What If…? might sound like another Marvel animated series; a plethora produced since the 1960s, however, the latest iteration stands apart from the rest for one big reason: It’s the last performance from Black Panther title actor Chadwick Boseman.
The conceit of the show from EP Brad Winderbaum, director Bryan Andrews and scribe A.C. Bradley is re-imagining Marvel Cinematic stories with a different bent, existing in another part of the universe. Loki recently established multi-verse dimensions across the galaxy for the superheroes we already know, and What If…? jumps off from there. Episode 2 of What If…? is an homage to both Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, in which we see Yondu beam up, not Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, rather a young T’Challa in the fields of Wakanda voiceed by Boseman.
At a press conference for the Disney+ series this morning, Bradley mentioned that the episode in which T’Challa becomes Star Lord was realized after the writers learned he was the same age as Peter Quill.
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“T’Challa is an interesting character because he’s not a character who arcs himself, he’s a character who changes the world around him,” Bradley explained, “He doesn’t go through a transformation, he transforms the world. So, taking a step back, (we pondered) how could T’Challa transform outer space?”
“It was amazing being able to work with him,” said Andrews about Boseman, “We only got a small moment because our episodes are so short. I think he was one of the first actors to sign on.”
Andrews was impressed by Boseman’s voiceover performance given how he approached from a theatrically-trained actor’s point of view: “He wanted to read scene descriptions in between and built it out like a play.”
“None of us knew what he was going through at the time,” added the director about Boseman’s declining state of health. Boseman died on Aug. 28, 2020 from colon cancer.
“He was excited to play this particular version of T’Challa because it was different. Because it was a version of him playing the King, but the King without the mantel, the royalty and everything else that goes along with it. He could lighten it up and get more jokey with it. He was excited to bring back that flavor to T’Challa,” said Andrews.
Following the actor’s death Andrews explained that it was an emotional process for the creators, down to figuring out the final score of What If…? as there were high stakes to perfect Boseman’s episode and respect the actor’s legacy.
In What If…? Jeffrey Wright provides the Rod Serling-like narrator voice. Wright told reporters today he first met Boseman at San Diego Comic-Con; the actor was there for Westworld while the Black Panther thespian was promoting his Marvel title. They expressed their mutual appreciation of each other’s work, and for a moment Wright was originally expected to join Boseman in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. That movie earned Boseman a posthumous Best Actor Oscar nomination.
“It was a lovely surprise to find out that we’d be in the same space with What if…?; this being the last performance we’ll get from him,” said Wright.
“The thing that strikes me the most about what he has done here and what he has done with these films is that obviously these are films about heroisms and all the complications of that, and what we all discovered is the kind of mythic quality that he brought to these performances kind-of paled 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” reflected Wright on Boseman.
Addressing questions as to how What If...? is expanding the MCU, Winderbaum said, “It’s no coincidence that the show picks up right after Loki…The multi-verse has erupted in every possible direction. What if…? gives us a chance to explore that.”
Episode one explores the outcome of Peggy Carter taking the superhero serum instead of Steve Rogers. She ultimately becomes the UK hero Captain Carter crusading against Hydra in WWII. Per Winderbaum, we can expect more of Captain Carter in future seasons of What If…?.
Added the EP, “I think that without going into great detail, I can tell you that What if…? as a project, as a story that exists in the MCU, is as important as any other and is woven into that tapestry.”