I had a couple of good laughs a few months ago when the Comic-Con schedule was being released. I remember looking around for other news items and finding that many sites had never even heard about this film called Legion. People were wondering why they were seeing banners at the Con featuring Paul Bettany with angel wings for a movie they had never heard of. I was laughing because I was one of the lucky few that was invited to the set way back in May of 2008 to take a look at this film, which stars Bettany along with Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, Willa Holland, Doug Jones, Kevin Durand and many more, in the directorial debut of special effects guru Scott Stewart.
We flew into Albuquerque, New Mexico and then drove to Santa Fe, but before we went to where they were actually shooting the exteriors, we stopped by the University of Santa Fe's Garson Studios to take a look at the interior sets. This was the same studio that they shot the intense jailhouse scene in No Country for Old Men, where we're first exposed to the brutal tactics of Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh. While the film is set in the present, it has a lost-in-time look of a 70s or 80s set with this tiny little old-school diner. For these interior shots, they went out and shot a 360-degree cyclorama of the exterior set, which they hung up outside the interior set so it would match.
After a brief tour of the interior set, we were off to the exterior location in a remote part of the desert and as we were driving up this vast empty expanse of land, we could see all the lights of the set off in the distance, almost like when you first see the bright lights of Las Vegas getting brighter as you approach. When wet got to the set, the exterior definitely matches the feel of this place almost lost in time. Rows of beat-up old cars adorned the set and it seems like this gas station/diner was also some sort of a garage at one time. There's even a small playground. As we got there, they were rehearsing a scene where young Willa Holland, best known for her role as Kaitlin Cooper on The O.C., has to rush out of the diner, shooting at these angels before retreating to the van. There is also supposed to be a mini-dust storm of sorts going on as well, and the Santa Fe wind wasn't exactly cooperating so they end up throwing shovels full of sand into an enormous fan to create this makeshift dust storm. Gotta love movie magic.
We ended up going inside the diner to retreat from this dust (which kind of reminded me of the early race scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and we all sat down right behind star Tyrese Gibson, who cheerfully turned around to greet us all. Since they were still setting every thing up, we got in a little time with Tyrese, who plays Kyle Williams in the film, an unsuspecting bystander who gets caught up in the film's events. Here's what Gibson had to say.
What stood out to you? What made you say that this was a movie you wanted to do?
Tyrese Gibson: You know, for me it was when I had seen the director's reel, after I had read the script. Then I heard about the cast that came on board and I figured it was a win-win situation. It was one month of work for me, it was a chance for me to train and get ready for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's a real opportunity to come out and be part of a genre film. I've never done a film like this before, so that's what kind of got me in.
Were you a fan of films like this, or horror films?
Tyrese Gibson: I'm not real huge on horror films, but there's something really special about this. It had a real spark, as far as the script, and I love that Kyle has a different energy compared to everybody else in the whole film that he brings to the movie.
Can you describe that energy?
Tyrese Gibson: It's just that Kyle is... look at my outfit. It's not too urban, it's not too rock-star, it's like right down the middle, so I love that because they love to make the black guy from the ghetto, in every movie. So I wanted to make sure that my look was down and I could focus on the acting instead of what the clothes make me, so that was important. Other than that, the whole time throughout the film, it's heavily established that I'm trying to get to this court proceeding that's happening where my wife is trying to take my child, so I stop over to get directions and end up dealing with the apocalypse (Laughs).
You have some really incredible co-stars with Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid. Can you talk about working with these people?
Tyrese Gibson: Well Dennis Quaid I've worked with before on Flight of the Phoenix, so this is a real reunion for us. I told Dennis that I'm starting to not like him because every time I do a movie with him, I'm in the desert somewhere with mountains and dust around. But Paul Bettany has been a real joy. We click, have great chemistry and certain people, when I get on film sets, I figure out who I'm going to watch and who I'm going to study and take on nuances about ways they deliver dialogue, and his presence on camera is really strong. I want to do another one with Paul, for sure.
How was it like working with Scott as a first-time director? Have you noticed any differences from more veteran directors?
Tyrese Gibson: You know, honestly, Scott's approach is very veteran-like. I guess, the thing that he owns (visual effects house) Orphanage, and working on Pirates and all of these huge films, doing all the special effects, they have to work so closely with the director, so he's able to get in everybody's head and find out how they think and find out how they go about delivering these huge action sequences. It feels like he's one foot in and one foot out. I have no complaints. I've worked with worse directors in my career.
After Tyrese was called back to work, we were joined by Willa Holland, who plays Audrey Anderson in the film and seemed to be getting the action work down really well, from what we saw. Here's what this up and coming young actress had to say.
So you're looking very glamorous tonight.
Willa Holland: Extremely glamorous. I don't know if it's still in my face, all the blood splattered across me. It just doesn't get any better than this.
