Now streaming exclusively on Disney+, What If…? is Marvel’s first animated series set in the MCU and based on the groundbreaking comic book of the same name. The series stars acclaimed actor and future Commissioner Gordon, Jeffrey Wright (Westworld, The Batman) as the Watcher, an all-powerful being that chronicles his journey through Marvel’s multiverse. As seen in the recent Loki series, the Marvel multiverse has been released, and each week on the series the Watcher will narrate as he observes a unique world that resembles the MCU we know but has subtle changes. Like what if Peggy Carter took the super serum instead of Steve Rogers? Or what if T’Challa was Star-Lord?
The series, which was produced by Brad Winderbaum (Vice President of Production and Development for Marvel Studios), directed by Bryan Andrews (Star Wars: Clone Wars), and written by A.C. Bradley (Arrow), also features many MCU actors reprising their roles in animation. The impressive voice cast includes Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, Rachael McAdams as Christine Palmer, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, Josh Brolin as Thanos, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Seth Green as Howard the Duck, Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster, Kurt Russel as Ego, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, and Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, in his final performance.
We Live Entertainment recently had the pleasure of attending the What If…? virtual press conference, along with other members of the press. In attendance to discuss the new series were producer Brad Winderbaum, director Bryan Andrews, writer A.C. Bradley, and actor Jeffrey Wright. The press conference began with producer Brad Winderbaum discussing the origins of the new animated series. “To be honest, it was a stroke of inspiration that happened on the drive home from work one day,” the producer explained. “I found myself in my driveway just texting with Kevin Feige about what this show could be. By the next day, the wheels were in motion and we were on our way to making this thing. It was obvious from the beginning that it needed to be animated because of all the locations, sets, characters, and elements from the MCU that we were going to revisit. It had to be in a medium that would allow us an infinite scope of whatever we could conceive of.”
Since each episode acts as a window to a new Marvel world, the director talked about how each episode has its own unique look and tone. “I think that it was important to all of us, right from the beginning. It’s an anthology, and that is part of the aspect of it being an anthology, just like those old Twilight Zone episodes,” Andrews said. “It’s like, you never know what you’re going to get. You might get an episode that’s a comedy, you might get an episode that’s kind of dramatic and super emotional, or full of action. We all love movies, and this gave us an opportunity to apply a little taste of a variety of genres into the Marvel cinematic universe. So, one can maybe go a little bit darker, and one gets even funnier. So, having that type of variation was just written in the comic book itself. Just, what if? You know, what if this, what if that? It just opens the floodgates. We can do whatever we wanted to, and that was quite exhilarating, to be able to play in that way. It’s like, here are the keys to the Porsche. Have fun, kids! I hope we won’t crash it.”
Writer A.C. Bradley followed up by discussing how the “what if” concept of the show was not the main aspect she focused on when creating the series. “To be honest with you, when it came to writing an episode and figuring out the story of What If…?, the last thing we thought about was the what if,” she explained. “I think what we all looked for was what’s the heart behind the hero? How do we get behind the shield? What’s a part of the story we haven’t told before? For me, these characters are iconic. We recognize their silhouettes. We recognize their taglines. But what’s important is how we connect to them. So, it was finding new ways to connect to Peggy Carter, to Thor Odinson, and to Dr. Strange. Luckily, we have the Watcher to be our guide because he, too, is looking for a connection. That’s really what drove everything, was a character. Then we kind of figured out the what if.”
The “What If…?” comic book series introduced many fun ideas, like what if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four? But Marvel Zombies was never part of the unique series and was instead introduced in a separate line of comic books. So, a member of the press from another outlet, asked Bradley why she decided to include the undead Marvel characters in the new series. “Marvel Zombies was, I think something I might’ve mentioned early on as a what if we did this, pie in the sky throwaway idea. Not thinking, at first, that there actually was a very famous zombie run in the comics,” she confessed. “Then, Brad was excited, and Kevin kind of surprised us by being like, ‘Yeah, you’re doing Marvel Zombies!’ The fun part of Marvel Zombies, at least for me, was to delve into that initial run. Probably more than any other What If…? episode, we drew directly from the comic for inspiration and for actual scenes because it is so good, and we took less from the movies. So, that was actually a no-brainer that I think we kind of came up with by accident. I just made a zombie pun with a no-brainer. I just realized that” the writer joked.
Actor Jeffrey Wright, who is best known for his roles in films like Casino Royale and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as well as the HBO series Westworld, talked about his role on What If…? as Uatu, also known as the Watcher. “I’m, playing the Watcher, who is described in his first appearance in Marvel Comics, I think it was in 1963, as something like the most dramatic being in all the known universe,” Wright said. “So, he’s a fairly dramatic guy. He’s a fairly powerful guy. He’s kind of overseeing the entire MCU. He’s overseeing the multiverses and he plays somewhat of a Rod Sterling (The Twilight Zone) role here. Kind of narrating, and kind of not. In some ways, as maybe the biggest Marvel fan there is, watching all that transpires and dealing with certain temptations to involve himself. But at the same time, just kind of living vicariously through these characters, these stories, this mythology and taking it all in. In some ways, I think he is the fans, and that the fans can relate to him, I think, in many ways.”
With the introduction of so many new versions of favorite Marvel characters on the new show, Winderbaum discussed the possibility of certain characters returning in later seasons. “I think, early on in development, as we were starting to get A.C.’s scripts, we started to look at the arc of the series, and there was a character that bubbled up and became more important,” he explained. “Not more important than the rest, but had a strong relationship with the Watcher, who is really our driving force behind the series. And that’s Captain Carter.”
“We realized as we started developing the second season, that Captain Carter was going to be the character we would revisit in every season and continue that adventure,” the producer continued. “Obviously, we’re telling a story on a giant, multiverse canvas, so you never really know who’s going to pop up where and when. It’s very much an anthology, but there’s always the opportunity for fun connections to be made. I mean, it’s no coincidence that this show picks up right after Loki. You know, spoiler alert, but the multiverse has now erupted in every possible direction. What If…? gives us a chance to explore that. I think you can tell that in this next saga, the multiverse is going to be crucial. I think that without going into great detail, I can tell you that What If…? as a project and as a story exists in the MCU and is as important as any other. It’s woven into that same tapestry. So, those threads are going to be fun and there’s a lot of potentials there.”
Finally, the second episode of the series features Chadwick Boseman in his final performance as T’Challa, and Jeffrey Wright talked about the first time he met the late actor, and what it means for him to be a part of Boseman’s final project. “I actually met Chadwick for the first time, I think at Comic-Con in the bathroom, as he was about to introduce the first Black Panther film and I was there with Westworld,” he explained. “We had a really wonderful exchange and he said some wonderful things. Then we’d run into each other here and there, after. We, in fact, were going to do Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom together. I was asked to be a part of that and I couldn’t do it because I was tied up with another film, unfortunately. So, I didn’t have a chance to work with Chadwick on that. It was a lovely surprise to find that we would have the opportunity, at least, to be in the same space with What If…?”
“This being the last performance that we’ll get from him, I find it very moving,” Wright continued. “I guess the thing that strikes me most, what he does here and what he’s done with these films is that, obviously, these are films about heroinism and all the complications of that. What we all discovered was that the mythic quality that he brought to these performances, 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, I’m really pleased to share a little bit of time with him on this.”