While each episode of Marvel’s What If is set in a different time and space within the MCU’s larger multiverse, the series as a whole is told from the perspective of the Watcher—an all-seeing, all-knowing being sworn to observe, but never engage with the things he witnesses. io9 recently had the chance to chat with the voice bringing Marvel Comics’ famous being to life in animation, Jeffrey Wright, to find out what we can expect.
Though the Watcher is What If’s narrator and the audience’s guide through the multiverse, there’s much more to the character than his merely being an ominous presence literally looming in the background. Unlike WandaVision’s newly-crowned Scarlet Witch and Loki’s He Who Remains, who both played active roles in their respective series, the Watcher is quite hands-off throughout the Disney+ animated series. But very much like Wanda and the Kang variant, What If’s Watcher is a fan—a fan of storytelling, and the people who bring stories to life simply by existing and interacting with one another in unexpected, chaotic ways.
When io9 recently spoke with actor Jeffrey Wright—star of Westworld, The Batman, and so much more—he explained that even though the character has always kept an extreme distance from Marvel’s heroes and villains, “in some ways he’s kind of defined by them,” Wright told us. “It’s his life’s passion to observe and connect with them—with their heroism, with their flaws. Without them, he’s nothing in some regard. He adores them and is compelled by them in a way that gives him purpose, and gives his life meaning.”
What Loki’s TVA saw as Nexus Events that needed to be stamped out in order to prevent a new multiverse from springing forth, the Watcher sees as exciting possibilities for bright futures different from, but fundamentally similar to, the ones he’s loved. From Wright’s perspective, the Watcher’s less of an impartial observer and more of an active fan, much like What If’s audience. “In some ways, I think that the passion behind fans’ connection to these characters [comes from] this level of trust, understanding, and hope that is imbued in them in a way that maybe is not found outside of this mythology,” Wright said. “The deepness of that connection, I think, for fans is a powerful one, and also for the Watcher.”
Because Wright’s Watcher isn’t the first to appear in the MCU (see: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), and because What If’s stories are all canon, it stands to reason that the show’s Watcher (Uatu) might pop up in the flesh at some point, especially considering how the multiverse is about to become something of a mess. Though Wright couldn’t say whether there were any discussions of him reprising his role in the future, he also didn’t rule out the possibility. “What If is very much about the idea that all things are possible, so, that’s a reasonable question,” Wright said. “I guess the answer to it is, well, what if?”
What If hits Disney+ on August 11.
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