Anything goes in What If?, Marvel’s new animated series on Disney+ that digs deep into the multiverse in imagining its superheroes in all sorts of parallel timelines.
The first episode kicks off Wednesday with an alternate spin on the events of the MCU’s 2011 entry Captain America: The First Avenger where it’s Hayley Atwell’s British agent Peggy Carter — not Steve Rogers, as originally played by Chris Evans and Josh Keaton in the series — who gets injected with the serum that turns her into a super-soldier, or Captain Carter.
“Captain America is the quote-unquote First Avenger, it’s in the movie title, so it felt natural to start with Captain Carter,” executive producer Brad Winderbaum told Yahoo Entertainment during a virtual press day for the series (watch above). “But the bigger and more important reason” they opened with Captain Carter, Winderbaum adds, “is that we love the character and we love Hayley Atwell and working with her. And we knew that given the opportunity to reprise the role in this way, she would be really amazing.”
Head writer A.C. Bradley saw the perfect opportunity to make the gender flip while revisiting Captain America. Right before Steve is administered the super-serum, Stanley Tucci’s scientist Abraham Erskine directs her to leave the laboratory and watch from a nearby booth.
“I was like, ‘Well, there’s the moment,’” Bradley recalls. “I get to put the line in, ‘I’m staying in the room.’ Because when a woman stays in the room, the world changes. And Peggy’s a woman who knows her worth. And knows that she can do it.”
Episode 2 (premiering Aug. 18) imagines it was T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), not Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, who is abducted by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and becomes Guardians of the Galaxy’s leader Star-Lord.
The series marks the final Marvel project Boseman recorded for footage before the Black Panther star died of colon cancer last August at the age of 43. Boseman’s voice appears in four episodes total in varied versions of the character, according to Winderbaum.
“It takes on special meaning in light of the events, his passing, which was just terribly tragic,” says director Bryan Andrews. “We got to explore the fact that this amazing individual goes out into the universe and effects change because of who he is. He doesn’t get changed, the universe can’t change him, he doesn’t need any real changing. And I think Chadwick saw that it was another opportunity to bring a voice to T’Challa and Black Panther, which was so important to him.”
“He treated it with the same amount of depth and consideration that I think he would any performance,” says Winderbaum.
Jeffrey Wright, who makes his Marvel debut as the voice of the Watcher, remembered meeting Boseman in the bathroom at San Diego Comic-Con.
“I didn’t know that first time we met how impactful he would be on me as a human,” Wright says. “I was particularly moved by the humility and the dignity with which he endured all of that.”
While the Captain Carter and T’Challa-as-Star-Lord plot remixes are ambitious, Winderbaum promises there will be one later in the season — one he’s not ready to share yet — that will be particularly bold.
And then there was the craziest idea that never came to be.
“The multiverse is infinite, so we would get into these philosophical discussions over how far we could push it,” Winderbaum explains. That included discussion about an episode where all the Avengers were dinosaurs during prehistoric times.
“Dino-vengers,” Bradley confirms. “This is what happens you’re in a room for 12 hours and there’s no windows. I think after a while you start pulling [from] classic movies. And be like, ‘What if we did Jurassic Park?’”
There’s always Season 2.
Watch Kevin Feige talk about the legacy of Chadwick Boseman:
— Video produced by Kat Vasquez and edited by Steve Michel