Tag Archives: FX Productions

Legion’s latest recruit

Mr Robot star Stephanie Corneliussen joins the cast for the third and final season of X-Men drama Legion. She talks to DQ about Noah Hawley’s psychedelic FX series, its treatment of mental illness and her extensive preparation for playing Gabrielle Haller.

When the news came, it arrived via Twitter. “Noah Hawley is pleased to announce two guest castings for the final year of #LegionFX,” the message on FX drama Legion’s official account read. “Stephanie Corneliussen will play David Haller’s mother, Gabrielle, and Harry Lloyd will play his father, Professor X.”

Corneliussen enjoyed the chance to play a character with “real issues”

You can imagine why fans of the series went crazy. The show is based on the X-Men comics and characters that have spawned a number of action-packed feature films, with Professor X (Charles Xavier) – played invariably by Sir Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy – among the ensemble cast of characters brought together on the big screen. In the movies and the original comics, he is an extremely powerful telepath and the founder and leader of the X-Men, a band of humans born with mutant powers in a world rife with anti-mutant sentiment.

In the comics, he falls in love with Gabrielle Haller but they later separate without him knowing she is pregnant with his son, David, who becomes the mutant Legion, suffering from schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder and powers similar to his father’s.

For two seasons, Legion followed David’s struggle to understand his abilities as viewers followed his story through the character’s own distorted perspective, set in a hallucinogenic world created by showrunner Noah Hawley (Fargo) and taking its vibe from the 1960s and 1970s.

From childhood, David (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) shuffled from one psychiatric institution to the next until, in his early 30s, he met and fell in love with a beautiful and troubled fellow patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller). After Syd and David shared a startling encounter, he was forced to confront the shocking reality that the voices he hears and the visions he sees are actually real.

With the help of Syd and a team of specialists who also possess extraordinary gifts, he unlocked a deeply suppressed truth: he had been haunted his entire life by a malevolent creature known as The Shadow King, who appeared in the form of David’s friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), but was actually an ancient being named Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban).

David’s friend Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) was not all she seemed

During an epic showdown, David managed to push Farouk out of his body and gain control of his mind. But with Farouk on the loose, the team formed an unlikely alliance with their former enemy, Clark DeBussy (Hamish Linklater), and his well-funded government organisation, Division 3. Unfortunately, the hunt for Farouk reawakened the dark voices in David’s head, and within them, a lust for power.

At odds with everyone he once considered a friend, and Syd tasked with bringing him down before he destroys the world, the third and final season sees David enlist the help of a young mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai), whose secret ability is key to his plans to repair the damaged he caused.

That’s where Professor X and Gabrielle come in, as David meets them in some time-travelling twists that are entirely suited to the show’s mind-bending, distorted structure.

“There was a lot of excitement when Legion had found its Professor X, because he’s such a prominent character in the comic books. Gabrielle perhaps didn’t attract the same attention – but she will,” Corneliussen tells DQ. “Noah really did something quite amazing with this character. We had a lot of talks about her and how to shape her.”

Hawley has spoken in the past about how Legion is a study of mental illness, as David recovers from being at his lowest ebb, only to spiral into darkness once again. Season three will complete his story, which is one Gabrielle can also relate to as the character also suffers from mental health issues.

As an actor, Corneliussen has embraced the role of Gabrielle and put particular emphasis in her preparation on how her character is affected by her health.

“All roles deserve serious preparation but when you prepare for a role that has to do with a sensitive subject like this, it really deserves a certain level of respect,” she says. “It deserves due diligence and proper research, and because I am so fascinated by that within humans, our mind, I like portraying these characters to end the stigma around mental illness.”

Rachel Keller plays David’s troubled fellow patient Syd Barrett

The subject is a familiar one for the actor. In USA Network drama Mr Robot, Corneliussen played Joanna Wellick, a character who also had mental health issues.

“She had an anti-social personality and was living in this very controlled mania where she thought she could control people with taunts and that ultimately became her demise,” she says of the character, who she played across three seasons of the series. “She was living in a very happy symbiosis with her diagnosis, whereas Gabrielle is living in a very different reality and with a different relationship with her own mental struggles, in the form of depression, anxiety and trauma.

“It’s something I thought was very relevant, not only to what is going on in the world but also to myself in my late 20s, early 30s, when I started experiencing depression and anxiety. We just don’t talk about [our mental health] so it’s important to have shows like Legion that shine a focus on it.”

Corneliussen also relishes the opportunity to play a character with “real issues.” So often, “having real issues on TV is, ‘I don’t know how to pay the rent’ or ‘I don’t know how to get a boyfriend,’” she says. “You know what? That’s not society. That’s a bubble. It’s far more complex than that.”

