Rachel Keller on Legion, Marvel’s new superhero show
The new Marvel series, Legion, inspired by the character from Marvel’s X-Men comics, tells the story of David Haller (played by Dan Stevens), a troubled, schizophrenic young man who seems to be more than human. David spends his days in a psychiatric hospital. When a new patient named Syd (Rachel Keller) arrives at the mental institution, his days of numbness and routine are over. We spoke to Keller ahead of the Legion premiere.
THE RED BULLETIN: What was it about Legion that made you jump on board of a superhero TV show?
RACHEL KELLER: There’s so much Marvel material right now and I am a fan. Having Noah Hawley [writer and producer of the TV series Fargo] behind it just felt like a way to sort of stretch out something that we already really admire and love.
In the first episode, it’s hard to figure out if we’re seeing hallucinations or reality because the main character suffers from schizophrenia. Does that get more clear later in the show?
There were moments when it was like: Whose memory are we in? Am I in your memory? Is this an alternate reality? That was definitely a constant conversation that we had on set. Sometimes it didn’t matter that we knew. Sometimes I would have to draw a map: Syd goes here, then she goes here.
Was it a huge risk to play with the audience that way?
Yes. But when you think of risk, bravery and fearless work – sign me up. I want to be right there. Why would we make just another TV show? How do we speak to people who feel different? A young person who has something about him or her that they’re confused about, or maybe has been ignored and neglected, or maybe just not cultivated in a way that they know how to express themselves. I guess that’s a risk, but it seems like a conversation worth having.
One of the main difficulties when making a Marvel TV show is staying true to the original material. How did you approach your character?
We’re doing our own version of it, an adaptation of it. That way you free yourself. You have all new characters. My character is new. She doesn’t exist within the comic books, so you give yourself a lot of space to use the comic books as a jumping-off point. I loved looking at them for research – the pictures, the colour, the emotion, the intensity, how whimsical and fun they were, but not necessarily the actual words and story plotlines.
Syd and David have a very unique romantic relationship without actually touching each other. How is that?
It was fascinating to look at a young girl who has these sensitivities, these boundaries and then you put her in a place where she’s falling in love. How do you build a relationship if you have those kinds of boundaries? What is its foundation? It just sort of happened organically, that we built a friendship, which for me feels like a unique way to tell this epic love story. There is a kindred spirit that they can recognise. Relationships like that feel complicated to me and sort of messy and nuanced and layered, but sometimes a little magical, right? When you can really find a connection with a person like that. Dan and I were really open to letting each scene inform the relationship in a new way.
Syd believes in happily ever after. Do you believe in it as well?
She’s very hopeful and there’s a kind of naivety that comes with that. I don’t know that I believe it the same way that Syd does – wanting a normal life, a normal family. I think that’s part of maybe why I wanted to be an actress. I feel like I’m ready to stretch and explore different kinds of lives and different kinds of inner stories.
Will we see you in proper superhero costumes?
I don’t know what that means to you. (Laughs.) We looked at Bridget Bardot for my inspiration. What does it mean to be a cool girl who has boundaries, but also doesn’t want to scare people away? How does she dress? For us, it was black and orange, something that gives off confidence and brightness. Everything is so detailed in that way. Actually I have gloves. So yes, you’ll see superhero costumes.
Is it true that you share a flat with your grandmother in Los Angeles?
Normally I couldn’t afford LA. But my grandmother lives in LA and she’s just the best roommate for me right now. I’m in and out of town so much. She is the most non-judgemental, loving, cool 74-year-old sailor – she’s a captain and sails a lot. I feel like having a normal life in the midst of the flurry that’s happening right now is what I need.
Dan Stevens, your partner in crime, is well known thanks to Downton Abbey.
Downton Abbey was a real treat when it came out. It was a big ensemble. Lovely drama. Lovely accents. Lovely costumes. I loved Dan as Matthew Crawley. I miss him too.
Were you angry with him because he left the show early?
No. In fact I admire him. You make decisions as an actor and then you move on if you need to move on. You do the work that you want to do. Dan is a really sensitive and open guy. We go to yoga together. He’s a really centered lovely human being.