Director Ali Selim On The Shocking First Two Episodes Of ‘Secret Invasion’

Secret Invasion’ is the new Marvel Disney+ series about a battle between two factions of the shapeshifting Skrulls and the humans here on Earth caught in the middle. Back in Captain Marvel‘s ’90s set story, the Skrulls were refugees without a planet. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, back for the first time since Spider-Man: Far From Home) has promised the Skrulls a new planet and Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos has become an ally of Fury. But a faction within has grown impatient and has decided the Skrulls should just stay on Earth and, while they are at it, get rid of all the humans by manipulating strategic violent events that will be sure to start wars between nations.

On top of that, the first two episodes (the first premiering this Wednesday) both end with fairly shocking developments (that won’t be revealed here.) Ahead, director and executing producer Ali Selim takes us through his interpretation of what this series means and how it does or doesn’t mirror some current events. And he tells us about Olivia Colman’s entry to the MCU as a British government agent who works more as a mob boss who is not a fan of the Skrulls and uses pretty drastic interrogation techniques that involve cutting fingers off (and she looks like she’s having the time of her life while doing so).

Olivia Colman cuts a finger off of a person. That is quite a scene. She’s having the time of her life.

I think she had a lot of fun and I actually don’t think that’s that far from Queen Elizabeth. Maybe Queen Elizabeth had people do it for her. And Olivia has told me on many occasions, and she just said this morning again, she has three teenage boys and she goes to see all the Marvel. And she said, ever since she saw the first one, she called her agent and begged, “Put me in one. Put me in one.” So I think this was less about who would be a great sadistic torturer and more welcoming Olivia Colman into the MCU, because she really wanted to be a part of it and play it. And I think we really gave it to her to play.

It’s mentioned in the first episode that a Skrull is trying to play off the rage and anger of others to promote violence…

Yeah, I mean, I think those kind of issues are Gravik’s motivation really…

It feels very timely. Especially with current events in the past week.

I understand the question. And I think it’s that balance of shepherding the incredibly powerful Marvel brand and telling the story within these six episodes and finding the themes that are interesting about trust and suspicion and identity. And it’s not a current events show. It’s about Nick Fury and Gravik. And if they have attributes from our current heroes and our current villains, I think it’s a great way to identify with character, but it’s less an exploration of current events and more an exploration of the inner lives of the MCU characters that we’ve come to love.

Was it difficult to kind of rework what happened in Captain Marvel? We learn the Skrulls aren’t the villains, but now they kind of have to be again…

Well, a lot of the questions you ask come from the script…

Yeah, but you have to make it believable.

I mean, it’s conflict intention. I’ve always said, even when I was working on Looming Tower and other espionage shows, I think that the best thing we can do to understand violent reactions to events is go back and understand the grievance that these people have and then go back even further and understand the environment that created that grievance. And I apply that to current events. I apply it to stories I’ve told. And I apply it to Gravik where he’s a more sympathetic and well-rounded character. Sympathetic is not exactly the word, but we understand him better because we understand the environment, the promise that Nick Fury made to him. We understand that ignited his grievance and the fact that his grievance is not being heard knights him to this level of violence. And I think to your point, it’s very much a current event and it’s very much true to the character at the same time.

Both episodes I saw end shockingly. Are we to expect that with every episode of all six?

I hope they never stop.

People will be talking about both.

I thought the end of episode two people would talk about, I thought the end of episode one, I would have hit squads.

Has that happened yet?

No, I’m safely ensconced in a hotel room, but once I go out on the streets, who knows?

This story is a lot different than the comics. How familiar were you with that story?

Honestly, not at all. When I started working on this 28 months ago, I was told, “Don’t read the comics.”

Oh, interesting.

This show comes out of energy created by Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn. And Marvel said, “We have to keep going with that energy.” So it really started as more of a buddy cop movie put back together, and then telling a story that presumably and undeniably expands on what’s in the comic books, but the comic books are not a foundation for this.

How hard is it not to read something when someone specifically tells you not to read something? That would make me want to read it.

Oh, I didn’t say I didn’t read it.

I see.

I said I was told not to read it.

Okay. So you did read it.

I like to stay informed. And then I can come to the end of it and say, “Oh, I see. That’s why they didn’t want me to read it.”

As you mentioned, Sam Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn are really great together. Both forces of nature.

It’s incredible. I mean, I would go home every night and look in the mirror and just feel glad that I didn’t ask for selfies and autographs.

I read about the influences. Two of them that really stuck out to me, The Third Man and The Searchers. I can guess why, but I’d like to ask why?

Well, it starts out as a story of trust and suspicion and spies and espionage and the political stakes of nation-states that we are familiar with fighting each other. And your mind goes to political thrillers and espionage stories. And I think the great espionage film noir is The Third Man.

Right. But The Searchers is a meditation on what a Western even was. So that’s a very interesting one to say.

Well, but that’s an evolution. I think Nick’s character evolves from a spy story, or this Secret Invasion evolves from a spy story into the lone battle of Nick Fury. He becomes a classic American gunslinger on mainstream. And I would go to The Searchers or High Noon and stuff. And I think it’s a nice evolution for the story to take. It’s nice bookends for the story to take and why not go to the classics?

Well, if that’s where you’re coming from with this, I suspect we have more surprises coming.

I hope so.

‘Secret Invasion’ drops on Disney+ on Wednesday, June 21. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.