'Legion': Dan Stevens Explores David's Daddy Issues and X-Men Origins

"It's definitely where we're headed. You want some resolution on that question," the 'Legion' star says on the subject of his character's possible connection to an X-Men legend.
Chris Lang/FX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through the second episode of FX's Legion.]

No matter how many times he breaks free, David Haller (Dan Stevens) always has a prison to call his own.

The second episode of creator Noah Hawley's FX X-Men series, Legion, sees the show's titular mutant trading one top-secret facility for another. If the final scene of the pilot veered the series toward a full-blown superhero space, the second episode continues the trajectory as David leaves the Clockworks mental hospital behind in favor of a new home: Summerland, a school of sorts that exists in the middle of an expansive forest and seemingly the Legion equivalent of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters from the comics.

It's worth stopping down on the name "Xavier," too. Even the most casual X-Men fan knows about the all-powerful Professor X, played on film by both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy over the years. But perhaps those same fans aren't aware that, in the comics, the good professor has a son: David Haller — aka the same telepathically gifted individual at the heart of Legion. Although the series has stopped short of confirming Xavier as David's father, it's at least exploring David's daddy issues in a pretty serious way. In "Chapter 2," Summerland leader Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) guides David on a tour of his own memories (a dangerous place, to put it mildly), where he spends some time with his father — a man who passed away a year earlier and a man who David can't fully picture now.

For more on David's new surroundings, both physical and mental, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Stevens and learned his take on episode two, the continuing romance between David and powerful partner Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), the mystery of David's father, David's drug-addled past with Aubrey Plaza's frenetic Lenny and the secret origin behind the show's most disturbing character.

David arrives in Summerland this week, his new home for the time being. What does he think of this place, especially in comparison to a place like Clockworks?

I guess it's a step up! (Laughs.) It certainly seems like it.

At least aesthetically. It's a beautiful place.

Aesthetically, yeah. The design of Summerland is gorgeous. We all walked in there, and we were like, "I want whoever designed this to build me a house. It's so cool." But he's still being probed. He's still being studied, shall we say. People are still trying to figure him out, and there aren't a whole lot of answers yet. I think that, in every scenario David finds himself, whether that's physically or mentally, he treats it with a certain amount of skepticism. He's not fully prepared to believe everything he's shown, despite taking Melanie's hand at the end of the first hour. He's stepped into something. He doesn't really know who these people are or what's going on. He's still hearing all sorts of weird things. It's an interesting introduction for him. The only thing that can hold him there is his love for Syd. It's an inexplicable attraction. He can't quite give it up. She's the only one who can talk sense into him.

"A romance of the mind," as David describes it.

It's a really interesting relationship. Fortunately, Rachel Keller is a very great and playful actress. When you make inherent obstructions in a storyline, like, these people are very much in love, but they can never touch, and one of them happens to be crazy. ... How does that play out? I think that's very interesting. It certainly became very interesting, the visual cues that they have to adopt to demonstrate something. We tried to find a genuine mental connection to the truth, which was quite fun.

This episode introduces the concept of "memory work," which turns David's mind into an actual location for the show to visit. Given what we know about David's mental state, it would be fair to describe his mind as a pretty dangerous place, right?

Yeah. It's not the safest place to be, I don't think. There are some quite weird forces at play, once you get in there. It was quite fun, playing an altered version of him very suddenly. You have the wig on. It's this strange, grungier version of David who emerges, with the Twizzlers and, of course, with Lenny by his side. It's great to explore a different facet of the character.

Let's dig into that a little more. Through the "memory work," we see David and Lenny at some point in the past buying drugs and smoking them through a frog. First of all, what were you guys smoking?

I couldn't possibly tell you that. (Laughs.) But I was very proud of my smoke rings! I managed to get a couple of really sweet smoke rings off, and they used them. It's the kind of thing that makes you proud. But Aubrey Plaza as Lenny, she's a total delight, really. She occupies this very mischievous and dark place for David. Whenever she's around, things get pretty strange and pretty weird for David — and also for me, being around Aubrey. (Laughs.) That scene down by the railroad, where it's bleak, and there's the dog. ... It's so weird and so funny to suddenly be in those locations, having been in Clockworks for pretty much all of the first hour. To suddenly be let out on the streets with those kinds of scenes, it was really funny.

We learn about a book from David's childhood called The World's Angriest Boy in the World, which Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) describes as a messed-up thing to read to your children. Cosigned! It's pretty clear that this book has had a bad impact on David. Is there an actual physical book that you were able to work with?

Yeah! Noah Hawley essentially wrote the world's most twisted children's book for our show. I wonder if they're going to publish it. I imagine they will! But it would be a little weird if it ended up on some child's bookshelf. Scratch that. That's an awful idea. But there was one. There was a physical copy, and it was useful. I love buying books for my kids, and it was a great sort of object to open up. It continues to feature quite strongly, both the book and the character of The World's Angriest Boy in the World, which is my favorite title of any book. But I think your perception of what it represents in David's memory might change.

David's father is becoming more of a presence on the show, starting with this episode. We find out that he studied stars. David says that his father died last year, and he wasn't able to attend his funeral because he was still hospitalized. We know from the comics that David's father is Professor X. Without spoiling the outcome, is the story of David's father going to be a major one to follow all season long?

It becomes a big issue for him, yeah, issues of provenance and where these issues may come from. ... I think it's always been a big question for him, and I think it becomes a big theme of the show. How much of that do we blame our parents for? How much should we actually own and take responsibility for ourselves? The question of his father specifically, that gets very muddy a little later on. It's definitely where we're headed. You want some resolution on that question. Because there's something strange about him being able to see his father, but he can't see his face. That kind of thing. We talked about how being in David's memories can be a bad place, but it's also an unreliable place. That's what I'm getting at with the book. Things aren't always what they seem, even in David's memory — especially in David's memory.

David is consistently haunted by the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, a nightmare creature that only he sees. What are you seeing when you're acting opposite the Devil?

It's actually a really great story. They wanted to do this prosthetically, and they had an amazing prosthetics team create this very weird suit with the eyes and everything and these incredible contact lenses. They were looking for someone to host this costume. They wanted a very specific physicality. They wanted someone very tall and very skinny, so that his arms and legs would be weirdly thin, and his body would be this weird gelatinous blob. Apparently they found this guy Quinton who works at a comic book store outside of Vancouver, and they asked him, "What are you doing for the next few months? Do you want to put on this crazy costume for an X-Men TV show?" If you asked most guys in a comic book [store this] question, you know what the answer would be.

A very quick yes.

Exactly. And he was awesome. He was just a great guy to have around. He knew so much about the world and Legion. But it wasn't until episode seven or eight that I finally met him and he wasn't in the giant costume. We would be having these very intense conversations about Legion and the X-Men universe with this very crazy Devil With the Yellow Eyes. It was very disturbing to look at. (Laughs.) The conversations couldn't last very long, as a result.

What did you think of the second episode of Legion? Sound off with your take in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/Legion for more coverage of the show.