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April 10, 2018

Trading Places

Legion’s Rachel Keller is finding herself in L.A.

John Griffiths
  • Sarah Dunn

One of the peculiar pleasures of Legion, FX's heady Marvel drama that just started season two, is Rachel Keller's body-switching character, Sydney "Syd" Barrett.

Her superpower goes haywire when people touch her out of the blue — making her romance with telekinetic David Haller (Dan Stevens) tricky. (And yes, her character's name is borrowed from the Pink Floyd co-founder who suffered from schizophrenia.)

Keller finds the understandably guarded Syd's predicament fascinating. "The closer she gets to someone, the more she loses herself. She illuminates what a real young woman experiences — with love, her boundaries, what she's made of."

Born in Glendale, California, but raised from age two in St. Paul, Minnesota, Keller says she was inspired by her dad, an elementary school teacher and drama coach. "I started learning acting when I was three. It always felt like a fluid, easy thing."

At the public Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Keller so dazzled as Maggie in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth that honchos at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University offered her a full scholarship.

There, Keller mounted a well-received one-woman show "exploring the women in my life." She also played the lead in the cute, locally filmed comedy Hollidaysburg, which came out of Starz's filmmaker competition series, The Chair. Later, at Carnegie Mellon's actors showcase in Manhattan, Keller landed a manager.

In 2014, right after graduating, she moved to L.A. and, like that, she signed with an agent. New to L.A., she didn't rent in Franklin Village, as so many Hollywood hopefuls do; she moved in with her grandmother in the Valley instead.

While juggling hostess and nanny jobs, Keller won guest parts on The Mentalist and Supernatural. Eventually, she was cast on Fargo as Simone Gerhardt, the Farrah Fawcett–haired mobster's daughter in season two. Series creator Noah Hawley, who also oversees Legion, loved her audition tape.

Coming up, Keller has a prominent role in the 2018 feature Write When You Get Work, opposite Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom) and Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story).

And she recently did get her own place in L.A.'s upcoming Atwater neighborhood, where she loves doing puzzles and yoga and watching Ingmar Bergman films. "Liv Ullman is rocking my world!" she says. Even so, she still calls grandma's place "home base" and enjoys sailing with her. "She has a beautiful boat out of Marina del Rey," Keller says. "She's not in it for the looks — she's in it hardcore."


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2018


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