LEGION’s Amber Midthunder previews FX’s ambitious new series
I’ve already expressed my undying love for LEGION on FX, which premieres tonight at 10/9c. When presented with the opportunity to chat with series star Amber Midthunder about her mysterious character, Kerry, I jumped at the chance. Having been mind-forked by the first few episodes, I was having trouble wrapping my head around just what to say about the show beyond “hey I love it,” so I took the chance to put it in her hands. Asked what LEGION is, she told me, “The story revolves around David Haller (Dan Stevens) who grew up believing that he was schizophrenic and then he went to a mental hospital for a few years and he spent time of his life there and then all of a sudden he’s faced with the idea that maybe the voices he hears or the things that he hears are real. Then he has a team of people who help him with that and that’s where my character comes in.”
That’s LEGION in a nutshell and it is so much more than that easy to follow description – it’s dark, mysterious, sad, full of danger, excitement, aggression, love, death, and that’s just episode 1!
I “grilled” Amber about working with this cast, with the creator (Noah Hawley), and what’s coming up – dive in and learn about her, the role, and the show altogether!
I love it so much, but I have no idea how to describe LEGION to people. I’m wondering, when people are saying to you, “What is LEGION? What is the show you’re doing?” How are you describing it?
We’ve got this down [laughs]. The story revolves around David Haller who grew up believing that he was schizophrenic and then he went to a mental hospital for a few years and he spent time of his life there and then all of a sudden he’s faced with the idea that maybe the voices he hears or the things that he hears are real. Then he has a team of people who help him with that and that’s where my character comes in.
Is this just one of those scripts that kind of came across or had you been looking to getting involved in more TV? What was it about this show in particular, this script that you said, “I want to really go out for this?” What was it that drew you to it?
When it first came to me it was an audition and I didn’t know anything about it except that Noah Hawley was doing it … That Noah Hawley was the creator of the show and that it was a Marvel property. That and the three pages of dialog of Kerry that I read was enough for me to want to be involved with these people and this project, but also to want to play her. She’s important. I care a lot about Kerry and all those things together are kind of the perfect storm.
Who is Kerry? How would you describe your character?
After I auditioned and Noah and I got to really talking about her. You don’t see it in the first two episodes, but she has really interesting challenges she faces. I think that’s kind of a theme of the show. Every character faces some sort of challenge in their selves. That was interesting to me. Just sort of in her, that she is very physical, she is based in the physical world, she’d very task-based. She’s very direct. Kinda a little bit aggressive.
That’s got to be fun to play that.
Yeah, a lot of fun [laughs].
You say she is very physical, is there a lot of work involved? Is there a lot of training, do you have to do a lot of that? What’s that process been like getting into her?
Nobody from the show ever called me and was like, “You should really work on being more physical.” [laughs] I took it upon myself to do that anyway. I started fight training, and started training regular, just kind of getting to know her that way. In the first episode, there is a whole action sequence where she has four fights all in one event. Kind of getting to know her and map that out that way and understand her. The physical part is so important to her and it helped me understand her in that element. I think that was very helpful, especially it clicked. You know, because when you go in from episode one through eight and when we shot the pilot all we had was the pilot, so that was helpful.
Talking about the fight sequences and things that we do get to see in the first couple episodes, a lot of it is based in this X-Men-y world. How is it like working with knowing the effects are going in, and is that really weird to have to know later something might explode around you but it’s not actually happening when you’re doing it? What’s that process been like?
So, a guy named John Ross does our visual effects. Whenever we’re shooting a scene like that, it’s very visual effects heavy. He’s always very present on set anyway, but he’s very present and very involved. There’s a large communication about what is gonna be happening so we can incorporate that, and so we can know about it, know it in our consciousness. There’s a good amount of practical effects, and then, it just kind of depends on the sequence. Some of it is largely practical effects and then he’ll add in a lot afterwards, but it feels like a lot at the time. Some of it feels like nothing at all. It’s entirely him. And that’s more challenging!
What do you think people will take away from LEGION? What do you think it is that fans will be talking about? Are there certain moments you think this is going to be a show at the water cooler kind of show? Or what is it you hope fans get out of it?
There’s so much. Watching it every hour, everything in every episode means something. You know, then it all connects to each other in itself. So I think just on a surface level when you watch the show there’s a lot to think about, just for the characters. In a real life sense, I think that’s what has always been fun about the X-Men. They had, I think it was in the DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, the X-Men movie, they talked about Kennedy getting shot and that was because he was a mutant. You know, like having David be schizophrenic – maybe, maybe not – and having those real life applications of mental illness and family, like, he has a sister … And you know, everybody has their relationships on the show. As you dive in, you learn more about each character’s history. They all have their different things to face themselves, and I think that that then just brings up the personal question about each character and kind of goes through to life. They might be superheros but it’s not like they’re necessarily facing their issues all the time.
