The live-action X-Men franchise will move to the small screen early next year, though not in a way you might expect. As originally announced a year ago, "Legion" will tell the tale of David Haller -- a long-running and uniquely powerful X-Men character -- in an FX series helmed by "Fargo" vet Noah Hawley, set to debut in 2017 with an eight-episode first season. But beyond Legion himself, there are no recognizable characters yet to be announced as part of the show, and it's not clear how the show fits in with Fox's X-Men films.
The show had its very first convention panel Sunday at New York Comic Con, starting with a screening of the first half of the show's pilot, followed by a Q&A with cast and executive producers.
On the panel: cast members Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Katie Aselton, Head of Marvel Television and series executive producer Jeph Loeb, executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner and showrunner Noah Hawley.
"The X-Men was my book when I was growing up," Hawley said. "I met with Lauren and we talked about a few things, I called Simon [Kinberg] and we just started to talking. For me, I felt that i had to understand what the show was -- I almost started without a character in mind, just thinking in general terms of what would be fun in this space.
Hawley said the character of Legion really clicked for him; that he was either schizophrenic or actually had powers. "You're in his head, you're in his world, so you don't necessarily know what's real, either."
"For me, this is exactly what I wanted," Donner said of the series. "It is far away from the X-Men movies, yet it still lives within that universe. The only way for the X-Men to keep continuing forward is to always be original and surprise each time out. This is really a surprise. This is very, very different."
"When FX contacted us and said they were going to venture into this land, we always start in a very basic place -- tell us who the storyteller is," Loeb told the crowd, adding that it was very easy to say yes after finding out Hawley, Donner and Kinberg were involved. "I think everyone here that's an X-Men fan knows that at the core of every X-Men story, it's about being different. We live in a world now where diversity and uniqueness is something that's on our mind 24 hours a day. The X-Men have never been more relevant than they are right now. To have a voice like Noah's, and this extraordinary cast, you're in for the most wonderful surprise ride that will make you laugh, make you cry, and also, at the same time, make you hope that we're entering at a time when people will not turn you away because you're different, but embrace you. That's really the hope of the show."
Stevens discussed what drew him to the show. "It was a little bit of Jeph, little bit of Noah," Stevens said. "To see [Hawley] enter this X-Men universe with such a truly insane character, and really got to grips with the scope of the potential of 'Legion,' it's been a trip already."
Keller also talked the appeal of "Legion." "My sister and I love the X-Men movies, it was kind of like our family thing that we did," Keller said. "This sounded like a really different, creative way to tell an X-Men story."
Plaza on her role, Lennie Busker, and her relationship with the title character: "I don't think she would consider herself anyone's sidekick, but I think they're friends."
Harris, Midthunder and Irwin all also play characters with "abilities." Harris explained that he has memory-based powers, that an help people "feel, grow and heal." "My character is a doer," Midthunder said. "She's not one to dwell on anything. She has a very interested relationship with someone else." "Geeky scientist," Irwin said of his character. "Brilliant geneticist." Notably, Midthunder's character is named "Kerry Loudermilk," and Irwin's character is named "Cary Loudermilk."
"We want the show to be fun," Hawley said, discussing that he likes the creative playfulness the cast brings.
"There's a lot of intolerance, and I think a lot of that starts inside us," Hawley told the crowd. "The great thing about being able to explore this character is, before he can have a opinion about anybody else, he has to figure out his own shit. This journey is not necessarily racing towards a battle with an enemy as it is dealing with the enemy within."
First fan question asked the cast members for their favorite character trait. Plaza: "I like my hair." "I think it's cool to see how everyone deals with not touching me," Keller said, as that's a major part of her character (she doesn't want to be touched for reasons not revealed in the first 30 minutes of the pilot, though that certainly prompts fans to wonder if she might have Rogue-esque powers). Harris: "I dress really well." Aselton: "I also really like my hair. It's really been a fun thing for me to explore this sibling love and the protectiveness and fear that comes with that when you see someone you love struggling and you want what's best for him, and you don't know what that is."
How does "Legion" connect to the X-Men films? "I think there's a certain degree to where that's to be determined," Hawley said. "We're in the subjective reality of David. We also begin to realize, we're seeing this world through multiple layers of the confusion and signals that Dan's character is getting. I think it would be a spoiler in a true sense to say. I really like the idea of making things that are unexpected and yet feel inevitable. I will say we are true to the origins of this character, and leave it at that."
What's the panels favorite X-Men characters? Donner: "Jean Grey. And Xavier, of course." Loeb: "The first character I got to write was Cable." Stevens: "I'll say Legion, now." Plaza: "I'll say Legion, too." Keller: "I like Wolverine." Harris: "Storm for me. Midthunder: "I like Deadpool." Aselton:" I'm a big Deadpool fan, too." Hawley: "I'm an ensemble guy, but I will say, Wolverine is the ultimate outsider in a band of outsiders, so that always attracted him to me."
Is Keller's character name, "Syd Barrett," a Pink Floyd reference? "If you mix enough elements that feel familiar and real, it kind of reinforces that sense -- 'Syd Barrett, that name feel right for this kind of character,'" Hawley said, adding that he had a conversation with the show's composer that the series should "sound like 'Dark Side of the Moon.'" Hawley said the character's name was "his inside baseball nod to the story of Pink Floyd.
Will Legion contain any connection to other Marvel projects? "X-Men characters live in the Fox world, and we live in a different world," Loeb said. "The fact that I'm sitting here is an indication of bridges that are being made, and people like Lauren who are facilitating that and making that happen."
"Marvel characters, at their core, are people who are damaged, and trying to figure out where they are in life," Loeb said. "That's where it starts. We're much more interested in the person that's inside the mask as opposed to the mask and the cape and all the other things that go along with it. If you start at ap lace that's as strong as David Haller's character, then that's Marvel. I'd say in that way, it is all connected. We just want something that has truth to it. If what you just watched feels like Marvel, then it is all connected, and that's what matters."
Will Legion contain any reference to the title character's comic book lineage -- where he's the son of Professor Xavier? "I don't think you can tell that story without that element to it, so I will say you probably will," Hawley said. "There's a wheelchair in the first scene," Stevens added.
Will the show feature character appearances or other overt connections to the X-Men movies? "Probably not," Donner said. "Wouldn't that be great," Loeb added. Hawley had a longer answer: "What I enjoyed with 'Fargo' is, for the first three hours, it felt completely unconnected to the movie. We've got to earn the right to connect to the movie. I also know there are different waters to swim in. All I can do, all I can control, is the show."