Michael Wylie is used to working with Marvel, having designed the set for Agent Carter season 1, but Legion proved to be a different beast altogether.
An interview with ‘Legion’ set designer Michael Wylie
How would you describe the style of the ‘Legion’ set?
Very much on purpose we tried to NOT have a style. The idea of the show is to convey to the audience what David (for the most part) is experiencing. In order to do that AND show how much he doesn’t understand what is real or not real, we needed to design sets that don’t give the audience visual clues that they necessarily understand as “today” or “now.” In a funny way that becomes a style of its own. There are touches of A Clockwork Orange. There is a bit of Amelie and some 2001. So it’s a mishmash to keep the viewer equally informed and confused.
Which elements of the set would you say are wholly your own?
As a designer for film and television, I collaborate. Some directors have a super-specific idea of what they want. Some don’t care. Sometimes the producers have a whole lot to say. Very rarely one is allowed to run amok (which is fun!). Given all of that, a good designer with a point of view usually has a style or a personal gimmick that shines through no matter what the brief has been given from production. On this show Noah Hawley had some very specific ideas. He made a ‘lookbook,’ which he gave me at my job interview. It was awesome. I like specific. It makes my job easier because I can focus on what I know instead of what-ifs. My personal gimmick is the use of circles. I love it. For a million reasons. I love circles and I love wallpaper. So I added a bunch of it!
What challenges did this show present to you?
There were a lot. Mostly mundane production difficulties. There are so many shows shooting in Vancouver that there is no stage space. Anywhere. So we shot in a grocery warehouse in the suburbs with low ceilings and no sound-proofing. It was not ideal in any way. There were film crews everywhere and permits for good filming areas were hard to get. Other than those kinds of things, the only other big challenges were the size and magnitude of the scripts. We built a LOT of sets for each episode.
What initially drew you to this project?
Noah Hawley. I tried to get on Fargo but couldn’t even get an interview. When it turned out as amazingly as it did, I was determined to keep up on whatever he was doing. Then I got a call out of the blue for this show. I was never happier to go to a job interview!
What sort of Easter eggs should eagle-eyed fans be on the lookout for?
ZERO. There aren’t any. I wanted to tie a bunch of things into the background of this show. I designed the first season of Agent Carter, so I was very familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So when I wanted to put Roxxon logos on delivery vehicles or Stark Industries logos on things, there was a resounding NO. It is a standalone show which primarily exists in its own Cinematic Universe. Sorry.
Was there anything you were hoping to bring to the set that, in hindsight, was too ambitious for the show?
Of course. There is never enough time or money. Ever. BUT, we were very ambitious. I don’t think we left much on the table.
Were you an X-Men fan before working on this show?
Yes. I love the X-Men world. Its magical. I like that. I was in Montreal last year working on a movie and we were at the same studio as the last X-Men film. I got smuggled onto the set a couple of times because I just couldn’t help myself. Cool experience.
Every new project is an opportunity to learn something new, so what did you learn on the set of ‘Legion’?
I learned that I am getting too old for this TV production business! Stay in school, kids. You don’t want to end up in a grocery store warehouse in Burnaby, BC at 3 a.m. in the middle of a rain storm. I love every minute of it!