When celebrities hang out with Bustle editors, we want to give them the chance to leave their mark. Literally. So we hand them a pen, a piece of paper, a few questions, and ask them to get creative. The rest is up to them. This time, Legion star Lauren Tsai is leaving her mark in the Bustle Booth.
In one of Lauren Tsai’s doodles, the body of a girl holds her disconnected head at arm’s length, scrutinizing it in a way one can only imagine a headless body would gaze upon its own pallid face. “I don’t trust you,” the caption reads.
It's a simple sketch, but its deeper emotional implications wouldn’t feel out of place on Legion, FX’s mind-bending interpretation of the story of the Marvel comics character David Haller, a mutant whose psychic powers are initially diagnosed as schizophrenia. The show, whose third season premieres June 24, smears a psychedelic dreamscape over the typical superhero story so that David isn't the only one questioning his reality — viewers constantly are, too.
So was 21-year-old illustrator and model Tsai when she found out she nabbed the role of Switch, a young mutant who plays a key role in Legion Season 3. Though she makes getting cast in her first acting role look remarkably easy — roughly two weeks after filming her second audition on her iPhone at her home in Tokyo, Tsai was notified she got the part — Tsai says she was plagued by self-doubt.
"My initial response was, 'There's no way I’m gonna get this part, I'm not an actress,'" Tsai tells Bustle. But she went for it anyway, fulfilling the dreams of her teenage self, who always wanted to try acting but never pursued it ("I got very un-confident in middle school," she says plainly).
These days, though, Tsai has plenty to be confident about. After becoming a low-key fan favorite on the Hawaii-based spinoff of the acclaimed and gloriously unsensational Japanese reality show Terrace House in 2017, Tsai, a Chinese-American fluent in Japanese who grew up in Hawaii, returned to Tokyo to start a career in modeling and illustration. Since then, she's lent her dark, trippy aesthetic to everything from a mural for Mortal Kombat in L.A. to a variant cover of Captain Marvel to a Marc Jacobs line of apparel and accessories.
Now she's putting her aesthetic sensibilities to use on Legion, too, consulting on Switch's colorful combination of modern and vintage clothes with the show's costume designer and weaving a few of her own illustrations into Switch's notebook full of doodles. But while Tsai certainly made herself at home in Legion creator Noah Hawley's dark world, learning to overcome her personal fears on set and open herself up emotionally through acting came less easily.
"I think one of the most important things about Legion," Tsai says, choosing her words deliberately to encapsulate this revelation, "is to not be afraid to be fearlessly feeling what you need to feel and expressing that in a bunch of different ways — whether it’s screaming, crying, singing," she says. It's clear from her measured way of speaking that brazen theatricality in these forms is not Tsai's default way of being, and she admits as much. "These are things that I didn’t even feel comfortable doing as myself in person."
Leave it to the mind-scrambling powers of Legion to free Tsai from the anxieties of her own head. All that's left to do is for us to join her on the ride.
Learn more about Tsai in her Bustle Booth questionnaire below.