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How 'Legion,' 'The Ticket' Star Dan Stevens Became the Man of the Moment
'Legion,' 'Beauty & the Beast' star Dan Stevens takes over the art-house with indie drama 'The Ticket' – how the ex-'Downton Abbey' star has won 2017.

Dan Stevens is having a bit of a moment. In February, you could see him Legion, FX’s stellar, must-see Marvel TV series in which the 34-year-old English actor plays a troubled young man who, despite having lived in a mental institution since his teens, discovers that he’s not really schizophrenic. (The bad news: He’s actually an all-powerful mutant, wanted by the government and controlled by a vicious parasite living inside his mind.) A month later, you might waltz down to your local multiplex and detect Stevens under lots of fur, playing the menacing, melancholy monster in Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. And this week, you can head down to your friendly neighborhood art-house theater and see him in The Ticket, an indie character drama about a blind man who inexplicably regains his sight. Factor in small supporting parts in both skewed rom-com/giant-monster movie Colossal and the Richard Gere vehicle Norman, both hitting theaters in the next few weeks, and though it’s only April, the former Downton Abbey heartthrob seems well on his way to winning 2017.

From how to make a psychedelic superhero show to confirming that Aubrey Plaza is a rock star, our takeaways from a kick-ass first season

But during a phone interview, he says he has a hard time looking at this year as some sort of grand, preplanned breakthrough. Really, Stevens insists, it’s just how circumstances worked out. “A lot of things I’ve been working on over the last few years happen to be coming out at the same time,” he demurs. “I did The Ticket four years ago; Beast was created two years ago; and we shot the Legion pilot almost a year ago to the day. It’s amazing how these [releases] sometimes coincide.”

Working in British theater and television for years, Stevens kept building up his resumé. He was then cast in a period drama that writer-director Julian Fellowes was developing in 2010, a multi-narrative about the masters-and-servants relationships in an English estate. Quicker than you could say “upstairs, downstairs,” Downton Abbey became an unexpected pop cultural phenomenon and his caddish-to-compassionate character Matthew Crawley became a fan favorite. In 2012, Stevens left the popular PBS show  — his character died in a car crash — and he and his family made the trek to New York. Soon, he was appearing on Broadway alongside Jessica Chastain in a Tony-nominated revival of The Heiress. “Jessica was having a similar moment back then,” he recalls. “I think she had seven films that she’d been working on the previous five years come out in one year. So it’s been great to know her and have seen her go through this. It helps.”

Some noticeably non–drawing-room-drama roles followed that garnered Stevens attention – a psychotic soldier in The Guest, a cross-dressing writer in the cult Web series High Maintenance. 

But it was the play that put him in touch with director Ido Fluk, who had been developing a script, inspired by the 2008 economic meltdown, about a blind man whose regained sight activates a materialistic side that leads him to become a predatory success at his real-estate company. After seeing Stevens in The Heiress, the filmmaker knew he had found his star. “When you meet Dan, you realize he’s an incredibly smart person,” Fluk says, adding, “Do you know he was a judge on the Man Booker Prize [in 2012]? What actor do you meet that also has done that?”

“Ido was one of the first directors I met when I got to New York who seemed genuinely excited to collaborate on something,” Stevens says. “It’s a wonderful thing to find that. … I just immediately thought [the script] was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read. It was almost like a dark fairy tale — it had a real fable quality to it.”

Gloom-flecked fairy tales have been his specialty of late. Even though they were made far apart, it’s hard not to see connections between his work in Legion, Beast and The Ticket. In all three, he plays characters who dance between the shadow and the light — there’s a dark side within these people that cripples them. Sometimes that monstrousness is of their own making, as with his cursed Beast; in Legion, it’s an external evil that his reluctant superhero must battle to the death. When it’s suggested that his Ticket character is also someone who goes through a transformation — from a good soul to a morally bankrupt one — Stevens objects passionately.

“Ido and I really enjoyed this almost taboo idea of ‘What if he actually wasn’t all that great a person before the movie?’” he responds. “It’s interesting that you see this person as going from a nice guy to an awful man. You know, there’s not a huge amount of evidence that his relationships were necessarily that happy beforehand. It’s interesting that people immediately leap to the conclusion that the blind man must be the nice guy. Playing with that taboo felt very alive, very dangerous.

