SPOILER ALERT! This post contains details from the first episode of the Disney+ series Secret Invasion.
Nick Fury has finally returned to Earth.
The former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and founder of the Avengers, played by Samuel L. Jackson, made a significant return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Wednesday with the premiere of Secret Invasion on Disney+. For the past several years, Fury has been largely absent from the MCU, save for a few cameos. Audiences last saw him in the post-credit scene for Spider-Man: Far From Home, where he was lounging on a spaceship that appeared to be mostly manned by Skrull.
Now, rather than working with the Skrull, Fury is going up against them after a rebel faction has begun to try to take over Earth.
Episode 1 opens with Agent Prescod trying to convince Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) that a group of Skrulls are attempting to destabilize global politics by triggering acts of aggression between countries, claiming that five different global terrorist attacks over the past year were secretly the work of the alien race. He warns what would happen if the Skrulls were to get involved in the relations of two powerful countries.
Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t Agent Ross at all. It was actually a Skrull working for said rebel faction, who kills Prescod in an attempt to keep their plans a secret. He’s tailed by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), a former Skrull general who is now working with S.H.I.E.L.D, who quickly learns of the rebels’ plans and warns Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) that they are going to blow up — literally — relations between U.S. and Russia. After prolonged radio silence, they finally have a threat big enough to get Fury’s attention
The first episode also introduces viewers to the leader of the rebel faction, Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir). After quietly planting the seeds of terrorist events across the globe, he is prepared to take a big swing by framing the U.S. for a bombing in central Moscow. Fury, Hill and Talos fail to stop the bombing despite intel from Talos’ daughter G’iah (Emilia Clarke). To further display his upper hand, Gravik kills Agent Hill amid the chaos of the bombing.
Director Ali Selim spoke with Deadline about the first episode, diving into a story about Nick Fury past his prime, and making sure that Kingsley Ben-Adir’s villain “was never just a bomb yielding terrorist.” Read below for more.
DEADLINE: This show feels very Marvel, and also nothing like any of the previous MCU shows we’ve seen. What was your goal going into this series, as far as toeing that line?
ALI SELIM: The first thing that they said to me when I came on board is ‘Don’t read the comics.’ So I read the comics. I understand why they told me not to read the comics, but that was really, really valuable. It was less for me about ‘This is a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’ and more ‘This is the story we are telling.’ We’re telling the story of Nick Fury, that Samuel L. Jackson has evolved into now somewhat older, and probably wiser and more experienced, but also a little broken, disoriented by the blip, disoriented by the disorientation that the blip brought him and created an absence from Earth. He’s come back to accomplish a task that he’s been handed, and in order to do that task, I think he has to confront some issues in his personal life that he’s been avoiding. He has to go into his internal life and ask some questions about purpose and mistakes, fears, doubts. That made it all very interesting to me, because it’s on a human scale. I’m not as old as Sam, don’t tell him I said that. But I’m closer to his age than most people are, and I think I was excited by the prospect of telling that kind of story. So I felt like it really lined up with my interests and my storytelling ability.
DEADLINE: Why do you think they didn’t want you to read the comics?
SELIM: I think it’s just very simple that they were saying the story doesn’t come from there. It’s not based on the comics. It’s inspired by the characters in the comics. But really, the story was born out of the dynamic electricity created between Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn on set during Captain Marvel. And Marvel said, ‘We got to do something with that.’ That’s where the story was born. So they just told me not to get bogged down. Read the scripts, don’t read the source material, because the source material is not really source material.
DEADLINE: It’s definitely interesting to see one of the original MCU characters past their prime, per se. Generally speaking, most MCU heroes are younger, in their peak. How was it exploring that story with Samuel L. Jackson, who has been playing this character for so long now?
SELIM: This is something I think about a lot, and I feel in my life, and I think Sam thinks about it a lot and he feels it in his life. A lot of our conversations were about our personal lives and confronting a lot of these human-scaled questions and issues that Nick is up against. So our exploration was a lot of personal things. Also interesting because this was not a role that Sam Jackson stepped into. We have to say, ‘Well, this is a broken aging man.’ It was a role that Sam Jackson has had for 15 years and evolved into so his personal life is evolving into Nick’s personal life. And it made it personal, easier to access those emotional truths that make scenes and stories work so well. He’s also a great collaborator, and the consummate professional. We didn’t always agree on everything, but he just walked in and said, ‘Call me for the next one, and I’ll be there.’
DEADLINE: How did you develop your process for the shapeshifting of the Skrulls? There are so few scenes where we actually see them shapeshift, it usually feels more like a trick of the eye.
SELIM: Well, I think it’s a it’s a couple of things. One is the thematic answer, and one is the practical answer. The thematic answer is the scripts immediately dive into issues of trust and mistrust and paranoia and suspicion. And the character of Nick Fury, how he is presented in this show, takes me back immediately to film noir. I go back to not only The Third Man, which is the greatest of all, but also the 70s paranoid thrillers like The Conversation and Klute, and The Parallax View. Even All The President’s Men. All of those stories skate on a very gray-scaled world. It’s not binary, like superhero, and villain, it’s more anything could be anything. So the themes of the story really dictated to me that sense of gray, obfuscated, shrouded, so always shooting through things. The second part of the answer is maybe not that interesting. But I find the minute you look at a visual effect, you say, ‘Oh, that’s a visual effect.’ It doesn’t always feel quite as magical as we hoped it would. I wanted to, to the extent possible, avoid what we call full Frontal transformations, where it just happens in front of your face. I wanted it to be another thing like, you blinked and you weren’t sure what just happened. Just prior to the Moscow bombing, I found that particularly successful and magical with the little girl and walking behind the ice cream stand and all that kind of stuff. As a filmmaker, I love in camera trickery. So I try to do as much of that as possible. Not because I think it’s fun, but because I think it’s right for this story.
DEADLINE: Kingsley Ben-Adir as Gravik is someone who feels very calculated, but also like he could explode at any given moment. How did the two of you talk about some of those scenes in the first episodes where he sets that standard for his character?
SELIM: Kingsley and I are still talking about those scenes a year after we shot them. I think there’s this very interesting fine line between the terrorist and a sociopath. I think it boils down to intent and purpose. Kingsley and I were very cautious about making this man a terrorist who could blame his anger on the thing that he wanted, because it felt a little false in a way, but I think that’s what he needs to sell to his people. Right? ‘You want a home, this is how we’re going to get it.’ But for him, it had devolved into a specific anger and hatred toward Nick Fury. It what I always say when I worked on Looming Tower, and we talked about al-Qaeda and Gravik is not al-Qaeda, but it’s my experience that helped me get there… it’s not interesting to me to talk about a terrorist as being bad. Their actions mostly are reprehensible. But a terrorist came from a grievance, typically. I thought this show would be more interesting if we really examined Gravik’s grievance, which is a promise that Nick Fury made that he didn’t fulfill or couldn’t fulfill. That grievance came out of an environment, that environment being he’s a young boy, and he lost both of his parents, and he had no home. He turned all of his love and respect and admiration over to Nick Fury, and Nick Fury made him a promise that in exchange for that. And when he never did, I think that turned Gravik into a very angry, sociopathic killer, who then was able to rally support behind him by calling himself a terrorist and blaming it on the fact that they didn’t have a home. So Kingsley and I had a lot of conversations around that and trying to make sure that Gravik was never just a bomb wielding terrorist, but somebody who had a full life and a story and whether or not we agreed with his reprehensible acts, which I assume none of us do, we could understand his grievance.