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Foundation on Apple TV Plus: release date, plot, cast, trailer and what we know

An official image of Foundation season 1 on Apple TV Plus
(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Apple is pinning its hopes on its Foundation TV series becoming the breakout show of 2021 and the next big hitter for its Apple TV Plus streaming platform.

The upcoming sci-fi epic is based on a series of novels by Isaac Asimov, whose works are believed to have inspired other major sci-fi films and TV shows including Star Wars and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Foundation season 1 is due to launch later this year, and we've rounded up the latest information concerning Apple's TV show so you don't have to go searching for anything that you may have missed.

Below, we provide details on its confirmed release date, cast announcements, break down its convoluted plot, trailers, why Asimov's book series hasn't been adapted before and more.

If you're ready to dive into what might become your next sci-fi binge watch, let's check out everything there is to know about Foundation season 1 on Apple TV Plus.

Foundation release date on Apple TV Plus: September 2021

Lee Pace takes center stage as Brother Day in Foundation season 1 on Apple TV Plus

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Foundation will launch exclusively on Apple TV Plus on Friday, September 24, 2021. The announcement came alongside the series' latest trailer, which you can view in the next section.

The official Apple TV webpage for the series had confirmed that it is coming sometime this year and, in an interview with LovinMalta earlier in 2021, Goyer whittled that timeframe down to late 2021.

That tentative release date meant that we'd predicted Foundation season 1 would arrive around September time, and we're glad we were spot on with that assessment.

Like many other productions, filming on Foundation was halted last March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to The Irish Independent, production started again in early October, with Troy Studios in the city of Limerick becoming the main base of operations for the sci-fi show.

Goyer also confirmed that the cast and crew would shoot more scenes in Malta due to the UK’s third nationwide lockdown, which began in late December 2020. In the same LovinMalta interview, Goyer revealed that Malta had been earmarked as a key shooting location before filming began, but extra sequences would be shot across the republic as a stand-in for various environments and planets in Foundation’s universe. 

In February 2021, Film New Europe revealed that shooting had wrapped in Malta. Filming has also taken place in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands and Tenerife respectively, according to Spanish news outlets Canarias7 and El Dia.

Production wrapped in April, with some of the show's many actors revealing as much earlier this year.

Leah Harvey and Lou Llobell, who will portray Salvor Hardin and Gaal Dornick respectively, confirmed that they have finished filming their scenes for the TV show around that time. You can check out Llobell's April 2 Instagram post below, which reveals that she has finished shooting on the production after 19 months:

As for who is directing the series, there are four that we know so far. Alex Graves, whose credits include The Boys and Game of Thrones, is helming three episodes. 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D's director Roxann Dawson and The Expanse helmer Jennifer Phang have two episodes apiece, while Rupert Sanders – in his first major directorial role – is directing Foundation season 1's first episode. 

All of these confirmations come by way of IMDB. However, given that Foundation season 1 will comprise 10 episodes, we don't know who the other two directors are yet, or whether one of the above quartet is helming those entries.

Foundation trailer: here's the latest season 1 trailer

Jared Harris portrays mathematician Hari Seldon in Foundation season 1

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Alongside its launch date reveal, Apple released a new two-minute long trailer to whet our appetite for its upcoming sci-fi epic. You can check out the new teaser, as well as previous trailers that showcase Foundation's aesthetic and story threads, below:

In August 2020, a two-minute long first-look trailer was released on Apple TV’s social media channels, which gave us our first glimpse at the show.

The video begins with a brief overview from Goyer about how Foundation has shaped other cultural phenomena including Star Wars, before moving into a 90-second teaser composed of shot footage and CGI moments. 

The trailer gives a good account of the universe that Asimov created, and there’s plenty of politicking and action on display in the sequence that we see:

See more

In addition to Foundation's two main trailers, an Apple TV Plus summer 2021 trailer revealed a couple of snippets of new footage. Released on Tuesday, June 8, we get brief glimpses at Seldon and Brother Day among others:

Foundation on Apple TV Plus: what is the sci-fi series about?

One of the official images from Foundation season 1 on Apple TV Plus

(Image credit: Apple)

Foundation is a compendium of sci-fi novels written by Isaac Asimov. The US author’s series is made up of seven books, with the core trilogy – Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation – comprising eight short stories that, after being released individually, were published as three collections in the early 1950s.

