Marvel creators discuss how they broke the MCU’s canon for What If…? (exclusive)

Captain Carter in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Captain Carter in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. © Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

The Marvel Studios canon as we know it is about to be turned upside down, and that’s because What If…? is set to hit Disney+ on Wednesday, Aug. 11.

The new animated series is loosely adapted from the What If comics run, but the basic premise is a free-for-all when it comes to telling new tales based on the MCU canon. Some of the episodes teased ranged from a story about Peggy Carter taking the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers, to what would happen in outer space if T’Challa were to become Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill.

As a whole, the series is a fascinating one. And we got to pick the brains of director Bryan Andrews and head writer A.C. Bradley in an exclusive interview via Zoom last week. Andrews has been in the art game for a while now, working on Star Wars’ very own Clone Wars from Genndy Tartakovsky as well as a few other recent MCU films. And Bradley is back to animation after working on Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia and 3Below: Tales of Arcadia.

Read on below the trailer for our exclusive Q&A with What If…? creators Bryan Andrews and head writer A.C. Bradley.

Interview with Bryan Andrews and A.C. Bradley

Dork Side of the Force (Mia Johnson): So, Bryan, I’ll start with you. We were talking about how you’ve worked with Marvel before. When directing this, I’m assuming you were able to bring in your previous experience working on those films. If so, how did that work to your benefit?

Bryan Andrews: A little bit in the sense that, yeah, I was kind of familiar. So there was a comfort level, to a certain degree, where it’s just like, “Cool, let’s just dive into these new stories.”

So for me, it wasn’t anything too new in that regard. The newness came from the material that we’re dealing with. All this stuff they were able to create and everything that A.C. was able to write and bring to the table as well — being able to just sink our teeth into all those things that excited us about genre, character, emotion but also not lose that Marvel flavor. That little hint of comedy, as well as amazing action. It’s that nice balance of all of it, you know what I mean?

It’s like, if you’d have something that’s all action and no heart, you’re like, “I don’t care.” If you have something that’s all heart but it’s supposed to be an action-adventure, you’d be like, “I’m bored. Where’s the action-adventure?” It’s that nice balance of everything. And so being able to juggle all of that and try to bring it to fruition, it’s challenging and exciting all at the same time.

I bet! And for A.C. and the writing process, I’m just imagining that there were so many possibilities to take any one character or any one event from the whole Marvel canon and tweak it. So how did you all start that process of finding what thread to break and create a brand new story?

A.C. Bradley: When it came to running an episode of What If…?, the “what if” question is actually the last one I ask. Instead, I figure out which character’s calling to me. I’m a sucker for an underdog. Give me a character that is not meant to be a hero, and I’ll show you one.

And when it came to Captain Carter, Peggy Carter, she’s interesting because she always had the ability to be your hero. Her heart is so huge, her voice is so strong. But she was silent because it’s [the] 1940s and she’s a woman.

So this was about a woman literally saying, “I’m staying in the room,” and seeing how that changes the world. And it does. And it would have been true in the 1940s, and it’s definitely true in 2021. So you start with the small kind of like, “What’s the reflection of humanity? What can we see in these characters?” And then you wrap it in the fun heroics and the fun explosions. But at the end of the day, if you don’t relate to them, if you don’t see yourself in these characters, you’re not going to have as much fun.

marvel what if
Captain Carter (center) and the Howling Commandos in Marvel Studios’ What If?… exclusively on Disney+. ©Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

And how much direction came from up top? With the writers, do you bring in Kevin Feige and the others to check in on your work and ask, “What are you thinking about this idea that we pitched?”

Bradley: Well, we didn’t run a traditional writers’ room, and I had run ones before. I was kind of actually burned out on doing animated television. This was me coming back — coming back just for this one season and this one series in animation television! So I decided just to bring another writer who I’ve worked with quite a bit who’s excellent, Matthew Chauncey. Marvel was already our shorthand in our previous writers’ rooms.

And then Kevin, I don’t know how the man finds the time. He must have — I know it’s a different franchise — but he must have a Time-Turner! Because he read every outline, every script; he was at the animatic screenings; he weighed in. I swear today, if I passed him in the hallways and I asked him about what he thought of “108,” he would turn around and quote it. He is a genius.

That’s awesome! And so, I like to ask this question with everyone. Because while things always look excellent in the final cut, for the creators, I wonder about the challenges behind the scenes. So for you all, what was the hardest or most challenging thing to accomplish with What If…?

Andrews: It’s like with all filmmaking, it’s never really done. There’s a point where you’re not allowed to touch it anymore, and it just has to go and live. And so for me, and maybe some of the members of the crew, we see tons of things that we’re like, “Ah!” We just wish we could fix [it], but there’s just no way.

But I think the challenging thing was just the time… and sometimes it was kind of, we had the show to do at a certain length of time, more or less. But oftentimes… suddenly it’s like, “I’m sorry, guys, but you got to cut a whole minute out of this.” And we’re like: “But we’re done, and it works! A minute? That’s like, ‘Ah!'” And you have to find a creative way to not hurt and/or kill the story, or the heart, or the emotion, or anything that’s truly important.

And for you, A.C.?

Bradley: For me, the biggest challenge of What If…? was the page length, was the time. And I could write a trilogy about each one of these characters. I can write a feature-length movie in a heartbeat because they’re so rich, and they’re so vivid, and because we’re dropping them into brand new worlds. There’s so many places we could go. And that was the hardest part, was finding out that at times, we had to cut minutes because of production issues. And you can’t lose the heart. Otherwise, you have no story!

Yeah! And so finally, what are you most excited for everyone to see when this premieres?

Andrews: I’m excited for them to see just all of it. Like, they have no idea what’s coming. I mean, the trailer teases a certain amount, but they still have no idea.

Bradley: I’m gonna say the GIFs.

Andrews: Yes, yeah! I can’t wait for the GIFs and the memes. That is so true!

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You can check out Andrews and Bradley’s work on Marvel Studios’ What If…? when it premieres on Disney+ on Aug. 11.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.