Legion star Rachel Keller on how season 2 flipped the script on Syd
The women of Legion have suffered tremendously in season 2. Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) had been tormented and sexually assaulted by the Shadow King (Navid Negahban), while Melanie (Jean Smart) numbs her pain after losing Oliver (Jemaine Clement) with drugs. Syd (Rachel Keller), meanwhile, is coming to realize that maybe the love of her life isn’t the righteous man she once believed him to be.
She’s now faced with a great dilemma: if David (Dan Stevens) really is the threat future-Syd is trying to stop, what will she do to ensure everyone’s future?
For Rachel Keller, planning ahead isn’t beneficial when filming something like Legion. “The way our show is designed is much more about what’s best for that particular day,” she tells EW. It’s more about “creating an environment where anything is possible.”
Ahead of the season 2 finale on Tuesday, June 12, we sat down with Keller to discuss Syd’s evolution, playing two versions of the same character, and what this all could mean with the new season 3 renewal.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on the season 3 renewal. That must be awesome.
RACHEL KELLER: Yeah, it is awesome. I’m very excited.
When did you find out?
Maybe a month or so before, I think we got emails, but I think the idea was always that we were going to do it again, and I had a feeling that Noah would tell us if we were wrapping up our characters, so I knew we were kind of leaving our characters off on an intriguing note so we would be visiting it again.
Do you get a bit of break, or are you going right in again?
We have a healthy little break. I think it’s end of November that we’re starting again.
In season 1, you always considered the character of Syd and her abilities to be isolated and an outsider. Has your approach to the character changed?
Well, we meet her again after a year where she’s confused. She’s fallen in love, she’s found a home, and then he’s taken and they leave Summerland, and this person who gave her purpose and meaning is maybe dead. I thought a lot about what her life was like in that year, and we see her strengthened and stronger in her spine of who she is and what she can do, and knowing and accepting a bit more about who she is. We’re kind of testing relationships and connection and trust, and all those things are very tricky for her this season and in the present, all of those personal big life things are helping her see where she is an outsider and where she can connect to people.
You essentially play two different roles this season, present-day Syd and future-Syd. In embodying future-Syd, did you know the endgame?
The version of her in the future who knows what happens and why and how [she] certainly wants to fix it. Did I know? Huh. I guess I knew that she had taken him in the Orb, and I knew that she was going to try to change the past in some way. There were often times when I forgot I was playing her. It was surreal to get into the makeup and hair for her, and I often saw playing her as if I was a different actress.
When did you realize the hero of David was becoming more of a villain?
I wonder if I always knew that. The comic-book character is so troubled and complicated. He is always the villain, so I think I was always aware we were telling the story of how he got there.
With other Marvel productions, which are often so secretive, how far in advance do you map out the arc of your character?
The way our show is designed is much more about what’s best for that particular day. I don’t know. I think we’re more concerned with creating an environment where anything is possible, and there are no mistakes and no wrong answers or right answers, and living in that duality is the space that we’re allowed. The truth of any particular day is designed around the material and the story. We’re asked to go upside down, and that’s the fun of it, feeling very free and creative to bring yourself to the work on any given day, and work with the people around you. We tended this season to work incredibly effectively and economically, it’s the only way we can get the show done. Sometimes, I think if we didn’t have a budget or a deadline, you wouldn’t have a show to watch. We would just keep going and playing, and we love those edges of the playground. There’s room for us to play there.
I spoke with Noah this week, and he posed an interesting concept, which is that maybe Syd is the real hero of Legion. Have you spoken with Noah about where your character ends up and what the implications of that are?
She’s always been the soul of empathy and understanding and love, even in her prickliness, and a real hero doesn’t know that they are and certainly doesn’t try to be one. She is this young woman who is—it’s hard for me to say, exactly. I can tell you my impression, and that may or may not soothe everyone. It’s interesting to let your mind roll and go along this rollercoaster. What does it really mean to save someone? How does that affect you? How does that change who you are? She believes in love and that she is lovable, and that’s a very powerful place for a young person to be, and with that love and what she’s going to do with it, I’m not quite sure, but I trust Noah to give me something good.
I just felt like it’s been such a hard season for the women characters, like when Lenny comes forward and admits she’s been assaulted multiple times by Shadow King. When you first read the material, how did you approach it?
Well, the troubles that we love to see played out in the superhero landscape, these cosmic, almost mythological questions, why we’re connected to those is perhaps the insane personal questions that seem to be interlinked. So, for the women to be experiencing and playing out these really deeply true and personal hurts and pains of their lives or their loved ones seems kind of right to me in a way. I was excited to go into that really deeply personal kind of vulnerability, and it seemed the only way to wrap up this season is to try to be as honest as we can about the reality of living with someone who’s telepathic, schizophrenic, has a social anxiety disorder, lives inside someone else. These are maybe all things we do feel, and we are working with this craftsman storyteller who wants to thread it all through a Marvel story. It seems right to me.
You mentioned earlier in our conversation the Legion you read about in the comics, and how mentally disturbed he is a lot of the times. I know there isn’t a character like Syd in the comics—the closest might be Rogue—but I’m curious how your relationship with the comics has changed as you’ve gone on.
I read Elektra Assassin this summer. That changed things for me; sometimes it’s just experiencing the drawing and the colors and the illustration of the story that is most inspiring. My genuine interest in comics comes in and out.
Elektra is on a mission, I’m trying to remember exactly because I read it a while ago, but it was an eight-articled episode thing, and I read them all, and it’s tragic and disturbing and beautifully sensual and bizarre, and some of the pages are incredibly poetic. My favorites often were ones that were a full illustration on one page next to one that had lots of little boxes. One image comes to mind where she’s falling out of a window, and it’s very gray, and she’s in this blue dress, and I remember looking at it for a very long time, just feeling things. I had never experienced that before in a comic-book read and not exactly sure how that relates to Syd, but the women are often just as rich and full and brutal and violent and vulnerable, and that’s intriguing. I like that.
What I’ve been loving is how the relationship between Syd and David has gone. He’s emerged as one of the only people who can be intimate with Syd because of their own abilities, but she’s also realizing he’s losing his grip on reality and has to take action. In developing that relationship in season 2, what were your biggest takeaways?
There’s the duality again, what sacrifices and what it really costs someone to give up something for the better of humanity. I love stories where at the center of it is a big question, someone pulled between two very diametrically opposed places, and she’s certainly at the center of that question: How do I reconcile needing personal love and acceptance and also knowing, as we see in the penultimate episode, seeing things about him that she perhaps hasn’t wanted to see and know before.
The Legion season 2 finale airs this Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.