Foundation Showrunner David S. Goyer On Bringing Levity To Isaac Asimov's Epic Tale [Exclusive Interview]


The second season of Apple TV+'s "Foundation" is almost here, and there are some marked differences from the season that came before it.

"If there was one criticism I had of season 1 is that it was very serious," showrunner David S. Goyer told me in an interview in the lead-up to the season 2 premiere. "Yes, it's still a drama with a capital D, but I wanted more moments of levity."

The second season does have lighter moments, most of them brought about by some new characters. I talked with Goyer about some of those characters, as well as what rules he set for himself in the world of "Foundation," how he breaks those rules, how he continues to adapt the notoriously unadaptable books by Isaac Asimov, and what we might see from these characters in a potential season 3.

'You can win them over in ways that are harder to win them over just through straight drama'

One of the things in this season that we didn't see as much in the first one, is that certain characters like Brother Constant and Hober Mallow have a levity to them. When you were breaking the story and developing those characters, was that something consciously you wanted them to have or is that something that came about organically?

That's a really great observation. It was definitely very conscious on my part. If there was one criticism I had of season 1 is that it was very serious. And yes, it's still a drama with a capital D, but I wanted more moments of levity. And even when you have life and death circumstances, I think it's important, especially in a big novelistic show like this, to have characters that might not take things like psychohistory seriously, or might be much more dismissive of Empire. And I think if you can appropriately sometimes get the audience to laugh with a character or laugh with you, you can win them over in ways that are harder to win them over just through straight drama.

So I felt we'd done one scene like that in season 1 in episode 4 with Lee Pace, where there was some very dark humor when he screams at a statistician and the guy has a heart attack. And Lee proved so good at it that I said, "I want to do a bit more of that with Lee." And in introducing Brother Constant and Hober, I thought, "Oh, here's an opportunity to introduce more levity and hopefully just broaden our audience."

For sure. And I have to shout out Becky [the vicious monster we see in the trailer attacking someone]. That was a nice little addition, too.

Oh yeah, I love Becky. And it's amazing because I think Becky only appears in about 34 shots, maybe 38 shots across the season. But it's amazing what you can do with just those few shots in terms of investing in a CG character like that, because I remember Spielberg I think only had 17 shots of the T. rex in "Jurassic Park," and so we could only afford about 38 or 40 shots of Becky. So I was happy that people grew to like her.

'I love to set up rules and then say, 'How can we break them?''

You mentioned in another interview that for all the projects you work on, you have a 10 Commandments or a core set of tenets that you use as a touchstone when you're developing something. I was wondering if you could talk about what those are for "Foundation," and if there were any amendments to them with season 2.

Yes, anytime I adapt something, I try to come up with what I think the core tenets are, what the DNA of the source material is. And I exposed that to Robyn Asimov early on when I was throwing my hat in the ring to adapt this, and I said, "Did I get it right? Do you think these are the core elements to make 'Foundation,' 'Foundation?'"

So what were some of those? ... Obviously, the idea that psychohistory can predict the broad movements of society and civilization, but not the individual. And yet, because we're all individuals, we all believe and hope that we can have agency. And so that tension between the individual taking action and knowing that they might not specifically matter in the broader sweep of history, that's something that I think is really at the heart of "Foundation" and it's something that we explore over and over and over again.

Also, the idea that while Hari Seldon's psychohistory might predict a specific outcome and while that might seem fated, the way that we arrive there can be a surprise. So that's definitely something that we embraced in both of the seasons.

Having said that, I love to set up rules and then say, "How can we break them?" Or, "How can we seem to break them?" And so psychohistory famously can't predict an individual, but I said to the writers' room in season 2 — I don't think this gives too much away — that the Vault is going to name a specific person, that a specific person's name is going to be engraved upon the Vault, which seems to completely contravene the rules of how the Vault and psychohistory works. And I think part of the fun is seeing how that happened over the course of the season, and hopefully that unfolds in a very surprising way.

'I wanted to explore demagogues and people that hold themselves up to be prophets and false prophets'

Season 2 also, which I don't think is surprising for people who know the books, touches a lot on religion and faith and belief, and the difference between those three words, even though they're obviously interconnected. Could you talk about how you wanted to make sure those themes ran through all your characters and all your storylines?

Well, look, Asimov was interested in exploring the intersection of science and religion. It's obviously something that he did in his short stories for "Foundation," and something that we were interested in further exploring. But based on where we are now, I was also interested, myself and the other writers, in the ways that both science and religion have been weaponized in our increasingly polarized society. And that's something that I wanted to explore, and I wanted to explore demagogues and people that hold themselves up to be prophets and false prophets, which is something that we had an opportunity to do with the Seldon character that really Asimov couldn't, because our Seldon character exists in the show in a way that didn't exist in the original books.

When we come up with these themes, it's important that the various storylines speak to each other. Even if they don't intersect directly, although many times they do, we always try to make sure that they intersect thematically. And the way that we cut from one story to another is not by happenstance, it's often very deliberate and we're using juxtaposition to — I know that's this kind of highfalutin Scrabble word — but we're placing these two storylines up against one another because we're saying to the viewer, "Hey, we're speaking to something here between these two. There's a reason why we're cutting from this to that."

'We have to earn the Mule'

If we said for season 2 that general overarching themes are things like religion, faith, et cetera, is there anything you can say on that level about what we might see in a potential season 3?

Well, season 3, I can only say things that are hypothetical. I mean, by the time we would get to season 3, we would start to be exploring the story of the Mule in earnest. Previous attempts to adapt "Foundation" have always started with the Mule, but the Mule doesn't appear until halfway through Asimov's second book. And one of the things that I said to Apple TV+ was, "We can't start with the Mule. We have to earn the Mule." And I think one of the reasons why the Mule is so effective in the books is because it takes a while to get to the Mule. And I said, "We have to do the same thing." In the same way that when people watch "Game of Thrones," everyone wanted to start off with the Red Wedding and have the Red Wedding be the end of the first season. But I think I would argue that's so much more effective because they took the time to get there. And hopefully the same will be true if and when we get to the Mule.

Season 2 of "Foundation" premieres on Apple TV+ on July 16, 2023.

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