Apple TV+ adaptation of Isaac Asimov's 'Foundation' hits small screen

The sci-fi story, starring Jared Harris, follows a mathematical genius who develops a theory that helps to reduce the impact of the declining Galactic Empire

Lou Llobell in 'Foundation'. Photo: Apple TV+
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An adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation book series, which has been in development for more than a decade, launched on Apple TV+ on Friday.

Initially written as a series of short stories, Foundation was published by Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950. They were subsequently turned into a collection of three books that were released in the early 1950s and won Asimov the one-off Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series in 1966.

The hugely ambitious and complex sci-fi story is set in the declining Galactic Empire and follows mathematical genius Hari Seldon (played by Jared Harris), who develops a theory that will reduce the impact of its collapse from 30,000 years of turmoil to only 1,000 years.

Despite being regarded as a seminal sci-fi text by experts, the fact that Foundation unfolded over hundreds of years, with little emotion or characterisation and a huge ensemble of characters, meant it had long been deemed unfilmable.

Lee Pace, who plays Brother Day, the Emperor of the Galaxy, tells The National that he initially held this belief, too.

“I was one of many who thought it was impossible to adapt in a narrative way,” he says. “I remember first hearing about it and saying, ‘No way. They can't do it. The story is too big. It’s too cerebral. There are too many characters. It takes too much time. It’s something that you can enjoy reading. And that's it.’”

Pace quickly started to change his mind when he discovered that David S Goyer, who wrote The Dark Knight and Blade trilogies, as well as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, was overseeing the production. Pace was given the first three scripts of Foundation to read, and he was excited to discover that Goyer had “really cracked” the adaptation.

“I think that he interpreted this handful of characters who can emotionally take us through what could potentially be a 1,000-year story.”

There was a lot for Pace to sink his teeth into with his character. “I’m not really playing a man,” he says. “I’m playing a series of men who inherit this role of the Emperor of the Galaxy. He has managed to cheat death and clone himself, so that he has lived for 400 years. His belief is that he should live for ever.”

As Pace explains, Brother Day’s arrogance is particularly dangerous because he has control over the lives of trillions of people over 10,000 planets, as well as technology that can “fold space and time and get you from one point of galaxy to any other point instantly.”

Lee Pace plays Brother Day in 'Foundation', which premiered on September 24, 2021 on Apple TV+

Pace's character Brother Day rules the galaxy alongside younger Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) and the older Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann). However, Pace doesn't just play one version of the character. Brother Day has been cloned so that an incarnation of him can help to lead the galaxy for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Each clone is intent on keeping the Galactic Empire exactly as it is. But Hari Seldon insists that doing this will only lead to a more catastrophic collapse and a sustained Dark Age period.

Ahead of filming, Pace dismissed the idea that there was a right way to portray each clone. Instead he embraced the fact that anything could be possible, before deciding that each new version of the Emperor would approach leading the galaxy in the same manner that an actor approaches a role.

“It's important to me that they felt human. But they don't believe they're human. There's a distance and a gap between who they are and who they think they are,” says Pace. “I think Day looks to Dawn and says, ‘Here's your costume. These are the lines. This is the blocking. Here are your props. When you inherit this extraordinary power, it is imperative to the safety of the galaxy, that you are exactly like me. That you believe as I believe. That you act as I am.’”

As a result of this, Pace says Foundation is a chance to examine and investigate the “riddle about inherited power” and the long history of Kings and Queens across the world who’ve ruled their countries over many generations. Pace is hopeful that this might result in Foundation having a diverse and global appeal.

“This story takes the investigation of what it means to be a human off planet Earth in the 21st century. So we're not talking about the internet. We're not talking about the coronavirus. We're not talking about American politics. We're talking about the Emperor of the Galaxy,” says Pace.

“It removes the contemporary triggers that put us in a circular conversation again, and again. I think that allows a more diverse audience and group of people to join that investigation. That's what Isaac Asimov was examining. It wasn’t the fate of a nation or a tribe or a race of people. It was the species.”

Pace is the first to acknowledge that audiences might need to adjust their viewing habits to really engage with Foundation, as the storytelling has more in common with novels than TV. Especially after Goyer himself previously said in an interview in January, 2021, that he wanted 80 hours over eight seasons to tell Foundation’s full story.

“I’m taking David at his word that this story is like a novel. It isn’t episodic,” says Pace. “You're not going to get all Foundation if you tune in for one episode. You have to sit with us.”

Episodes one and two of Foundation are now out on Apple TV+, the remaining eight episodes of season one will be release weekly on Fridays.

Updated: September 27, 2021, 5:13 AM