Why ‘Legion’ Isn’t Like Any Other Superhero Story
Production designer Michael Wylie earned a cool sand box to play in with his latest assignment.
Wylie, whose work has been featured on “Masters of Sex,” “Agent Carter” and “Grimm,” got complete freedom to bring the world of “Legion” to life.
The new FX series, debuting at 10 pm Feb. 8, follows the Marvel Comics’ X-Men character of the same name.
This isn’t Wolverine. Hardly.
“Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens stars as David Haller, a young man whose schizophrenia diagnosis may actually be something else. Something mutant-like, for starters.
To create David’s world, Wylie helped shape a 160,000 square feet Vancouver warehouse kissed by by architecture styles of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
HiT reached out to Wylie to find out more about his career, the anticipated new series and the bone he has to pick with modern actors.
HiT: Can you give us an artistic tease about the show? How would you describe the landscape you helped create, and are there any set pieces we should be looking for in the first few episodes?
Michael Wylie: This show is meant to take the viewer into the world of the main character, David Haller. To make things more interesting his story is being told by an unreliable narrator. So what we see as a viewer may or may not be real or exist in any world at all. We are shown what David remembers or perceives.
It might all be a dream, and that’s what it should look like. The Clockworks Mental hospital looks unappealingly cheerful. There is a very modern place where David goes to explore his powers. It looks amazing and impossible.
Can you share something about show creator Noah Rawley (“Fargo”) and how he impacts “Legion?”
Noah is the smartest guy in the room. Any room. He really knows how to tell the kind of stories he likes to tell. He has a confidence that makes one want to follow him wherever he goes. He is specific. Yesses and Nos.
This Universe exists in his head, and we get to have the fun of getting it out of there and onto the screen.
You started in the business accidentally, finding work on a “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequel. What was it about that experience that told you production design would be your passion?
Hollywood came to northern Michigan in 1976 to shoot a film called “Somewhere in Time.” I got to see the art department change Mackinaw Island from 1976 to 1880s. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to do this for a long time.
You’ve worked in television for a while now, and in recent years we’ve seen a revolution in the quality of TV shows. What can you tell us about this change from your perspective? Is it due to more resources at the showrunner’s disposal? More competition? Something else?
Cable. I still do network shows from time to time. Mostly pilots. There is a high level of fear with network shows. My experience with cable shows is that the cable networks hire someone to make a show and just let them make the show.
Have you worked with actors who have been particularly helpful/collaborative … can you share an example?
Honestly actors don’t give guys like me the time of day. In the rare times that they do it’s usually to ask for specific things for their character.
FAST FACT: ‘Legion’ Production Designer Michael Wylie won an Emmy in 2009 for Outstanding Art Direction for a Single Camera Series, “Pushing Daisies.”
I have to ignore most of these requests because if you get into it too deep with an actor you have to do it for all of them and then the show would be different. Best to avoid.
What would people unfamiliar with production design be surprised about regarding your day-to-day duties?
I would be surprised by the small amount of time there is in the day to actually design. There are so many meetings. You go from one to the next all day. When you’re not in a meeting, you’re in a scout van. It’s endless. I’d love to be able to design more.
What shows and films inspired you during your formative/training years? Which content inspires you today and why?
My favorite designer is Bo Welch [whose work can be seen in “Edward Scissorhands,” Beetlejuice” and “The Color Purple”]. I love everything he does. There is a depth of character and a sense of humor to his design that no one else has. It’s a singular vision. You can tell It’s him without seeing the credits.
I have had the opportunity to work with and for him several times. It’s amazing to meet your hero.