Aubrey Plaza’s David Bowie inspired portrayal of Legion’s Lenny Busker makes the devilish character impossible to ignore on screen
If we say the name Aubrey Plaza, chances are the image you conjure up in your mind is her hilarious turn as April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation. Her deadpan style of delivering lines made her a breakout star on the show, and she has made numerous appearances in television, animation, and movies in a comedic role. Best known for being an improv and sketch comedian, Plaza has traditionally been cast as the pretty slacker/rebel/love interest.
When she was cast in FX’s Legion as David Haller’s equally disturbed best friend Lenny “Cornflakes” Busker, many of us probably wondered how she would fit into an otherwise dramatic show. In fact, Plaza has made it clear in interviews such as the one she did with Vanity Fair that creator Noah Hawley always intended for Lenny to be a middle-aged man, but something about their meeting changed his mind. She still insisted that he keep all the original dialogue and action. In fact,
“I was interested in making Lenny a man and a woman at the same time, and not being tied down to anything gender-wise.”
Lenny is mentally disturbed, frequently engages in illegal activity, and basically enables David to remain as stuck as she is. There didn’t seem to be anything in her character description that would be lighthearted or hilarious, which made us wonder just how this lithe, beautiful actress would pull it off. Now that the season one finale has aired, we have to say that we could imagine no one else who would have done the role justice.
Despite playing traditionally attractive roles, Plaza had no problems getting down and dirty as Lenny
As we mentioned before, Plaza usually plays pretty on screen. No matter how poorly behaved her character may be, she is superficially attractive. In Legion, Lenny Busker transitions through a multitude of looks, many of which are less than appealing physically. By becoming the androgynous Lenny, Plaza forced us to see past her looks and strictly at her talent, which we must admit, is quite impressive. She doesn’t shy away from the physical transformation she must make to convincingly play a drug-addicted, mentally unstable young woman. The unexpected benefit, however, of having an actress as attractive as Plaza means that her outward appearance can be used to reflect change, which the show does brilliantly. We as the audience get a visual cue at every stage of David’s development, and it’s a grounding mechanism for where the plot is at that moment.
We start out seeing that Lenny clearly not in the best shape, often looking disheveled, gaunt, and with wildly colored makeup. She wears clothes that look like it came from a lost-and-found and is more worried about her next score than pleasing others with her cleanliness. When Lenny takes over David’s mind and traps the Summerland gang inside, her immaculate presentation reflects her control over him. Not a hair is out of place, and she takes on a distinctly more seductive look. When she is revealed to be the Shadow King and begins to lose the grip on David’s mind and body, her physical form deteriorates like a rotting corpse, with cuts, bruises, and torn clothing everywhere.
She’s still funny, but in the I-might-kill-you-while-you-sleep kind of way
One of the things about David’s friend Lenny is that she finds the humor in any situation, no matter how dark or hopeless it seems. She finds joy even at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, where she entertains herself by watching drool coming off a fellow patient’s face and barely participating in group therapy sessions. Her constant optimism often seems out of place in the situations she and David get themselves into, including when they go in search of drugs. Her childlike delight in provoking and enabling David’s bad behavior makes us both angry and scared, but her unending loyalty to him through everything was admirable. Even as we watch her lose control of David and become increasingly agitated, she still cannot stop herself from shooting off snarky responses that we secretly find impressive.
David: “They’re helping me.”
Lenny: “Oh, like the hospital helped you?”
David: “No – I’m not sick. I have abilities. They’re showing me my past. I have power.”
Lenny: “Oh, that’s good. I’m happy for you. Meanwhile, who knows how many commandos are gang banging your sister, but that’s all right. That’s good. Work on you man, that’s what matters.”
David: “But Melanie said…”
Lenny: “Melanie said – you think Melanie’s on your side? That bitch’s secrets have secrets.”
Plaza seems right at home with the crass comments and scathing remarks that Lenny makes on a regular basis, delivering them so naturally you’d think she wrote the lines. She makes an immediate impression in the first minutes she has on screen, bopping happily to whatever music she is listening to in her headphones. We still get to see her deadpan delivery, turning topics that are not inherently funny into moments of dark humor. Despite our misgivings, Plaza reminds us that Lenny brings laughter to David’s life, even if it isn’t always in the healthiest way. Throughout the rest of the eight episodes, we gradually see Plaza take Lenny from inappropriate to downright terrifying. It speaks to her talent that we still find ourselves chuckling along to her outrageous behavior, even when we know it’s doing harm to our favorite mutants.
She quips, she terrifies, and she even dances
One of the biggest twists in this season was the revelation that Lenny Busker is in fact, pretty much a figment of David’s imagination. While Philly confirms there was a Benny who dealt drugs to David, Lenny never existed outside of his fractured mind. Who, then, is this woman? Well, it turns out that Lenny is just a mask for a powerful mutant named Amahl Farouk, or the Shadow King. Not only is Farouk power hungry and incredibly dangerous, but he seems to take a sick pleasure in torturing David and the rest of the Summerland gang during the time they are trapped in the prison of his creation. Plaza maintains the same dark, straight-faced delivery of Farouk’s lines, but adds a layer of unhinged deviousness that sends a chill up our collective spines. This is best demonstrated by the second, gorgeously directed dance number in Legion (the first being David and Syd doing Bollywood), where Lenny dances her way through destruction and chaos.
While helmed by innovative music video director Hiro Murai, Plaza has stated in an interview with The Wrap that the script for Chapter 6 instructed her to “rub her stink all over David’s memories.” What she actually did was consult with choreographers Vanessa Young and Geneen Georgiev to combine striptease, burlesque, and jazz with tearing up room after room for the overall number. What did we think? It was glorious, and we hope for more!
While David has rid himself of Lenny/Shadow King’s influence, she’s not out of the picture yet
The season one finale had David finally confronting Lenny/Shadow King in his brain, demanding to have his body back. After a tense showdown that led to a Chinese telephone-esque transfer of her mind from one Summerland body to another, she is blown out of Kerry last as David slams into her with all the telekinetic power he can muster. We see a dark entity rush out of the blast and strike Oliver Bird in the chest, throwing him into the generator room before he emerges from a red-lit room. We know what that color hints at, and sure enough, we see him strut out of the compound in the way only Lenny can. We’re left with Lenny riding in the car with Oliver, newly decked out in a groovy dress and perfect ‘60’s hair, telling him to start with someplace warm.
Considering how commanding Plaza was on screen in every episode, it would have been a crying shame to let her go after one season. She managed to create a villain that was undeniably intriguing, and we couldn’t help but laugh at her antics even when she was trying to kill our heroes. We’re incredibly excited to see what season two will bring for our favorite mutant psychopath, and for the chance to see Aubrey Plaza bring her brand of insanity back to our televisions soon!