In particular, the actor says Gabrielle is still affected by postpartum issues that stem back to David’s birth. As she’s not a mother herself, Corneliussen spoke online with people who had first-hand experience of similar problems to round out her understanding of the character and her performance on screen.

David (Dan Stevens) undergoes some time-travelling twists

Corneliussen is reluctant to say too much about Gabrielle’s arc in the series, only that she does appear in sequences that result from David playing with time. “My family were very confused when I said I was playing Dan Stevens’ mother,” she jokes. “We do travel back in time and there are a lot of things that Noah tapped into that are integral to the comic book story of Gabrielle.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met one person who has lived their life without regret, and it’s OK to regret choices that you’ve made. But it’s an issue when you start criminalising past choices and start beating yourself up about it. That’s when you can’t move on. But imagine having the opportunity to change it. That’s as vague as I can be!”

Corneliussen had the chance to audition for Legion when her manager spotted a casting call for a guest spot on the series, which comes from FX Productions and Marvel Television and is distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution. The Danish actor and model was in Copenhagen at the time, so she filmed an audition on her iPhone and sent it off.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to go to work than I have been on Legion,” she admits. “The crew were fantastic but with the cast in particular, who have been together for these years, I’ve never felt more welcome or more as an equal. Lauren Tsai, who joins in season three as well, and I were both newcomers, but we were so welcomed and there was no difference in how people were relating to us. We were invited to join and partake in everything. It was pretty beautiful. Amber Midthunder and Rachel Keller, in particular, were just really wonderful. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Season three was filmed on stage at Paramount Studios and on location around LA. Corneliussen says she was surprised how much the series relied on physical effects and an exemplary team of stunt performers, rather than the use of green screen. But she faced a tough time on set owing to the death of her grandmother just a month before shooting began, playing a character who is going through her own emotional turmoil.

“Having to turn it [my emotions] on because of what had just happened in my personal life was not difficult at all. However, having to turn it off again and going to a scene that has a lighter touch was a challenge,” the actor admits. “I haven’t had the experience of having had something very tumultuous going on in my personal life while working before.”

Legion exists in an hallucinogenic world within the X-Men universe

But having had the chance to work with showrunners such as Hawley and Mr Robot’s Sam Esmail, who are both the singular creative architects of their series, has been a boon for Corneliussen in her fledgling acting career, which also includes appearances in superhero drama DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and crime-mystery Deception.

“They really are frontrunners in what’s going on right now in TV,” she says, describing her experiences with them as akin to painting alongside Monet. “Both of them are very open to giving their actors creative freedom because they trust their actors and they allow us to take the material to places we would like to go. They’re always open to suggestions.

“But it’s a fine balance,” the actor adds. “You’re working with two geniuses and you want to respect that they have put a lot of thought and effort and their own creativity into what they’ve done. So I like to stay in my lane when I’m an actor. I write myself and I would like to be a director too one day. But right here and now, I’m booked as an actor and that is what I like to do. That’s my job title and that’s what I should stick to.”

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Light at the end of The Tunnel?

Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in The Tunnel
Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in The Tunnel

Season two of Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel finished on May 31, and although the official ratings aren’t yet in for the last couple of episodes, the show hasn’t done as well as its first season in late 2013.

While the first outing debuted with 803,000 viewers (live+7), the follow-up kicked off with 680,000. The first run settled down around the 500,000 mark, whereas the second season had been attracting around 300,000.

This reduced audience doesn’t necessarily mean the second season (Sabotage) is inferior to the first. There are several possible explanations for why it hasn’t achieved the same high standards.

One was the unfortunate timing of the show’s launch. Due to premiere around the time of the Belgium terrorist attacks, it was delayed by a week out of respect for the victims. This may have been enough to knock the edge off the show’s appeal.

Another is that the Scandinavian show on which The Tunnel is based, The Bridge, has become a big international hit in its own right. With BBC4 in the UK attracting an audience in excess of one million for the first three seasons of The Bridge, it’s possible that audiences have decided to bypass The Tunnel in deference to the original.

There’s also the time lag between the two seasons. Echoing the situation with The Returned in France, it’s possible that the lengthy gap between them has sapped the franchise of some of its momentum. By a similar token, people who missed season one may (rightly or wrongly) have shunned season two for fear of walking into a franchise in the middle of its story.

The Bridge, on which The Tunnel is based
The Bridge, on which The Tunnel is based

Then there’s the fact that Sky Atlantic ‘did a Netflix,’ releasing all eight episodes of the latest season in one go as a box set. To get a true reflection of the show’s performance, we really need to see how it did when those numbers are also factored in.

And finally there is the ongoing process of media fragmentation. Two or three years on from the launch of season one, there are new scripted channels and new platforms pulling audience away from Sky Atlantic.

