Legion Composer On Scoring a Mind-Altering Mutant Adventure
When Legion premieres tomorrow on FX, television audiences will be introduced to an entirely new world of mutants. Set in the Fox universe, Legion will explore the life of David Haller, an Omega Level mutant with abilities that go beyond that of his (yet unknown) father, Professor Xavier. In celebration of Legion’s premiere, we interviewed composer Jeff Russo and asked him about his adventures and challenges in scoring this mind-altering series.
Russo has extensive experience working in the television industry. He has brought to life the scores of shows like Lucifer, Power, American Gothic, and The Night Of. He’s also worked with Legion showrunner Noah Hawley on Fargo, which is what brought Russo to Legion.
TMR: How does scoring Legion — something more fantastical — compare to scoring Fargo — something obviously more grounded?
Russo: There’s a whole different palate [for Legion] but the process is very similar. Noah’s writing always cares about the characters, and I tend to write from that point of view. So when I go to write Fargo, I read the script, I talk to Noah, then I start creating themes for the characters. I basically did the same thing here after reading the first Legion script and figuring out the soundscape and sound palate. The process is the same but the end result is different because the narrative is different. In the case of Legion, the lead character, David, doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s not real. He has trouble deciphering between the real world and what’s a hallucination. The viewer will be put in the same position, and I was able to go from one to the other seamlessly.
Did you write musical cues to transition between what’s real and what’s not so the audience can pick up on that?
I did write music that would transition from one sound to another, but I purposely didn’t do it in such a way that would give the audience a clue as to what’s real and what’s not. If the lead character is in the dark about that, then the viewer should be too.
What influences inspired you? Any particular music or Marvel comic?
I started by reading a book by Oliver Sacks called Hallucinations. There’s a chapter on auditory hallucinations, which is where I started. We also talked about Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon being the soundtrack for schizophrenia. This was a score that really didn’t draw too much inspiration from outside sources, but drew inspiration from the soundscape and how that could underscore the story. The way we tell the story is way more comic-like than most of the other shows, simply because we tell it from a stranger perspective. To me that’s more comic-like than telling it from a straight perspective.
Agents of SHIELD is told in a more grounded and linear way, right?
Right, and that doesn’t seem very comic book-like. Those shows use comic book characters and settings and set them in the real world. Legion is more surreal, which to me is more in line with what the comics were.
Instead of adapting the Legion comic to fit the real world, you pulled the real world into the comics?
Exactly. I really did try to do that with music as well. I didn’t want to do the standard, superhero score.
For character themes, what did you include in David’s musical palate?
At first I wrote a theme called “David,” then I wrote a theme called “David 2,” then I wrote a them called “David Redux,” then “Young David.” I realized that I was so inspired by different elements of David’s character, that I just kept writing things for him. Then I started writing things for his relationship with Syd, because that’s really the core of this story, their love story. I went and bought the synthesizer that they used on Dark Side of the Moon, because that has a very specific sound and I really wanted to evoke that style. There’s a big synthetic, programed element to David. There’s also a big, orchestral, emotional side to him. Then there’s a very jarring, a-tonal side to him. His personality goes from being very much in love to being very angry and explosive, so I needed to figure out how to merge all those different pieces into one theme.
Was there a scene from the pilot that you really enjoyed scoring?
There’s a scene in Clockworks — the hospital where David and Syd are staying — where they are standing up against a window looking out over the city. It’s the first time you hear a true version of the David and Syd theme, that piece was very cathartic to write. It’s one of my favorite moments of that first episode.
Based on our interview with Jeff, it sounds like Legion is going to be a very different show that we’ve seen before — and that’s exciting because there really is plenty of room in the greater Marvel Universe to explore different characters, worlds, and experiences.
Legion premieres Wednesday at 10PM on FX — don’t miss it!
Legion, based on the Marvel Comics by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, is the story of David Haller (Dan Stevens), a troubled young man who may be more than human. Diagnosed as schizophrenic as a child, David has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. Now in his early 30s and institutionalized once again, David loses himself in the rhythm of the structured regimen of life in the hospital: breakfast, lunch, dinner, therapy, medications, sleep. David spends the rest of his time in companionable silence alongside his chatterbox friend Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), a fellow patient whose life-long drug and alcohol addiction has done nothing to quell her boundless optimism that her luck is about to change. The pleasant numbness of David’s routine is completely upended with the arrival of a beautiful and troubled new patient named Syd (Rachel Keller). Inexplicably drawn to one another, David and Syd share a startling encounter, after which David must confront the shocking possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees may actually be real.
A haunted man, David escapes from the hospital and seeks shelter with his sister Amy (Katie Aselton). But Amy’s concern for her brother is trumped by her desire to protect the picture perfect suburban life she’s built for herself. Eventually, Syd guides David to Melanie Bird (Jean Smart), a nurturing but demanding therapist with a sharp mind and unconventional methods. She and her team of specialists – Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), Kerry (Amber Midthunder) and Cary (Bill Irwin) – open David’s eyes to an extraordinary new world of possibilities.