Legion – News on how the cast of the Angels at War film came to pass
Posted by LiveFor on February 16, 2010
A dusty diner in the Mojave Desert becomes ground zero for earth’s final showdown in Legion, a startlingly original and terrifying vision of the Apocalypse from director and writer Scott Stewart (Priest). As mankind destroys itself in a savage fury, a small group of people trapped on the edge of nowhere prepare to make a last stand—with the help of a mysterious and powerful stranger.
Unaware of the chaos unfolding around the globe, Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid), the owner of a remote roadside café, and his partner Percy (Charles S. Dutton) go about business as usual. The restaurant’s beautiful and very pregnant waitress, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), serves breakfast to Sandra and Howard, a well-heeled suburban couple (Kate Walsh and Jon Tenney) and their teenage daughter Audrey (Willa Holland), as they wait for their car to be repaired by Bob’s son, Jeep (Lucas Black).
When the television goes on the fritz and the phones go out, the group realizes they have lost all communication with the outside world. As they attempt to make sense of what’s happening—An earthquake? A terrorist attack?— an elderly woman (Jeannette Miller) arrives and sweetly orders a steak from Charlie. When her meal arrives, she begins spewing shocking obscenities. In a heartbeat, the fragile old lady develops superhuman strength, launching a grisly attack that leaves Howard critically injured.
A desperate attempt to get medical help ends when an impenetrable cloud of flying insects turns the diner into the only safe haven for miles. As the horrifying truth of their situation sinks in, a stranger (Paul Bettany) joins them with an arsenal of stolen weapons. He informs Charlie that her unborn baby is now humanity’s only hope, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to save it.
The world is about to become a waking nightmare for the last remnants of mankind as rolling caravans of crazed killers arrive in search of fresh victims and an army of warrior angels bent on total destruction follows close behind them in a unique and terrifying glimpse of the End of Days.
Director Scott Stewart and Producer David Lancaster agreed from the beginning that in order for Legion to fulfill its potential as a character-driven action-thriller with supernatural themes, it would require an outstanding, highly committed cast. “The most important decisions a director makes are in casting a film,” says Stewart. “If you cast it right, so much is going your way from the start. To that end, Rick Montgomery, our casting director, was absolutely fearless. He understood that we were trying to aim high and defy expectations with the casting of the movie.”
The filmmakers succeeded in bringing together a first-rate cast that includes award-winning actors from both sides of the Atlantic. “We have the dream-come-true cast,” says Stewart. “It was so important to get these actors. We spend the whole movie locked in a diner with them, so the audience has to care about them. There are no disposable stock characters; everybody is there for a specific reason.”
The catalyst for the action of the film is Michael, a larger-than-life figure who seems to appear out of nowhere. “Michael has such conviction that the other characters follow him without question,” says Stewart. “I didn’t want him to be an enigma. He is the Archangel Michael, but you can’t play that abstraction.”
Paul Bettany, perhaps best known for his powerful performance as Silas in The Da Vinci Code, is a highly respected British actor who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Convincing him to play Michael seemed an audacious goal for the filmmakers. “Paul has the authority we needed, but given his pedigree, we weren’t sure he would be interested,” says Stewart.
Stewart had planned his presentation meticulously in an all-out effort to capture Bettany’s imagination. The actor was as intrigued by Stewart’s vision as he was by the film’s premise. “Scott pitched his movie better than anybody has ever pitched a movie to me before,” the actor says. “He had all kinds of visual aids. He’s a very impressive human being. There were rumors going around the set he went through Harvard and M.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 really slick, fast-paced movie that is in no way stupid,” he says. “Traditionally Michael is the defender of mankind. He is known as the first in all heaven to bow down before mankind and he still has faith in humanity despite all the war and horror he sees. So he’s having a massive crisis of allegiance.”
Bettany’s unique qualities as an actor made him an ideal choice to play the conflicted archangel, says the director. “Paul has an incredible stillness that only the greatest actors possess. His work is almost surgical in its exactness and specificity. That helped make Michael a commanding, mysterious figure you immediately trust, even if you don’t fully understand why. He turned out to be the most tremendous partner a filmmaker 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 the project. “It said that we were up to something very different,” says Stewart. “His presence made it easy to attract other high-caliber actors.”
