Whatever method Plaza used to create Lenny, it worked. The character has a strong, almost magnetic presence in each scene, and it switches — in how she moves and even looks — for each different persona.
“One of the most fun parts of acting for me is behavior and physicality,” she said. “So this part was just a dream because I could really just take it really far. And early on, I would try out different things, and Noah would say like, ‘too much’ or ‘too little.’ And we would make adjustments. And then once it clicked in I was just kind of going crazy. But I had it in my body and in my mind, before I even stepped on set. I was totally in that zone the whole time we were shooting.”
Plaza broke down the various Lenny personas that she portrayed on “Legion.”
The series introduces Lenny as a psychiatric patient who is friends with David. With shaggy hair and red-rimmed eyes, this Lenny clearly needs help. “When you first meet her, she’s fully pilled-up in a hospital,” said Plaza. “She’s kind of at her worst,”
“Once I read that Lenny appeared to David as a hallucination, I just made the choice, and Noah liked the choice, that this was a different version of Lenny,” she said. “I could have worn the same thing that I had worn in the mental hospital; I could have worn anything. But I just decided like, ‘No, this is a different version of Lenny. Overalls Lenny [is] not strung out. She looks better. She’s kind of this better version of her. And in my mind it was a different character. I wanted the version that starts appearing to him to be kind of more in control in her costume, but I still wanted it to be Lenny.”
Sadly, original Clockworks Lenny dies in a freak accident when she and a wall merge, thanks to some psychic powers run amok. While the Lenny in the wall did not require Plaza to actually be stuck in a wall herself, she did act the part at one point.
“They made a cast of my body. and that was what was in the wall,” she said. “From my torso up, that was not me. But we shot from, I think they call them plates, where I was standing in front of the wall in that exact position, and I had to not move and not blink and be completely still. So they shot me in that position against the wall, and then I think they kind of combined that with the body cast that they made of me. So I did endure some wall acting.”
Episode 6 of “Legion” takes place mostly in David’s subconscious, where a creature that takes the form of Lenny has been dwelling and controlling what happens inside of him. The fantastical episode includes scenes in Clockworks where Lenny acts as a therapist who is treating David and the other mutants from Summerland. This Lenny look more professional and wears pinstriped pants, a black turtleneck and glasses.
“Therapist Lenny for me was kind of like the ultimate Lenny, at her most powerful and having the most control,” said Plaza. “Literally she’s controlling everyone in that episode. In my mind, if you are manipulating people in a way where you want to make them feel like they’re insane or that they belong in a mental institution, there’s a way to play that that’s more grounded. I approached it as a therapist approaches it. I didn’t want to play it as, ‘Oh I’m an evil villain that’s taking over.’ I wanted to play it with empathy, and I wanted to kind of honor the reality that Lenny had set up for those other characters and to exist in a grounded way within that reality.”
At one point, Lenny has triumphed over David and his subconscious, and the episode portrays this in the dance sequence seen below. Therapist Lenny appears to have swapped her pants for some fishnet stockings, and she vamps to the tune of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”
Plaza said, “In the script the description of that sequence was, I don’t want to misquote Noah, but it was something along the lines of, ‘Lenny dances a dance of malevolent joy. She rubs her stink all over David’s memories.’ So then, you know, they hired a choreographer that I worked with, but really I just, I knew the song, I knew what I wanted to wear. I had a bunch of different tests for my look, and I just decided that I wanted this moment to feel very feminine and powerful and I just wanted to, like, just fuck the shit out of his brain. That was my goal.
“In terms of the dancing, I worked really hard. I got space, you know, on my own, outside of shooting, and I would just play that song over and over again, and I would just kind of let my imagination run wild and I would experiment with different moves and somehow I figured out a routine. And then I would have the choreographer help me with it, and refine it, and tell me how to be a better dancer and how to make it look better. Because I’m not professional in that way. It’s not that I have a dance background. When I was a child I studied Irish dancing, to the surprise of everyone. But that was a brief moment in my life that I will not revisit.”
Another dream sequence involved the various Summerland mutants trying to break free of a dream in order to evade some real-life bullets and danger. In this sequence, set to Ravel’s “Bolero,” Lenny has evolved into a more crazed and vicious character. Take a look:
“Well, once I found out I was going to be wearing a three-piece suit, which was something that I was very excited by, I just immediately thought of Beetlejuice,” she said. “This version of Lenny is an onus, but she’s fun. Beetlejuice is one of my favorite characters ever because he’s kind of a bad guy, but you love him because he’s having fun and he’s kind of a rock star.
Plaza never discussed this inspiration with the hair or makeup departments, but somehow the look that was created very much channeled the obnoxious ghost that Michael Keaton made popular in the 1988 Tim Burton film.
“It honestly just happened. It was really trippy. Like, my hair has an entire arc of its own on the show,” she said. “There are so many things that just came together. You know, when I’m in the mental hospital I’m constantly eating this licorice, and in the original pilot script, I wanted to be smoking cigarettes, and they wouldn’t let me. So Noah changed it to [eating] licorice. As the costumes evolved, the artists that were working on the show, the costume designer, she incorporated the licorice into my Beetlejuice looks. She made a bow tie out of a tiny piece of licorice. So it was this very cool evolution of stuff.”
Now that Plaza is done with “Legion,” she’s had time to shoot a couple films that will be released soon. The social media stalker film “Ingrid Goes West,” co-starring Elizabeth Olsen, will be released in August. “The Little Hours,” a filthy comedy inspired by Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” will be released on June 30. In the film, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci and Plaza play a trio of nuns — this of course meant wearing a nun’s habit
“I kinda liked it,” she said. “But I like uniforms.”