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The pandemic affected everyone in different ways. It has only made Simon Kinberg more productive.
On top of welcoming two newborn daughters into the world, the longtime producer of Fox's X-Men franchise has many irons in the fire these days: He wrote a script for a Netflix movie called Here Comes the Flood that Jason Bateman will begin directing next year; he's been promoting his super-team of actresses, including Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o, and Penelope Cruz, in the actioner The 355 (in theaters Jan. 7); he's producing a number of movies, from Edgar Wright's The Running Man to the long-gestating Logan's Run remake; he's penning a fresh take on Battlestar Galactica; and he's just about to launch the first episode of his ambitious Apple TV+ sci-fi series Invasion on Friday.
Kinberg maintains a strong passion for every single one of these ventures. "Now that I have a Brady Bunch house," he tells EW, referring to his four children, "I don't take on projects I'm not excited about. That's why it's easier for me to balance all these things."
Macall Polay/Apple TV + Sam Neill as John Bell Tyson in 'Invasion'
The X-Men movies became a huge part of Kinberg's life for the better part of 15 years, starting with 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, which he co-wrote with Zak Penn. But in light of Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox and all its properties, the superhero franchise came to a close. He directed one of its final installments, 2019's Dark Phoenix, and while a third Deadpool movie is currently in the works through Disney's Marvel Studios, Kinberg, who produced its previous installments, says he can't comment on the sequel.
"The X-Men films were a constant in my life," he says. "I think the thing for me that became the most rewarding was not just being able to tell stories I read as a child and adapt them [for] the screen, but we became a little family — the X-Men: First Class cast: Jennifer Lawrence and [Michael] Fassbender and [James] McAvoy and all the way down. Every two years, we knew we were going to spend four, five months in Montreal with this gang."
The silver lining to that door closing? It freed Kinberg up to pursue "original stories," he says. Invasion kicks off this next phase of his career.
"What I realized with Invasion is it was the first time I told a story that came entirely out of my imagination in almost 20 years — really since Mr. and Mrs. Smith." (Kinberg wrote the 2005 comedy-thriller, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.)
Doane Gregory/Fox Simon Kinberg directing Michael Fassbender on the set of 'Dark Phoenix'
In Invasion, an international cast that includes Jurassic Park veteran Sam Neill, standout indie star Golshifteh Farahani, Wynonna Earp actor Shamier Anderson, and The Outsider's Shiori Kutsuna helps tell the story of aliens descending upon Earth and the chaotic events that ensue. But the aliens themselves may be the least interesting part of the show — which isn't a dig. It's just that the 10-episode series, new episodes of which drop every Friday, is much more about how these seemingly disparate individuals respond to a slew of catastrophic situations.
The War of the Worlds, specifically H.G. Wells' 1938 radio broadcast, lingered heavily in Kinberg's mind as he sat down to write the script with David Weil, the creator of the Amazon drama Hunters, who also knows a thing or two about balancing multiple projects. Weil was in the midst of trying to get a green light for that series, about Nazi hunters in the '70s, when he started working with Kinberg on Invasion.
"I always wanted to tell an alien invasion story, namely The War of the Worlds, which inspired me as a young kid," Weil recalls. "What I really wanted to create was this sensation that [that] radio play did, which is that people didn't know whether they were listening to reality or fiction. So, when I heard Simon was looking for a partner to create Invasion with, we met and had this incredible four-hour-long meeting and just shared different characters we saw in this world."
Macall Polay/Apple TV + Golshifteh Farahani stars in Apple TV+'s 'Invasion.'
Those characters show how various places around the globe react to the titular takeover. Farahani portrays a Long Island mother of two who's dealing with marital issues right when the aliens arrive, which shifts her into survival mode. Kutsuna plays a member of a Japanese space force trying to figure out why the astronauts her team only recently sent on a mission mysteriously died in a shuttle explosion. Anderson plays a U.S. soldier based in the Middle East, while Neill plays a small-town sheriff just about to enter retirement when he witnesses unexplainable occurrences.
Weil hopes that, as the series progresses, the aliens become "characters that audiences can relate to and begin to understand." But, at least for the first few episodes, they exist primarily to "create a sense of urgency."
"The fear of the unknown and the unseen is always much more terrifying," he says.
Macall Polay/Apple TV + Shiori Kutsuna in 'Invasion'
What connects the central human figures is their shared sense of, well, alienation. That, Kinberg says, was crucial for the series. "The War of the Worlds and other alien invasion stories, what have they not been able to do? The first thing I said was that [we're] telling a global story about a group of very diverse characters. I don't mean just diverse racially, but in every way: their sexuality, their gender, their culture, their problems, they're struggles."
"We wanted to really try to turn the alien invasion genre on its head and explore characters who felt like aliens within their own worlds and lives," adds Weil, "and understand, when an alien invasion hits, are these characters more suited to survive, having had to struggle so often in their own lives?"
The pandemic shuffled around Kinberg's entire slate, including Invasion, which was filming in New York City in March 2020, when the early calls for lockdowns came. The 355 was initially going to be Kinberg's first work to hit screens post–X-Men, but now, as fate would have it, it's Invasion. The project is a timely and promising start of a new era for Kinberg.
Invasion premieres Oct. 22 on Apple TV+.
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