Bill Irwin from 'Legion' on portraying superheroes with complicated powers

Marcus Goh
Contributor
Dan Stevens as David Haller, Bill Irwin as Cary Loudermilk, Christine Horn as Dr. Orwell. (FOX+ and Suzanne Tenner/FX)

For actors, playing an onscreen superhero is tough enough — how do you portray having superpowers in a grounded and believable way? What complicates matters is when a superhero’s power is a high-concept one, which makes portraying and explaining it to the audience a much tougher proposition.

That’s the whole idea behind mutants Cary and Kerry Loudermilk in superhero television series “Legion”. The series depicts the adventures of Professor X’s son, David Haller (played by Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” fame), with the good Professor himself getting a mention in Season 1. Haller’s powers can be fairly easily explained — he’s a vastly powerful psychic who has to deal with having being diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age.

Cary (Bill Irwin) and Kerry (Amber Midthunder) Loudermilk have a slightly more complicated power set. Cary is a middle-aged scientist who has a 20-something female fighter, Kerry, living in his body. Kerry can manifest outside Cary’s body when she wants to, and their age discrepancy is due to the fact that Kerry will only age when she’s outside Cary’s body. They co-exist in the same body, although Kerry is the only one who has the ability to leave and enter Cary’s body whenever she chooses.

There’s no struggle for control of Cary’s body, unlike many other examples of this trope in science fiction. But in a show that explores mental health and the power of the perception of reality, Cary and Kerry serve as an interesting dynamic of two well-balanced personalities in one body.

Bill Irwin plays Cary Loudermilk in “Legion”. (FOX+)

“The huge challenge or question was to imagine someone else living inside of me,” said Irwin, “and what it means when that person comes out. And what’s different when they’re inside and when they’re outside, how we talk to each other inside.”

For direction on his performance, Irwin referenced showrunner and and creator Noah Hawley’s “idea of consciousness and mental health”. He shared that Hawley’s vision was that it had to do with “voices ricocheting off each other inside of one’s mind.”

“It’s a very exciting character story to tell, but it really is [physically] demanding,” said Irwin of the role. “Like I put on knee pads just to show up for a scene because who knows whether Noah will want Cary to fall down or trip or roll or somersault, so I try to be ready for anything.”

It’s both physically and mentally gruelling at times, especially since Irwin has to keep pace with his younger acting partner Midthunder.

Amber Midthunder as Kerry Loudermilk, Bill Irwin as Cary Loudermilk. (FOX+ and Suzanne Tenner/FX)

Despite their age differences, 68-year-old Irwin and 27-year-old Midthunder have had a good working relationship playing two characters that cohabit the same body. Their dynamic “kind of resembles Cary and Kerry to an eerie extent” said Irwin.

“She’s a very smart young woman”, said Irwin of co-star Midthunder, “but I need to explain things like 1970s fashion or 1970s lingo or even something like [the] Watergate [scandal], but we can really get into story conversations.”

He likened their relationship to that of an uncle and niece, rather than a father and daughter. But the pair have worked together closely in the past, having “done a lot of singing together”.

“We could tell that the characters have a sense of harmony,” said Irwin. “We speak to each other in song [sometimes], especially children’s songs.”

Bill Irwin plays Cary Loudermilk in “Legion”. (FOX+)

As befits any actor on the X-Men franchise, Irwin himself is a little bit of an X-fan. He’s “very partial” towards Wolverine, especially with Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the clawed, fast-healing mutant fighter in last year’s “Logan”.

As for his favourite superpower? Definitely not sharing a body with another person.

“Maybe it’s very basic but it’s very deep within me, but I would fly.”

New episodes of “Legion” are available every Wednesday, 9pm on FOX+.

PHOTO: FOX+

Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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