(The following story contains spoilers for Secret invasion‘s series premiere, “Resurrection”.)
Secret invasion star Kingsley Ben-Adir had already made a name for himself among fans of Netflix series like Peaky Blinders And The OAbut his role as Malcolm X in Regina King’s One night in Miami (2021) was when the British actor really broke through within the industry as a whole. Just two weeks after the release of MiamiBen-Adir got a call from Marvel Studios with a direct offer to play Gravik, the Skrull villain from their six-part miniseries, Secret invasionstarring Samuel L. Jackson.
Marvel copper tempted Ben-Adir with two scripted scenes, including Gravik throwing Jackson’s Nick Fury across a room. (There’s a bit in the trailer.) So the opportunity to work one-on-one with Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn sold Ben-Adir right away.
“That (Nick Fury fight scene) was one of the scenes I read before accepting the job. So I felt all those feelings when I was reading it, and I was like, ‘Oh man, this is going to be a week or two of Sam on the floor.’ So that scene and another scene with Ben (Mendelsohn) made me say, ‘Wow, I really need to do this,'” Ben-Adir tells me. The Hollywood Reporter.
In Captain Marvel (2019), Fury and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) promised their Skrull allies that they would find a new planet for them to call home, as long as they helped take care of Earth in the meantime. Well, after nearly three decades, Fury and Danvers have failed to fulfill their promise, and Gravik took that personally, which is why he’s now seizing Earth by any means necessary. Ben-Adir also suggests there is more to it than just retaliation.
“He’s had enough of listening to people who are full of shit, and it really became a simple thing to wrap my head around,” says Ben-Adir. “The audience will sense that there’s a tension or something that’s not being said, and that there’s something you don’t know about the way he feels.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THRBen-Adir also discusses the inspiration of Amazon’s crime series ZeroZeroZero had on his creation of Gravik.
Well, Kingsley, I’m quite concerned about your character’s sugar intake.
Is this an indication that Earth’s offerings aren’t enough for his palate?
I think that’s the only thing he likes. It may be his only pleasure. His last little pleasure. There was only a cup of tea and sugar on the table that day, and it was something we kept.
I counted four or five sugar cubes in one cup.
There will be more sugar cubes as we go along.
So this came your way on the heels of One night in Miami?
It was a few weeks later, yes.
Have you had to endure a lot of rigamarole? Or was this an outright offer?
Direct offer, yes.
So Gravik is the villain of the play. What can you say about the events and relationships that led him to this place?
Massive trauma, massive mistrust of leadership, feeling let down time and time again by various authority figures and leaders, seeing war – it’s the buildup of all of that. Later we see him explain some of those reasons why he feels the way he does, but it’s the abuse of power, the mistrust of leadership, the broken promises, and the feeling that he’s had enough. He’s had enough of listening to people who are full of shit, and it really became a simple thing to wrap my head around. I was like, “I understand this kind of feeling that creates these guys who act this way.” The idea was to create something grounded, real and darker, and it felt appropriate to think of him in those terms. “Who are these guys? What kind of behavior is this?”
So the more I watched cult leaders capable of manipulating entire communities of people into committing these heinous acts for justifiable reasons, it felt appropriate as the villain in this piece to explore the antisocial personality disorder side of things. The justice of what he’s doing is this complete mess, and it’s just how he uses and manipulates people. He’s constantly testing everyone, and that’s going to be quite fun to play. It becomes something you can ground yourself into, and that’s when I felt all the scenes started to have more interesting layers than just what he was saying.
What he says and what he does are two different things. He says it’s for his people, but what seems more important to him is that Nick Fury experiences it as it happens. So we’ll see more of this later with other characters, where you go, “This guy does and says very different things, so there must be something else going on.” Otherwise it’s just boring. We have seen it and it will not be felt. So the audience will sense that there’s a tension or something that’s not being said, and that there’s something that you don’t know about the way he feels.
In the trailer, there are footage of a dozen Graviks meeting Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). Was it you with a bunch of lookalikes? Or did they shoot you in every place and put everything together?
Yes, they shot me (every spot). Well, all the people were standing in their positions as the waiters and the other people in that room, and then we would shoot where the real people were standing. And then I went to all these different positions and did the exact same thing as them. And then they’d go off and do a whole bunch of CGI tricks to change them together. There’s a special camera they used to do it. It was a huge thing.
The trailer also shows Gravik punching Nick Fury across a room. To work with Sam on that level, was that another moment where you stopped to take in how far you’ve come?
Yeah, that was a “taster” scene they sent early on. I keep saying mock scenes, but they just sent me a few scenes to give me an idea of what they were building and where they wanted the character’s journey to go. And that was one of the scenes I read before accepting the job. So I felt all those feelings when I was reading it, and I was like, “Oh man, this is going to be a week or two of Sam on the floor.” So that scene and another scene with Ben had me saying, “Wow, I really need to do this.”
Have you modeled yourself on villains of the past? Have you pulled bits and pieces from someone?
Yes, I was watching ZeroZeroZero coincidentally at the time. It was a show I watched before I got the offer, and then I watched it a few more times after that just because I loved it so much. I also wanted to watch it again because of the subtitles; I knew I had missed pieces. And (Harold Torres’) performance as Manuel, who was the leader of a group in Mexico, was just amazing. It was understated and there was something very dark and sinister about it. His behavior and what he did was so traumatic. From the violence he could see and inflict, I was like, “Gravik gets interesting when he’s a little bit like that.” He has a certain tension and a certain mystery in his behavior. He uses and manipulates the people around him. So it was really that show (that I pulled out of), but there are a lot of villains that you look at and say, “Don’t do that.”
And lastly, I’m still bitter about it The OAthe cancellation. In the grand scheme of your job, where does that job stand for you?
Oh man, that was huge. That was a huge offer when it came in, and it took a while to figure out if a visa would come in time. And I remember thinking, “Oh man, if this visa doesn’t come, it’s going to be devastating.” There was someone else who was supposed to play the part for me but couldn’t, so it was crazy how it ended up on my desk. But it was huge, and it was my first or second big job in America. I was more or less leading a show, which I hadn’t done before. So that was huge for me personally.
Secret invasion now playing in cinemas. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.