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What If...? Writer A.C. Bradley And Director Bryan Andrews Discuss The Series - Exclusive Interview

What do you get when you expand the MCU into a whole multiverse? A whole lot of possibility, that's what. Fans from every fandom have pondered the question "what if...?" at some point while watching their favorite TV shows or movies. What if their favorite character didn't die? What if a villain had a happy childhood? What if two characters started dating? Film and television are teeming with endless potential canon deviations, but unlike most franchises, the MCU is answering many of these questions onscreen.

After consulting multiple comic runs and digging deep into Marvel history, Writer A.C. Bradley and director Bryan Andrews put together the new animated series "What If...?" Between Peggy Carter as Captain Britain, a rendition of "Marvel Zombies," and T'Challa as Star-Lord, there's a lot to dive into throughout the new ten-episode series.

Looper spoke to A.C. Bradley and Bryan Andrews in an exclusive interview during which they dished on their inspiration for "What If...?," which character arcs excited them the most, and delved into how they feel about writing Chadwick Boseman's final project. For fans hesitant about the series' animation, the dynamic duo has a message for the naysayers.

Accidentally writing Marvel's biggest blockbusters

A show like "What If...?" offers infinite possibilities for the directions that the stories of our favorite characters can go. What did that process look like in deciding which direction to take each character, and were there any ventures that you thought about pursuing that didn't pan out? I know you can't share ones that might appear in the future, but are any dead in the water — that you just can't do for any reason?

A.C. Bradley: Well, when it came to writing "What If...?" you kind of, you look for the character and you try and find a new way into them, like a new storyline, like where's the heart in this character, where's the hero behind the iconic silhouette. There were a few times we accidentally walked into walls. 

I joked earlier on, I think we accidentally pitched the ending of "Endgame" or parts of "Endgame" so many times they let me and my story editor, Matt Chauncey, see a very early cut of it before the special effects were in because it was getting cruel. We pitched old man Steve. We had a couple of jokes, and I kept wanting to do Professor Hulk. And it was like, "Let's just let her watch it because we're wasting everyone's time." And also it was getting constantly spoiled for me.

At one point, there was a Peter Quill idea that was like, oh wait, we just walked into parts of "Guardians 3." So let's step out, step away, walk away, Claire, very carefully, hands in the air, because I'm sure that movie's going to be amazing. But that's kind of the fun, and these characters, we all relate to them. So there are stories we always want to tell.

That's how you know you have the best writer for the job: when they keep writing the new movies that are coming out.

Chadwick Boseman's final project

Chadwick Boseman's Star-Lord episode is such a wonderful tribute to him and to T'Challa's character. But of course, you wrote that long before the events of the past year. So now, knowing that this will be his final project, would you change anything about the episode, or would you keep it the same? And how do you think the episode honors such an integral hero in the MCU both on and off the screen?

A.C. Bradley: I'll start this. And then Bryan, you can jump in, too. I have a sad privilege of writing some of Chadwick Boseman's last lines in the MCU. He does appear in a couple more episodes later on in the season. But Episode 2 is the one that is built around him and the character of T'Challa. Honestly, if we knew, we would have done all ten episodes all about T'Challa, and we would have hung out with him every day we could have. He was amazing. And I only spent maybe four hours with the man, and he made a great impact. 

His love of the character, it was paramount. But he understood the importance of a character like Black Panther — that younger generations today, how crucial it is for them to see a Black superhero standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Captain America and Iron Man and how we need more of that. We need more diversity in our films, in front of the camera, behind the camera, everywhere. Because let's be honest, our audience is diverse.

Living on in the multiverse

Bryan Andrews: Mm-hmm. That's very true, but I second all of that. And he wanted to do it. You know, he was excited about it. He liked the prospect of playing this version of T'Challa that didn't have the weight of the crown on him. And you can get a little jokey, a little fun, a little flirty with the on-again, off-again love interests, and stuff, but still in his core, and the soul of that young man, that eight-year-old or nine-year-old who gets taken by Yondu, it's still, he still has all of the things that will be eventually the T'Challa that we know and the whole notion of like, "Oh, well you remove that person, and to bring them to the greater galaxy, they don't get crushed by that galaxy."

The galaxy starts changing because of him — the bright shining star, in a galaxy of billions. It's so dang true, and for us, that was an important sentiment to state just because that's how we feel about T'Challa. And that's how we felt about Chadwick, not even knowing where it was going with him, but also he saw that to a certain degree. He wanted to bring that forth to an audience so we can have a slightly different version of T'Challa. You know what I mean? 

