’t think we want to be using mental illness as any kind of gimmick. We must talk about mental illness, because those people tend to be misunderstood and therefore suppressed so that we can better understand them and handle them. That felt like a really kind of perfect starting point to tell this particular story.
Would you say this was a sensitive portrayal of mental health institutions and patients?
I would hope so. Noah works with such care and and such quality and he tries to tell really universal true stories about people. Anything we’re dealing with is going to be done with true care and respect for anyone who suffers from those kinds of illnesses. Some people, like Dan’s character David, actually experience that distortion of reality and they aren’t in a mental institution. They’re just living their everyday lives but they deal with it. They’re not given a space to express that, because it’s a little different and a little weird and a little off. You’re told that it’s wrong, so you hide it. I think it’s also a comment on how we then look at those types of people in our communities.
Syd and David have a very unique relationship with the whole no touching thing. What was your approach to that?
That’s fascinating, right? To look at this young girl who has these boundaries, but put her in a place where she’s falling in love. How do you build a relationship then if you have those kids of boundaries? What’s the foundation? I think it happened organically – we just built a friendship – which for me feels like a really unique way to tell this epic love story. There’s a kindred spirit or a spark that they can recognise to see where it grows from, and the details can come later. I think we were really open to letting each scene inform it in a new way, because it was a unique relationship.