The Marvel superhero on the big screen is a well-oiled paradigm—they're built with that can-do, save-the-world moxie, possess an arsenal of high-tech weapons, and of course sport some type of skintight ensemble. On TV, where you get your Jessica Joneses and Luke Cages, though, things are a little different. And on FX's Legion, Aubrey Plaza is even more different than most.
Despite existing within the X-Men universe, on Legion, the second season of which begins Tuesday night), the heroes don’t always save the day at the end. They are not really even heroes to begin with. They are complicated, at times incomprehensible, characters—especially Plaza’s Lenny (full name Lenny Cornflakes Busker), who died in the show’s first episode, only to come back as what Plaza called “a powerful, evil, mutant psychic villain named the Shadow King.”
Still confused? That’s the point. “I really wanted to not do a comedy and kind of explore other genres and roles that were really different,” Plaza said of her initial decision to take on the role. And Lenny is indeed a far cry from her best-known character, Parks and Recreation's acerbic April Ludgate, as well as pretty much any other character on television right now—not to mention, as is often noted, that the part was originally intended for a middle-aged man.
Despite all that, it’s hard to imagine anyone as Lenny other than Plaza, who plays her with a combination of total control and unhinged mania. “She’s a tragic character and I like playing her," she said, "but it’s emotionally draining and sometimes physically exhausting because I’m being tortured and used by this evil mutant."
Plaza couldn't reveal much about the plot of season 2—this is still a Marvel project with Marvel levels of secrecy—but noted that her character will be unlike what you saw before. “I can say that the Shadow King is now actualized as a man, so the journey of Lenny is very different from the first season,” she said. “I believe that Noah [Hawley, the creator of the show]’s intention is to explore the more human side of Lenny, and who she was before all of this happens. But there’s a lot of mystery around that as well.”
A more human Lenny, apparently, also means a chance for Plaza to show her range. “It’s a very different performance when your power is stripped away, which is how I really felt this year,” she explained. "Season 1 was such a buildup to my being this powerful being that is calling the shots. I’m literally wearing a three-piece power suit and killing people with the flick of my fingers. This season, the tables have totally turned, so it’s a more vulnerable journey and a more upsetting one.”
Recently, Plaza reunited with her Legion co-star Jermaine Clement at the Sundance Film Festival, where they premiered their new comedy An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, directed by Jim Hosking. “It was really trippy going from Legion to Beverly Luff Linn back to Legion,” Plaza recalled. “We were cast in that movie before Legion started, and then [Jermaine] was cast in Legion after we’d been attached to that movie. It was just a random coincidence, but there were a lot of very strange coincidences between what was happening: The first season of Legion ends in a car with Jermaine and I about to go on a journey, and the first scene of the movie is Jermaine and I in a car about to go on a different journey.”
Sundance also marked the one-year anniversary of Plaza’s film Ingrid Goes West, last summer’s so-called Instagram comedy costarring Elizabeth Olsen, which went on to take home the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. “I was crying on stage,” Plaza recalled of the awards show. “I was so excited that we were nominated—that was enough for me. The fact that we won was just awesome. It felt really satisfying. We worked so hard on that movie, and I care so deeply about that movie that any recognition it gets is really nice.”
Plaza also worked as a producer on Ingrid—a role she’s eager to jump back into. “I can’t ever not do that now that I’ve seen behind the curtain and I know how it works,” she said. “I can’t wait to do it again. I’m an actor always, and that is my passion, but I think I have a business part of my brain that I got to use. It’s really nice to have your opinion matter in the filmmaking process.”
For now, though, Plaza is just contemplating her next move. “I’m not looking to do something I’ve done already,” she explained. “I’m always trying to do something different. The more complicated and dynamic a character is, the better... I’m trying to slow it down a little bit. I’m being very picky. It’s the wild, wild west for Aubrey right now.”