Did you watch any other apocalyptic horror movies, in preparation for this?
Willa Holland: The thing is, I get scared really easily. The last horror film I... well, really the only one I've ever seen, is my boyfriend tricked me into seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but telling me we got tickets for a different film. We walked into that theater and I walked out five times. I can't deal with anything scary, but this I can deal with because I can see how it happens.
So can you tell us a bit about your character then?
Willa Holland: I play Audrey Anderson. She's your rebellious teenager, she's trying to get away from her family, be on her own, have her own rules and stuff like that. Then this whole scenario comes down. She has this older persona that she tries to put on, she tries to act older than she is, dresses older than she is, everything like that. This stuff happens and all she really wants is her mother. She goes back into this childish way and then when she realizes that her mother isn't exactly in a place to care for her now, to say the least, she ends up finally taking charge and just being that person that she kind of tried to be, this independent spirited woman and she just pops out of her shell. She's taking on this new world, shooting guns and attacking demons, which I don't think she ever planned on doing.
Have you ever done action before?
Willa Holland: I have not. It's pretty interesting, I have to say. I'm having a blast. I was a little skeptical about it. Running and exercise, I avoid at all costs, but I kind of like it. It's like my own little workout.
So what exactly were you doing in this scene where you got blood all over yourself?
Willa Holland: I was shooting demons. (The producers call her back to work) And now I get to shoot them again (Laughs).
We tried to get to talk more with Holland, but, alas, we didn't get to talk to her again. While we were still waiting for the shot to be set up (movie sets involve a lot of waiting, if you haven't gathered), we were told we'd have some availability with the beautiful Adrianne Palicki, who you have seen as Tyra Collette on Friday Night Lights and also a few episodes of Supernatural as Jessica Moore. Palicki plays a very pivotal role in the film as Charlie, a young waitress who learns that the baby she's carrying is actually the last hope for humanity. As we entered her trailer, while she was getting her hair worked on, the actress was reading the graphic novel Wanted (this was still before the film had come out), which everyone in the press corps thought was pretty cool. Here's what this lovely actress had to say.
So is she almost a Mary character, almost?
Adrianne Palicki: Um, yes, you could say that (Laughs). A version of that, for sure. She's a little bit more trailer-trash than that, but it's exciting to play her.
So it is a sort of nativity story allegory then?
Is there any comedy in what you're doing, as far as the trailer-trash side of it?
Adrianne Palicki: I mean, yeah, I think there's comedy to Charlie, but it's very genuine. She's very genuine in where she's coming from. She's been through a lot. She's single and pregnant and doesn't have anywhere to go.
What was it about her that was so interesting to you?
Adrianne Palicki: Well, it's hard to find really strong female parts, in this day and age. To have this girl that was my age, who was dealing with all these hardships, who has so much heart behind her and, also, this progression that happens throughout the story. All of these characters change, completely. It's like a 180, so to have these different characteristics come to life and change throughout the movie, it was an amazing thing for me to do because it's a challenge.
Do you have any action scenes with this pregnant belly? Is this like Juno's Revenge: The Payback?
Adrianne Palicki: (Laughs) I like that! I'm going to use that (Laughs). No, she has quite a bit of action. She's kind of, in part, the reason that all of this is happening, so she gets to whoop a little angel ass.
Do you get to shoot anybody?
Adrianne Palicki: I don't get to shoot anybody. That kind of sucks (Laughs).
What's Charlie's reaction when the apocalypse starts to happen, when she's at the diner?
Adrianne Palicki: Well, let's think. Disbelief, fear, not believing that it's actually happening. The whole thing is quite scary and I think all these people are in disbelief until something horrific happens in the diner where it's obvious to everyone that it's a supernatural thing that's going on.
Does she find her inner hero?
Adrianne Palicki: She does find her inner hero and she also finds her heart, I think, in this. She's very adamant about taking care of herself and not thinking about the baby and not thinking about anyone else in the world and she comes full-circle.
So how have you enjoyed working with Tyrese and Paul in this?
Adrianne Palicki: Oh, they're amazing. This cast is fantastic and the best part is nobody is egotistical in this movie. Everybody is so fun and great and we've all kind of meshed and become a little family.
Do you have a lot of scenes with both of them?
Adrianne Palicki: Yes. A lot of my scenes are with Paul. He's kind of my protector, if you will, but Tyrese as well. He's a hoot.
Was it tough to get used to wearing that belly around?
Adrianne Palicki: Yeah. They weighted it and it's about eight pounds, because they wanted me to have the real thing when I was running. Because that would be rude if I was just running and was like, 'Hey guys!' (Laughs). So it's good to have that weight, but after 11 hours in it, I kind of want to shoot myself. So, I know I won't be pregnant anytime soon (Laughs). But at this point, I'm kind of used to the belly.
