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SYFY WIRE Marvel's What If?

'What If...?' writer & director on how the alt Marvel series tended to accidentally run into future MCU plans

By Brian Silliman

The Watcher has his giant bucket of popcorn ready. Marvel’s What If…? begins streaming on Aug. 11, with every episode of the new animated series showing a different spin on the multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) will continually ask the same question that the title asks. 

What if Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) stayed in the room during the Captain America: The First Avenger serum procedure? What if the Ravagers picked up the wrong child, specifically T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)? Would the Ravagers (and the cosmos in general) then be transformed by T’Challa’s goodness? 

The short answer is yes, to the point where, in that version of events, even Thanos (Josh Brolin) lightens up and chooses a merrier path. The Watcher may not be able to get involved in these events, but head writer A.C. Bradley and director Bryan Andrews most definitely are. It's their job to be involved. 

SYFY WIRE caught up with Bradley and Andrews before the premiere of the series to talk about the show's possibilities, how it all came to be, and what if... they accidentally hit upon future MCU plans while they were in development? 

Would it be fair to say that Captain Carter has a lot more fun than Steve Rogers did when it comes to testing out her new abilities?

Bradley: When it comes to Captain Carter, Peggy and Steve come from very different places. Steve was the guy who was the ultimate underdog, who was scrawny, who kept being told "no," that he couldn't physically do it. Peggy's coming from a place of she knows she can do this. She knows she can fight in the war. She knows that she has a voice that should be heard, that she has an understanding of what's happening, but as a woman in the 1940s, she's relegated to the booth. She's told to leave the room.

So this story was her saying, "No, I'm going to stay here." And how basically, a woman staying in the room changes the world. It let her show who she really is and what she can do, which is what's important to me. Steve always had the heart of gold and that's why he is always going to be Captain America. Peggy was a woman who will do what needs to be done to save the world, to end the war, even if it means sacrificing her own heart.

On the more unpleasant side, I appreciated you bringing in Bradley Whitford from the Agent Carter One-Shot.

Bradley: Unpleasant? Bradley Whitford is a delight.

In terms of the character, not him.

Andrews: That's what's hilarious because he was amazing, and so charming, and so funny. And he's just like, "I don't know how I've gotten this career of playing a**holes, but apparently, I'm a good a**hole.”

Bradley: He’s a good a**hole.

Andrews: But he was so fun and had so many little asides that were so not the character, and then he would smoothly just flow, and the lines would just drip with that douchiness. And you're just like, "How do you? It's amazing!" He's so talented. It's ridiculous.

Speaking of amazing/douchey, is T'Challa just that great or is Peter Quill really that bad?

Bradley: I think T'Challa really is that great. He's the king. When it came to constructing episode two, we looked at who T'Challa is. And in the comic books and in the movie, he's not a character that arcs. He doesn't go through massive changes himself. He changes the world around him. He steps forward and he becomes the leader, and he lets that affect everyone and change everyone else. So we were able to show that side to him, amplified tenfold with this notion of: "What if T'Challa was in the galaxy? How [would] he rewrite the entire universe just by his presence?" Peter Quill's an okay kid.

Andrews: He had it rough. He wasn't raised to be a king.

I also appreciated that he managed to change Thanos's mind, but whenever asked, Thanos still thinks his plan was good. He's like, "I'm not going to do it, but..."

Bradley: In the writer's room, we called that... was it armchair quarterback? He was like, "They should have done this and we should do this." And then when Brolin came in, he was calling him California Thanos. Because he's mellow, he's California Thanos.

Andrews: It was awesome, because Brolin had just come in from his place at the beach. He was just out there with his little newborn daughter. And he's just like, "Sorry I'm late. I was with my daughter on the beach, so I was like 'Disney can wait.'" We were like, "That's cool. Right on." So it was awesome. So we got to nerd out about our daughters and show baby pictures for a second.

And then he's like, "Okay, let's talk turkey." Then he would switch to get all serious talking about what he and the Russo brothers did to create Thanos and what we're doing. And we found it, and A.C. is totally right. He's just kind of like, "Right. So what you're saying is, 'He's hanging out in board shorts'?" And we're like, "Yes. Yes. Do that. I think that sounds fantastic." And that's what we got. It was awesome.

Has there been a story that you guys have wanted to do that you were told not to do?

Bradley: Oh, because we accidentally walked into one of the movies? That was the first month on the show. I think I walked into every Marvel production. Actually, [Executive Producer] Brad Winderbaum joked... when I pitched the show, I pitched about three or four sample episodes, and Brad called me up. He said, "You're getting the job basically because you walked into half of our development slate."

And then I was like, "Oh!" And then I started guessing. I was like, "Was this right? Was that right?” He goes, "Stop it. That's not how this works. You have to get the job first and then we'll tell you secrets.” I was like, "Okay, okay." I've since learned how to read Kevin [Feige]'s smirk, because in my original pitch, I had this whole romantic Odyssey idea. And I was like, "And then Pepper's in the rescue suit," and there was a smirk. And I went, "Come on! Pepper Potts deserves an Iron Man suit.” And he went, "I'm sure she does.” And I was like, "What does that mean?" And then of course Endgame comes out, and I'm like, "Oh, the girl got one. Good. Good!"

Well, speaking of that, just this year from WandaVision, all the way through to Loki and Black Widow, do you watch those things now with kind of an eye out, like, "There's some arable land for us to till for future stories"?

Bradley: Season 2, we're very lucky. We get to play around with some of the movies coming out, or that were supposed to come out earlier due to the pandemic. So hopefully, you'll see some Black Widow characters, some allusions to the TV shows, and maybe an Eternal or Shang-Chi character will pop up. But that's the nice thing, that the Marvel universe is constantly expanding, so there's more and more toys to play with.

The Watcher says that he will never intervene, that he cannot intervene. Part of me wonders what it would take for him to break those rules, and whether that's something we could actually ever see on the series.

Bradley: The Watcher is a dramatic mo-fo. Let's be honest. His whole "I will never interfere," I don't know, maybe we can get him with some food. We'll offer him Snickers. Who doesn't love a good Snickers?

Andrews: Exactly. You'll have to watch the rest of the shows, and wait and find out.

Is there a What If...? character that either of you have a special affinity for?

Bradley: Peggy, obviously, because we're both women, and I've been in a position where I've been banging on the door and looking for an opportunity to show what I can do. But on another level, I've always had a deep love of Tony Stark. I first saw the movie when I was like 22, with a hangover… and I remember coming out of the movie theater and just being like, "This is what I want to do."

I was like, "I like this. I can do this." And ever since that day, I've been circling Marvel being like, "Come on. Come on. Give me a shot." And so I'm very happy that I finally got the chance.

Andrews: They’re all amazing for their own specific reasons. But I think Star-Lord T'Challa, that was an early one that we kind of stumbled onto, and came up with, and we were in love with. And it's being able to see Chadwick's final performance, and just having a different spin on T'Challa that is backed a hundred percent by Chadwick Boseman, it just means so much. And I can't wait for all the cosplay. I gotta see a bunch of cool ass looking dudes strolling around in that f***ing purple jacket, man. I cannot wait. I want that all the time everywhere.

Marvel's What If...? starts asking the big question Aug. 11 on Disney+. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.