"It’s almost like we shouldn’t make assumptions about anybody,” he adds  with a sarcastic laugh. “It’s a good thing to look around and question a few things – it’s a healthy instinct.” (Asked if that extended to the notion of recasting Josh Gad’s LeFou in Beauty and the Beast as gay, a concept that has caused more controversy than its creators probably intended, Stevens replies, “You know, like a lot of things that people get whipped up about online, [it’s] neither one thing or the other. It certainly made Josh’s character a little more interesting than he might otherwise have been.”)

If Stevens himself has a dark side, he’s done a superb job concealing it from his costars. “There’s a certain level of absurdity to our show, and Dan can really tap into that,” Rachel Keller, his Legion costar, says; she cites the scene in which the two halves of his character’s brain, one of which speaks with a British accent, argue with each other. “He can be very focused, very intense – and then he’ll spot a neighborhood bookstore, get wide-eyed and jump around a little bit: ‘Can we go in there?!’” She laughs. “That actually happened.”

His hot streak has left him very much in-demand. He’ll be part of The Raid filmmaker Gareth Evans’ new Netflix thriller Apostle with Michael Sheen and Lucy Boynton, and another season of Legion beckons. You’ll forgive him if it’s all a bit of a blur. “Somebody made me aware that it’s been five years since I was cast in The Heiress,” he says, almost surprised. “So that’s an interesting five-year sort of chapter-marker right there with the release of The Ticket, Beauty and the Beast and Legion – it’s been five years since I came to the States.”

He takes a minute to reflect on how his life has changed in that time span, remembering where he was when he started the smaller of the three projects. “I walked onto that set straight from the set of Night at the Museum 3,” he recalls, “which was my first big studio [film].” Stevens laughs. “I was Sir Lancelot – this sort of mad, bluff idiot, this giant character.” So from Lancelot to Legion – is this his moment? “It has been an interesting few years,” he admits, before cackling loudly one last time.

hollywoodreporter.com
Dan Steven's post-"Downtown Abbey" life includes "Beauty and the Beast," Marvel's "Legion"
As his newest film 'The Ticket' premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival, the British actor, now living in New York, weighs in on politics on both sides of the Atlantic (thumbs down on the Brexit), names his favorite podcast (you'd be surprised) and reveals the one thing he couldn't live without.

Downton Abbey fans would be shocked to hear Dan Stevens, who played the late, still lamented and ever-so-refined Matthew Crawley for three seasons on the hit series, as he starts to throw around phrases like “dick-swinging” and “shitshow.” But the 33-year-old actor isn’t one to stand on ceremony, and when the subject of Brexit — the upcoming British referendum about the U.K.’s proposed exit from the European Union — comes up, he’s quick to voice a forceful opinion or two. (He’s against it.)

Stevens chose to make his own exit from Downton at the height of the series’ popularity, just as Matthew’s romance with Lady Mary had reached Rhett-Scarlett proportions, breaking hearts and igniting a firestorm on both sides of the pond. His latest venture couldn’t be more different: In The Ticket, an experimental indie drama directed by Ido Fluk that makes its world premiere tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival, he plays a blind man who regains his sight but becomes consumed by desire.

As for those who thought Stevens might be making a mistake in taking an early leave from Downton, rest assured, he’s found plenty to keep him busy. He’s already completed a star turn as the Beast in Disney’s live-action Beauty and The Beast, which will hit theaters in March 2017. And he’ll play another equally fantastical character, the Marvel superhero Legion in the upcoming FX series of the same name from Fargo creator Noah Hawley.

A married father of two, Stevens now calls Brooklyn home. On the eve of his latest film’s Tribeca bow, he spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about singing a solo in Beauty in the Beast, whether or not he’s been approached to play James Bond and who he’s pulling for in the upcoming New York primary.

In The Ticket, you play a blind man who begins to regain his sight. What’s the one sense you absolutely couldn’t live without?

Losing your hearing would be pretty weird. Living without listening to music would suck. I think I could live without taste. I could just eat my food.

It’s a pretty sexy movie. What would Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess think?

I think she would love it. I think she’s secretly very kinky.

Any chance you would do a Downton prequel, movie or spinoff?

If it’s a prequel, then I’d have to play myself 10 years younger, which would be really hard. I think if they get someone else to play me, that would probably be a better idea. I guess I could do a ghost scene. Maybe Mary is making pottery and Matthew is at the wheel. It gets a little steamy. That should work.

