In the second episode of Marvel Studios’ first animated series, What If…?, the late Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as T’Challa in a whole new galaxy. Written by A.C. Bradley and directed by Bryan Andrews, What If…? examines the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had one choice or moment gone differently, and in Boseman’s showcase episode, Yondu (Michael Rooker) mistakenly abducts T’Challa instead of Peter Quill. Recognizing that both characters were nearly the same age, Bradley and her writers’ room felt that Yondu’s blunder would make for the perfect jumping-off point to explore what T’Challa’s version of Star-Lord would look like in outer space.
“[Chadwick] really enjoyed the idea of being able to play this slightly different version of T’Challa,” Andrews tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The events are so extremely different, but the galaxy doesn’t change T’Challa; T’Challa changes the galaxy. There are a few more times where he pops up briefly in a couple other episodes, so we were able to record with him a little bit during the pandemic. Those records were over Zoom calls, and in the last record, when we were done, I, selfishly, was able to tell him how much I personally thought of him… He touched his heart and he was very thankful, but we had no idea he was going through what he was going through.”
Bradley also reflects on her own memories of working with Boseman, who died of colon cancer in August 2020.
“I have the sad honor of writing some of his last lines in the MCU. I obviously did not know that when I was writing them,” Bradley recalls. “Chadwick Boseman understood the importance of Black Panther. He understood how important it is that young people see a Black man standing shoulder to shoulder with Captain America and Thor Odinson, so that they know a Black man saves the world just the same as anyone else. He came in to record, and I joked that he didn’t bring his A-game; he brought every damn sport there is. He made sure that this was going to be the episode that shined, but we did not realize why. And the world is a little sadder for it. “
What If…?‘s series premiere imagines what the MCU would’ve been like had Hayley Atwell‘s Peggy Carter taken Dr. Erskine’s (Stanley Tucci) Super Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers. The outcome results in “Captain Carter,” who will anchor each season of the series. However, Bradley and Andrews hope that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“I know A.C. and I feel totally the same in this, and while we don’t know if this is necessarily going to happen, it would be amazing if they would just do a Captain Carter movie,” Andrews admits. “Just get Hayley Atwell in the suit, give her her own franchise and just have her blow doors like hells to the yeah.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Bradley also shares a powerful yet personal story about her time working with Marvel Studios on What If…? Andrews then looks back at the Iron Man storyboards that changed his life and career.
The premise of What If…? is quite relatable since we’ve all wondered how our lives would’ve turned out had a key moment or choice gone differently. In terms of the events that led you both to Marvel Studios, is there a particular moment or turning point that’s made you ponder the “what if?” question?
A.C. Bradley: Ooh, pondering the great “what if?” question. I was talking to Bryan about this not long ago, but the pandemic changed everything for a lot of people. It changed our entire business. It made us question our own mortality. This is a little personal, but early on during the pandemic, when we were all at home writing, I found out that I was borderline infertile. My doctor was like, “If you’re going to have kids, you do it right now or you don’t do it at all.” And I had this sliding doors moment, this death-bed moment. “Where am I going to be in 50 years? Where do I want to be?” And by coincidence, I was on the phone, first with Danielle Costa, and then with Victoria Alonso, in the same week. We were on Zooms and on the phone, and these are both women I admire, who, along with Kevin, are architects of the MCU. And in the background, because we’re all at home, were their kids. So these are women who are also moms. I was like, “Why am I so scared to take this leap? How can I write about Peggy Carter taking the serum and jumping into battle, when I’m terrified of being a mom? What am I scared of?” So I took the leap, and by some miracle, I now have a 4-month-old daughter. So I kind of have to thank Marvel and the pandemic for forcing that decision for me. It made me consider the “what if?” in my life. “What if I do this? What if I don’t?” And I think that’s the power of the What If…? comics and hopefully the show. It’s an examination of these different moments and choices in our lives and in these characters’ lives, and where it leads them and what compels them. The reason the MCU has been so popular the last 10 years isn’t just because of the action sequences, the explosions, the thrills and the chills; it’s the human connection. We see ourselves in these characters, and we see ourselves in their triumphs and losses.
Bryan, that’s an extremely tough act to follow.