According to Apple TV’s synopsis, Foundation “chronicles a band of exiles on their monumental journey to save humanity and rebuild civilization amid the fall of the Galactic Empire”. 

The series initially follows Hari Seldon, a mathematician who explains that, unless humanity changes course, the Galactic Empire will fall and be followed by a 30,000-year period of turmoil before a second Empire rises. Seldon, though, reveals that he has foreseen an alternate path that allows the intervening period to be cut down to 1,000 years if certain criteria are met.

At the behest of the Empire’s reluctant rulers, Seldon creates the Foundation – a group of the greatest living scientists, engineers, and historians – which travels to a remote planet known as Terminus. There, the assembled humans are tasked with preserving an anthology of humanity’s knowledge – the Encyclopedia Galactica – so that, at the end of the millennium, a second Empire may begin. 

Traveling to a new world in Terminus may present problems for Seldon's contingent, however and that includes the Vault. This mysterious floating object is mentioned in Asimov's novels (and greets Seldon's party on Terminus in Apple's adaptation) and, as Goyer revealed to Entertainment Weekly as part of the series' official release date announcement, it might hold the key to some big secrets.

"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," Goyer teased. "All we know is that Salvor Hardin [Leah Harvey] has a very special relationship to the Vault."

Unbeknownst to the Empire's overlords, however, Seldon secretly creates a second Foundation at the opposite end of the galaxy for mysterious purposes. What unfolds is a complex, interweaving saga and, due to its convoluted plot, Goyer has already hinted that it will take multiple seasons to tell Foundation’s vast story.

“The audience is changing the way that we’re consuming stories,” Goyer told LovinMalta. “Game of Thrones was one of the first to do a giant novelistic show and now, with Foundation, we can hopefully [tell] the story over 80 episodes, or 80 hours, as opposed to trying to condense it down into a two or three-hour film.”

Right now, it’s unclear if season 1 will deal with Prelude to Foundation, the book series’ first prequel novel, which explores the backstory of key Foundation players including Seldon. Given that the footage so far, however, we suspect that the prequel book may not be utilized at all.

Alternatively, Goyer could intersperse the prequel and sequel books as flashbacks and flash-forwards, if the show will primarily focus on the main trilogy. Hopefully, we’ll have a better understanding of the show’s timeline closer to release.

Foundation cast: who is portraying who in the Apple TV adaptation?

Leah Harvey as Salvor Hardin in Foundation season 1

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

A number of established stars and newcomers have been cast for Foundation, and you can check out a quick rundown of who’s who in the list below: 

  • Jared Harris as Hari Seldon
  • Lee Pace as Brother Day
  • Lou Llobell as Dr. Gaal Dornick
  • Leah Harvey as Salvor Hardin
  • Laura Birn as Eto Demerzel
  • Cassian Bilton as Brother Dawn
  • Terrence Mann as Brother Dusk
  • Daniel MacPherson as Hugo
  • T'Nia Miller as Halima
  • Pravessh Rana as Rowan
  • Kubbra Sait as Phara
  • Nikhil Parmar as Freestone
  • Mido Hamada as Shadow Master Obrecht
  • Amy Tyger as Azura
  • Buddy Skelton as Keir
  • Alicia Gerrard as Yate Fulham
  • Alfred Enoch (role currently unknown)
  • Clarke Peters (role currently unknown)

Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes, The Mortal Instruments) will star as Seldon, the mathematician who the Galactic Empire sees as a threat to the status quo.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Goyer explained why Seldon was such a danger to those in power.

"No one understands his mathematics," he said. "They know he's really smart, but they don't know whether he's lying or not [about the Empire's destruction]. And that's what makes the Empire really nervous."

Meanwhile, Lee Pace (Lord of the Rings, Guardians of the Galaxy) has been installed as Brother Day, the current Emperor of the Galactic Empire.

Goyer revealed that Pace and his brothers (more on those below) are all clones of the same man – Emperor Cleon – who have ruled the Galactic Empire for four centuries and prevent anyone from overthrowing them.

"They call each other brothers, but they're not exactly brothers," Goyer explained. "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."