There has been sequel talk already, so have you signed on for that already?
Adrianne Palicki: Yes, I signed on for three, so we will see if that happens. Hopefully this does really well and I really believe in this too, watching the shots. Scott Stewart is fantastic and obviously he has a strong background in special effects, but just these photos, watching other people work, it's beautiful. Then to have such a great cast, I think it's going to do really well. It's going to be very controversial too.
Do you like that aspect of it?
Adrianne Palicki: I do, I do. I think it appeals to everybody, but there's always going to be a naysayer.
After we talked to Adrianne we went down the row of StarWagon trailers to check in on Paul Bettany, who plays the angel Michael, who comes to protect Charlie's baby from the hordes of other-worldly beings sent to destroy it. When we entered his trailer, we noticed that Bettany was sporting some slick neck tattoos for his character that looked rather cool. Here's what Bettany had to say.
I love the tattoos that you have there.
Paul Bettany: Yeah. Today's scene, I'm wearing a coat, so you only see from here, but they actually go all over my body, including my... I don't want to say (Laughs). The application of those is a private matter.
Did they develop a language for this and does it all actually mean something?
Paul Bettany: They didn't develop a language, no. They developed the actual type-set. It was developed by a man called John D, and you'll have to check this, but he was a necromancer who was apparently in touch with angels. They gave him their language and this actually all says stuff. You'll have to forgive me, because I have about 60 tattoos or more, something like that, so I don't know what each of them say, but they do say stuff. This one, I know, says, 'If you are freeze-framing this film, you are really weird' (Laughs).
As an actor, where do you find an in on a character that is an angel?
Paul Bettany: I have a lot of experience being an angel. You know what, you can't, is the real answer. Other people would like to you, but I wouldn't. You really can't, because clearly it's not something that you can experience. But what you can do is approximate a mixture of things. The thing that really appealed to me about Michael is what I found about delving into the worldwide waste of time was he was the first angel in all heaven to bow down before humans. He was Adam and Eve's protector and that really appealed to me, during the whole fall and all of that stuff, that he really believes in human beings, as I, Paul, do. I really liked that. I really liked the idea of a protector who had a sort of single-minded objective. Also, my objective in this is to save the human race, and that's also impossible to play, so you have to come up with substitutes. I have two children and a wife who I'm quite fond of, and I simply wouldn't want anything awful to happen to them, so I mix my fascination with the mythology of angels with my real-life objective to keep my children safe and to keep them as happy as possible, with something that is more accessible of the attitude of a warrior. One can only deal with one's own fantasies about what an angel is. I began to try to create something that is a little more concrete with our archangel Michael. Listen, everyone's going to see me fall from heaven and cut a f&^%ing wing out of my back, so they're going to know you're an angel. That bit is sort of dealt with. The rest of it is, weirdly, about humanizing the character, if that makes any f&$%ing sense. I'm an angel that swears, clearly.
Is there any sort of character that you could compare Michael to?
Paul Bettany: Well, yes, he's an archetype in that he's a hero with a really clear objective, and there's lots of those, so you can broadly relate him to lots of heroes in movies. But he's a f&$%ing angel, you know what I mean? He's an angel who's decided to take a stand against God, quite an impossible feat. I, personally, have no frame of reference. I've had a few angry directors, but, you know what I mean.
Is he a tragic figure, in that he's turning against God or defying God?
Paul Bettany: I guess that entirely depends on your point of view. If you think human beings deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth, then no he's not a tragic figure. What I like about the film is that Scott has created this movie that's about hope in the face of really appalling odds, which is a fantastic version of what we're all, I guess, feeling on some level.
I believe you were the first to come on, so what was the process like of seeing the rest of this cast come together?
Paul Bettany: Well, I read the script and it really appealed to me. I've always had a fascination with zombie movies and it felt like a zombie-western-angel movie. I thought it sounded cool and I've never done anything like it, which also felt sort of cool and then I met Scott, who had an incredibly clear vision of what he wanted to do. Everything sort of fit. I like genre movies, I really do. I've said it a lot that I've wanted to do as many different things as I can, and be involved with as many different genres of movies. Scott was incredibly clear of what he wanted to do with it and getting to work with a first-time director who had a vast first-hand knowledge of working in movies, which doesn't often happen. You get all of that enthusiasm along with someone who has worked in that field. People's fantasies about directing are often clearly different than actually directing.
As a fallen angel, do you have a lot of direct action yourself, or does he have a lot of supernatural powers?
Paul Bettany: I forgo all my supernatural powers when I get rid of my wings. I think they're referred to as the Dogs of Heaven, and he also has a collar around his neck that comes off as well. All of that, I forgo. I'm just really really really good at fighting, which is awesome, and it's hard not to practice something you're really good at. So, Michael, despite having gotten rid of his wings, he's just really really good at fighting.
