“Honestly I loved the script. I was given the script, just the first episode, but I did not stop reading, just page after page,” remembers Shioli Kutsuna when we speak to her about her Apple TV+ show, Invasion. “I think what I loved about this was that although we have aliens and invasion and CGI and all these chaotic crazy things happening, it’s very character-focused. Each story is extremely personal. That’s what really stood out to me. I really loved how personal this story was. It’s a very heartfelt, personal, human drama.”
Created by genre stalwart Simon Kinberg (Deadpool, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Twilight Zone) and TV guru David Weil (Solos, Hunters), Invasion is set across multiple continents and follows the devastation caused by an alien invasion through different perspectives of ‘ordinary’ people around the world; from school children in England and a US sheriff, to Japanese astronauts and a young family forced from their home.
“I think it’s very well written, the way that characters keep evolving from one scene to another,” says Firas Nassar who plays the father in that young family, Ahmed ‘Manny’ Malik. “It kept me captivated to try to understand more and reveal more about the character in the story. You can clearly see that in every character in Invasion. There are a lot of deep conflicts and nuances.”
Actually, though the show is called Invasion, the emphasis isn’t really on the alien attack at all, more on the personal stories of those who are in the middle of it: “They hadn’t decided a title when we were shooting, even to the last day of shooting, so we were all curious what they were going to name it,” Kutsuna tells us, “but I was quite surprised when they came up with ‘Invasion’, because the show does seem quite different from what you’d expect or imagine from that sort of title.”
“I’d say that Invasion for me is such a great mix of very well written drama, and very well written sci-fi. It focuses so much about human beings and what’s been happening on the earth,” Nassar adds. “It’s not only the invasion; you get to reveal little by little about the character from one scene to another, new information, a new thing, a new kind of behaviour, a new nuance that you haven’t seen before. The fact that it’s unexpected, in general, that’s what’s really captivating.”
One of those unexpected elements is Nassar’s character himself, Manny Malik, a family man with more than a few secrets. When the invasion happens, Malik is faced with the immense responsibility of protecting his family, something that doesn’t come naturally for him: “He’s not a superhero, not a perfect man,” Nassar explains of his character. “He’s a mix of feelings, a mix of behaviours, he’s a human being.
“One of my biggest wishes is people sitting on their couches or just sitting on the bus or whatever and watching the series (you know, since it’s on Apple TV+ and you can see it wherever you want) is that people might see themselves in there. I don’t want to play a character that you see only on screens. I am interested in playing characters that you can see on the streets.”
Though plenty of people may not see themselves in Kutsuna’s character, Mitsuki (she’s a brilliant scientist who works for the Japanese space division, JASA), the character has to cope with very real trauma. JASA has just sent their first astronauts into space but when something terrible happens to the team when they are up there, it’s up to Kutsuna to find out just what happened to them. This mission is made all the more personal as Mitsuki has been in a secret relationship with the crew’s captain Hinata.
Playing a character coping with not only an alien invasion but also intense secret grief meant that Kutsuna had a rather interesting first day on set: “So the very first proper day of shooting for me was something like four scenes of just breaking down and then this whole crazy sex scene in the end!” she laughs. “It was the most intense experience I’ve had on day one of any project! So I was a bit nervous. Even heading to New York on the plane I was quite nervous about taking on this character because it’s just a huge emotion that you need to bring within yourself. But I did a lot of mental preparation. I used everything I could – music, experiences, old memories… I did take time to gather all those things to be able to bring that to set. I freaked out when I first saw the daily schedule, but it was nice to get that done on the first day because, although there were more scenes where it required a lot of strong emotions, I think I was quite relieved to have that done.”
Speaking of getting things done, Invasion had started filming before the Covid-19 outbreak but had to stop halfway through as the world shut down, which meant that Kutsuna had to go back to her intense character after months away from her: “We shut down for half a year,” she nods. “I was really scared to go back to shooting. Especially since my character is dealing with grief and has these really strong emotions… I’ve never done that before and I didn’t know if I would be able to still contain those sorts of feelings. To go back to a role like nothing ever happened, was quite a challenge. Working on this show really proved to me and I was able to understand how important preparation is because, although I was scared to have that half a year break, I was able to spend a lot of time creating this character, and give her a proper back story.”
After a tough shoot and a tough year and a half for everyone, Kutsuna hopes that the series will have a positive effect on audiences: “We never knew that the world was ever going to be almost parallel and would be experiencing something similar [to elements of the show],” she says. “Once we shut down it was almost like what I was experiencing with my character was happening in real life. But living through my character was really encouraging. I hope people who watch this show, that are facing a really hard time in life right now might feel a little encouraged by watching it.”
Nassar hopes for a similar hopeful message for audiences: “I wish that people might ask some questions,” he adds. “Question stuff about family, about loneliness, about love, about betrayal, about foreignness, about identity. I’m not fantasising or thinking that this is going to change their lives but I do believe that this show’s really great in the way it’s been written, and I wish that people might ask some questions about these themes.”
The first three episodes of Invasion have now dropped on Apple TV+, with more episodes being released every Friday. So the real question is, should we watch weekly or save up the show in a big Invasion package to binge in one go? “I don’t usually wait as I just want to know what’s going to happen!” Kutsun laughs when we ask her that very question. “But I did see a few shows recently which was a weekly episode and it’s actually nice. It’s nice to be able to think about the last episode for a week, take time and be really looking forward to the next episode.”
Savour it or binge it, the first three episodes of Invasion is out now on Apple TV+.