Season two of FX’s X Men spin-off show, Legion, just wrapped and 25-year old Rachel Keller, who plays Syd Barrett, is on a high from the ride. From working on a food truck to working on television sets, Keller sits down with SBJCT to explain her journey through theatre school, living with her grandmother, and why she is thankful for every job and role that comes her way.
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Christy Key You graduated from Carnegie Mellon University- what is the greatest lesson you learned from your time at school? Who are your mentors?
Rachel Keller Drama school becomes your world and whatever is outside of it is eclipsed by the day-to-day training, which tends to come in waves of freedom and struggle really. There were certain things I understood about myself from the very beginning. I knew the training, as most things are, would be what I made it. I devoured it. I couldn’t get enough. The process, the play… more than anything else I wanted to spend a period of time where the intention was to explore. My first acting professor there, Matt Gray, was revolutionary. Truly unusual, his teachings were full of practicality. Opened my eyes.
CK I read you had many odd jobs before landing your role on ‘Fargo.’ What are some of the jobs you had before becoming a lead actress?
RK Working is important. I’ve always worked, mostly out of necessity and learned over time how rad it feels. I often long for the kids I spent time with as their sitter. Those families and that time in my life brought me unimaginable joy. During my first few weeks in Los Angeles I worked on a juice truck. Jay Epps runs the game there and he saved me from the sharp impact of moving to a new place, especially here. I got the opportunity to jam out and connect to humans and make yummy drinks, which transitioned me into this city beautifully.
CK Your big break was on ‘Fargo’- how did you do to celebrate when you found out you got the part as Simone? Who was the first person you told?
RK My love for this work has always felt quite private. It was a surprising call to get. It felt right though, too. I don’t really remember how I celebrated, I probably walked around stunned for a while. Jumped around a bit. I called my sister first. The thrill of being asked along is unlike any other. The pleasure I get from the work is my own and I will always have that, but to be asked along… I’m still celebrating.
I don’t know what’s ahead. I know I’m thrilled where I am, all the time thrilled.
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CK What was the biggest thing you took away from your time on ‘Fargo’ and working with Noah Hawley?
RK I was fresh to Los Angeles when Noah and I met. I knew the kind of work that would most interest me and was also aware of how little choice I had. When Noah brought me the opportunity to play Simone I knew it would be right for me. The time I spent on Fargo was dreamy. Blissfully creative and properly terrifying. I wonder sometimes if I met Noah at a time in his life when he was really ready. The reality is it can be very difficult to make what you want to make at this level. He doesn’t push much, it’s all very fluid. I trust him a great deal, I have from the start really. He’s a novelist, a proper writer, a craftsman long-form storyteller, and he writes instinctively. He seems to have reached a place where questioning himself is cumbersome and lets that go quickly. So, I really am a happy witness.
CK You are now a lead in Hawley’s X-Men spin-off TV series, ‘Legion’- were you an X-Men fan before getting the role? How did that influence your preparation for your role as Syd?
RK This vast universe and the material it produces has always excited me. It’s thrilling to see those blockbusters in the theatre and then to watch over and over. It’s easy to be drawn into these mythological, cosmically big stories about the outsider’s journey. When it’s done right, it’s a way into the soul of heroes and villains and everyone in between. There wasn’t much chat about X-Men specifically when we were preparing for ‘Legion.’ We were always posing the question: “If we take away the genre altogether, is there a compelling story at the center?” Whimsy, uncanniness, heightened reality, multiple realities, play, truth. Those were our entry points.
CK You play opposite Dan Stevens, previously on Downton Abbey. He’s major! What is your relationship like on and off screen?
RK We’re good buds. He’s totally human. Totally thoughtful. His gift-giving skills are wickedly impressive. I love actors. I find actors to be generous and warm-hearted people. It’s all about trust. You’re all there to imagine and explore and that takes a certain amount of bumping into things before you find the path. Aubrey [Plaza] said we’re all character actors thrown together and it’s true, it’s a pleasure working with such mindful players.
CK The show is fantastic! It has so many twists and turns- are you as surprised as we, the audience, are or do you see what’s coming?
RK Of course. Surprise is delicious. It’s built into our process really. The scripts sort of roll in slowly and we’re ready to be swept into it. I’m hooked on it. The work actually becomes an end in itself in a way, it’s still surprising to me that at the end of our work there’s a television show being made. The sets are gorgeous and strange, the crew works efficiently and thoughtfully. I like the sense that our show is teaching its audience a way to experience the unknown. The truth is there is no answer. There is no right answer or wrong answer. Legionallows space to live with the duality.
CK What roles do you want to take on in the future? Is there something you have yet to do that you are itching to be a part of?
RK All I’m trying to do is lay the groundwork and let it all come my way. I suppose I’m always on the hunt for something I couldn’t say no to. Something that draws me into a different orbit because when that happens my imagination frees itself. I don’t know specifically, it’s hard to say, I don’t know what’s ahead. I know I’m thrilled where I am, all the time thrilled.
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The pleasure I get from the work is my own and I will always have that, but to be asked along… I’m still celebrating
CK People may be surprised to find out your roommate used to be your grandmother. How is it now living on your own? What do you miss most without her there?
RK Home has been evading me for a while now. I never seem to be anywhere too long, so it’s almost as if I am home wherever I go. Gram is always home. I knew how special it was to spend that time with her and it was comfortable for me. We lived comfortably together for a while. She’s a practical lady, she’s a sailor and has quite a passion for it and we would share the space easily going about our lives. My roommates in school were similar actually, a lot of letting each other be. It’s a great gift to give that to whoever you inhabit space with.
CK We are asking the individuals we find to be extraordinary, #whatsyoursbjct? What is your subject? What moves you? in a handful of words…
RK What moves me… Oh, I don’t know. That thing that can’t be explained I guess. That really good moment where a little click goes off and everything feels alive. It’s hard to describe being moved. I don’t know why it happens when it does. I’m glad for it anyway. I know I am moved, all the time.