And T'Challa lives on in the multiverse. He's out there. The great man Chadwick Boseman may be gone from us, but is he ever truly gone as long as you know, we remember? He left quite a legacy. And so we have to take some sort of comfort in that, otherwise despair would be too great. We can't let ourselves despair.

Remembering Chadwick Boseman

You mentioned people being able to see themselves onscreen. What do you hope people will take away from Chadwick's episode?

Bryan Andrews: Well, I mean, everyone has their own thing that they bring to the table whenever they sit down to watch any kind of entertainment, any type of story. So it's hard to speak exactly to that, but I just hope they have a certain degree of joy, don't get lost in the sadness, and just remember who he was and enjoy this new ride with this character that we all love so much. Hopefully just get the feels, the warm feels, and it's going to be, it's okay. It's going to be okay. You know, he did a lot of great stuff, and his memory is still alive, and that's great.

It's definitely a fun episode for sure.

Bryan Andrews: Yeah.

Marvel meets zombies

So far, this series is a mix of comic book arcs and new storylines. Which comic books arcs were you most interested in pursuing? And do you have a favorite character or storyline that you've developed and altered during this journey?

A.C. Bradley: What it came to pulling from the comic books, we actually didn't pull as much from the original "What If...?" runs as we would've liked, just because they had more of a mish-mash of Marvel characters. The first one behind me is one of what if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four. So you can't touch that. We pulled through quite heavily from "Marvel Zombies," which is not a "What If...?" run.


A.C. Bradley: We loved it. And we knew Marvel wasn't planning on doing it as a feature anytime soon. So this is our chance to actually explore that world and have some fun with it. We were big fans of the original run, and we tried to pull as many elements as we could and kind of twist them to our needs. And we're hoping that fans will watch it and feel like, "Okay, I see parts of the comic that I too loved, but it's also something new."

OG Tony Stark

Yeah, definitely. Do you have a favorite?

A.C. Bradley: Episode or character?

Any storylines, a twist of a character, anything that you were particularly fond of?

A.C. Bradley: I love the opportunity to write Tony Stark, the OG of the Marvel Universe. And I saw the first "Iron Man" movie when I was like 22 years old. I think I had a hangover. And I remember coming into that, and I felt seen, I felt like there was finally a superhero for me. I'm a kid from the Bronx. I'm not supposed to be a screenwriter. 

Back then, I was an assistant or working for minimum wage. And what I loved about Tony is that he's flawed. I mean, everyone knows the famous last line, "I am Iron Man," but the line right before that is "I'm not the hero type." And that was just like, oh, you're not supposed to be the hero. You're not supposed to be the one to save the world, to save the day. And you do it. You say "I win. I'm going to do this. I want to live my life that way. I want to be that person." And I feel like that's one of the reasons why Iron Man is so beloved.

Marvel's box of chocolates

Definitely. So what would you say to fans who are on the fence about tuning in? What would you say to get them to watch the show?

Bryan Andrews: You know, I've heard that there were some people that were like, "I don't watch animation." But when the trailer came out, just because it's Marvel, they were kind of like, "All right, what is this?" And then they're like, "Wow. I think I need to tune in." It's just like, yeah, maybe you should. 

It's handled with the same care that the films and the shows that they've watched up until this point, like "Loki" or "Falcon," or any of the others that have come out. It's Kevin [Feige], Lou, and Victoria seeing this stuff. And we have Brad Winderbaum as well — this is like his baby. So they're the same people that make those films that you love; they're the ones watching over this. If you like the movies, you're probably going to like this. Regardless of what you think about animation, you should give it a shot. I mean, come on, just turn on and watch it, you know, let's enjoy. It's fine.

A.C. Bradley: Unlike the other TV shows, our commitment isn't six to eight episodes. We're 30-minute little miniature movies. We're the chocolate sampler pack of the MCU. Do you want some nougat? We got nougat. Do you want caramel? We got caramel. You want something that has a raisin in it? No, no one wants the raisins. No raisins. Only good stuff.

Bryan Andrews: Yeah. No raisins in our show.

A.C. Bradley: No.

Bryan Andrews: And our chocolate. That's true.

That's the real tagline.

MCU fans can tune into the first episode of Marvel's "What If...?" on Disney+ starting August 11, with subsequent episodes airing on Wednesdays.