Many times when you speak to an actor playing a bad guy, they’ll talk about how they don’t play the character as the bad guy, since from their perpsective, they may see themselves quite differently. However, Kingsley Ben-Adir has a different thought when it comes to Gravik, the Skrull at the center of the chaos in Secret Invasion. Gravik leads a Skrull Resistance who believe they have been denied the peaceful home they were promised decades ago and have now turned to acts of terrorism, using their shapeshifting abilities in an attempt to ultimately make Earth their own by fueling conflicts humans have with one another.
When I spoke to Ben-Adir, I initially mentioned how he could be seen as a zealot who seems to think he is doing what’s right for his people even as he’s causing thousands of deaths in the process, but Ben-Adir actually doesn’t think Gravik has any illusions that what he’s doing is for some greater good.
“I don’t think that’s what he thinks,” said the actor. “I think that’s what he wants everyone else around him to think is what’s going on. But I think his intentions are much more… It’s personal to him.” Ben-Adir added that perhaps Gravik once was motivated more by thoughts of helping his people, but that has changed and now, “I think what he says and what he does are two different things. What he says to people, and what he’s actually thinking and feeling are separate.”
The second episode of the series showed us a flashback to Gravik as a child, meeting Nick Fury in 1997, as Fury and Talos promised they would make good on finding them a new home. Said Ben-Adir, regarding Gravik’s feelings on Fury, “As a child, he trusted him. And I feel he’s just been let down constantly by people in charge, people in power. I think that was his experience on Skrullos, when he came over with Talos and Talos put his trust into Fury. I just think he’s been let down time and time again. We meet him at a point where he doesn’t trust anyone anymore. And he has particular feelings of hatred towards those two.”
The first episode of the series ended with Talos causing a massive explosion in Russia that we soon learn killed 2000 people – with James Rhodes theorizing the final body count may end up far higher. Ben-Adir said Gravik’s personal vendetta has led him not just to callously take these lives but to have a need for those he despises to know they are powerless to stop him, remarking, “From the first episode, it’s not just about blowing up that town square. It’s about needing Fury to see him do it. How sick is that? It’s like, ‘I don’t just do it. I need you to see it.” He needs Fury to witness him doing it and he needs Talos to understand that he’s now in charge. I think those were just things for me to help me make sense of him. It wasn’t just going around like being a generic bad guy. It’s coming from somewhere. We’ll come to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing and I got to play with how you do that.”
Secret Invasion director Ali Selim said that when it came to Gravik, “I think his grievance festered for so long that it became a combination of terrorism and psychosis and just flat out anger. And I think Kingsley played it really well – that sense of, like, we can’t really get at him. But there are some scenes that show where this grievance came from. And I think it makes him a more well-rounded character.”
TRULY OUT FOR HIMSELF
From Ben-Adir’s perceptive, when it comes to Gravik’s allies and whether he cares for them, “This guy loves no one. You can’t do that. You can’t behave like that [and love someone]. That’s my feeling.”
He elaborated how Gravik has gotten to a point where he has closed himself off even to someone like G’iah (Emilia Clarke), whose loyalty he’s worked hard to secure, except for wanting her to help him in his vendetta. “I don’t think he likes, cares, loves anyone. That’s my feeling. That’s definitely the intention that I kept close to me.”
That doesn’t mean there’s truly nothing else to him, as he, like Selim, noted, “We’ll get to see his vulnerability but we get to see it in a very specific context, which I felt was really important for me that it didn’t spread out to everyone… This guy is about himself and he needs people to believe that it’s about them. He’s convincing and he needs everyone to feel like they can trust them. But really, he’s testing everyone.”
SKRULL IN ACTION
The conclusion of Secret Invasion‘s second episode found Gravik, alongside his second-in-command Pagon, personally storming a safe house hidden at a butcher shop, brutally taking out the FSB agents located there. It’s an intense and action-packed sequence and Ben-Adir described filming it as “great fun.”
Filming that sequence, along with others where Gravik gets involved in the action, actually helped Ben-Adir get even more perspective on his character, as he recalled, “We had a great stunt director who choreographed all those fights and he said something great to me one time. He’s like, ‘Remember with violence, as it relates to Gravik, that all of these things, they’re just like annoying bees. There’s no stress.'”
Ben-Adir said this helped him realize Gravik’s at a point where he feels “‘Whether I live or whether I die today is of no importance.’ It’s like it’s just about getting through and inflicting pain. So then it becomes really fun to play when you’re doing all of those things.”
New episodes of Secret Invasion debut Wednesdays on Disney+.