While Apple TV’s adaptation may closely follow the source material in some ways, there are changes to certain characters. Dr. Gaal Dornick and Eto Demerzel – both male in the novels – are female in the show. Lou Llobell (Voyagers) will star as Seldon’s biographer Dornick, while Finnish actress Laura Birn (The Innocents) will play Demerzel. Additionally, Leah Harvey (Fighting With My Family) will portray Salvor Hardin, the first Mayor of Terminus, whose gender has also been altered for the TV series.

Newcomer Cassian Bilton has been cast as Brother Dawn, the youngest living member of the Galactic Empire’s royal family, and Terrence Mann (Sense8, Critters) will play the royal family’s oldest member called Brother Dusk. Finally, Alicia Gerrard (Ripper Street) will portray Yate Fulham, a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee.

According to the TV show's IMDB page, there are also characters in Apple's adaptation who don't appear to be present in the novels. Unless Apple has altered their names for its adaptation, the below characters are brand new additions to the franchise.

Daniel MacPherson (Neighbours), T'Nia Miller (The Haunting of Bly Manor), Pravessh Rana (The Serpent), Kubrra Sait (Sacred Games), Buddy Skelton (Responsible Child), Amy Tyger (Doctors), Nikhil Parmar (Traitors) and Video Hamada (Veronica Mars) will portray Hugo, Halima, Rowan, Phara, Keir, Azura, Freestone and Obrecht respectively.

Alfred Enoch has confirmed that he is part of Foundation's cast, but there's no word on who he will portray. Clarke Peters (The Irregulars) is also set to appear in some capacity, but the series' IMDB page doesn't reveal who that will be.

There are plenty of other supporting characters in Foundation (per its IMDB page), but the rest of the show's cast are only present in one to four episodes. The individuals we've named will appear in at least five episodes (Gerrard aside), so they'll have bigger roles to play in Foundation's events.

We'll update this section once we know who Enoch and Peters are playing.

Foundation adaptations: why hasn’t Asimov’s book series been adapted before now? 

A screenshot of one of the trailers for Apple TV Plus series Foundation

(Image credit: Apple TV)

It’s not been for a want of trying, even though multiple studios have found it tough to bring Foundation to the big or small screen.

New Line Cinema spent $1.5 million developing a movie adaptation of Asimov’s trilogy in 1998 but subsequently failed. A decade later, New Line’s co-founders Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne attempted to produce a Foundation film series for Warner Bros through their Unique Pictures production company, but were beaten to the screen rights by Columbia Pictures. Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, White House Down) was brought on to direct alongside sci-fi screenwriter Dante Harper, but the project failed to get off the ground.

Things went quiet on the Foundation adaptation front until HBO acquired the rights in 2014. Signing up Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight, Interstellar) as showrunner and producer, the US network spent three years trying to adapt Asimov’s works into a TV series. However, in June 2017, it was reported that Skydance Media was now developing a Foundation TV series. 

Jump ahead to August 2018, and it was confirmed that Apple had ordered a 10-episode straight-to-series order in collaboration with Skydance’s Television division. Goyer and Josh Friedman were installed as co-writers and co-showrunners until April 2019, when Friedman departed the project in an apparently planned move. Goyer, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Marcy Ross, and Robyn Asimov – daughter of Isaac – are executive producers on the series.

Curiously, Goyer has revealed that Apple's executives were on board with his live-action adaptation after a single sentence pitch.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about his Foundation TV show, the Man of Steel and Terminator: Dark Fate helmer explained that, after he was asked to pitch Asimov's convoluted story in the simplest of terms, what he says was enough to convince Apple's creative team that it was worth making.

"They sort of asked it laughingly," Goyer said. "I said: ‘It’s a 1,000-year chess game between Hari Seldon and the Empire, and all the characters in between are the pawns, but some of the pawns over the course of this saga end up becoming kings and queens.'"

Goyer also mentioned teased the grandness of Foundation season 1, saying: "No one knows if it will work, but I can say there’s definitely never been a show like it on TV before."

Hopefully, after such a long wait for a Foundation live-action series, it'll be worthy of Asimov's influential literary works.

Tom Power

Hired as TechRadar's entertainment reporter, Tom can be found covering all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you can wrap your eyes around. He also produces original content including reviews, opinion pieces, and interview-led features with the world's biggest actors, directors, writers, producers and studios, which is always a fun time. Follow him on Twitter @thomp1987.