X-MEN Producer Talks LEGION And How It Fits In The Universe
It’s been close to 20 years since the X-Men have been on television, animated or not. But that’s all about to change real quick. With Legion on FX and New Mutants on FOX we’ll soon get to see the world of mutants run free all over our flat screen tv’s.
But how does the world of Legion tie in to Professor X and the universe? iGN spoke with X-Producer Lauren Shuler Donner at the 2017 winter TV Critics Association press tour about how Legion is reflective of the direction the X-Men franchise could be taking, especially in light of Matt Nix’s forthcoming FOX Marvel show (which is connected to the movies) and the “reconfigured” film series.
IGN: The thing that struck me most about the first two episodes of Legion is you could tune into FX, miss the Marvel tag and not necessarily realize this show is set in the X-Men universe. Was that a conscious decision with Noah Hawley and Jeph Loeb and the folks at Marvel?
Lauren Shuler Donner: It was with Noah, yes. Not with everybody else. But with Noah, I think for him, he just wanted to tell a story through these characters. For him, it’s always about storytelling. He wanted to explore the world and came upon this character, David Haller, and thought he was a fascinating character, and then went from there. When he told me his idea, for me and for Marvel, it was great because it wasn’t same-old, same-old. The only way we will survive is if we do not repeat ourselves, if we’re new every time we’re out of the gate. For me, it was like, “Yes, this is the way to do it.”
IGN: What do you consider the tenants of X-Men as a franchise that you wanted represented in this show?
Donner: The thematic core of X-Men is tolerance. It’s that for those of us who are different in any way — in a big way — whether it’s you’re a minority, you’re a woman, you’re a Muslim, you are suppressed or marginalized; it can go the whole spectrum, but even if you are shy or you feel like an outsider, and X-Men are outsiders. What we always want to say is, “It’s OK to be yourself, and actually it’s a gift to be yourself. Whatever it is that you have, that may be your gift.” I think that’s what we always want to say, and spread it out, so have tolerance for other people who are different also.
The thrill of doing television versus features is in television you get to focus more on the characters. You get to spend time with them week after week and watch them evolve, whereas in a movie we only have two hours to do that, so you have to take them from A to Z within two hours and you just never have time to expand it. Now, through nine movies, yes, we’ve had time, but still, it’s not always the whole X-Men cast. It’s evolving. Now we have spinoffs like Deadpool, we have Logan. This gives us a real chance to take some characters and examine them.
IGN: David Haller has very clear ties to X-Men and Marvel, but with the opportunity to have more time to explore these characters, why are there so many new ones versus bringing other lesser known X-Men characters?
Donner: We may. We may get to them. Hey, there’s 54 years of X-Men comics by now, so there are a lot of characters to explore. I actually pitched Noah two different ideas before Legion, but he said, “Yeah, can I take my own character and make up a story?” Of course. This is what he came back with, so the decision actually rested with him to pick that character and that world. We just don’t want to repeat anything that we’ve done in the movies or that we’re going to do in the movies. There’s so many stories to tell, we just want to stay out of each other’s way.
IGN: What was it about Noah and his very distinct vision that was appealing to pair with X-Men?
Donner: Obviously he can take an established world and reinvent it in a different way. He did that with Fargo. And I had read some of his books. He’s just a fantastic writer. It’s always about the script, it’s always about the book; it always is. If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. That’s what attracted me to him first and foremost.
IGN: What do you consider the mystery or the forward momentum of this season? Is it finding out who his father is?
Donner: Probably the driving mystery is, yes, who is David? But not in that sense. It’s more, “Is David schizophrenic? Is he crazy? Or does he have powers?” That is the mystery. “Who is David?” We just don’t want to get into the Xavier world, because that’s not what this show is about.
IGN: Is that something that you’re going to then intentionally avoid?
Donner: We touch on it. We touch on it.
IGN: What are the challenges in having this other, larger X-Men franchise? Will this be within that universe, or are you making it separate?
Donner: No, we’re making it separate. We’re our own world.
IGN: So even if it touches upon Xavier later, it’s not the Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy versions?
Donner: Yes, we’re in a different world. Exactly.
IGN: Why go that route? Particularly because Matt Nix said his FOX X-Men project is a part of that world?
Donner: Matt’s is much more a part of just the world in terms of there are mutants, mutants are hated and there are Sentinels — though very different from what we’ve seen before. You feel like you’re here in the X-Men world. With Legion, we’re our own universe. It gives Noah the freedom to do what he wants to do. Because we play with so many different timelines, and we rebooted and not really rebooted and all that, we felt like, OK, we’re going to throw it out there and hope the fans accept it.
