A LEGION OF A-LISTERS
Scott Stewart and David Lancaster agreed from the beginning that in order forLegion to fulfill its potential as a character-driven action-thriller with supernaturalthemes, it would require an outstanding, highly committed cast. "The most importantdecisions a director makes are in casting a film," says Scott Stewart. "If you cast it right, somuch is going your way from the start. To that end, Rick Montgomery, our castingdirector, was absolutely fearless. He understood that we were trying to aim high anddefy expectations with the casting of the movie."
The filmmakers succeeded in bringing together a first-rate cast that includesaward-winning actors from both sides of the Atlantic. "We have the dream-come-truecast," says Scott Stewart. "It was so important to get these actors. We spend the whole movielocked in a diner with them, so the audience has to care about them. There are nodisposable stock characters; everybody is there for a specific reason."
The catalyst for the action of the film is Michael, a larger-than-life figure whoseems to appear out of nowhere. "Michael has such conviction that the other charactersfollow him without question," says Scott Stewart. "I didn't want him to be an enigma. He is theArchangel Michael, but you can't play that abstraction."
Paul Bettany, perhaps best known for his powerful performance as Silas in TheDa Vinci Code, is a highly respected British actor who has worked with the RoyalShakespeare Company. Convincing him to play Michael seemed an audacious goal forthe filmmakers. "Paul has the authority we needed, but given his pedigree, we weren'tsure he would be interested," says Scott Stewart.
Scott Stewart had planned his presentation meticulously in an all-out effort to captureBettany's imagination. The actor was as intrigued by Scott Stewart's vision as he was by thefilm's premise. "Scott pitched his movie better than anybody has ever pitched a movie tome before," the actor says. "He had all kinds of visual aids. He's a very impressivehuman being. There were rumors going around the set he went through Harvard andM.I.T. and Cambridge and Oxford by the time he was nineteen."
The unusual thematic elements were icing on the cake for the actor. "It's a reallyslick, fast-paced movie that is in no way stupid," he says. "Traditionally Michael is thedefender of mankind. He is known as the first in all heaven to bow down before mankindand he still has faith in humanity despite all the war and horror he sees. So he's having amassive crisis of allegiance."
Bettany's unique qualities as an actor made him an ideal choice to play theconflicted archangel, says the director. "Paul has an incredible stillness that only thegreatest actors possess. His work is almost surgical in its exactness and specificity. Thathelped make Michael a commanding, mysterious figure you immediately trust, even ifyou don't fully understand why. He turned out to be the most tremendous partner afilmmaker could have, because he cared a lot about the film and about his character-but he also wanted to shoot a machine gun and have a good time."
Having Bettany on board sent a message to the film community about theproject. "It said that we were up to something very different," says Scott Stewart. "Hispresence made it easy to attract other high-caliber actors."
Dennis Quaid, who plays Bob Hansen, the diner's owner was one of the first tojoin Bettany. Quaid has been a popular leading man for more than 30 years, winningpraise for performances in projects ranging from the 1979 classic Breaking Away to therecent summer blockbuster G.I Joe: Rise of the Cobra. But Scott Stewart believes Quaid'sreputation as a movie star sometimes obscures his acting ability. "Because he's beensuch a big star for so long, I think some people take his talent for granted," says thedirector. "That's a mistake. He's incredibly entertaining to watch. And in Legion, he isable to play totally against type. Audiences are so used to him playing heroic charactersthat it will be a surprise to see him as Bob, a man who has taken several wrong turns inhis life and lived to regret it. And he brought his crackerjack comic timing as well. Thereare some humorous moments in the script and Dennis made them all work."
The opportunity to work with this cast was a major selling point for Quaid."Working with really good actors makes you better," he says. "With the emphasis thatScott put on creating realistic, three-dimensional people, we could really kick ass as faras where we went with our characters."
Quaid was also drawn to the script's deft mixture of high-octane thrills andserious undertones. "The story really has resonance," he adds. "And at the same time,it's very entertaining and a great action movie. Scott Stewart came up an original twiston the Biblical apocalypse."
Quaid's presence raised the film's profile yet another notch, says Lancaster. "Heimmediately understood what we were trying to do. He would never just do a genericaction-horror movie. What he and Paul both recognized was the opportunity to appeal toa wider audience. These are really fine actors who engaged in this because they see itas something special."
