From an astral plane designed to look like a frozen 1970s bachelor pad to co-star Bill Irwin’s interpretive reenactment of fight scenes, it was almost as if “Legion” creator Noah Hawley was daring audiences to see how many GIFs they could create for each episode of his FX series. One of the first instances to make audiences sit up happened in the first episode of this surreal series: A Bollywood-style dance number inside a mental hospital to illustrate the sparks flying between Dan Stevens’ David Haller, a character diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his love, Rachel Keller’s Syd Barrett.
“The show is based around the idea that we’re going to give you this objective feeling of what it’s like to be David, and what else does falling in love feel like other than a Bollywood dance routine, really?,” says Hawley, who both wrote and directed the episode. “It started out as something small and then it turned into an entire day of production.”
Hawley had intended for the scene to be at the beginning of the episode when David and Syd meet, but it ended up as a dream sequence. That’s where Kimble came in. “Sometimes you film things and you don’t know where you’re going to use them and I’ve learned to sort of trust that feeling — that I know when I’m in the editing room, I’m going to want this,” Hawley says.
Young worked on the dance routine for this scene, as well as another showstopper featuring co-star Aubrey Plaza that aired later in the season.
“We choreographed the whole thing to a real Bollywood song and I ended up using a Serge Gainsbourg song, which added to the surreal-ness of it,” Hawley says, adding that the final music “has a Bollywood feel, but is not what you would expect.”
Young put together five or six routines and they spent a Saturday rehearsing the shots so Hawley “had a real plan for how to film the dance part of it — not that I’d ever filmed dance before.”
It always helps to have people who are comfortable with movement and a sense that they might be moving differently than “ ‘normal people.’”
The dancers needed wardrobes that would allow them to move freely, and, as Hawley points out, “the good thing about their hospital costumes, to begin with, is they’re psychiatric patients so their costumes are already pretty loose.”
“We spent a lot of time designing this hospital and what it looked like and it was important to me that this not be a depressing place to be. You’re asking a lot of a TV audience to volunteer to go to a psychiatric institution after a long day of work.”
Throughout the show, the space Wylie designed has “certain heightened elements,” like a pill-capsule-shaped light that glows when it’s meds time or the TVs on the walls that spotlight ’40s dance movies.
“Dan had food poisoning. He was a trooper and he worked all day and he looked terrible and felt terrible. But every time we counted down to one [to begin rolling], the big smile came on his face and he did the dance routine perfectly. That whole day he was green and, if you go back and watch it, there’s a lot of spinning that happens in the dancing. …
Hawley says there were “probably two or three more shots that I wanted to get. But at the point at which the AD came to tell me that Dan had finally thrown up, I called it a day.”