Aubrey Plaza talks to Awards Daily TV about entering the Marvel world with writer / director Noah Hawley in FX’s visually stunning Legion.
This article contains spoilers for those who have yet to catch up to FX’s Legion.
Television audiences last saw Aubrey Plaza on NBC’s cult favorite Parks and Recreation. There, she played emo millennial April Ludgate, the eventual wife of Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer. The couple made for a massive fan-favorite with his wide-eyed optimism clashing nicely with her lethal sarcasm.
Ironically, away from Parks and Recreation, both actors found themselves attached to massive Marvel projects. He, of course, stars in the Guardians of the Galaxy series. Yet, Aubrey Plaza’s memorable performance on FX’s Legion emerges as the more significant career evolution.
But is Aubrey Plaza surprised to find both actors in Marvel projects after such classic comedy roles?
“It’s funny. No, but I’m also weirdly not surprised. When I see [Chris Pratt] on those insane Guardians of the Galaxy posters, I’m just like, ‘Of course. Andy grew up, and he’s a superhero now. Of course he is!’,” Plaza revealed. “And April is the Shadow King. Of course she is.”
Of course April Ludgate emerges as Legion‘s big baddie Amahl Farouk, a.k.a. The Shadow King.
How perfectly fitting.
Making the Career Shift Into Legion
Aubrey Plaza’s hypnotic performance as The Shadow King stands out like a sore thumb in her comedy-heavy resume. Yet, the professional risk paid off tremendously. Given Plaza’s comedy background and the initial nature of her character, first introduced as Lenny Busker, audiences began to expect one thing of Plaza. Halfway through the series, series creator Noah Hawley and Plaza rip the rug out from under the audience, sending us spiraling on a surprising and scary character-driven ride.
How did Plaza find this transition from sitcoms to effects-heavy drama?
“I guess I approach everything the same, but the difference is the on-set vibe. I don’t really think of one thing as a comedy, so I’ll treat it differently,” Plaza said. “Comedies are fun because you’re laughing all day long, but dramas are fun too in a different way.”
Plaza’s significant experience within the film world helped ease her into the television world of Noah Hawley. As Plaza explains it, Hawley explores each episode as chapters or smaller films. Unlike films, however, one unexpected reality of Legion was the avoidance of green screens where possible. The visual effects team tried to employ practical effects in coordination with the required special effects.
The reliance on practical effects helps ground the overall series and performances in reality even as, ironically, most of the series takes place in an astral plane. It was an exciting and challenge dichotomy to explore for the cast.
Easing Into Legion‘s Comic Book World
Aubrey Plaza’s experience with comic book lore extended only so far. She had an awareness of the X-Men and of Charles Xavier. She understood that Legion, the title character played by Dan Stevens, was Xavier’s son. Beyond that, Noah Hawley allowed for a deep exploration of the characters.
“We had some preliminary discussions before we shot the pilot about the characters, but we would really just go off the scripts and run with them,” Plaza explained. “We had a lot of freedom.”
Perhaps it surprises you that Plaza found her way into a Marvel property. For her, the motivation to participate in the project had less to do with the material than with the opportunity to work with Noah Hawley.
It was a wise choice. Hawley clearly demonstrates the golden touch for groundbreaking series with the Emmy®-winning Fargo limited series. There as with Legion, he pulls tremendously memorable performances from his actors.
“Noah Hawley interested me most. I loved Fargo, and I loved the script. I loved the writing, and initially I met with him on the project for a different character. Lenny wasn’t a character I had in mind because, in the original pilot script, Lenny Busker is described as an older man. When Noah and I had our second meeting, he pitched the idea of playing Lenny which hadn’t occurred to me. When I went back and re-read the script with that in mind, I got really excited because I felt it was a really cool idea to cast Lenny as a female. There were so many things I could do with that.”
The shift in Lenny’s gender delivered an intriguing twist that allowed for Plaza to stretch her acting chops in a very non-traditional way.
Finding the Human Story in the Face of Evil
Plaza’s prepared for her role as Lenny Busker/Amahl Farouk/The Shadow King the same way she does with any other role. Hawley provides his actors each script as they shoot, so Plaza needed to make acting choices on the fly. The task went down smoother than you’d expect thanks to her approach.
“I approached it like I approach everything I do. I try to find the human story, the truth of the character, what he/she wants, and how he/she is going to get it,” Plaza explained. “My interpretation was really all about Dan Steven’s character in the beginning. He’s everything to me early on, and my character only exists because of him. That obviously became increasingly complicated over time.”
So, what exactly does Lenny Busker/Amahl Farouk/The Shadow King want? Season 1 closed with Aubrey Plaza riding off into the sunset. Her character’s specific motivations remain unresolved.
Or do they?
“Well, I know what he wants, but I don’t think I can say that. That might be a Season 2 spoiler even thought it’s not written yet,” Plaza laughed.
Season 2 starts filming late summer and should air in February 2018. Guess we’ll have to wait until then to figure out what motivates The Shadow King.
Because Aubrey Plaza’s lips are sealed.
FX’s Legion Season 1 is available on iTunes and Amazon Prime among other outlets.