Michael has come to the diner to find Charlie, a young, pregnant waitress hebelieves will figure prominently in the future of humankind. "We searched long and hardfor an actress to play that key character before we found Adrianne Palicki," saysLancaster. "Charlie is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks; she's is pregnant, butdoesn't know who the father is, and has struggled with whether to keep her baby or giveit up for adoption. Adrianne captured all of that in her performance."
Scott Stewart was initially unfamiliar with the actress' work, but was immediatelyimpressed by her authenticity. "She is not a Hollywood type," he says. "She's from Ohioand she brings a grounded realism to her work. And she's also gorgeous in a veryapproachable way."
For Palicki, one of the stars of the critically acclaimed television drama "FridayNight Lights," the character of Charlie sealed the deal. "First and foremost, she wasfantastic to play," says the actress. "It's one of the best female roles in my age group thatI've seen and to be able embody such a strong, intricate character was very satisfying."In fact, every character in this movie has a strong arc," she adds. "Every singleperson is trying to find their path. Scott was really great about letting me find my ownvoice. He was adamant about what he wanted, but he also did such a great job of lettingus discover our characters for ourselves."
Palicki was apprehensive about one scene in particular. "The childbirth scenewas maybe the scariest thing I've ever done as an actor," she admits. "I had a panicattack the day before we shot it, but there were plenty of women who supported methrough that."
The filmmakers were looking for a young actor who would embody honesty andintegrity for the role of Jeep Hansen, Bob's son and Charlie's protector, when they metwith Lucas Black. "With Lucas, what you see is what you get," says Scott Stewart. "He grewup in Alabama and now lives in Missouri. So he's not a Hollywood-type guy and it showsin how real he is as Jeep."
Black, who was barely a teenager when he starred opposite Billy Bob Thornton inSlingblade, was drawn to the script by Jeep's journey over the course of the film. "Hestarts out as someone who pretty much keeps to himself, until Michael comes along andbecomes a kind of mentor," observes Black.
Black was also thrilled by the opportunity to work with an actor whose work hehas admired for years. "Dennis Quaid is awesome," he says. "Our father and sonmoments really fell into place. The real relationships between the characters bring asense of realism to all the action-and there's tons of it."
The Biblical themes were very familiar to Black, who was raised a SouthernBaptist in Alabama. "There's some deep stuff in this movie," he says. "Scott has put areally interesting twist on it that I think is going to interest a lot of people and create a lotof buzz."
Bob's partner in the diner, Percy, is played by Charles S. Dutton, a three-timeEmmy® winner who has moved effortlessly between film, stage and television during acareer that includes a recent appearance in Fame, as well as leading roles for acclaimeddirectors Robert Altman (Cookie's Fortune) and John Sayles (Honeydripper). Scott Stewartcalls the actor "a force of nature." "Charles has a great deal of integrity and maturity," hesays. "It's awesome to have him in a genre film, because he really makes you believethe reality of any situation. When his character believes something in a film, no matterhow fantastic, the audience believes it too."
Dutton also brings a gravitas to his scenes, adds Lancaster. "He grasped theconcept immediately," says the producer. "Charles was able to speak very fluently aboutthe fact that his character reads and studies the Bible. He responded strongly to the factthat a person of faith could identify with this movie."
In fact, Percy's uncomplicated faith was central to Dutton's understanding of thecharacter. "He says he knew this day was coming, he just didn't think it would be in hislifetime," points out Dutton. "He's the only one willing to say a prayer, the only one willingto believe what's occurring."
Scott Stewart's script provided Dutton with a clear road map throughout the production,says the actor. "The characters are so well written that you immediately knew where youwere. You didn't have to ask a thousand questions. You just had to try to make eachscene as emotionally believable as you could. And when you add it all up, you discoverit's the Apocalypse. The beauty of the script to me is that this bunch of misfits has tosave the world. It's audacious."
But audiences needn't take all of that too seriously, he adds. The film has a greatdeal of fun to offer as well. "It's also a good old-fashioned horror film," he says. "We'retrying to scare the hell out of audiences. I call it a three-pronged joy ride. It' scary, it'sfunny and it gives you something to think about."
The director was also unaware of "Grey's Anatomy's" Kate Walsh before sheauditioned for the role of Sandra. "I'm not a big TV watcher," he confesses. "But themoment she came in, I knew I would never find a better actor to play Sandra. She wasunafraid to go to a very dark place with the character."