Bryan Andrews: (Laughs.) My answer is not even remotely as meaningful or as cool. There are so many things that could’ve gone differently, but when it comes to meeting up with Marvel initially, it stems out of working with Genndy Tartakovsky, whether it was Samurai Jack, Sym-Bionic Titan or the original animated Star Wars: Clone Wars. Jon Favreau was a fan, and Jon wanted to work with Genndy. So they had lunch, and Jon was like, “We gotta do something.” So Jon was doing Iron Man, and we actually helped an FX house get a job to do effects on Iron Man. So we inadvertently did some boards that ended up in the movie. They liked the tests so much and they liked the gag we did so much. It was the whole bit where the tank shoots Iron Man out of the sky, and he lands, gets out of the hole, fires the rocket and turns around. They were like, “That was cool!” and we were like, “You’re welcome!” And then they were like. “Hey, you guys wanna work on Iron Man 2?” And we were like, “Yes!” So we did that, and the next thing you know, Kevin and Jeremy Latcham are saying, “Hey man, you wanna work on The Avengers?” And I’m like, “Yes!” So they just kept asking me back. And then I got a call from Brad [Winderbaum], saying, “Hey man, you wanna work on something cool? [What If…?]” So if I hadn’t done certain things in my career, at a certain time, then maybe I wouldn’t have been put in a particular position where these other things could come. So there are lots of what-ifs out there.
Chadwick Boseman’s Star-Lord episode is really special. Can you take me through your individual vantage points in regard to working with him?
Bradley: I have the sad honor of writing some of his last lines in the MCU. I obviously did not know that when I was writing them. What impressed me most about Chadwick Boseman is that all the Marvel actors care about their characters. They’ve been playing these roles for a long time in multiple movies and now TV shows. So they know who these characters are and why they tick. Chadwick Boseman understood the importance of Black Panther. He understood how important it is that young people see a Black man standing shoulder to shoulder with Captain America and Thor Odinson, so that they know a Black man saves the world just the same as anyone else. He came in to record, and I joked that he didn’t bring his A-game; he brought every damn sport there is. He made sure that this was going to be the episode that shined, but we did not realize why. And the world is a little sadder for it.
Andrews: It was so exciting to have him part of the process. We wanted to do something with Chadwick and Black Panther, because we love the character. I had a Black Panther comic when I was a little kid, so the character meant something to me even back then. But also Chadwick, the actor, the performer, the man, he’s so amazing. And he signed on pretty early; he was like, “Yeah, this sounds cool. I want to do this.” And we were like, “Oh my God, really? That’s great!” So he really enjoyed the idea of being able to play this slightly different version of T’Challa. The events are so extremely different, but the galaxy doesn’t change T’Challa; T’Challa changes the galaxy. So that was what was really exciting. That was a really great point we were trying to pursue, and I think Chadwick understood that and he wanted to go for that as well. So that was awesome. There are a few more times where he pops up briefly in a couple other episodes, so we were able to record with him a little bit during the pandemic. Those records were over Zoom calls, and in the last record, when we were done, I, selfishly, was able to tell him how much I personally thought of him and how great it was to work with him and how much we all appreciate him and his work. He touched his heart and he was very thankful, but we had no idea he was going through what he was going through. So it was nice to be able to express our gratitude, and he at least knew that we were insanely thankful for what he was bringing to the project and how important we thought it was. And I think he felt that, too.
Unlike this morning’s press conference, you no longer have [executive producer] Brad Winderbaum to serve as a shield.
Andrews and Bradley: (Laugh.)
So what’s your response to the question about elements from What If…? potentially crossing over into the live-action MCU?
Andrews: (Laughs.) I think the answer is you have to wait and see. But this is the multiverse, and things do integrate and co-mingle at Marvel, so what if…?
A.C., do you want to take a crack at this one?
Bradley: No, I think I’d rather answer a question about anything else. Give me trigonometry. Give me the Cretaceous period. Hopefully… I love these characters more than anything, I grew up reading them, and I fell in love watching them. So writing them was a dream come true, and I would run, jump, skip and kill for any other opportunity to do so. It’s been an honor and a privilege.
Andrews: I know A.C. and I feel totally the same in this, and while we don’t know if this is necessarily going to happen, it would be amazing if they would just do a Captain Carter movie. Just get Hayley Atwell in the suit, give her her own franchise and just have her blow doors like hells to the yeah.
Bradley: I always joke that Hayley Atwell could be Ben Grimm and be amazing. She’d be an awesome The Thing.
She’s been filming Mission: Impossible 7 for the better part of a decade, and they put her through months and months of exhaustive training. So she’s literally ready to go.
Andrews: She’s literally ready to go!
Bradley: I love Hayley! This is my second show with her, and I would follow her into war. I would die very quickly, but I would follow her. (Laughs.)
What episode number are you most excited for people to see beyond the first three episodes?
Bradley: The production numbers are different from the airing numbers.
Andrews: They did some switcheroos a little bit, so I’m not sure how accurate this would be. Honestly, I’m excited for people to see all of them because you get different things out of each, but I think five is particularly amazing. But I also think seven is going to blow people away.
Bradley: There’s an episode where we reference The Price Is Right, and it’s probably my favorite episode.
Andrews and Bradley: (Laugh.)
What If…? premieres Aug. 11 on Disney+.