“It’s a pretty mind-blowing concept,” says Dan Stevens about FX’s “Legion,” which is based on the Marvel Comics superhero of the same name, but this isn’t an ordinary superhero adventure. His character, David Haller, has advanced mental abilities including telepathy and telekinesis, but many of his toughest battles take place in his own mind. He has grown up believing he is schizophrenic, but there may actually be something else happening to him. “I love these kind of things: a little bit weird and playing with genre, but also playing with the audience and it’s a really delicious character to get your head around.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Stevens above.
David isn’t mentally ill, at least not in the sense that we might understand it in the real world, but Stevens still wanted “to do justice to anybody who might suffer with any one of these conditions … I think there are a huge number of misgivings and misunderstandings around the issue of schizophrenia,” he explains, and the challenge of playing such a man unsure of his reality also appealed to him. “David regards something that the rest of us think is completely crazy as quite normal, and something else that seems quite normal and pretty standard as completely insane, so everything gets flipped on its head.”
“Legion” isn’t the only thing that flipped Stevens’s reality on its head this year. He also played the title creature in the live-action musical “Beauty and the Beast,” where he gives a performance augmented by elaborate visual effects to transform him into the Beast. “It really felt like a brave new world for everybody involved,” Stevens says. “Technology has never quite been used that extensively, certainly not for a romantic lead in a film like this, so as different as it is to ‘Legion’ it had a similar level of mind-blowing-ness in terms of what we were attempting … To get to represent one of my favorite characters from fairy tales in any form was a treat, but to do it in this hyper-advanced digital way tickled my nerd brain as well as my literary fairy tale brain, so I was delighted.”
Stevens has come a long way since he rose to fame as Matthew Crawley in the British period drama “Downton Abbey.” Since then his career has taken him in wildly different directions — “Legion” and “Beauty and the Beast” included. “I had always dreamed of having the opportunities to play this kind of variety of characters and it’s not always possible early in your career,” Stevens says. “I feel like I’ve really been challenging myself as an actor in the last few years. I’ve really started to tick some of the boxes I had always dreamed of ticking, and there’s still a few more to come.”
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