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Legion Season 2: Bill Irwin on Cary and Kerry, style, secrecy and dance-offs

The second season of Legion takes the viewer to even more surreal and mind-blowing places as Noah Hawley and his team of writers push the boundaries of the Marvel Universe. It’s one of the smartest and visually intriguing shows currently on TV.

Bill Irwin, who plays scientist Cary Loudermilk, spoke to us on the phone to tell us more about what we can expect from this wildly inventive TV show.

In the first episode of Season 2 there’s some great dancing and Cary Loudermilk gets to bust some serious moves. Was that all you or what direction did you get for that scene?

I did say to Noah Hawley that I’d like to get involved in the dancing! To prepare, I got the score from the composer and I got to watch some of the shooting of the bigger, dance-off scene with Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Jermaine Clement and the professional dancers. They shot a lot of footage of me dancing near the control panel with cables so what you saw was what Noah and the writers edited together. It was a real thrill to be part of that large dance-off scene.

How much do you know about the narrative and your character arc before filming? Is Noah Hawley secretive?

There’s a certain security with the show but also it’s fascinating to see into Noah Hawley’s mind as he’s freaking you out. When we get the scripts, we all kind of roll our eyes and say, “Don’t talk to me for several days!” So we can wrap our minds round it all. Then there’s all the different directors takes, in this season about 50% of which are women in this series, who tell you what they see in the narrative with a fresh, energetic eye. They place their ideas on what has happened to the characters over the process of the two series. It’s a process but it’s not without surprise.

It’s great that there were 50% women directors on this season. You worked with Ana Lily Amirpour on the second episode, I believe. How was that?

Her reaction to every idea and her response to the material was very visceral. There was some concern as to “What will Noah and Nathaniel Halpern think about her visceral reading?” It turns out, the word was, that they actually thought episode two was as faithful as any other one even though Ana Lily’s style has the feeling that she’s ignored some of what’s on the page.

What first attracted you to the role of Cary Loudermilk?

Well the first thing was Noah Hawley…he didn’t mention Marvel, he didn’t mention the comic series, all he mentioned was… [at this point Irwin puts on what we think is a Noah Hawley voice!] “I have an idea for a character who’s your age, a man of a certain age, who is literally attached to a fierce female warrior.” That’s all I needed to hear.

So far, Season Two of Legion appears to be all about the ‘Power of an Idea.’ What’s the most potent image from the show, one that has had an impact on you?

Oooo, that’s a good question, an evocative one. You know, when I think back on filming it’s the stunt work. It’s so wild, like expensive, feature film stunt work. To be around stunt players, it’s exciting and it adds to the impact of the storytelling. Then there’s these characters called the ‘The Vermillion’ they are these gorgeous women who kind of look like Sonny Bono complete with moustache. Some of them are actresses and some of them are stunt players. One of them may be throwing you to the ground or one may be interacting with dialogue or both. That’s sort of one of the Noah-isms that injects a lot of the mystery and surprise.

There’s so many great 60s and 70s popular culture references in Legion. Were there any favourite genre shows you watched growing up?

I went to school in Belfast for a year when I was in high-school so some of the touchstones I have might be the same. My fellow students in Belfast would tell me about the Daleks! I mostly grew up on 1950s American television which could be both terrible and wonderful.

In down time, who do you hang out with on the show? I imagine you sipping drinks with Jean Smart.

I do hang out with Jean Smart whenever possible, she’s a party animal, a party giver. In my trailer I do a lot of hanging out with Amber Midthunder who plays my other half – we call each other ‘other half.’

Legion continues Tuesday at 9pm on FOX

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