Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Gina Prince-Bythewood Talks ‘Cloak & Dagger’ and ‘What Not to Do’ in the Marvel Universe [EUR Exclusive]

*Marvel’s “Cloak & Dagger” chronicles the stories of the two teen runaways as they grapple with newfound supernatural powers, the result of a shared childhood trauma years earlier.

Last week’s episode served up a lesson on white privilege through a thought-provoking conversation between Tandy (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph).

This week’s fifth episode, titled “Princeton Offense,” and slated to air on June 28, finds Tandy testing out her power to gain new insights while Tyrone is focused on being a normal kid as the basketball state finals approach. Meanwhile, Det. O’Reilly looks into the city’s drug problems to get some answers of her own.

This dark, coming-of-age drama series is based on the 1980s Marvel Comics property of the same name but the Disney-owned Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family) has remixed it a bit. The original comics are set on the mean streets of New York City but the TV series changed the setting to New Orleans.

Series creator Joe Pokaski “thought there were enough superheroes fighting crime in New York. He was attracted to New Orleans because of the history,” said Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed the pilot episode and set off on a tone of making viewers feel like “you were watching real life.”

“The fact that it’s a city that keeps getting knocked down but getting back up, that was an interesting tie to our characters,” she added. “We really wanted to be able to make New Orleans a character and be able to shoot in the same city you’re set is great as a director because you can use the environment. New Orleans is so eclectic and beautiful. There’s so much history, so much heartbreak and we wanted to pour that into the show.”

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Also in the comics, Ty is a street kid and Tandy is a rich kid. In the TV show, it’s the other way around.

“Once I read the script and became familiar with those characters, I went back and looked at the original comic books and they were written a long time ago and things that were okay back in the day are not okay now,” said Prince-Bythewood, known for her films “Beyond the Lights” and the masterpiece “Love and Basketball.”

“People are a lot more evolved and woke and it felt stereotypical in many ways and to be able to flip it which Joe did on his own, just made more sense for this day and age. The heart of who the characters are haven’t changed. We’re just not playing on the stereotypes that we see non-stop in television in film. It’s a chance to visualize black life that’s not always reflective on TV and film but is absolutely a reality.”

In the 10-episode series, Ty and Tandy team up to fight drug dealers, help other teen runaways and they fall in love.

In other words, it’s “Black Panther” meets “Wonder Woman.”

“When I read the script I was excited to do it because I have two black boys and they have commented in the past; BTP (Before Black Panther) that they never get to see themselves in superhero films. So the opportunity to put a young black man who’s a superhero on television for them to watch every week was absolutely a factor in me taking it,” she tells EUR/Electronic Urban Report.

Are there certain rules you have to follow when you enter the Marvel Universe?

Gina: When you get that call, you pay attention. I wasn’t that familiar with the characters but I talked to my younger son who is into comic books and he told me who they were, so it was exciting to jump in. What was most exciting about this was, me and Joe Pokaski and Jeph Loeb from Marvel TV were on the same page. When I came in, I knew pretty early on the vibe I wanted to bring this, which was give it a look and feel that we hadn’t seen with Marvel shows on TV before and they were excited and wanted to do the same thing. The freedom that I had was pretty great. The biggest thing is really the protection.

I messed up a tiny bit and it was kind of shocking how focused people are on the show and wanting to find out story points. I learned what not to do because I tweeted out a picture of my director’s chair and I happened to have my shot list on there, which I handwrite and it was tiny but somebody zoomed in and saw a line that I wrote about one of the characters, which was a pretty big story point and it became an article, so that was kind of a shock to me.

CLOAK & DAGGER

You previously spoke of the challenges with finding teenagers that could act until Olivia and Aubrey came in to audition. What was it about them that convinced you they had that IT factor needed to lead this series?

Gina: I’m not going to lie, as a director, it was very-very scary. It was Friday and we’re supposed to leave for New Orleans on Monday and we did not have the cast. There was somebody that was in the running and my biggest issue was he was a good actor but he looked like he was 27/28 and when you’re that old trying to play a teenager, it felt inauthentic and one of the big things we had talked about early on was finding real teenagers so that people watching it feel like it’s real. But it’s hard finding young actors who have chops and we wanted actors who absolutely had chops to be able to embody these complicated characters.

It’s very interesting because we hadn’t found Tyrone yet and I, in desperation, reached out to Aisha Coley, who cast all my films, and asked her “Please tell me you know of some hidden jewel out there,” and she is the one who suggested Aubrey Joseph. When he walked in the room, I loved his look. He had an edge about him which I think is missing sometimes with our young black men. You should be able to be cool and you don’t have to be soft. There was such a likability about him and a depth to him and a vulnerability to him but he didn’t come across as soft and he had chops.

And Olivia is somebody that Joe had been asking to see the entire time and for some reason couldn’t get her in and she came in on Friday and I dug her so much. Then we put them together and that was it. You can not create chemistry when it’s not there. There’s got to be a crackle and when those two came together to read, you felt it immediately. So it was really on me to see if I could build that crackle into a fire. We did some cool improve that day so I could test her chops and test her chemistry. It was surreal to see them embody these characters that they had just met themselves and by the end of their audition, we all looked at each other and said that’s the show! I can watch those two all day. In the 11th hour, it all came together.

In terms of your directing style, is there a special technique you use to guarantee you always get the best of the talent?

Gina: I love my relationship with my actors. I love building their trust because, at the end of the day, I’m asking them to give me themselves and give me everything and all of themselves. So it’s creating a safe environment, creating a trust where they will dig deep and go deeper than they thought they could. Because at the end of the day, it’s about the performances. The camera could almost be all dark but if you’re feeling what the actors are feeling, it works.

Marvel’s “Cloak & Dagger” airs Thursday at 8/7c on Freeform.

Missed an episode? Watch full episodes plus exclusive content and cast info on freeform.com.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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