In 2010, Paul Bettany starred in “Legion,” a supernatural action pic that cost $26 million to make and generated $40 million domestically, earning few fans among critics during its release. (The film currently has a rating of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a MetaCritic score of 32.)
Spinning off the high-concept movie — which saw Bettany play the archangel Michael as he attempted to protect humanity from a wrathful God and His army of destructive angels — into a television series must have seemed like a daunting prospect, but if creator Vaun Wilmott felt any pressure from the assignment, he didn’t let on when he spoke to Variety ahead of the show’s June 19 premiere.
Rather than adapting “Legion’s” plot for the show, “Dominion” serves as a sequel, set 25 years after the events of the film, and Wilmott was confident that the series can stand alone for viewers who never saw the Bettany precursor. “‘Legion’ is definitely the jumping-off point for the show, but the show is very much its own thing. If you’re a fan of the movie, I think you’ll be really surprised and interested in the show,” he said. “And if you’ve never seen the movie before and know nothing about it, then it won’t matter, because ‘Dominion’ really just built out its own world. The majority of the characters are new. All the storylines are new. It really is its own thing, so much so that we called it something else.”
The show centers around a young soldier named Alex (Chris Egan), an orphan who was taken in by the archangel Michael (here played by Tom Wisdom) and raised in a numbered caste system that sprung up in the new civilization established following the war between angels and humanity.
Egan, who starred in NBC’s short-lived but much-beloved “Kings,” saw a number of similarities between the two series in terms of their epic scope and Biblical underpinnings.
“Similar to ‘Kings,’ [‘Dominion’ has] that hero’s journey. It’s funny — I seem to be really attracted to this sort of story and that self-discovery and that big call on [my character’s] life, like David in ‘Kings.’ But it felt very new, something that we haven’t seen before,” the Australian actor previewed. “We’ve done zombies, we’ve done vampires, but I don’t think we’ve ever really gone into this sort of [angelic] mythology, and there’s a lot of that in this show. The whole idea of this ‘chosen one,’ and the idea of God turning his back on mankind… It sounds like a really big concept and we hit all the beats in the pilot, but it goes so much further into the series. It just gets really fascinating.”
When “Legion’s” producers, Bold Films, decided to bring the concept to television, Wilmott was among a number of writers who met with EP David Lancaster and the film’s director Scott Stuart to pitch their ideas. After seeing “Legion,” Wilmott admitted that he was drawn to the dysfunctional dynamic between angelic brothers Michael and Gabriel (Carl Beukes), deciding to make twisted familial bonds the linchpin of his pitch.
“It’s definitely a family drama. It’s very kind of epic in that way, and those two brothers have chosen two very different paths. Gabriel blames humanity for his Father’s departure, and Michael sees it very much as ‘no, He didn’t leave for that reason. He left because he’s disappointed in us.’ So, they take a very different viewpoint on it, and it puts them at odds,” Wilmott explained. “But at the same time, there’s a certain level of, ‘I hate my brother, but I love him.’ Their relationship is very complicated — they’ve never actually been able to come to blood, in terms of killing each other. But it’s always skating on that edge, because both of them know that if they were to go that far, it would help their cause. In other words, the main impediment to having what they want is embodied in their brother.”
Despite its mythological leanings (and a surface similarity to The CW’s “Supernatural” in terms of its angelic brotherly rivalry), the show is a story about humanity at its core.
“I watched the movie, and I was immediately struck by the idea of these two archangels, these two brothers who were fighting over this human baby. And for me, the show just unfolded from that, the idea that 25 years after the movie, that baby is now a man. And it just started with a lot of what-if questions, so ‘what is the baby doing 25 years from now? What are the two archangels doing? What are the events that are occurring in between when we see the baby at the end of the movie, and the beginning of the series?’ For me, that was just the perfect kernel of something that could grow into a great series,” he said, comparing Alex and Michael’s relationship to that of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“They’re very much that kind of teacher/student, but also surrogate father/son. One of the things I realized about the series — even just a couple months ago — was that it’s very much about an absentee father. I lost my dad when I was 20, and I never really realized how much that informs my writing,” Wilmott admitted. “And the whole show is this big drama about the effects of your father leaving. It’s the ripples of that, that travel out towards everybody in the show, and everybody in the show has been struggling with those family issues. And Michael and Alex are no different. Michael has a plan — like a father — for Alex, what he needs to be and what he needs to become to be able to do what he needs to do. And Alex is the son that says, ‘I don’t want what you want for me.’ And I think those are really relatable issues, and I think both Tom and Chris have done an amazing job. The guys just have such great chemistry, and it only gets better as it goes on.”
Egan was equally passionate about Alex’s dynamic with Wisdom’s Michael, enthusing, “Michael’s really like his father, but then their whole relationship changes; he becomes a teacher and a mentor. Each episode has Michael really teaching Alex something new, and Alex seeing Michael in a totally different way.”
The series also features British thesp Anthony Stewart Head — best known as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” fan-favorite Watcher, Giles — not only playing a more villainous role, but also flaunting an American accent.
“I’d actually thought of him early on, but then wasn’t really, because I was used to him from ‘Buffy,’ right? So, [Giles] didn’t seem like David,” Wilmott recalled with a laugh. “And he sent an audition tape that was just so insanely good, it was so funny … He was so brave, and he was so committed. I was just like, ‘That’s the guy. That’s him.'”
While Egan suspects that people may have preconceptions about “Dominion” because it’s a spinoff, he’s optimistic that viewers will embrace the world regardless of their familiarity with “Legion.”
“I think people are going to be really pleasantly surprised. I would like to think people will be blown away,” he said. “I think even from the pilot, it gets so crazy after. The pilot feels like so long ago. You’ve got a lot going on, we’re explaining who everyone is, and once you start getting into it, it just gets crazy.”
“Dominion” premieres Thursday, June 19 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.