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Invasion' co-creator David Weil on the importance of genre characters and working with Simon Kinberg

October 23, 2021
6 min read time

Just like the worldwide alien invasion it’s about, the sweeping science fiction drama series Invasion premiered globally on Apple TV+ yesterday, subjecting audiences everywhere to the tense, haunting and action-packed adventure from the minds of Emmy® Award-nominated writer-director-producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men, Deadpool, The Martian) and David Weil (Hunters). Kinberg and Weil co-wrote and also co-executive produced the Apple Original series, along with its director, Emmy Award nominee Jakob Verbruggen (The Alienist).

The beautiful thing about this particular alien show is it’s not really about the aliens (as fantastic as they play out in the series). But rather, what they mean for humanity and, as co-creator Weil expands on, just how important character is to grand, sweeping genre pieces.

Weil seems to have been the perfect choice when it comes to writing Invasion. Fresh off writing Hunters and Solos, while vastly different genre pieces, both at their heart are about the human experience — as is Invasion.

"I love to flex different muscles; I love to play in different genres. I love to try and find an incredibly human story in very different types of larger genres or stories, so it was a real thrill and it was so necessary, you know. I think you play in and dream up in one world or in one story so much that it's such a wonderful relief to then play in a different genre. But moving from hunting Nazis to surviving aliens was more similar, honestly, than you would think," chuckles Weil. "But there was still a lot that was different, that was exciting to tackle."

Invasion was a new world of discovery in more ways than one for Weil, as the show marks his first experience co-creating a project.

"I am trying to think back now because of all the many unproduced screenplays that I've done as well, but yeah, Invasion was the first time I ever co-created something, and it was just such a gift. Simon is incredible and when I found out that he was looking for somebody to create an alien invasion series with, I jumped at the opportunity. I've been such a fan of his for such a long time, especially his ability to — again — play in genre; I mean from X-Men, Mr. & Mrs. Smith to The Martian. He’s done and written and created or produced so many incredible works that have inspired me, so it was such a dream and a joy."

Even for an accomplished screenwriter, though, those first meetings can be nerve-wracking.

"I was very nervous," Weil admits.

"I was ultra prepared with all these different characters and ideas, and I think we spent about four or five hours just sitting on his couch, just talking about this character and that character and this guy, I mean, we broke so much of the story on that first day because we were just so giddy and excited, and we found such a synergy in the way that we think about characters and stories. Over the course of this brilliant adventure, I've learned so much from him, from his mastery of character and dialogue and arcs and structure and everything; I mean he's so gifted and so much fun; what a thrill it's been to create this with him."

And Weil genuinely sounds thrilled while discussing his and Kinberg’s process — especially the part where they didn’t have to rein in their big ideas: "Those early sessions with Simon and Audrey [Chon, executive producer] where anything was possible ... this ability to dream big and it was so organic, and then for Apple to come along and instead of saying 'hey can you guys rein it in,' they said, 'Let’s go bigger.' That was a thrill for us to just keep creating and dreaming."

Their writing process also included creating a very specific tone for Invasion. We all know going in that the show is going to be about aliens, but you just keep waiting for them. It’s a fascinating approach and creates an immense amount of intentional tension.

"That sort of restraint felt innovative, it felt real. From Hitchcock to Jaws, I think it's that fear of the unknown, and the unseen; it’s so potent. And, yeah, the invitation that we love to offer an audience is 'come along with us for this ride, we will assure you that there will be a true invasion and thrills and so much that happens.'" 

But Weil points out what the best writers know: thrills are great, but we’ll only buy into them if the characters are worth it.

"I think what we wanted an audience to do is spend time with our characters to live in that great tension. Because once it explodes, it explodes, you know? It's a bullet train to the end. And because the series is 10 episodes long, we did feel that the more invested you could be in the characters from the beginning, the more those great twists, turns and thrills that come very soon after the first few episodes are, the more thrilling that they will be because you care so deeply about these characters."

As the series events unfold, we’re introduced to multiple storylines around the world, but there were a couple that especially stood out for Weil: "Aneesha [Golshifteh Farahani] was a day one character for us. She's someone who we just loved in our conversations and on the page, and in the shift to bringing her to life is just so captivating and emotionally raw and dimensional and deep, that we've just come to love her even more and connect with her even more. … I think I see a lot of myself in Casper [Billy Barratt]. Growing up as a kid on Long Island who loves comic books and things. I think Simon and I both could attest to those sorts of early beginnings for us in our childhoods," he laughs. "I think we saw ourselves in Casper in a big way."

These types of empathetic and captivating characters with very different experiences were precisely what Weil and Kinberg were hoping audiences would take away from Invasion.

"I think that what Simon and I were excited about was turning the convention of the alien invasion genre on its head. In the genre, these stories often center around these white Western heroes, and so for us, Invasion was an opportunity to tell an incredibly global story. To tell a story about people who feel alienated in their own lives, in their own societies, who have to then struggle with an alien invasion. And are those people better equipped to deal with an alien invasion than others who don't face those challenges in their day-to-day life? So that was exciting to us. I think so too, we wanted to tell a story that felt incredibly real ... this, to us, is an expression of what we think would happen if aliens actually invaded our planet. And so, we hope, and we believe that our characters make choices that, you know, you and I would make." 

See all of those choices for yourself, starting with the first three episodes streaming on Apple TV+ now and more added weekly, to feel what living through an alien invasion is like.

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