Hearing you mention X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. It sounds like you’re a fan of the genre. Are these movies or comics that you went to after joining the show, or were you aware of them and a fan of them?
I was always a fan of the X-Men movies, mostly. I was familiar with the comics, but more so I was familiar with the comic book characters. I’ve always been a fan of the X-Men characters because they’ve always been so deep and intricate and complicated. I thought that was really interesting. But I always loved that specific movie.
A lot of shows that Marvel has sort of weave in and out with the movie and universe that they’ve made. Is this something that will tie into the X-Men as we know it? Or is this a whole new world of that segment that may not tie into what we’ve seen before?
I have no idea. [laughs]!
Would you say you want it to have that? Say somebody mentions Professor X down the line. Is that something that as a fan of X-Men and being on this show that you would love to see them explore as the show goes on?
I think if that’s the natural progression of the story. That’s the thing about Noah [Hawley]. He just wants to make the best story possible, so I think if he decides that’s best for the story, then absolutely. I would respect that. Or, if he decides that’s not the way to tell the story, I’ll also respect it. I think whatever he’s doing is really working.
He seems to be a whole new kind of approach to TV … What he’s done with FARGO, what I seen that he’s done so far with LEGION. It seems to stand on its own. What’s it like to work with him? I know he writes so much of it. What’s that interaction with him like?
It’s interesting because he directed the pilot, he runs the show, he’s literally the showrunner, and then he writes everything. Listening to that you might think, “Oh, he’s the big guy who’s in control,” and he is, but he’s really, really inviting. What he wants in everyone he places in each of his projects is for people who are creative, and people who are artists, and people who want to try things. I think after being a part of the show for a little bit, it became very apparent that we had a lot of FARGO crew, so they already had a working system, which was nice. We were a new show, so I think we were kind of figuring it out, but it was very apparent that everybody was really devoted to what they do, loved what they do. You know, they just have a high level of passion and a high level of collaboration and artistry. I think that’s what’s important to him. He wants everyone there to do the best job that they can, and that’s, like, not much written on the page then he’s not necessarily attached to that.
That’s interesting to hear because a lot of shows that are out there now … You don’t hear that. You don’t hear about that collaboration, that willingness to kind of accept what maybe the actors think this character should say. It’s kind of refreshing knowing that to watch it as a fan, too.
Yeah. Absolutely. I think that will show. I really hope because we have a good, I think that just everybody all together. Everybody on set. I think we have a really good working environment so hopefully that adds a nice quality.
Had you known any of these actors? I almost forgot that that Jean Smart was in it, and then Jean Smart was in it and I was like, “Jean Smart!” You know?
It was very exciting. Were you aware of them? Dan Stevens and the guys you get to interact with? What was that like to work with these people, some familiar, some not familiar to audiences? What was that like?
I had watched FARGO. I’ve been a fan of FARGO before doing the show, so Rachel (Keller) and Jean are both familiar from FARGO. I knew of Dan. He wasn’t like one of those people at the forefront of my mind, but I really, really respect him as an actor. He is amazing. He is just amazing. So I always respected him as an actor and I knew who Aubrey was and Bioll Irwin was a name that I heard a lot before. So yeah. It was a lot of fun. I think that’s what’s cool, is that all of us in the cast have a very, we have really different backgrounds as people and as actors. I think that makes it a really interesting working environment.
You mentioned FARGO. What other shows when you get a chance do you sit and take the time to really dive into … Watch every week?
I’ve been a big fan of TRUE DETECTIVE, when it was on. The first season of TRUE DETECTIVE was my television jam. I loved that show.
I know you grew up in a family with an actor father. Do you think you would have been an actress even if you hadn’t? Was it something you just felt you wanted to do? Or was it growing up in the world a little bit what kind of led you that way?
There’s no question that I was just born with the acting bug. If I had been born into a different family in a different world I don’t know that would have been nurtured, or that I would have the same pathway into it. But I also can’t imagine! There’s absolutely no question that’s something I was born with, completely independently from my family. I grew up around it, but it was never anything that was suggested to me, in one way or another. It was never something that was like, just the industry as a whole, not even acting. It was never something that anybody said to me, like, “This is something you can do,” or like, “Don’t ever do this.” It was always there. I was able to touch it and feel it and look at it if I wanted to, or not. You know. You can do whatever you want. But yeah. It’s definitely in my heart and soul. I can’t remove it.
Do you see yourself also writing and directing as the years go? You playing roles and also writing your own or creating work for yourself?
Directing is something that really interests me. I think that would be pretty, pretty far down the line. I imagine that wouldn’t be anytime soon [laughs], but I think if I have the career that I hope I do, I think that would be in my future.
LEGION airs every Wednesday, starting tonight, at 10/9c on FX!