‘Secret Invasion’ director Ali Selim on breaking the doors of the MCU

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in ‘Secret Invasion’. Des Willie

This story contains spoilers for the first episode of ‘Secret Invasion’.

Director Ali Selim Is Pretty Sure Marvel Fans Are Going To Kill Him After Watching The First Episode Of The Disney (DIS)+ Series Secret invasion. In the final moments, longtime MCU character Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) seemed to meet her death. We see Hill shot and bleeding on the ground in Russia, while Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is powerless to save her from Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a Skrull bent on taking over Earth.

“As soon as they see what happens at the end of episode one, they’ll send hit squads after me,” Selim confirms ahead of the premiere. Still, the director, who helmed all six episodes of the series, is confident in the story he’s telling. Everything that happens now will pay off later, even if it upsets or baffles fans. Selim approached the series, which pits Nick Fury against an army of Skrulls, as a spy thriller, hoping to keep it as grounded as possible. For Selim, an old TV director, Secret invasion was a dream project.

“This is the pinnacle of storytelling in Hollywood today, to work for Marvel,” says Selim. “For the past 10 years I have been working as an episodic director and I was brought in to make two episodes of this series. My connection to the scripts and my understanding of an aging hero who’s kind of lost – I explored that after having aging parents – I just said the right things about Nick Fury and that got me into three episodes. And then, through a series of circumstances and luck, I ended up with the whole project. It was an evolution.”

He adds: “If it hadn’t been an evolution, I probably wouldn’t have called. I mean, I’m the guy who made it The menacing towernot the man who made Winter soldier. But now I feel like I’ve grown into it.”

The series, starring Ben Mendelsohn, Olivia Colman, Emilia Clarke, Dermot Mulroney and Don Cheadle, follows events from Captain Marvel, as well as other MCU movies and TV shows. But Selim hopes it can stand on its own. Here, the director discusses the inspirations behind it Secret invasionhis rules for the Skrulls and whether Hill is actually dead.

Cobie Smulders (l) as Maria Hill and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in ‘Secret Invasion’. Des Willie

What was your emotional entry point into this series?

It’s Nick Fury’s story, and that’s the emotional starting point. Nick Fury is a human who cannot fly like other superheroes. He’s a superhero of his kind, but since he can’t fly, I felt like it was a really grounded and human story. It was something that I could not only tell, but also contribute to because I understand that world. There’s a human scale that feels universal, rather than a universal scale that tries to feel human.

It feels very human, because that’s what I’m really drawn to. We immediately latched on to that aspect of Nick Fury returning to Earth and putting his feet back on the ground for the first time in a long time and trying to find his footing in a very real and human and non-sci-fi way. That drew us to the themes of trust and suspicion, which is what drew us to film noir. We got into cobblestone pretty quickly for the first few shots in the story, because we wanted to put Nick’s feet on the ground in a really safe and vulnerable way.

Was that visual style inherent to the scripts?

The first few pages of spies and alleys and the inset is Earth and not some fictional planet somewhere, it felt very political thriller, very espionage, as opposed to superhero. The cameraman and the production designer and I went straight there The third guy And The conversation. I don’t think it’s a spoiler that what Nick acknowledges, or comes to learn, is that this is his battle and his battle alone. And he is a man and all he has to fight with is his moral code and his beliefs. The visual style came very much from that theme and those ideas.

Director Ali Selim behind the scenes of ‘Secret Invasion.’ Gareth Gatell

When you tell a new story within an established landscape, how much can you assume people know and how much do you have to tell about that world?

It was a constant effort on our part. Marvel is iconic in its own right. The Nick Fury character is iconic in his own right. Marvel has an incredibly powerful and valuable brand that you want to nurture. And his fans expect references to the MCU that make them feel like they own it in some way, and they do. But at the same time, I believe that your story should exist within the box that is your story. You can’t rely on people to bring knowledge from a movie made 10 years ago, and you can’t expect people to bring knowledge about current events. If you want that in your story, you have to put it in your story.

I think we tried really hard to make it a stand-alone piece. The test we’ve always applied to it was, on the one hand, I have my wife, Robin, who has no clue about the MCU, and on the other, I have my daughter’s fiancée, Ryan, who is arguably the biggest super fan. We would always say, “Does this story element pass the Robin test or the Ryan test?” And if it only passed the Ryan test, we had to bring it back so that it could hopefully pass the Robin test.

It’s good for Marvel to understand who their huge fan base is. But it’s also good for Marvel to think about expanding into the world of the Robins so they can continue to grow their audience. Not all of their audiences can watch all Marvel productions to understand Secret invasion.

While the first episode is mainly set in Moscow, you filmed in London. Eagle-eyed fans may realize that the park is actually Hyde Park towards the end. Did you have to be aware of spoilers when filming somewhere so public?

We didn’t use decoys, which I know is common practice. For example, if you go out in public, have a decoy scene or decoy actors to scare the fans off a bit. But it was chaotic enough in Hyde Park. Ben was there and Colbie and Sam, and there were 500 extras, dressed as Russians and speaking Russian. I don’t think anyone had any idea what was going on. So it didn’t feel like we unveiled the ball in Hyde Park. I never felt the need for decoy scenes. Much of it was also shot in Pinewood [studios] and that’s like entering Fort Knox.

What other cities did London double for?

London doubles ahead of Moscow, ahead of Washington and Oxford. We’ve done almost everything in London. We shot around England a bit. Liverpool for a while, Leeds and Halifax. There were some big sets that you just couldn’t finish in London.

The premiere jumps right into the action. How did you determine the best way to speed up the episode?

There is a lot of information that needs to happen in the first episode. The story has to exist within the box that is the story, but a lot of high octane has to come out of it as well. Thanks to Kyle Bradstreet, who created it and wrote that first episode. I think he really found a sense of pace and disclosure and the right way to bury the exposition information. And more importantly, for me it sets the tone. The question who can you trust?

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Skrull leader Gravik in ‘Secret Invasion’. Courtesy of Marvel Studios

For those unfamiliar with the comics, can Skrulls take the form of anyone they see?

It’s a good question. When I walked in I was told, ‘Don’t read the comics. They have nothing to do with what happens on the show. It’s just the basics.” If you want to know the MCU version of the Skrull, go back to Captain Marvel and watch Ben Mendelsohn’s introduction. But we made a set of rules that worked for the story. The idea is that a Skrull can scan your DNA and look like you, just like different versions of shapeshifting.

The first version is a Skrull who has to flee the restaurant so looks at another restaurant, gets fed up with that quick DNA scan to look like them, walks out of the restaurant and then becomes who they are. But the real strategy Gravik has is to occupy these people. To do that he had to frack their brains and he had to constantly frack their brains. So basically you have to kidnap the human, put it in a capsule. It’s easy to take on their appearance – their shell – but harder to completely mimic them.

So as the series progresses, we don’t yet know who is a Skrull or who isn’t.

It will all be revealed. But yes, as it progresses, you should be surprised at every step.

The Skrulls are clearly very strong, as we can see in the battle scenes. What are the physics of their abilities?

Again, it’s just a rule that’s made. The rule is that a Skrull in Skrull form or a Skrull in human form is about 15 percent stronger than a human. But they can’t fly or they don’t have any super powers. They are only 15 percent stronger.

Did you sit down in the beginning and write down all these lines?

Yes, you have to figure it out. Because every time you come to fight, you’re like, ‘Okay, how are we going to choreograph this fight? We need some rules for it. They can’t just have superpowers. We all have to explain that.” We had a lot of Skrull rules, and then we changed them along the way to make sure they led us to episode six.

In the series, Nick Fury does not wear his famous eye patch. Is there a psychological reason behind that?

I think he’s just tired. Old men grow old and forget to close their robes. And they say, ‘Whatever, I’m just an old man. I have earned this.” I think Nick Fury has a bit of that: “I’m tired. I’ve been in the slump. It was very confusing.” To Sam, the blip was a bit like lockdown. Like, ‘Where did I go? What happened?” And so he had a real connection to that feeling of it. And we all learned something during the pandemic. I read a great op-ed in the New York Times about soft pants. I haven’t worn hard pants since before the pandemic. And I think I’m going to wear soft pants for the rest of my life. And that’s the eye patch. Nick says, “You know what, I’ve been through the blip. I’ve been gone. I’ve lost my step.” I’m not going to wake up every morning and put that on.” Until, of course, it’s time to get his mojo back.

At the end of episode one, Maria Hill takes a bullet and appears to die. Is she really dead?

Don’t know. What do you think? In the MCU, people come back. I’m here for it Secret invasion, so I don’t know what will happen to Maria Hill. But you will [see more] in episode two.

Did you have any discussions about the impact of your series on the greater MCU?

Yes. I could always make my case for story points and story beats and what had to be in episode one pays off in episode six. But Kevin Feige is the mastermind behind what’s to come. So I’d say, “This has got to be here in episode one so we can do this in episode six.” And he’d say, “Well, I want this to happen in episode six, because five movies from now on Phase 11, I’ve got this plan.” And we were like, “Great, that’s great. Then we will.” It’s all about herding the brand and breaking its doors at the same time. It’s a balance.

'Secret Invasion' director Ali Selim on breaking the doors of the MCU

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *