Actor Jeffrey Wright has an easy out when it comes to protecting Marvel’s secrets: When talk verges into potentially dicey territory, he simply resorts to the title of his show. “I guess the question would be, ‘What if that were to be?'” he turns one question back on me. “But you can find out when the show comes out in August.”
Now that Loki has officially ushered in the multiverse, What If…? dives right in, exploring all of the different branched realities and the superheroes within them: Captain Carter, T’Challa Star-Lord, King Killmonger and Party Thor, among others. Ahead of What If‘s premiere, Wright sat down with ET to discuss joining the MCU for its first animated series and marking Chadwick Boseman’s final portrayal of T’Challa.
ET: You are officially in the MCU. How did this project come your way?
Jeffrey Wright: I received an invitation to take a look at this new series and this new character that they were introducing, The Watcher, who is this mysterious, all-powerful, slightly strange being who observes the Marvel multiverses like a TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat junkie — just taking it all in, just watching all of this and wondering whether or not he should sign up for an account. I thought there were some interesting possibilities there, and then I went back and started to research the character in the comics as well and I realized that you have the whole new landscape of stories that can be told based on these familiar, well-loved stories and characters that we all are familiar with now. It was a difficult invitation to ignore, so I came on board.
Had you ever met with Marvel before for another project or was this your first time meeting with them?
No, this was the first time that they reached out to me.
This being their first animated series, what did they tell you about how they would be approaching it? And what got you excited about what they were planning?
First, they described the style of the animation as being intensely cinematic, as you would expect, and really tonal and rich. That it would be a bit of an evolution on animation and done within its own style. So, that was exciting. And then the idea that we could look at these familiar characters — like T’Challa, Black Panther, Thor, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Hulk, the whole raft of characters that make up the universe — that we could look at them in new ways, through a new lens because this character, who is probably the biggest Marvel fan known to man or alien, has access to all of these iterations of their stories that no one else does. New doors will open for audiences and for fans, and that sounded pretty cool.
Was there any concern on your part that if you voiced The Watcher in this, you wouldn’t be able to tackle a live-action role in the MCU someday? I personally would like to see you get your superhero on in the flesh.
Well, one never knows. The Watcher is everywhere, so one never knows.
Because it is animated, does What If feel like its own thing? Or like the other MCU projects, that it’s connected with these other films and these other series?
What If is animation, of course, but it’s very much tied to the films that we’ve seen from Marvel. It relies on those films, because it’s those storylines and those characters that are being reimagined or being explored in alternative ways. It’s entirely connected to all of the films that people have seen and loved. Without them, then it would exist on its own, but it’s very much delving into those familiar spaces that we know from those films and just painting them in new and interesting ways.
Will it have ramifications on what comes next? Will what happens in What If affect the rest of the MCU moving forward?
Well, I think the question is, What if that would happen? Anything’s possible. We’ll have to wait and see.
Fans have been really, really hyped for the introduction of the multiverse. What does it mean to be a part of ushering that into the MCU?
I love the passion that fans have for these characters and for Marvel. It’s so incredibly intense. And there’s a responsibility to that, I think. We’re in these strange times now, uncertain times where you’re not sure what or who you can trust, but what we do know is that we can trust these characters. We can trust these heroes and these heroines. So, to become caretaker of their stories and introduce another potential hero — or is he a villain? We don’t know — into that world of storytelling, that’s what it’s all about. And ideally putting it out there in a way that fans can look at with excitement and feel gratified that their trust was honored.
How different would you say your Watcher voice is from your own voice?
I try not to be, like, the most dramatic being ever imagined, as The Watcher is described. [Laughs] I try to tone it down a little bit. The first time we see him, he’s on the moon and he’s I don’t know how many feet tall, so he’s got to project in ways that maybe I don’t necessarily have to project, in that I’m 5’10” so people can hear me in the room. I don’t have to project from the moon in order to be heard. It’s a little bit different, but there’s some overlap there too.
How did you react the first time you saw your voice paired with this animation?
The process took a while. We first started working on these a couple of years ago, started looking at some of the imagery that would be used in the show, started playing with ideas of what The Watcher would look like and thinking about what he would sound like until we reached a place that we all thought was pretty cool, and then you lay it down in the recording studio. But it was many months after that I saw all of the layers come together and then you realize that, yeah, we did pretty well. It’s quite a new spin for Marvel, and I just hope my voice matches the richness and the dynamic cinema that the animation brings, because it’s really beautiful and exciting. It’s more of the same for Marvel fans, but new and a little bit different.
It’s such a treat for the fans that Marvel is bringing back a majority of the original actors to voice their roles here. Have you had a chance to connect with any of your MCU peers in making this?
I have not relative to this. The last time I saw all of those folks together was at the Endgame premiere. I’ve been in touch with one or two since then. I do Westworld with Chris Hemsworth’s brother, Luke, so I’ve spoken to Chris since then. But everybody’s been on their own little personal island over these last few months. There hasn’t been a lot of socializing and partying over the last year and a half, man. [Laughs] I’ve either been at home, on a movie set or in a hotel room somewhere with most of the hotel shut down. That’s been my life for, like, the last 13 months. Not a lot of cocktail parties!
We know Chadwick recorded for an episode, which will be very special. Have you had a chance to see his episode yet?
Yeah, I did. It was special for me to get to hear him voice T’Challa once again, and to be a part of that is pretty nice. I think with Black Panther, there’s a mysticism about that film and about that story that captured all of our attention, and there is now a greater mysticism about Chadwick’s life that overlaps with the heroism of that character that he played in a really very special way. We capture a bit of that in his episode of What If, so I look forward to that being shared with fans of his and fans of Marvel.
Do you have an episode that you’re like particularly excited for people to see?
Well, I haven’t seen everything just yet. I’m excited for them to see that episode with Chadwick. And personally, I was blown over by the Doctor Strange episode, which just hit me like somewhere very central to me. As well, The Watcher takes a very peculiar interest in that story too. He and I have a common perspective on certain things. It’s got all of the magic and it’s got all of the colors and the excitement, but there’s a moral thread to it and lessons to be learned within that I found really riveting and relevant.
So The Watcher takes a particular interest in Doctor Strange, but he also says he cannot, will not get involved. But will that always be the case? Are we going to see him start pulling some strings before the season ends?
Are you going to make The Watcher out to be a liar right out of the gate? [Laughs] He’s doing his best! I kind of understand that. He’s looking at humans and he’s looking at these other than human characters, he’s watching everything they do and he’s kind of making the decision, “I’d rather just lay back and stay out of all that mess.” I understand that, but then at the same time, there are forces that pull us back in. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.
Marvel’s What If…? is streaming on Disney+ on Wednesday, Aug. 11.
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