After the events of Loki, the whole concept of What If…? kind of transformed from a fun “one off” series about strange hypotheticals – the original comic would ask questions like “What if Spider-Man became a late night talk show host instead of a crime fighter?” – but now that we know all about variants and how those work, What If…? all has a bit more meaning now. (And speaking of meaning, though for tragic reasons, What If…? will also give us Chadwick Boseman’s final performance as T’Challa.) All of these alternative realities being introduced to us by The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), who is basically our guide to each episode.
Head writer A.C. Bradley and director Bryan Andrews were given the mandate to “have fun.” Though, what does that mean when things can get tricky, like with Spider-Man’s complicated deal with Sony? According to Bradley and Andrews, they were basically told it would all work itself out. (And since Spider-Man is featured in one of the episodes, apparently it did work itself out.) Ahead, Bradley and Andrews take us through what she and he wanted What If…? to be. And if there was anything they tried to do that Marvel wasn’t totally into. (Which it sounds like, maybe, the only issue was the fine line of “raunch.”)
After Loki, What If…? seems to have a new meaning. Like we are watching variants, as opposed to just one-off stories.
A.C. Bradley: Yeah, the multiverse is here and it is going to be a blast.
Bryan Andrews: Yeah, it really feels like Marvel’s going that way once the end of Loki happens. So, yeah, the multiverse is out there. And our show explores some crazy things that you can see that are out there. And how much more the films want to dial into that as the phases progress? We’re waiting to see as much as you are. We’ll see. We don’t know.
Do you like that approach? Or would you rather it be kind of how the comics were in the ’80s where it’s more like, “Ah, these are fun to read and maybe don’t tie in with anything else”?
Bryan Andrews: It’s funny, I think it’s fine that things can tie in. I think it’s fine that there’s a multiverse. And I don’t think that’s going to take away anything from whatever Marvel wants to do. There are characters that we have come to know and love, and they will always be there. And it’s okay to have a little step next door to see some craziness. It’s all good.
A.C. Bradley: Our prime mandate was to go show as much fun and fantastic sides of the multiverse as possible.
Chadwick Boseman provides his voice in one of the episodes they sent us. So for a lot of people there’s still this unseen performance from him that that is still out there. And all of a sudden this takes on so much more meaning than you probably ever assumed it would?
Bryan Andrews: That’s totally true. It was really rough at first for everyone, of course. But I think now we can look at it as a gift. We get to enjoy his talent and we get to enjoy him playing that character one more time. And we can embrace that and enjoy that together. He was here just too short. Again, there was so much more work we would’ve all loved to have seen from him. And just him as a person just in the world, we need people like that, like him in this world. But hopefully people can look at this episode and have a smile on their faces. He loved the idea of doing this and he wanted to bring this version of T’Challa to life. And so we can take that to heart and feel joy in the fact that he knew what he was doing when he did it. He knew what he was going through. And he brought it full-on.
You got a lot of actors to reprise their roles for this series. But not everyone. How does a “no” work? Does Robert Downey Jr. just say, “I’m sorry, I’m busy”?
Bryan Andrews: A lot of it is it’s like herding cats. All of these people are extremely talented and they’ve got a lot of stuff going on. And we figured we probably wouldn’t be able to get everybody, just because scheduling is so difficult. But we got a lot, and that was great. So yeah, it’d be awesome to have everybody, but you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got to deal with. And if someone’s too busy and they can’t make it, it’s a bummer. We pivot and we get someone in that can rally and play to the spirit of that character. Not necessarily do “an impression,” but at least try to embody that and then make it a little bit their own, but hopefully not bug the audience too much.
Howard the Duck, he’s having a moment. He’s back.
A.C. Bradley: I love Howard the Duck! When it came to episode two and we knew we could have fun with The Collector, why not have Howard the Duck in there? And Seth Green was so lovely and totally came to play and came in for the role. That was a nice thing. The actors that were able to come in were great. They came to play. They had fun. I think the biggest surprise was a few of them became show ambassadors. Sebastian Stan, Jon Favreau, they would actually spread the word that What If…? is weird and it’s a good time, and you don’t have to do makeup or ADR. And then a few of the actors even were like, “Sign me up for season two. If you want to do another episode, let’s do it.” And that was very telling. That, okay, we’re on the right track here if the people who have lived and breathed these characters for 10 years are liking what we’re doing.
We always hear about the difficulties of the Sony arrangement with Spider-Man and getting him in the movies, but how did that work here? Because he’s going to be in one of these. How does that work?
A.C. Bradley: I think that works with “people above our pay grade.” Though, I think I did ask that early on. I was like, “Can we just touch Spider-Man?” And they went, “Don’t worry about it. We’re going to figure it out. Just tell the best story you can, and we’ll cross that bridge.” That was kind of the mandate across the board with Marvel: As long as you’re not doing something that we’re doing in the movies, go have fun and we’ll figure it out.
Bryan Andrews: No, they want the quality. They want to go for the quality and they’re like, “Yeah, let’s go. And all that BS is stuff that we have to deal with.” It’s like, “We’ll deal with that. Don’t worry about it.” Which I think that’s awesome. From day one on all their projects, it’s quality all the way down the line. You know what I mean? And that’s great.
Was there anything you wanted to do that was too weird that your bosses were not totally into?
A.C. Bradley: We had to stay PG-13. So we couldn’t go too raunchy and we couldn’t go too “har har.” Because we are going to be on Disney and there is going to be a six-year-old who ends up watching the show. Whether or not we’re looking for it to happen or not. Otherwise, we were kind of given the keys to the toy store and told to have fun. For me, the whole joy was taking these iconic characters, deconstructing them at times, trying to find the heart in them, finding new stories to tell. And for me, I was able to tell some stories that I don’t think I would have been able to do in other projects. I wouldn’t have been able to write about loss and love and feminism and throwing the world’s greatest party in any other show.
So it sounds like you’re telling me you did put something in there a little raunchy, and they were like, “You can’t do that.”
A.C. Bradley: [Laughs] … I don’t know. We had fun.
Bryan Andrews: You’ll have to be the judge of that when you watch the episodes.
I see you have the first issue of What If…? on your shelf behind you. Graded 9.4, that’s pretty good.
A.C. Bradley: Oh, I bought that right when I got the job, because I knew it was going to go up in value the second the show was announced.
That was a good idea.
A.C. Bradley: A little insider Marvel trading.
And now you’re now you’ve probably committed some sort of crime.
A.C. Bradley: Probably. The SEC’s going to come after me.
‘What If… ?’ begins streaming on August 11th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.