Dennis Quaid, who plays Bob Hansen, the diner’s owner was one of the first to join Bettany. Quaid has been a popular leading man for more than 30 years, winning praise for performances in projects ranging from the 1979 classic Breaking Away to the recent summer blockbuster G.I Joe: Rise of the Cobra. But Stewart believes Quaid’s reputation as a movie star sometimes obscures his acting ability. “Because he’s been such a big star for so long, I think some people take his talent for granted,” says the director. “That’s a mistake. He’s incredibly entertaining to watch. And in Legion, he is able to play totally against type. Audiences are so used to him playing heroic characters that it will be a surprise to see him as Bob, a man who has taken several wrong turns in his life and lived to regret it. And he brought his crackerjack comic timing as well. There are 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 that Scott put on creating realistic, three-dimensional people, we could really kick ass as far as where we went with our characters.”
Quaid was also drawn to the script’s deft mixture of high-octane thrills and serious 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 twist on the Biblical apocalypse.”
Quaid’s presence raised the film’s profile yet another notch, says Lancaster. “He immediately understood what we were trying to do. He would never just do a generic action-horror movie. What he and Paul both recognized was the opportunity to appeal to a wider audience. These are really fine actors who engaged in this because they see it as something special.”
Michael has come to the diner to find Charlie, a young, pregnant waitress he believes will figure prominently in the future of humankind. “We searched long and hard for an actress to play that key character before we found Adrianne Palicki,” says Lancaster. “Charlie is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks; she’s is pregnant, but doesn’t know who the father is, and has struggled with whether to keep her baby or give it up for adoption. Adrianne captured all of that in her performance.”
Stewart was initially unfamiliar with the actress’ work, but was immediately impressed by her authenticity. “She is not a Hollywood type,” he says. “She’s from Ohio and she brings a grounded realism to her work. And she’s also gorgeous in a very approachable way.”
For Palicki, one of the stars of the critically acclaimed television drama “Friday Night Lights,” the character of Charlie sealed the deal. “First and foremost, she was fantastic to play,” says the actress. “It’s one of the best female roles in my age group that I’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 single person is trying to find their path. Scott was really great about letting me find my own voice. He was adamant about what he wanted, but he also did such a great job of letting us discover our characters for ourselves.”
Palicki was apprehensive about one scene in particular. “The childbirth scene was maybe the scariest thing I’ve ever done as an actor,” she admits. “I had a panic attack the day before we shot it, but there were plenty of women who supported me through that.”
The filmmakers were looking for a young actor who would embody honesty and integrity for the role of Jeep Hansen, Bob’s son and Charlie’s protector, when they met with Lucas Black. “With Lucas, what you see is what you get,” says Stewart. “He grew up in Alabama and now lives in Missouri. So he’s not a Hollywood-type guy and it shows in how real he is as Jeep.”
Black, who was barely a teenager when he starred opposite Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade, was drawn to the script by Jeep’s journey over the course of the film. “He starts out as someone who pretty much keeps to himself, until Michael comes along and becomes a kind of mentor,” observes Black.
Black was also thrilled by the opportunity to work with an actor whose work he has admired for years. “Dennis Quaid is awesome,” he says. “Our father and son moments really fell into place. The real relationships between the characters bring a sense of realism to all the action—and there’s tons of it.”
The Biblical themes were very familiar to Black, who was raised a Southern Baptist in Alabama. “There’s some deep stuff in this movie,” he says. “Scott has put a really interesting twist on it that I think is going to interest a lot of people and create a lot of buzz.”
Bob’s partner in the diner, Percy, is played by Charles S. Dutton, a three-time Emmy® winner who has moved effortlessly between film, stage and television during a career that includes a recent appearance in Fame, as well as leading roles for acclaimed directors Robert Altman (Cookie’s Fortune) and John Sayles (Honeydripper). Stewart calls the actor “a force of nature.” “Charles has a great deal of integrity and maturity,” he says. “It’s awesome to have him in a genre film, because he really makes you believe the reality of any situation. When his character believes something in a film, no matter how fantastic, the audience believes it too.”
