‘Legion’ Creator Noah Hawley Breaks Down That Trippy Premiere

When I interviewed the producers of the Battlestar Galactica remake for The Revolution Was Televised, David Eick told me their ultimate goal was “To make a space opera that would be appealing for people that hated f–king space operas.” I thought about that line a lot while watching Legion, FX’s new superhero show, which Fargo creator Noah Hawley seemed to have designed specifically to be appealing for people that hated f–king superhero shows. (And for those who love them, too.) So it felt right that in one of Hawley’s first answers during an interview I conducted with him last month at press tour, he brought up BSG on his own.

Below, Hawley and I discuss the look of the series premiere (I reviewed it here), getting to play in a remote corner of the X-Men sandbox, ensuring that people watch Legion as a story and not a puzzle box, and more, all coming up just as soon as I enter the body of a woman and escape from a mental hospital…

When you first got the material, what was going in your head in terms of how you wanted this to look?

When I sat down to write it, there was nothing specifically contemporary about it, but I don’t think I assumed it wasn’t a contemporary story. Then, I guess we talked about, since the movies jump from decade to decade, should we be in there somewhere? Then it just seemed to me like the subjectivity of the show gave us this opportunity to create a reality and I don’t know why, I just found myself drawn to these ’60s movies, British ’60s movies; Terence Stamp movies and Quadrophenia. There was a sense of the young punks and these are a band of outsiders and there is that sense of teenage rebellion that exists in this thing. In a modern day sense I think we’re over that and yet there’s something about that period in us that makes something familiar unfamiliar.

It started with just thinking like, “Well, let’s embrace the brutalist architecture and let’s not have any cars, because cars date something, so then if you’re in a reality without cars, where are you when you’re outdoors?” We shot on this University of British Columbia campus where there were no cars allowed. Then the hair and the costumes, this idea of the track suits that they’re in and all of that was a process of figuring out what it was and then the music plays into that as well. This idea, as I said to our composer Jeff Russo, that the show should sound like Dark Side of the Moon, so he went out and he bought the patch cord synthesizer they use in the show.

It is this mixture of visuals and the sound and music of it that’s trying to create something that’s not about information but that’s about experience.

Yeah. It’s almost a ‘60s vision of what the future would look like.

Right. Some of the elements seem futuristic and some of them seem dated, but I wanted there to be a certain whimsy to it as well, and a playfulness. I always loved about that genre and genre in general was the pure inventiveness of it and the way like a science fiction story. The example I give is Battlestar Galactica, the remake. It’s the Cylons who have God. It takes God and it takes robots and it creates something completely new. It’s not something that you would do in a drama. It’s something you would only do in a genre and so what are the genre elements that will allow us to take a show that would work as a dramatic story, two people in love, trying to define themselves rather than being defined by society and it turns it into something that I hope every week there’s something that blows your mind a little.

There’s obviously a lot going on in terms of visual and sound and everything else. The opening sequence alone with just the series of tableaux to “Happy Jack,” that’s like a whole hour’s worth of stuff in about three minutes right there.