You live in New York. Why?

I’ve lived in London for a long time, and I wanted to try living in one of the other great cities of the world. It’s always captured my imagination, and I feel very inspired here. I love it. Every day there’s always something weird and new here, and I think weird and new is good. I like being surrounded by weird, new things.

Fun fact: You’ve narrated more than 30 audiobooks, including Casino Royale. What’s the appeal?

It’s an intimate way of working and it’s an intimate way of receiving work as well. I’ve always enjoyed having voices in my ears, whether it’s a podcast or a great audio book. It’s just you in a booth, a tiny booth usually. It’s just you and the microphone for sometimes days. It’s a strange experience, but it’s also a beautiful way of getting inside a book. Studying and prepping for an audiobook is really just a fascinating thing to do work-wise.

Speaking of Bond and Casino Royale, have you ever been approached to play 007?

If you’ve been approached to be a spy and you talk about it, you’re not much of a spy, right? Even if I had been, I couldn’t tell you. I’d have to kill you.

Favorite podcast?

Savage Love. Dan Savage. I’ve been listening to it for years.

You were a member of the judging panel for the 2012 Booker Prize. Very impressive. How did you land that gig?

There used to be a review show on British television, and I was invited on that to talk about some books and to talk about the Booker shortlist from the previous year, and [the selections] really annoyed me. So I just went on and spoke my mind about these books and didn’t think twice about it. A couple of weeks later I got a call from the Man Booker committee saying, “Love what you said on that show. Come and judge the prize.” I read 147 books, and it was a lot of work. I guess I landed it just by mouthing off on live television.

What are you currently reading?

A Conspiracy of Tall Men by Noah Hawley. I love reading first novels. They’re always fascinating and fresh and flawed and really interesting.

You and Noah will be working together on FX’s Legion. What made you decide to join the Marvel universe?

Noah. I think he’s such a fascinating man, and his take on this whole world is so fresh and interesting and intriguing and I loved what he did with Fargo. The cast that he draws together and the kind of actors he likes to work with and the style of his storytelling is so intriguing that I was immediately drawn in by that. The fact that it’s Marvel seemed incidental to me, really. It’s more about this bizarre world and this crazy character in the middle of it and working with a great storyteller.

You were discovered playing Macbeth on the stage. What’s the one Shakespeare character you’d most like to tackle?

King Lear. I’m working up to it. I’d like to do a film version directed by Terry Gilliam.

You’ve worked with Bill Condon twice now in The Fifth Estate and Beauty and the Beast. Describe his style of directing.

Bill’s a real sweet man, and he’s so intelligent and gentle. He’s not one of those savage directors. He’s very subtle and kind. He has a sweet sensitivity to the whole of the story to tell.

Do you sing in Beauty and the Beast?

I sang a song. Yeah, is it gonna be in the movie? You’ll have to ask Bill. Alan Menken wrote a brand new song for the Beast, because he doesn’t sing in the original animated movie.

Your wife is a singer. Did she help you prepare?

Yes. She helped with my audition, which I was terrified of. We’re a pretty musical household and it was lovely to have that. We’ve never really sung together all that much. It was a really beautiful thing to do. It was such an exciting project. The preparation was so intense and different to anything I’ve take on before, physically and vocally and also the technology we employed in achieving that. It was so groundbreaking and mysterious and weird and wonderful. I really felt all the sort of fairytale magic.

What directors would you love to work with?

I adore [Beasts of No Nation’s] Cary Fukunaga. I think his work is extraordinary. And I’d love to get involved with Werner Herzog. I think we’d have a crazy ride together somewhere.

What profession would you do if not this?

I would set up a vegan ice cream store.

Are you a vegan?

No. I tried it once, but I really like vegan ice cream.

Are you pulling for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders next week in the New York primary?

I’m a Bernie man.  

Are you for or against the Brexit?

Oh man. That whole situation is as much of a shitshow as this election, really. I think it’s unfortunate how the British population is being dragged into what’s essentially a dick-swinging competition to win the leadership of the Conservative Party over there. I think the interest of the British people are not really at the heart of the people proposing [it]. I think that’s a real shame. It makes me kind of mad that whole thing.

Who would you most like to meet?

Meryl Streep. I’ve never met her, and I bet she’s lovely.