Overall, however, the Ben Richards-scripted show has probably done enough to justify a third season – particularly as the cost of production is shared with Canal+ in France and it can be aired across Sky’s services in Italy, Germany, Austria and Ireland.

While it can’t compete in ratings terms with Sky Atlantic shows such as Game of Thrones and Fortitude, it outperformed The Last Panthers and is comfortably ahead of most of the US acquisitions that have featured on the channel (Vinyl, Veep, Billions).

As we’ve observed before, there is so much scripted content on the international market these days that it’s incredibly hard for shows to make their mark – unless they are placed in BBC1 primetime or the AMC slot just after The Walking Dead. However, one show that has managed to make some noise this week is Entertainment One (eOne) TV’s polyamorous comedy You Me Her.

Created and written by showrunner John Scott Shepherd, the show is about a couple who hire a female sex worker to introduce a spark into their sex lives. All three then fall in love.

You Me Her has been given a second season
You Me Her has been given a second season

There’s very little public indication of how the first series did when it aired on DirecTV’s Audience Network in March, but the channel is obviously happy, having just greenlit two new seasons. “Our viewers have opened their hearts and minds to embrace the unique relationship between Jack, Emma and Izzy,” said Chris Long, senior VP of original content and production at AT&T (the company behind DirecTV). “Audiences strive for compelling storylines and intriguing characters, and we believe in the potential for this show to grow even more as we continue our journey with eOne.”

You Me Her is the second collaboration between DirecTV and eOne. The two companies previously partnered on Rogue, a police drama starring Thandie Newton.

Commenting on the alliance, John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, added: “You Me Her is a bold, provocative show that grabs your attention immediately. We’re delighted AT&T has signed on for another two seasons, which speaks to the strength of these dynamic characters and storytelling. We’re looking forward to seeing how this complicated, polyamorous relationship that John Scott Shepherd has brilliantly created will continue to unfold.”

One story that has attracted a lot of attention this week is Netflix’s decision to release some insight into how its viewers consume drama series. Although the SVoD platform didn’t actually go as far as releasing any numbers, it did provide some insights into the speed at which people binge shows.

In a nutshell, the Netflix research looked at the way audiences watch 100 shows across 190 countries (though keep in mind that some of these countries will have small subscriber bases, so what we’re primarily seeing is user behaviour in major subscriber territories like the US, Canada, UK and Scandinavia).

Netflix-binge-scaleNetflix then created a binge scale (see above), identifying the shows that get devoured most quickly. Its conclusion? “Series like Sense8, Orphan Black and The 100 grab you, assault your senses and make it hard to pull away. The classic elements of horror and thrillers go straight for the gut, pushing the placement of series like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and The Fall towards the devour end of the scale. Likewise, comedies with a dramatic bent, like Orange is the New Black, Nurse Jackie and Grace and Frankie seem to tickle our fancy and make it easy to say ‘just one more.’”

By contrast, Netflix added: “It’s no surprise that complex narratives, like House of Cards and Bloodline, are indulged at an unhurried pace. Nor that viewers take care to appreciate the details of dramas set in bygone eras, like Peaky Blinders and Mad Men. Maybe less obvious are comedies like BoJack Horseman, Love and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But the societal commentary that powers their densely layered comedy paired with characters as flawed as they are entertaining allows them to be savoured.”

You might be tempted to suggest that shows at the slower end of the scale are not being savoured and are instead struggling to hold viewer attention. However, with strong titles like House of Cards, Narcos and Daredevil in that position, it seems unlikely.

Possibly a point that doesn’t come out of the analysis is different binging speeds according to age. A teenager or young, single adult probably has more time (and inclination) to watch episodes back to back than an older adult (at least up to the age of 60). So that might skew Netflix’s binge-ometer.

More granular insights are probably required to make use of Netflix’s data. But there may be a lesson for more traditional channels about the way they deliver their content to audiences. If channels want to make a big impact quickly, then perhaps they need to buy or commission shows that lend themselves to super-fast binging. But if they want to encourage audiences to come back to them week after week, then there may be a role for shows where audiences are happy to wait for the next episode.

Nashville
Nashville could be revived on CMT

In terms of shows destined to be big international hits, FX Productions and Marvel Television’s X-Men spin-off series Legion looks well-positioned to make its mark. An eight-part series from Noah Hawley (Fargo), the show will debut on FX in early 2017 after being produced in Vancouver this summer.

As the result of a new deal signed this week, it will also have a day-and-date premiere on Fox channels in 125 countries.

Legion follows David Haller who, diagnosed as schizophrenic, has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he is confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might just be real.

Finally, there may be a reprieve for country-and-western scripted series Nashville, cancelled after four seasons by ABC. Producer Lionsgate has been looking for a new home for the show and there are reports that CMT may be willing to pick up the tab.

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