His time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was short but inspiring, so it is perhaps fitting that Chadwick Boseman’s final outing as T’Challa is in the upcoming What If…? animated anthology series on Disney+ that explores the alternate realities of the multiverse, looks at the infinite possibilities out there.
Based on the comic series of the same name, What If…? sees famous Marvel heroes and characters in situations and scenarios that are a total deviation from what audiences have seen in the past 13 years of the MCU.
Created by A.C. Bradley, directed by Bryan Andrews, executively produced by Brad Winderbaum and starring Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, What If…? is more than just seeing our heroes like never before, but also about creating a deeper connection between fans and characters, as well as honour the MCU veterans who have dedicated their passion to the franchise, especially the beloved and late Boseman.
Speaking in a press conference that Geek Culture attended, Bradley, Andrews, Winderbaum and Wright spoke about Boseman’s final outing as T’Challa/Black Panther, as well as how the series fits into the larger MCU tapestry.
Fans around the world grieved when Boseman, who played the character of T’Challa/Black Panther in four movies, passed in August 2020. According to Andrews, Boseman was one of the first MCU veterans to come on board the show and displayed enthusiasm in playing a different version of his character.
A majority of actors returned to voice their character from the MCU, including Hayley Atwell, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg, Michael B. Jordan, Karen Gillan and more, though there are some notable absences that had to be recast, including Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans.
As seen in the trailers, T’Challa ends up taking on the mantle of Star-Lord in an episode.
“We were so excited because we really wanted to work with Chadwick and we just loved him. He’s theatrically trained and he did it like a play. We basically got to read lines with Chadwick Boseman and it was awesome. None of us knew what he was going through at the time,” shared Andrews about his experience working with the actor.
Whilst incredibly grateful to have Boseman on the show, he wished he had the opportunity to enjoy his presence for much longer, in comparison to fellow Marvel Studios colleagues who had the pleasure of working for Boseman on longer feature films.
“He came in and he had a lot of fun. It was really great to hear him talk about how he was excited to play this particular version of T’Challa, because it’s a version of him – the king without the mantle – so he could be a little bit more jokey with it. He was excited to bring that flavour. We’re blessed to have him in this show.”
For Wright, working with Boseman was almost a dream come true. Wright met Boseman briefly in the bathroom at Comic-Con when they first introduced the Black Panther film. The two talents had a wonderful exchange and ran into each other a couple of times. In fact, Wright was meant to work with Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but had to pass on the opportunity, to work on another film instead.
“It was a lovely surprise to find that we would have the opportunity to be in the same space and this being his last performance that we’ll get from him, I find very moving. The thing that strikes me most, about what he does here and what he’s done with these films is that, obviously, these are films about heroism and all the complications of that,” shared Wright.
“And what we all discovered was that the kind of 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. I’m really pleased to share a little bit of time with him on this.”
As to what drew him to the role of The Watcher, known in the comics as an observer but rarely, if ever, as a participant of events, it’s about playing a character that is best represented by the fans.
“In some ways, he’s 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,” explained the actor.
So what would have caused T’Challa, and not Peter Quill to cruise through space with The Ravagers? As revealed in Disney+’s Loki, there is now a multiverse, of infinite realities where events transpire differently, and all the variants exist as part of the larger MCU. The question answered in the episode Boseman worked on was, What If…? T’Challa was kidnapped by Yondu instead, was brought up in the writer’s room over two years ago.
“We realised that T’Challa and Peter Quill are the same age so – spoiler – Yondu takes the wrong kid, another nine-year old running around the MCU, around the same time and he gets a little bit lost, end up in Wakanda and you know, all humans look alike, so that’s kinda where that one started from,” revealed writer A.C. Bradley.
Apart from T’Challa and Peter being close in age, Bradley was genuinely curious to see how heroes of seemingly different narratives will connect with each other, and how that might have affected the overall narrative that audiences have grown familiar with.
“T’Challa is an interesting character because 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. So, taking a step back would be, ‘Well, how would T’Challa transform outer space?’ and that’s how you get that episode,” added Bradley.
With 10 episodes to play with, the longest in any of the current crop of MCU shows on Disney+, audiences not only get to see and connect with beloved superheroes in different scenarios, but they will also be able to explore different genres in one seating.
“You never know what you’re gonna get. You might get an episode that’s comedy, you might get an episode that’s kind of dramatic and serious, super emotional, full of action. This gave us an opportunity to apply a little taste of a variety of genres into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One maybe goes a little bit darker, one gets funnier,” explained Winderbaum.
With each episode bringing something new to the table, one might think that the connections with the wider tapestry we know as the MCU would be minimal, or close to zero. According to Winderbaum, What If…? is very much a part of the greater MCU, even though he would not reveal more.
“Without going into great detail, I can tell you that What If is as important as any other. It’s woven into that same tapestry. So those fun threads, there’s a lot of potential,” he noted.
“In every season, we’re telling a story on a giant multiversal canvas so you never know who’s gonna pop up where and when. There’s always opportunity for fun connections to be made. I find it to be no coincidence that What If…? Is arriving just as the MCU was diving into a multiverse story.”
Casually bragging about how the team could’ve easily made 30 episodes but have only been greenlit for 10, Winderbaum hopes that the ideas that never made it to season one of What If…? would be explored in season two.
“We are fortunate enough to be exploring some of those ideas in our second season. The fictional Marvel universe has changed so new ideas bubble forth too. New stories and new opportunities to tell new stories come about too. You will have an opportunity to see at least some of those [episodes],” smiled Winderbaum.
Although a second season hasn’t been officially announced or confirmed by Marvel head Kevin Feige, Winderbaum teased that Captain Carter would be a major driving force and is a character the team would revisit in the near future.
What If… ? premieres on Disney+ on 11 August 2021.