Foundation showrunner breaks down the new trailer for Apple's sprawling sci-fi series
David S. Goyer speaks to EW about adapting Isaac Asimov's influential books for the first time.
Welcome to Foundation, Apple's biggest, most ambitious TV series to date.
The new trailer for the upcoming sci-fi drama from showrunner David S. Goyer realizes for the first time an adaptation of the book series by Isaac Asimov, whose literary works went on to inspire George Lucas' Star Wars.
Set during the reign of a Galactic Empire (see the Star Wars influence?), Foundation hones in on Dr. Hari Seldon (Chernobyl's Jared Harris), who's able to predict the fall of civilization. Branded an outcast, he takes a group of his supporters to the furthest reaches of the galaxy to establish a foundation of knowledge so that humanity won't have to start from scratch when it bounces back from the impending dark ages.
"When Asimov was writing [the books], his family, they were Jews, immigrated from Russia before World War II, but they saw that things were getting bad with the rise of Nazism," Goyer explains to EW. "He was wondering why this terrible thing happened with the Holocaust. If we look back through history, could we have prevented it from happening? There were a lot of antecedents leading up to the Holocaust going back generations and generations. Asimov responded to the idea of, how do we prevent these things from happening again? Humanity seems like it keeps falling into the same trap."
To get a firmer grasp on this story, which spans a thousand years and premieres on Apple TV+ this Sept. 24, EW spoke with Goyer to break down the biggest moments from the trailer.
The Genetic Dynasty
The first moment in the trailer sees an old man (Terrence Mann) visiting a newborn suspended in a tank late one night. "I can't be the first one who wanted to see my youngest self," he says.
This is Brother Dusk, a member of the Cleon Genetic Dynasty, the previously mentioned Galactic Empire. The Imperium began with Emperor Cleon, and since then it's been ruled by clones of himself.
"There's three of them at different ages," Goyer says. "There's Dawn [the youngest], Day [the middle-aged clone played by Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy)], and Dusk [the elder]."
"They raise each other," he continues. "They call each other brothers, but they're not exactly brothers. They relate to one another as father and grandfather, but they're not exactly that. When they see an older version of themselves, they literally know what they're going to look like when they get to that age. There's reassurance in that, but they also hate each other because of it. Even though they're the most powerful guys in the galaxy, each one of them desperately wants to prove that they're unique, even though there's been 14 of them before. They're all living in the shadow of the first."
"Our Genetic Dynasty has reigned for almost four centuries," Brother Day says as footage of a planet-destroying fleet of ships comes on screen. "The might of the Imperium has brought peace to thousands of worlds, but the beliefs of one man now threaten the empire's very existence."
That man would be...
"Hari Seldon's the smartest person you will ever meet," Goyer says. "He's the smartest person in the galaxy, except possibly for Gaal." (More on her in a moment.)
Dr. Seldon specializes in the study of psychohistory, which is essentially pouring over mathematics to predict the future of large civilizations. That's how he's able to solve a complex equation that points to the self-destruction of the Cleon empire, which the empire, clearly, doesn't appreciate.
"No one understands his mathematics. They know he's really smart, but they don't know whether he's lying or not. And that's what makes the empire really nervous," Goyer elaborates. "That's why they reach out to Gaal."
Played by newcomer Lou Llobell, Gaal is a rising mathematician in the galaxy who's drawn into Hari's orbit. She's the only other person who's able understand the psychohistory Hari is talking about.
"One of the things that I'm excited to explore with [Hari's] character is what it takes to be a person who realizes the world's going to end in a really bad way, realizes he has to break that news to everyone, and realizes that none of those people can be saved. It's going to be their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. How does he try to get people on board to build something that'll be beyond their lifetime? So, he's got this incredibly heavy weight on his shoulders and this burden of like, 'I'm just telling you what the math is. Don't blame the messenger,' which of course everyone wants to do."
Goyer likens the dilemma to Dr. Fauci's attempt to educate a skeptical public about COVID-19 in the Trump era, though global warming also comes to mind. In either case, the concept "can talk about things that are happening in our world now, but not in a way that hopefully it seems like you're preaching," he says.
"You're entertaining people first and maybe getting them to think about things after the fact, whether it's global warming, whether it's globalization, whether it's Brexit, whether it's the polarization of what's happening in America today," Goyer continues. "The irony is they are not new upheavals. They're upheavals that have happened again and again and again throughout society going back tens of thousands of years. An optimist would say, 'Hey, the cycles happened before. Can we learn anything from it?' In a way, that's what the show's about."
Another aspect of Foundation has to do with a mysterious floating object glimpsed in the last shot of the trailer. This is the Vault on the planet Terminus, where Seldon and his followers are banished for spreading his doomsday predictions. Goyer mentions "there's a version of [the Vault] in the book," but the version in the show is "a bit more ambitious."
"No one knows where it came from. It was there on Terminus when the colonists arrived and it's one of the mystery boxes of the show," he explains. "We'll definitely find out what's in the Vault in the season, although there are other mysteries to reveal about the Vault in later seasons. All we know is that Salvor has a very special relationship to the Vault."
Played by Leah Harvey, Salvor is the only person who's able to approach the object.
"It has what we call a null field, which is designed to keep people away," Goyer mentions. "If you try to approach it, you get headaches, you get nosebleeds, eventually you pass out. But for some reason, Salvor Hardin can walk through the null field. She can touch the Vault. There's something special about her and she has a relationship that we're going to explore over the course of the first season."
Foundation's trailer makes clear the high visual standards Goyer strove to achieve for the series. The production shot the show in an anamorphic format across six different countries, sometimes in the snow, sometimes on open water, sometimes under water.
"I was determined that we really went to these places," he says. "It's a show I wanted to be very textural. We went to the Canary Islands, we went to Berlin, we went to Malta, and we went to Iceland. The proof is in the pudding. The shoot was incredibly arduous. It's the hardest shoot that I've ever been involved in, but I really believe as much as possible in doing things for real and having as many real elements as possible. So when you see these sumptuous locales in episode 1 and episode 3, we weren't faking it."
It's like, "if Star Wars were made by Terrence Malick," he adds. "My producer hated me when we were in the Canary Islands. We shot at magic hour almost every single day. It was important to me that the actors were really experiencing the wind and the snow and the ocean, and that there'd actually be a bit of a struggle in the making of it. I think you feel that. I think you feel it in your bones."