Invincible is not just a story about superheroes, it’s also a coming-of-age story for the seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun). Alongside Mark are his fellow classmates Samantha Eve Wilkins (Gillian Jacobs) and Amber Bennett (Zazie Beetz). Mark struggles with all the teenaged things we all struggle with, his body is changing, his brain is developing, he’s got issues in his love life. But, Mark also happens to be the son of the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man aka Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons).
We talked to the stars of the upcoming Amazon Prime Video show about the world that their characters inhabit, their own character developments, and the Grayson family dynamics in an interview for Invincible.
A Super-Powered World
For Zazie Beetz, who plays Amber Bennett, a confident fellow classmate and crush of Mark’s, being a person living in a superhero world means having to live in a world of serious consequences. “I think that Invincible, as a comic, is very different than a lot of other ones in terms of [the] consequences [being] real. And they follow through throughout the whole story,” Beetz said. Whereas other stories might not consider the permanence of a superhero’s actions — think about the property damage! —Invincible does.
“It was a sort of this heightened kind of world,” Beetz explained. “Mark, I would say, is a very average teenager. And there’s something interesting about that, him grappling this super element that he has. [I] was just really drawn to the whole story. I liked, how it dealt with coming-of-age and how it dealt with family. And I was also glad that Robert [Kirkman] was involved with the series as well since he created the comic and made me feel like the through-line of that would go smoothly.”
Amber also acts sort of as the ‘everyman’ character, as she is one of the few who is not superpowered and not involved in the superhero world, at least until she meets Mark. “I think that Amber is more grounded [when it comes to superheroes],” Beetz explained. “[B]eing a good person in the world isn’t contingent upon if you have superpowers, and you can fly in and go save a damsel in distress, right? How are you interacting with your community? How are you interacting with the people around you? That’s ultimately ‘heroic behavior.’ How are you dealing with your immediate world? I like that to her, being useful in society, frankly, isn’t just because you are a superhero. But anybody can do that, and any small change is change, ultimately.”
While Mark is new to his powers, Samantha Eve Wilkins aka Atom Eve is on familiar territory. “She’s had her superpowers for a period of time. She’s part of the Teen Team,” Gillian Jacobs explained, adding that the alliterative Teen Team was hard to say. “She’s already familiar with her powers. But I think her journey in the season is really about who does she want to be going forward? Does she want to continue down the same path she’s been on? [She’s] questioning lots of aspects of her life.”
Beetz added that for Amber, she knows what she wants. “But she’s also still obviously a teenager. And so I think she’s just kind of trying to navigate her relationship with Mark, and then also her relationship with herself, like, what’s important to her? And even though she really likes Mark, you know, [she has to] figure out how, for her own self-respect, this relationship should continue.”
This is a recurring theme in the series. It isn’t just about the big mysteries or the big bads, it’s also an internal struggle with many of the characters. How do you navigate the world when you have these insane powers and also have the responsibility of using them wisely? Atom Eve isn’t the only member of the Teen Team, and what happens when you put a bunch of superpowered teenagers with raging hormones together? It’ll be fun to find out.
Invincible Family Ties
For Mark, there’s an added layer. It’s not just about dealing with girls or finding a place amongst the superhero teams, he also has strong ties with his family. Nolan and Mark have an interesting father-son dynamic, one that is layered with love and also competitiveness and struggle. Nolan’s Omni-Man is the most powerful superhero in the world, but he still makes time to fly home after a fight to get brunch with his wife, Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh), and play catch with his son.
For J.K. Simmons, this was a big part of the draw of the character. “Of course, I am a father and a son. So, those kinds of heartstrings are easily pulled on me. And the relationship [with] Nolan’s wife and son primarily are just such well thought out, well-drawn relationships that that was a big part of the draw, especially with Mark being at the age he is. That real coming-of-age age is such a crucial time in all of our lives that a guy my age can look back on, as his own kids are going through it. So, it was very close to home in a way for me.”
For Steven Yeun, the fun for him was also getting to work with Simmons, someone he admires as an actor. “Obviously, I don’t want to spoil anything, but in the times that we got to do things in the booth, I had a great time. It felt as close to live-action that you can get without being live-action, and that was really fulfilling.”
“That was unusual, in this case, too,” Simmons added on. “That we got to work together. Steven and I, and Sandra a few times, which was a nice perk.”
Speaking of Sandra Oh, Mark’s relationship with his parents plays a large part in his life. With Nolan off saving the world, much of the parenting comes down to Debbie. And while Mark has a strong relationship with his mother, he idolizes his father in some way. To Yeun, these relationships feel real. “You can pull an understanding of the awareness of dynamics and I think that’s exactly right, like, oftentimes, we’re talking about a traditional home, where there are expectations and roles. And I’m glad that Sandra is playing Debbie because she gets to hold the gravitas of someone that’s upholding the virtue of the family that sometimes goes unseen.”
And as the story slowly unfolds, we’ll see how the family dynamic changes and rapidly develops after Mark gets his powers. Of course, while Simmons crowns himself as the anti-spoiler king, he did give us this little nugget of a teaser. “There is, you know, as there is in any father-son relationship, especially as the son is coming of age, there’s sort of inevitable conflict. And, as Robert will continue to reveal, and as hardcore fans of Invincible already know, there’s a lot to that that lurks beneath the surface, for Nolan/Omniman. But really for all the characters.”
Some of us comic book readers will know what Simmons is referring to. For those who don’t, it won’t take you long to figure it out. Invincible jumps right into the action and doesn’t stop.
The first 3 episodes of Invincible premiere on Prime Video this Friday, March 26th.
- This interview was edited for clarity and readability.