“I’m somebody who went to college and didn’t take a single science or math class when I was there,” explains Simon Kinberg. “Unlike someone like a James Cameron, for whom that is their vocation, science is not something that comes naturally to me.” In other words, he surmises, “I need Astrophysics for Dummies.”
A lifelong fan of sci-fi, from Isaac Asimov to Aliens, the prolific writer-producer has put his stamp on the genre with entries like The Martian and his latest, Apple TV+’s drama Invasion. The series, co-created with David Weil, tells the story of an alien invasion through the eyes of five ordinary people. When creating his science fiction, Kinberg wants it to feel as grounded as possible, so he sought out experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as the SETI Institute, a research organization devoted to investigating life beyond Earth. (In a testament to this commitment to realism, The Martian had some audiences believing it was based on a true story to such a degree that the filmmakers had to release a statement to the effect of “No, we haven’t actually sent a mission of human beings to Mars yet,” remembers Kinberg.)
In readying for Invasion, a journey that began five years ago, Kinberg collected expert opinions and references on what the government does or doesn’t know about alien life, realistic military strategies in the case of an invasion and, yes, even astrophysics. “I think a part of science fiction, especially when it comes to aliens, that sometimes people don’t get right in storytelling, is what is in place right now in our militaries and our governments in case of an alien visitation,” says the showrunner. A note of personal interest for Kinberg that came to light through his research is understanding that aliens would have to change the Earth’s atmosphere to survive on our planet.
In the intervening years since his research for Invasion began, the general public has been made more aware of the U.S. government’s understanding of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs. In the summer of 2021, the government publicly released reports after looking into nearly 150 UAPs, concluding that several had no knowable explanation. This month, it was revealed that NASA would conduct a study to scientifically examine the unexplained sightings.
“For me it was suddenly like, we’re actually making a show that people may watch and feel like this could happen at any moment,” says Kinberg of these recent revelations, “as opposed to ‘this is a form of pure escapism.’ “
Despite being entrenched in the world of speculative alien visitation, the showrunner still finds himself surprised by the occasional report about extraterrestrial life: “You assume when you’re working in science fiction that the fiction’s going to be strange,” says Kinberg. “And then, suddenly, some facts start to come out that are as strange as your fiction.”
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.