Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered on ABC in 2013, Marvel Television has grown to feature shows on Netflix, Hulu, FX and Fox. The newest network to join the club is Disney-owned Freeform in the form of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, a drama about the relationship of Tandy (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph), two super-powered teenagers linked by a childhood tragedy.
Cloak & Dagger’s coming-out party occurred during South by Southwest on March 11, making its world premiere the first presence for Freeform and Marvel Television at SXSW. The show’s marketing bonanza continues this weekend when WonderCon takes over Anaheim. Fans attending the series’ panel will be rewarded with a special sneak peek of the series well before its June 7 premiere date.
Before the WonderCon flurry, Daily Brief spoke with Cloak & Dagger creator and executive producer Joe Pokaski (Underground, Heroes) about the power of Peter Parker, what makes Cloak & Dagger stand out in the superhero TV landscape, and its New Orleans setting.
DAILY BRIEF: Beyond their chemistry, what were the most important attributes Aubrey and Olivia needed to have to play Cloak and Dagger?
The most important thing for us is that they played as kids. Every once in a while you’ll see a coming-of-age story and they’ll cast 29-year old actors. We were looking for people who weren’t fully cooked yet. Olivia and Aubrey evoked young and full of potential. They always rise to the occasion and they’re not done yet.
I was struck by how broken these characters are. Were you surprised by how dark Freeform let you go?
A little bit. I wasn’t 100 percent familiar with all their stuff, but looking back, they do push the envelope and they should be given a lot of credit for addressing addiction and uncharacteristic family bonds. A lot of their shows go to places that live between the cracks of what’s usually done. They’re always encouraging me to go darker and crazier. It was a pleasant surprise for everyone.
I found this amazing quote by creator Bill Mantlo about how he came up with Cloak & Dagger: “They came in the night, when all was silent and my mind was blank. They came completely conceived as to their powers and attributes, their origin and motivation. They embodied between them all that fear and misery, hunger and longing that had haunted me on Ellis Island.”
What does that quote evoke for you? What themes from the source material did you feel the most responsibility to stay true to?
My great grandparents were immigrants, and we’re obviously talking a lot about the immigration story and how hard it is to go from a place where you’re worse off to a place where you hope you’re better off. I remember reading that quote when I was first looking in to adapting Cloak & Dagger.
Mantlo did a ridiculously good job, particularly for the time period he was living in. It was oddly progressive for its time and oddly racist and sexist for our time. In adapting it, I wanted to break down Tandy and Tyrone to the base of who they were. A young woman dealing with addiction who’s lost and feels alone and a young black man who knows that society is looking at him in a way that it doesn’t look at everyone else.
Bringing them together was a stroke of brilliance. I read a lot of comic books in my time, and you don’t see people who are equals and partners. There’s always a sidekick here or there. The thing I loved about Tandy and Tyrone is that they needed each other. What I wanted to hold onto was the idea that apart they were alone, and together they made sense.
Did you visit Ellis Island or make any pilgrimages for the show?
I have never been to Ellis Island, which is quite horrible. But I’ve spent a decent amount of time in New Orleans. When I first talked to Jeph Loeb, the president of Marvel Television, we came across New Orleans quickly because people are just starting to shoot television down there and New York is lousy with superheroes. There’s way too many superheroes for New York.
New Orleans helped put our version of Tandy and Tyrone into release. I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but there’s something special about the city. It’s the most European of American cities and it’s one of the few that has its own form of mysticism. There’s a dark and hopeful history down there and we were able to understand and exploit the damaged soul of New Orleans – it’s kind of the third Beetle to Tandy and Tyrone.
Which comic books changed your life?
This will sound very trite but Peter Parker. Like many kids growing up my age, he changed my life. He was slightly shy, slightly nerdy, who all of a sudden was told he had powers, now what’s he going to do with it? It worked for me when I was younger. I thought about it a lot when I was older.
I remember Joe Quesada, who was president of Marvel Television at the time, was talking about Peter Parker and why people respond to him and take Spider-Man almost too seriously. We were at Comic-Con and he was looking at the crowd, and he said, “Everyone here thinks it’s them behind the mask.” That was the power of storytelling. When Spider-Man put on his mask, you knew Peter was in there, but in your imagination it was you. That moved me a little, and moved me to Los Angeles eventually.
If you could wipe away any one superhero movie or TV show from existence, what would it be?
I’m not one to take shots at stuff. To be honest, even the bad versions of stories allow you to understand what the good version might be. I will go reverse and say I wish they would release Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie. That’d be pretty fun to watch.
What about Cloak & Dagger makes it stand apart from other comic book shows? What superhero stories have yet to be told?
I think there’s plenty to be told. In the history of film, not even superhero, I think Black Panther is one of the most important films of all time because it’s the first solid step to start telling stories we haven’t seen.
What we tried to do with Cloak & Dagger was try to change the look and feel. We are a little intimate, more handheld. We kept saying we want to be the Sundance coming-of-age story told in the Marvel universe. Bringing on [director] Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), who masters that look and feel, was incredible in setting that look. A lot of the superhero shows are on Steadicam or dolly or try to stay clean. To tell our story of messed up individuals, we mess up our frames, we mess up our composition every once in a while. Hopefully it’s a different insight into different human beings who feel a little more like the kids that’ll be watching the show.
If you were a superhero, what would the color scheme for your costume be?
Wow. Tough. I’m trying to figure out how not to embarrass my wife by picking something she would approve of. Practically, it would be black and grey, because you do most of your work at night and I never understood why people wanted to telegraph themselves. Except Superman, he’s pretty strong. He can have that brighter suit. I would go with some darker tones so I could blend into the shadows a little better.
What would be your superhero walk-up music or theme song?
I’m going to go with “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket. I don’t think I’ll be able to beat that.
WonderCon is one big holiday all weekend, as Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger arrives on Friday, March 23. It’s not the only Freeform show splashing into Anaheim, as the mermaid thriller Siren will also unveil never-before-seen footage Saturday, March 24, in advance of its March 29 premiere. Cloak & Dagger premieres June 7 at 8:00 p.m. eET with a two-hour event.
[All images courtesy of Freeform]