Jemaine Clement as Oliver Bird

A breakdown of Jemaine Clement’s great performance in Legion.

Like many people who’ve binge watched Legion, I was blown away by so many aspects of the show. The writing, the performances of the leads, the music, the aesthetic, the challenging narrative structure and the pure insanity of the show were all breathtaking. But one performance hasn’t had the praise it deserves: Jermaine Clement’s.  It was so good I felt compelled to create some clips of his performance and detail exactly why it was so epic.

There will be a lot of spoilers in the below, so only read on if you’re happy with that.

Frizzy-top and the Ocean

 

This is our introduction to Oliver Bird and it comes a little out of nowhere. To begin with, he is nervy and on edge as he talks about violence and human nature. Jemaine Clement uses tiny facial movements and extra breaths to convey his character’s unease in this segment right up to the ‘figure your shit out’ outburst.

Notice the immediate change after Oliver Bird looks into his drink and the large ice cube falls out. The twitches cease and he immediately becomes more self-possessed as he tells us of the role of stories in teaching us empathy and fear. It’s amazing how Jemaine Clement holds the watcher’s attention given just how many questions the watcher has at this point. Questions like; ‘Who is this guy?’, ‘Whats with the ice-cube?’ and the question we all had most of the time when watching Legion ‘What the hell is going on?’

As an aside. It’s cool how much the story of Frizzy-top and the Ocean parallels Oliver Bird’s own story. He too is an adorable character, full of perseverance, who got too close to an ocean and drowned. Both in the Astral Plane and later on when taken over by the Shadow King.

Oliver Bird meets Legion

 

There’s a lot going on in this scene but  I’d like to draw your attention to a few elements of Clement’s performance. First of all, I’d like you to notice how the sighs and hmms show the weariness of a man lost in the Astral Plane. Ultimately putting the emphasis on the word ‘drift’ to show a man who’s lost to the world but resigned to his fate.

The other aspect of the performance I’d like to draw your attention to is Clement’s movement. Although Doctor Bird clearly sees himself as something of a ‘cool cat’, there is a certain rigidity to his movements as he crosses the floor of his ice cube home. Note the self-conscious way he fixes his hair after offering David a drink. This shows a nervous quality beneath Oliver Bird’s groovy persona.

These small details are shown to be particularly nuanced when we consider Bird’s transformation after being contaminated by the Shadow King.

Bird and the King

This scene is just after Oliver bird has been infected by the Shadow King. Notice the subtle differences in how Jemaine Clement is playing this post-infection Oliver. First of all, we see the loosening of the cravat. He’s still a little uptight across the shoulder’s but there’s now an insouciance and fluidity in his movements that hints cleverly at the changes within. From this, we see that Oliver Bird has been taken over by the Shadow King but that he is still very much Oliver Bird, not simply the Shadow King in an Oliver Bird suit.

Perhaps this Bird-Shadow King meld has the confidence and suavity Oliver Bird always aspired to but never quite attained?

Three more cool clips

That ends the more detailed analysis of Jemaine Clement’s performance. These next three clips are simply some of my favourite Oliver Bird moments:

Jules Verne

I don’t know why this cracks me up. But it does:

He remembers Melanie

The moment he remembered his wife, and we realised it wasn’t going to end well for him.

Battle with Bolero

Just epic:

Yeah!

I don’t know how it’s possible to be so cool and stay in character when just saying Yeah! (Or something similar) but he pulls it off.

If you have read this article right down to the bottom, I’m going to assume you’ve already seen Jemaine Clement in Flight of the Conchords. But you may not be aware of the hilarious film ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ which you should also check out.

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