Legion Director: An Angry God, His Warring Kids, That Freaky Spider-Lady

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Take a second look at the promotional Legion image above. If you’re anything like me – or the hundreds of people I’ve seen checking out Legion posters on the New York City subway system – your eyes drift to the wings, then those abs, and then you’re almost caught off guard by the dagger in his right hand….and the Uzi in his left.

From the looks of the film’s preview – our review should be up Friday by 2:30 p.m. EST – this is what Legion is setting out to do: Slowly topple all of our preconceived notions of the religious hierarchy. Angels aren’t pure; they are badasses. Old grannies aren’t sweet and serene; they become the best monsters in the film’s trailers. And our hero isn’t the dashing guy who gets all the girls; he’s a wuss with the hots for a girl who doesn’t like him, wasting away his days at a rural diner in the middle of nowhere.

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Welcome to one warped superhero-horror-fantasy spectacle. Scott Stewart’s warped spectacle, to be more precise. We put six good questions to the man behind the Uzi-toting winged avenger we’ve all been getting excited to see:

Okay, let’s start with the most urgent question: What the hell is with that crazy, smiling grandma who turns into a bloodthirsty monster in the trailers?

Well the original script was written by Peter Schink, and I came in and took many of the elements in that script and re-conceived them. And he took that old woman and made something very, very different. She really truly becomes a monster in his vision, and that was kind of a major aspect of what I did, in trying to keep things a little more grounded. The idea with the old lady was the same as what we were thinking with a mall Santa and a mini-van family…the things to me that are the scariest are those things that seem the most comforting and normal. It’s quite disturbing when you see something so incongruous. here shouldn’t be little old ladies who turn into spiders. We called her crab-lady actually, since she looks more like a crab crawling across the ceiling.

Here in New York, the ads for this movie are everywhere, and I’ve had the luxury of seeing people checking out all these posters. And you can tell when they see that this isn’t just an angel, but an angel touting a sub-machine gun. Do you think that’s part of the appeal here, seeing this mashup that isn’t really like anything we’ve ever seen before?

I definitely tried to bring in that disconnect. I wanted to play around with the mythology of the Old Testament and the Old Testament view of God. There’s no Hell, no demons, no bifurcation of God. And because of that, I think this is a more psychologically complex God in the sense that He gets angry. If you mess up, he gets angry at you and he’s going to smite you. He’ll test you and he’ll do so in all sorts of different ways. And I try to let those scenes play out among those humans who are trapped in the diner too, there all these parent-child conflicts that give this story that allegorical quality. But it’s also just meant to be a fun, scary time.

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Why did you pick to have the battle right here in this rural diner? Is there a little bit of God versus the “real” America here?

There’s a fun aspect to it, yeah, but I like it most because it’s the last place in the world that you think you’d find a hero. Here, there’s the Lucas Black character who is basically the anti-Luke Skywalker. He’s obsessed with this waitress, pining away for this girl who is pregnant with another man’s baby, and yet he’s still very much committed to her. Luke Skywalker would be looking off to the horizon, saying ‘I want to go out there and slay the dragon and become a knight and get a princess.’ But this character would rather stay right here, and then ironically it turns out to be just the right place for him to be. This diner is ground zero. I like what that says to kids out there who might be watching the film, that maybe wherever they are is the best place for them to be. There’s a wish fulfillment aspect of it.

Yeah, you give us an unlikely hero here, but you’ve also gone against all of the stereotypical depictions of angels that we’re used to in most mainstream movies…

I tried to portray many of the images that have been constructed through history. There are descriptions of Michael being God’s general, and of the other angels being portrayed very much as warriors. So I took that and ran with it, presenting them as these mercenary characters rather than warm and fuzzy. And then I set it all in this very contemporary, graphic novel construct. And I think it’s far more interesting and fun as a result – but yes, definitely different than what we’ve seen. This is not John Travolta with feathery wings sitting on a couch. The wings now are weapons in themselves, they’ll cut you in half, help you deflect bullets. And the halos are now these collars, which Michael breaks off in the beginning. We referred to that has heavenly GPS – these collars help God keep track of his guys. So it’s almost light a Highlander film. (See what other sci-fi films we’re looking forward to this year.)

Did you find yourself thinking of religion any differently, as you lived with these sorts of angels for so long?

Most interesting to me was that an angel himself would essentially defy the order of God. And in that sense, they’re being portrayed more as children, and in these characters of Michael and Gabriel, you have something like Cain and Abel, brothers who have grown apart as one is very much about the Word, but the other takes things a little less literally.

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So this became a major subplot of the film. There’s the literal word of the order, and then there’s the intent behind the order. Michael’s character prefers to believe in what the actual intention is, and where things get interesting is that religion can do a lot of good but also a lot of terrible things have happened throughout history in the name of God. And a lot of times it feels like the bad things happen when there’s a gross misinterpretation and literalizing of God’s ideas. So my idea was to do this story that is dealing with issues of faith in all of its forms, where you have these characters questioning their faith in whether they should be honoring the literal will of God or rather his intent. It cuts to the core of the issues, when you look at so many religious disputes.

(But this philosophical debate ends with the Uzis…)