Marvel Studios’ “What If … ?,” which streams exclusively on Disney+ on August 11, explores the infinite possibilities that exist within the multiverses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The anthology series gives fans a chance to see some of their favorite heroes and villains in a whole new light as they find themselves in familiar stories with a new twist. And the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) acts as our guide on this journey of what-ifs and hypotheticals.
ThatsItLA had a chance to join their fellow journalists for the global virtual press conference for the upcoming 10 episode series to talk to director Bryan Andrews, head writer AC Bradley, executive producer Brad Winderbaum, and Wright. During that time, they spoke about those big “What If … ?” stories that are classic and new. But perhaps the most poignant topic of the discussion how deeply emotional the What if T’Challa became Star-Lord episode would be because it would be the last time we get to hear Chadwick Boseman perform as T’Challa.
“It was amazing being able to work with him. We only got a small moment because our episodes are so short compared to everyone who was able to enjoy his presence like on Black Panther or even on civil war,” Andrews said. “We had him for a little moment to do our thing, and we were so grateful for it. I think he may have been even one of the first actors that may be like signed on and said, Oh yeah, I’m going to do that voice.”
Andrews shared his excitement of Boseman wanting to reprise his role and gave us some insight into the actor’s work ethic when it came to the recording sessions. “He’s theatrically trained. And, you know, sometimes we like to work differently based on the needs or the wants of the particular actor at play. Sometimes they want to just hit the line, hit the line, hit the line be done, move on to the next one, it’s cool,” he said about the approaches of some actors’ voiceover work. “But some that read it like a scene, and he really wanted to do it like a play, like reading the scene descriptions in between, like really build it out like a play. Because that’s how he’s trained, and that’s what’s comfortable with us. We basically read lines with Chadwick Boseman.
And though none of them knew what Boseman was going through at the time, it did not affect the recording process. The actor clearly knew the importance of the character and what he represented for those who felt unseen. So to see him portray the character in this new way and in a different story excited him. “It was really great to hear him talk about he was excited to play this particular version of T’Challa because it was different. It was a version of him being able to play the king but with the king without the mantle, without the mantle of royalty and all the other things that go with it,” Andrews said. “It was a completely different spin, and he could lighten it up, he could get a little bit more jokey with it and stuff. He was excited to bring that flavor to T’Challa and give it to the audience so we can see a slightly different version of the child. He was really excited about it. And we were so excited, and we’re blessed to have him in the show. He did an amazing job.”
Wright recalled how he had met Boseman for the first time at the San Diego Comic-Con when the two were promoting their respective works. Though everything was friendly, the two never got to work with each other on the same project. But they came very close when Wright was offered a role on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Though the two would never share the screen, “What If …? ” was an opportunity to share the same space. “It was a lovely surprise to find that we would have the opportunity at least to, to be in the same space with “What If …?,” Wright said. “This being his, you know, the last, I guess, performance, that will, we’ll get from him. I find it very moving.”
But it wasn’t so much the last time we will get to hear Boseman as T’Challa affected Wright. It was the impact that the actor leaves behind playing a character that connected to people across the globe. “I guess the thing that strikes me most about, you know, what he does here, and what he’s done with these films, is that obviously, these are films about heroism, and, you know, all the complications of that,” he said. “And what we all discovered was that the kind of mythic quality that he brought to these performances, it kind of paled in some way to the mythic quality that was his life, in terms of the way that he was going about doing this work, the grace, the dignity, the power. So, yeah, I’m really pleased to share a little bit of time with him on this.”
I mean, he was a hero for real. The work on the show to finalize it in post-production we’re doing the score and the music, he had already passed since then, so now we got to make sure that nothing goes wrong with these episodes for him because it’s like his last” Andrews added. “So even down to like the music and everything and making sure that everything in it can honor what he brought to the table, honor the character, but also, you know, honor Chadwick as well.”
“We get emotional at times, you know, making sure that we got to make sure this music that plays out the end it has got to represent this that it means so much to us,” Andrews added. “What would be normal work meeting for notes on this, notes on that, would become emotional because there was it like mattered more. I’m on the verge of being emotional now. It’s real. It’s still rough. It’s still rough.”
When it came to crafting that episode with T’Challa becoming Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill, Bradley said she was inspired by the fact that the two characters were very similar in age. “Yondu took some takes the wrong kid, and what other nine-year-olds are running around the MCU, around about the same time. And it was like if he gets a little bit lost, they end up in Wakanda, you know, all humans look alike. So that’s kind of where that one started from,” she said. “And then the question became, again, trying to find the other side of the heroes. The whole point of the show is like, what else can we say?”
Bradley said T’Challa was an interesting character in the sense that “he’s not a character that arcs himself.” “He’s a character that changes the world around him. And he doesn’t go through a transformation. He transforms the world,” she said. So then taking a step back would be well, how would T’Challa transform outer space? And that’s how you get that episode.”
We will have more from the “What If … ?” virtual press conference leading up to its debut on Disney+ on August 11, 2021.