Lancaster says he was extremely excited Kate Walsh agreed to play Sandra, anupscale suburbanite trying to keep her daughter out of harm's way, without muchsuccess. "I can't think of a more interesting actress working in television right now thanKate," says Lancaster. "She's sexy and fun. She brought so much to that role andworked so well with Jon Tenney, who plays her husband, Howard."
Walsh was won over by the script's combination of well-defined characters andaction. "There's so much action in this movie and the circumstances are so extreme,"she says. "But it's not only a great action story, it's also a supernatural thriller and a lovestory. It has everything: birth, life, death. It's very dense and very exciting.""When I read the script, I was terrified," she admits. "I think the audience will betoo. But there's also great humor in it. That's one of the best qualities of Scott's writing.Everybody has some great kind of zingers."
Willa Holland, who plays Howard and Sandra's daughter Audrey, is familiar totelevision audiences as Kaitlin Cooper of "The O.C." She says her character is differentfrom most of the roles written for teens. "You get typecast as a teenager," she says."You can only get to a few different places. Audrey goes from the rebellious teenager tobeing her mother's mother, and then being the savior of mankind."
Holland confesses she has never seen a horror movie. "I'm deathly afraid ofseeing scary movies," she admits. "I get too freaked out. But I'm going to go to thetheater for this one just to watch people's reactions.
The contingent trapped in the diner is completed by Kyle Williams, a divorcedfather trying to get to Los Angeles for a custody hearing. The filmmakers were happy tofind Tyrese Gibson, one of the stars of the Transformer franchise and a Grammy winningrecording artist, for the role. "Tyrese brings a clearly defined, through-line to his work,"says Lancaster. "He's such a wonderful actor with so much presence that you just can'ttake your eyes off of him. When he's on screen, he fills it up."
Michael's nemesis in the film is also his brother, Gabriel, an archangeltraditionally portrayed as God's messenger and as the most faithful of His creations. Aone-time ballet dancer who stands six feet, six inches tall, actor Kevin Durand bringsboth brawn and grace to the character. "Kevin is so compelling," says Lancaster. "Hemoves beautifully but also has this incredibly menacing feeling about him."
The filmmakers were impressed by Durand's recent performances in X-MenOrigins: Wolverine and as the cold-blooded mercenary Martin Keamy on the hittelevision series "Lost." "We wanted somebody who could hold his own with PaulBettany, who's an imposing actor," says Scott Stewart. "Kevin has this awesome physicalpresence, and he backs it up with serious acting chops. He's really a character actorinside the body of a major action star. What could be better than that?"
Legion appealed to Durand on a primal level, he says. "Gabriel is being sent todo God's work, but in a way I don't think we've ever seen before-by any meansnecessary."
The through-line for the climactic confrontation between the two archangels couldbe called sibling rivalry taken to a cosmic extreme. "Paul and I played it like we werebrothers who were always vying for the attention and love of their father," says Durand."Michael was the one who got most of the love, without having to abide by the rules.Gabriel always went by the book and never got the attention he thought he deserved.This battle comes down to eons of competition."
The filmmakers secured the legendary character actor Doug Jones for anastonishing cameo. Jones, who played Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, as well as theFaun in Pan's Labyrinth, embodies all that is terrifying in this film as an ice cream man inthe throes of a dreadful transformation. And he may just be the most flexible man on theplanet. "He's incredible," says Scott Stewart. "I understand why Guillermo del Toro likes himso much. He's a great actor, but he's also the Cirque de Soleil of actors. He's so elasticand expressive in his face and he can do things that you would normally think you'dneed prosthetics for."
Glenn Hetrick, who was in charge of special makeup effects, bolstered Jones'natural talent with some innovative prosthetics to complete the transformation from manto supernatural phenomenon. "We didn't try to make him Mr. Fantastic," says Hetrick."We wanted to convey that he was supernatural in a way that will hopefully be verydisturbing for audiences when they see it. It should be an iconic piece of film villainy foreveryone to enjoy."
As menacing as the character is, Jones says he developed a good deal ofaffection for him. "When you meet the ice cream man, you think, well, there's anunassuming looking fellow," says the actor. "And then you tilt your head and realizesomething's not quite right about him. And that's kind of how people react to me in reallife. I walk into the room and there's a nice tall, skinny fellow, but something's not rightabout him."