Dutton also brings a gravitas to his scenes, adds Lancaster. “He grasped the concept immediately,” says the producer. “Charles was able to speak very fluently about the fact that his character reads and studies the Bible. He responded strongly to the fact that a person of faith could identify with this movie.”
In fact, Percy’s uncomplicated faith was central to Dutton’s understanding of the character. “He says he knew this day was coming, he just didn’t think it would be in his lifetime,” points out Dutton. “He’s the only one willing to say a prayer, the only one willing to believe what’s occurring.”
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 you were. You didn’t have to ask a thousand questions. You just had to try to make each scene as emotionally believable as you could. And when you add it all up, you discover it’s the Apocalypse. The beauty of the script to me is that this bunch of misfits has to save the world. It’s audacious.”
But audiences needn’t take all of that too seriously, he adds. The film has a great deal of fun to offer as well. “It’s also a good old-fashioned horror film,” he says. “We’re trying to scare the hell out of audiences. I call it a three-pronged joy ride. It’ scary, it’s funny and it gives you something to think about.”
The director was also unaware of “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Kate Walsh before she auditioned for the role of Sandra. “I’m not a big TV watcher,” he confesses. “But the moment she came in, I knew I would never find a better actor to play Sandra. She was unafraid to go to a very dark place with the character.”
Lancaster says he was extremely excited Kate Walsh agreed to play Sandra, an upscale suburbanite trying to keep her daughter out of harm’s way, without much success. “I can’t think of a more interesting actress working in television right now than Kate,” says Lancaster. “She’s sexy and fun. She brought so much to that role and worked so well with Jon Tenney, who plays her husband, Howard.”
Walsh was won over by the script’s combination of well-defined characters and action. “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 love story. 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 be too. 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 to television audiences as Kaitlin Cooper of “The O.C.” She says her character is different from 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 to being her mother’s mother, and then being the savior of mankind.”
Holland confesses she has never seen a horror movie. “I’m deathly afraid of seeing scary movies,” she admits. “I get too freaked out. But I’m going to go to the theater for this one just to watch people’s reactions. “
The contingent trapped in the diner is completed by Kyle Williams, a divorced father trying to get to Los Angeles for a custody hearing. The filmmakers were happy to find Tyrese Gibson, one of the stars of the Transformer franchise and a Grammy winning recording 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’t take 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 archangel traditionally portrayed as God’s messenger and as the most faithful of His creations. A one-time ballet dancer who stands six feet, six inches tall, actor Kevin Durand brings both brawn and grace to the character. “Kevin is so compelling,” says Lancaster. “He moves beautifully but also has this incredibly menacing feeling about him.”
The filmmakers were impressed by Durand’s recent performances in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and as the cold-blooded mercenary Martin Keamy on the hit television series “Lost.” “We wanted somebody who could hold his own with Paul Bettany, who’s an imposing actor,” says Stewart. “Kevin has this awesome physical presence, and he backs it up with serious acting chops. He’s really a character actor inside 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 to do God’s work, but in a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen before—by any means necessary.”
The through-line for the climactic confrontation between the two archangels could be called sibling rivalry taken to a cosmic extreme. “Paul and I played it like we were brothers 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 an astonishing cameo. Jones, who played Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, as well as the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, embodies all that is terrifying in this film as an ice cream man in the throes of a dreadful transformation. And he may just be the most flexible man on the planet. “He’s incredible,” says Stewart. “I understand why Guillermo del Toro likes him so much. He’s a great actor, but he’s also the Cirque de Soleil of actors. He’s so elastic and expressive in his face and he can do things that you would normally think you’d need 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 man to 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 very disturbing for audiences when they see it. It should be an iconic piece of film villainy for everyone to enjoy.”
As menacing as the character is, Jones says he developed a good deal of affection for him. “When you meet the ice cream man, you think, well, there’s an unassuming looking fellow,” says the actor. “And then you tilt your head and realize something’s not quite right about him. And that’s kind of how people react to me in real life. I walk into the room and there’s a nice tall, skinny fellow, but something’s not right about him.”