Ahead of their upcoming premiere on Freeform on June 7, the cast and executive staff of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger met with reporters in Los Angeles to discuss the show’s first season.
“When we started all those many five years ago, every fan site put up a ‘what shows do you want to see,’ and Cloak & Dagger was always certainly within the top three,” said Marvel Head of Television Jeph Loeb. “These are characters people readily identify with, on top of which they sort of lend themselves in a television world.”
The show, headlined by Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph as Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson, proved to be a challenging audition process for both leads.
“I feel like we all grew up Marvel fans - it’s always there, you can’t miss it,” Joseph said. “We’re in that same universe… it’s a whirlwind.”
“[Marvel is] the most secretive company of all time,” Holt said. “We didn’t even get a script before we booked the parts - we had to go in with confidence and know that was something good, and then we got the scripts, and were like, ‘great, this is actually good!’”
The two actors said that they felt the weight of living up to expectations for the characters, who have been cult favorites at Marvel since their debut in 1982.
“I think there’s always going to be a little bit of pressure going into something that’s already been created,” Holt said. “In 2018, we want to make [Cloak & Dagger] way more relatable and way more current, and I think that’s why we’re tackling those heavy topics, and sort of making it a more modern-day situation, because we want the audience to want to relate to that.”
“For me, even my reasoning for wanting to play Ty is I’m used to playing these very confident, outgoing characters - I’m an outgoing person myself - so just getting able to play such an introvert, someone who so has their guard up,” Joseph added. “It was just phenomenal to tell that story, because it’s real. I feel like a lot of things are glorified and glamorized, but there’s real shit we go through every single day, and I feel that people want to come home and see that, and see something that they can resonate and relate with.”
According to pilot director Gina Price-Bythewood, the casting process went down to the wire, with the two leads not being secure even the Friday before shooting was supposed to begin in New Orleans. But after finally bringing in Holt to perform a chemistry read alongside Joseph, followed by an impromptu improv scene between the two, the producers knew they had found their leads.
“We talked early on as soon we jumped in together that this needed to feel real, they had to feel like real teenagers. And I think that’s the hardest thing, I think, with casting, to find actors that are real teenagers that have the chops,” Price-Bythewood said. “To be able to feel their chemistry, their natural chemistry, the way they played off each other... we were all just silent. And then Jeph said, ‘we want to watch these two forever.’”
Loeb attributed the show’s launch on Freeform as connected to young people’s technological savvy. “At its core, Cloak & Dagger is a story of two young people who are trying to figure out their lives,” he said. “And if anything, that problem has gotten worse, not better - we now live in a time where young people, because they have a 24-hour news cycle in their phone, they’re more involved socially, economically, financially, politically.”
Loeb added that while the show was targeted for teen viewers, he expected that older viewers would find things to connect with. “You’ve either at some point been that age and recognize the burden of what that is - and the joy - or you are that age, and you’re empathizing with your heroes.”
Yet the series, while hotly anticipated, was still very much a product of its time, and required some updating from its 1980s roots to the modern era.
“When I read [Executive Producer] Joe [Pokaski]’s script, I was very intrigued, and dug into a huge stack of comics,” said Price-Bythewood. “And I was very impressed with the way that Joe updated it - it had to be updated, especially the racial aspects of it - but to stay true to the core of who these characters are, at the end of the day, I think that’s most important.”
Pokaski agreed. “It’s an important time to see a young woman be a superhero, and to see a young black man be a superhero, and for them to do it together,” he said. “It feels like there’s a timelessness to it - so I think the adaptation certainly takes it into consideration of where we are, but also considers that we haven’t gone as far as we’d like to since the ‘80s.”
Early episodes of the series already takes the story to some dark places, ranging from drug abuse to police killings, which Holt admitted that despite the level of respect on set between her fellow actors and crew members left her and Joseph “emotionally and physically drained” by the end of the first season. “I think at the end of the day was ultimately we wanted something that felt so honest and powerful, and hopefully we captured that,” she said.
“I think that teens nowadays are so exposed to things on social media, and everything is out there, so for it to be sugar-coated is almost B.S.,” said Miles Mussenden, who plays Ty’s father Otis. “I think people need this - I think seeing reflections of themselves in this show in a way that’s edifying, because I think the way that we tell these stories, the writing, could actually help people and lift people up through some of the things they’re going through.”