After we spoke with Paul, we went back to the set to try and catch some more of the filming, but we didn't really get to see a whole lot. As it is on most movie sets I've been on, you play the "hurry up and wait" game, as tons of little things need to be done before the cameras can even start rolling. At just before 1 AM, they wrapped for "lunch" and we got to talk to the first-time director Scott Stewart. As you've seen other cast members mention, Stewart runs the Orphanage, which has done special effects for such films as Sin City, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Iron Man and even some of the enhanced effects found on the Blade Runner Final Cut DVD from a few years ago. We gathered around a table in this massive catering tent structure to talk with Stewart about his directorial debut, and here's what he had to say.
So how's the shoot going?
Scott Stewart: We're working with some children in this scene, so it's a challenge. We only get 3½ hours with them, and we happen to be shooting with them in May, so our nights are really short as well. It doesn't become really dark until about 8:30 or so. That creates a lot of pressure to shoot really fast. It's hectic, and it'll get a little less hectic even though we'll stage more complex action sequences after lunch. That's when we have things with Paul Bettany and Tyrese Gibson. They're doing they're stuff with the baddies of our movie.
Speaking of Paul and Tyrese, and Dennis Quaid, you've got a great cast. How did you score this kind of cast for a genre film?
Scott Stewart: Sleight of hand. A lot of really sophisticated references that may not figure into the movie itself. It started with Paul Bettany, actually. I wanted to have an action hero that was not known as an action star. That sort of takes a certain group of people out of the picture. I wanted people who are though of for their acting and not their gymnastic abilities or their muscles. I wanted to make that guy into an action star and Paul Bettany is somebody whose career I've followed very closely. He needed to have the thousand-yard stare. Part Steve McQueen, part something supernatural. Somebody you can believe is eternal. There aren't a lot of actors who can play that. Paul is somebody who you would believe that, but he hasn't had a chance to play that kind of character yet. So we set our sights on Paul, but we didn't think in a million years he'd want to do it. My background is in visual effects, so I gave him a lot of visual information, a lot of concept designs, a lot of storyboards. We were trying to get all high-falutin' with him, and he's like, "I don't want to do a period drama. I want to kill a lot of bad guys with machine guns and jump off buildings." And once that started to happen, everything else fell into place.
This movie looks like it could be a comic book.
Scott Stewart: That's definitely what we're going for. We all love movies, right? And we like comic books and comic book movies... most of the time. To me, my favorite comic book movies were the ones that were never based on comic books, like Unforgiven. That's more the kind of thing that get us inspired. Usually when you say something's a comic book movie, it means you turn on the purple and green lights. Suddenly that means it's more like a comic book, and It's not really like that. It's more of a sensibility. Visual effects people get such a bad rap - that all they care about is pixels; they don't pay attention to the acting. I worked for George Lucas. He told us a story that early on he made THX 1138, and Francis Ford Coppola had produced that for him, and said, "If you really want to be a mainstream filmmaker, you got to learn how to write a classically structured film." Then he wrote American Graffiti, which at the time was quite innovative, but is now thought of as one of the most classically structured films. So I had really taken that to heart and just focused on writing. It always starts with the script. I think if the actors had seen a lot of fancy visuals but hadn't liked the script, they wouldn't have done the film. None of these people need to do this movie. I think they are doing it because it would be fun and different.
As a director, how demanding are you of your visual effects?
Scott Stewart: I told all my people, "I'm going to do it this way. It's going to be really hard, but it'll look better, so I'm sorry in advance." But they're all game for that. They just want to make cool shots, and in the service of the story.
Is there a possibility of a sequel?
Scott Stewart: Yeah. Jim Cameron is a god to me, particularly in the way he sequelizes movies. Alien vs. Aliens, I love both of those movies. It's so clever what he did with Aliens. He changes the genre of the sequel. Alien is "there's a monster in the house." Aliens is a war movie. About motherhood. So the sequel to this film will not be a location-based. It will be spread out. Not just do Legion some more, or Legion bigger. Hopefully we'll do this well enough to make anyone care about a sequel to this movie.
That about wraps it up from the set of Legion... for now. If you've seen these awesome trailers for the film, you can see why buzz is starting to mount. Personally, I think it would be awesome if they moved it out of the movie doldrums of January and into, say, November? December? What better antidote to traditional holiday films would there be than a kick-ass film about an angel spiting a vengeful God and trying to save humanity? Alas, I'm sure there is much work to be done in special effects, so that might not be possible, but, whenever it comes out, I'm incredibly eager to see the finished product. Peace in. Gallagher out!
Legion is in theaters January 22, 2010 an stars Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Doug Jones, Jon Tenney, Charles S. Dutton, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh, Adrianne Palicki, Kevin Durand and Willa Holland.