IGN: Knowing that you can have these side stories between Legion and Deadpool in addition to the main series, what is the overall vision for the X-Men brand vision?
Donner: I can’t even go near that. That’s in the future world, and that will reveal itself when we are ready to reveal it.
IGN: More in a creative sense, are you moving forward leaning more into the idea of having standalone story versus connecting everything in a larger cinematic universe?
Donner: The cinematic universe will not worry about Legion. They will not worry about these TV worlds as all. They will just continue in the way that they have been continuing, and there is some great stuff that we are developing. I can just say it’s going to be new and different, and yet Legion and our other show, we’re not going to get in each other’s way.
IGN: What has been most rewarding for you in seeing how a TV show can explore the X-Men universe?
Donner: I’ve never produced a series, so for me it was a wonderful challenge. I’d like to tell stories this way. I find myself watching cable and television much more than going to the movies, though I love going to the movies — how could I not? I wanted to be in that world. The best writers are gravitating to that world. What’s rewarding also is this: you have a two hour movie, you can’t really delve into character that much. In a TV show you can. You can delve into character. You can get into nitty gritty. Somehow we allow, if a character goes to the dark side, if we’re hooked into that character — I’m obsessed with Peaky Blinders. Those characters are awful, and yet you root for them. You love them! Same with Breaking Bad. That’s not as easy in a feature.
IGN: When Noah came to you with the Legion pitch, did you ask him to let you know what his plans were for seasons down the road?
Donner: We evolved, actually. He came with the idea. A deconstruction of a villain was his template. That’s what he wanted to do, and a love story, so we knew that. The first pages went in a different direction, less fractured. More cohesive. It was much more regular. Then he kind of reconceived it and decided more Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Terrence Malick, more whimsy, more impressionistic and went in that direction.
IGN: With Marvel, we’ve seen as they’ve experimented more with TV and found a lot of success there, they’ve taken some of their top tier heroes — Daredevil, Inhumans — to the small screen. After your experience with Legion, is that something you’d be interested in doing with X-Men characters, like with Gambit?
Donner: No, Gambit will be a movie. We’ll stay in the feature realm.
IGN: What about other characters that are recognizable names?
Donner: Potentially. It depends. The feature side comes first, unfortunately, because it’s established. They’re our characters, so they come first, and as we decide feature world where we’re going, there are certain characters we know we won’t get into — or if we do get into, it’s OK to have them have an appearance.
IGN: What was it about Dan that made him the right actor for Legion? He is blowing up this year between this and Beauty and the Beast.
Donner: Isn’t that great? He’s so talented. And look at the challenge: he gets to play a schizophrenic, which is many personalities. What a wonderful challenge for an actor, and he just grabbed onto it, and he is all those different characters. He’s really great. We just, fortunately, got the right guy.
IGN: I’m intrigued to see an innately likable actor like Dan tackle what you’re describing as the “deconstruction of a villain.”
Donner: Yeah, and here’s the deal, because it’s Noah. It’s a deconstruction of a villain, but then you have a love story that has come in, which wasn’t in the comics. Doesn’t love conquer all? So will her love stop him from becoming the evil villain that he is supposed to come? That’s the question.
IGN: Fargo: Season 2 was the first time many people were introduced to Rachel Keller. What does she bring here that we didn’t see from her in that Noah Hawley series?
Donner: She’s much different in this. She’s a much different character. Remember, she can’t touch, so she’s withdrawn. In Fargo, she was way out there. She was in your face, she was in everyone’s face in terms of what she wanted, and this is the exact opposite. She doesn’t want any part of it. She doesn’t want you to get near. So you come from that place.
IGN: Rachel Keller’s character’s ability involves her not being able to touch a person. Was there any concern that there might be too much similarity there between another big screen X-Men character, Rogue? Or is that an intentional parallel?
Donner: In the Marvel world, some characters have similar powers. Initially some people might bump up against it, but if they really looked into the X-Men world they would see that characters do share similar powers.
IGN: What else are you looking forward to with Legion?
Donner: I am really excited that we have Jemaine Clement in the show, because I freakin’ love Flight of the Concords. It was so exciting to work with him. Just Jean [Smart] and Bill Irwin. There is no one who can move and mime and clown like Bill. And Aubrey Plaza, she gets to embody all these different characters. That’s what’s exciting about this show, is the unusual casting.
Are you looking more forward to Legion or the next X-Men movie? Let us know in the comments below!
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS POST ON YOUR FACEBOOK WALL AND WITH YOUR TWITTER FOLLOWERS! JUST HIT THE BUTTONS ON THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE.