(This story contains spoilers for secret invasion.)
at the end of secret invasion, Emilia Clarke’s G’iah inherited a litany of MCU character superpowers, as Gravik’s (Kingsley Ben-Adir) plan to become a God-like Skrull backfired, resulting in his death. With G’iah now seemingly invincible, director Ali Selim opens up about how the G’iah-Gravik choice and superpowered fight came to be.
“It starts with Kevin Feige saying, ‘Every single superpower is fair game. Have fun,’ and then we did a storyboard. We would think, ‘What are the superpowers that will happen next?’” says Selim. The Hollywood Reporter. “And then we would go through the stunts and understand what superpowers can happen next and what can’t, just from the physical positioning of the actors. And then with VFX, some things just didn’t work because they looked weird going from this to that in an instant.”
Perhaps the most controversial choice the MCU has made in quite some time involves Don Cheadle’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes being revealed as a Skrull. While Selim says it’s still unclear when Rhodey first became Skrullified, all signs point to Captain America: Civil War (2016). That means Rhodey would not have been present at the death and funeral of his best friend, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).
Selim is well aware that this reveal is sure to ruffle the feathers of MCU fans, so he’s doing his best to take it all in stride.
“I’m worried about getting death threats because of that, and also because I’m the guy who took out Maria Hill. So I’m actually hiding now,” Selim says dryly.
Next, during a spoiler conversation with THRSelim also discusses the changes made to the initial confrontation between Gravik and G’iah, before offering his thoughts on the departures of Cobie Smulders and Ben Mendelsohn’s characters.
So now that G’iah (Emilia Clarke) has a smorgasbord of MCU character powers, it stands to reason that she’s the most powerful character in the MCU right now. Do you like the odds of her in the future?
I hate to deflect any question, especially the first question, but what’s going to happen to it is a great question for Kevin Feige. I found that not only his superpowers, but also his arrangement with Olivia Colman’s Sonya has great potential to launch something rude, like strong women in the future. But it also served, for me, as a great resolution to the story we were telling. So if it continues, it’s going to be exciting and huge, and if that was the resolution, I’m excited as a member of the audience.
secret invasion it was probably your most extensive experience with VFX, especially that final fight between G’iah and Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir). As you were supervising that sequence, was it difficult to show these unique individual powers without getting them mixed up?
Yes, the biggest concern was always getting them confused, and we were always applying emotional reactions from G’iah that would help her recognize what was happening. And maybe that would also give the audience just a breather to realize what he was realizing as it was happening. So yeah, it was a big focus during that time, but it’s also months and months and months. It begins with Kevin Feige saying, “Each and every superpower is fair game. Have fun,” and then we did a storyboard. We’d think, “What are the superpowers that happen next?” And then we would go through the stunts and understand what superpowers can happen next and what can’t, just from the physical positioning of the actors. And then with VFX, some things just couldn’t work because they looked weird going from this to that in an instant. So a lot of attention was paid to the story, but also to the limitations that the story placed on the sequence.
Thanks to the great stunt people and second unit, led by Rob Inch, and the great visual effects department led by Aharon Bourland. Even the storyboard artists we work with: Ian McCaffrey in Dublin and Aaron Sowd in Los Angeles. We all had our fingers to apply what this sequence would be, and when we were storyboarding, Aaron has a deep understanding of the MCU and leans into the comics. But Ian isn’t so much an MCU guy; he is more of a choreographer. So we put those two ideas together: what would become of the MCU and what seems lyrical and works? So a lot of different people pushed and chased, and I think it turned into a very fun and elegant fight.
Kingsley had an impressive monologue while G’iah was still sporting the Fury facade. He even got quite close by grabbing Faux Fury’s face. Do you remember how many times he gave that speech that day?
I wish I could say it was back in the day; it was several days. (laughs.) It was a very complicated sequence, and we shot things that didn’t end up in the final piece. But that came down to the actor’s process. Sam is a one to four take guy. Ben Mendelssohn is literally a five-shot guy. It’s the fifth take of him that you just can’t imagine anything better happening. But Kingsley loves to work and he’ll do it all day. I have a feeling that he probably asked us to do that speech six to eight times, so it’s a different process and a different way of finding your grounding and meeting point.
It was also a very technical scene because the set was real, but everything beyond the set was VFX. And at one point, there were other people on the scene who had to be accounted for with Gravik’s movements. So it was a complicated moment, but also, as you noted, it’s deeply personal between these two characters. There’s a vulnerability we rarely see in the MCU, where two characters talk about his grief instead of just venting their anger. So it was fun for me because it was more of an acting moment.
So, I have to imagine that Don Cheadle asked, “Hey, how long has Rhodey been held captive?” What did they tell him as to how long Rhodey had been a Skrull?
No, he never asked me that. He is a great collaborator. He was a detailed, logical guy who didn’t say, “How long have I been…?” But he was like, “Let me tell you why it could have been and let me tell you why it couldn’t have been,” which is an interesting way to get into the character of him. So, he would say this to anyone, but go back and visit all of Rhodey’s scenes in the MCU and see how he unpacks it now that he has a slightly different perspective on Rhodey or Skrull. But I don’t know if there is a definitive answer. I think he’s still open to interpretation.
I know your job is to execute the story you’re given, but it’s painful to think that the real Rhodey wasn’t present at Tony Stark’s death and funeral considering their friendship.
I’m worried about getting death threats because of that, and also because I’m the guy who took out Maria Hill. So I’m actually hiding now.
Speaking of Maria Hill, secret invasion said goodbye to the characters of Cobie Smulders and Ben Mendelsohn. Were those sad days on set?
There is no sad day with Cobie Smulders. She is able. She shows up, does her job, loves him, and brings incredible spirit. She and Sam had a bittersweet goodbye, but who knows where Maria Hill will end up. I don’t think she has any superpowers or serums that will keep her alive forever, but they could always make a movie that takes place before 2023, featuring Maria Hill.
And Ben, I have to say it was kind of the same. He loves being in the MCU, he’s grateful to be in the MCU and if they want to kill him, he’ll die. He also knows that anything can happen in the MCU, and they’ll bring him back if they think of a way to bring him back.
I can live without end credits scenes, but I know some people were surprised by the lack of one given that they are a staple of MCU storytelling. Was there ever an end credit scene?
None that I knew of. There may have been discussions in higher offices that I wasn’t involved in, but I don’t know. I think they use those end credits sequences to launch something or resolve something, and maybe this story seems to take care of itself. So I don’t know what they’re going to release other than Nick Fury getting on the spaceship to get ready for the wonders.
Sam Jackson and Charlayne Woodard were great together on this show, and in many ways, secret invasion it was about saving a marriage. But Sam told me at the beginning that he expected a little shock about casting Charlayne just because of their previous experiences together in Unbreakable and Glass like mother and son. Did their history together give you any pause during casting? (Writer’s note: in Unbreakable (2000), Woodard was originally cast to play the mother of young Elijah Price via flashbacks, but Shyamalan was so impressed with her performance that he made her mature for the final scene in the present).
I don’t I really only think in terms of great actors who have electricity or connection or chemistry, whatever you want to call it, and those two did it. So it might not be the perfect audience for the MCU because I don’t bring a lot of things with me to what I’m watching. I just think this is a story that is contained within itself and I loved it. And if they were together 20 years ago, great. Did you find it harmful that they had a history together?
In the least.
They’re great actors who bring great chemistry, and they were honest and clear about the scene they’re in now. To me, that’s exciting.
secret invasion now streaming on Disney+. This interview has been edited for length and clarity..