Cloak & Dagger: Why Gina Prince-Bythewood wanted to direct the pilot
Even though Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Spider-Man spin-off movie Silver & Black has been delayed, Marvel fans won’t have to wait too long to see the Love & Basketball director dive into the Marvel universe since she also directed the pilot for Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger, which premieres Thursday.
Created for television by Joe Pokaski, the sensitive teen drama follows Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone Johnson(Aubrey Joseph), two teens from tragic backgrounds who discover they’re connected when they start developing strange powers. Although this marked her first foray into superhero stories, Prince-Bythewood felt very comfortable establishing Cloak & Dagger‘s world because the story is centered on complex characters, has a grounded and sensitive tone, and deals with real world issues like police brutality, which is something she and her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood tackled on Fox’s Shots Fired.
“When I went in to meet with Marvel and with Joe after reading the script, I knew what I wanted to bring to the show and that was an authenticity and a reality and a truth,”she tells EW below. I just loved the story of these two characters — these two damaged teens who needed each other to survive and this complicated love story. It just felt right in my wheelhouse.”
Below, Prince-Bythewood previews the new series, explains how having two black sons made her want to direct the pilot, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come to be involved in the show?
GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD: Honestly, I love the Marvel universe and have seen every film that they’ve done and love the work they’ve been doing in TV, especially Jessica Jones. They gave me a call to talk to me about Cloak & Dagger, and it was a pretty easy yes to read the script even though it was a television and I was obviously focused on some film at that time. When it’s Marvel, you pick up. I read the script and loved it. I wasn’t familiar with the characters, so I went and talked to my younger son, who is into comic books and knew all about them. I’m actually glad that I read the script first and then went back and read the comics because I really appreciate the updates that [executive producers] Joe Pokaski and Jeph Loeb did. I love the world and it was exciting to play in this sandbox.
Did you ever envision yourself moving into working on superhero properties, or did this just come up at the right time?
No, it came at a time when I had been positioning myself to move into that world. It’s one of the great things when you make a decision and you have a desire, and then a call comes. So maybe I put it out into the ether.
What did you respond to when you read the script for the first time?
It was a couple things. Foremost, it was a good and had really good characters. It has to start there. I loved the fact that it was a black teen and this teen girl that were the heroes. I have two boys and we have had true conversations about their lack of representation in this universe that we all love so much. This was before Black Panther, which of course changed the game. So the fact that they had spoken about that and now I have an opportunity to put a young black male superhero that looks like them on TV that they could watch every week felt like a gift. Then, I just loved the story of these two characters — these two damaged teens who needed each other to survive and this complicated love story. It just felt right in my wheelhouse.
That’s definitely interesting because when I interviewed you and your husband about Shots Fired a year ago, you mentioned how conversations you had with your sons about police brutality drove you to make that show, too. And the pilot opens with an instance of police brutality, too.
When I went in to meet with Marvel and with Joe after reading the script, I knew what I wanted to bring to the show and that was an authenticity and a reality and a truth. That starts with casting and the look of the film and the vibe. They were right onboard with that. We knew we were dealing with real themes, tough themes, and we had to be real with it and do it right. Again, it’s funny, once you have kids as an artist, it does change you and what you want to focus on. The fact that we did Shots Fired and the issues are still there even more so in this era that we’re living in, that the more we, as artists, can put out the truth, you hope that things will eventually change.
The pilot is very gentle and sensitive. In approaching this first episode, what tone were you guys trying to set?
It’s interesting because Joe kind of described it as the “Sundance version of a Marvel film,” and that’s really what it was: just telling a really grounded story in a fantastical universe and what does that mean. For me, again, it started with truth and realness. We’re dealing with teenagers. It was fun to be real with it: What are real teens dealing with? How are they dealing with it? Me as a filmmaker and a director, I love the relationship I have with actors and it was great to work with these two young actors who were real teenagers. That was excruciatingly important in the casting process that we got real teens. For me to bring out their truth, that was really the vibe of it.
Olivia and Aubrey give such natural performances in this pilot. Can you talk about the conversations you had with them about these characters?
We just did some really deep diving into character. We did a lot of improv, did a lot of rehearsal with them, and you don’t always have that opportunity in television. I absolutely took the time for us to just sit down and make these characters real, just asking the questions about things that happened in their real lives that they identified with and could pull for their characters and really pinpointing important moments in their characters’ lives. I remember talking to Aubrey about the moment when he’s a little kid and his mother’s holding his hand in the police station and she’s watching a video of him break into a car and she lets go of his hand and what that would mean to a little kid to feel your mother breaking away from you and how that has affected him and his relationship with his mom. I love working with young actors. They’re just hungry and wanted to be good and really gave themselves to me and that seemed like it showed up in the performances.
What did you look to for inspiration for the pilot?
I was able to bring my team, which was great: Tami Reiker, my DP, and Teri Shropshire, my editor; we do my films together. Foremost, we wanted it to feel like a film. One of the inspirations for Tammy and I was Like Crazy, which is such a great film and had a realistic feel to it and a truth to it. Arrival was another one in terms of the look of that. So, I think those were two good ones.
How did Arrival inform the look?
[Cinematographer Bradford Young] killed that. Specifically the flashbacks. We loved the look of the flashbacks. We loved the feel of it. Even though it was this big film, it always felt intimate. That’s what we were always going for as well. We’re in this Marvel universe, but how can we stay intimate and really feel for these characters and what they’re going for? We decided on handheld pretty early on, but a gentle handheld that would never take you out of the moment. We wanted to make sure that the camera was never noticeable so there’s no slo-mo, there’s no extreme close-ups, there’s no erratic camera. We just wanted to capture the world and capture the performances and hope that an audience watches it is as it’s real life.
You’re also attached to Silver & Black. How has your experience with Marvel TV differed from working with Marvel on the film side?
The biggest difference is just the amount of money. [Laughs] There’s a lot more money, and so when there’s more money there are more voices in the mix. I would say that’s probably the biggest difference. But again, you get to deal with these really cool characters and this really cool world. I think the most exciting thing is that the audiences are so invested in these characters. Everyone has an opinion, and it can be a blessing and a curse of course because at the end of the day you have to stay true to your vision when there are a thousand people trying to tell you what it should be, whether it be on social media or on a panel. For me, the key with these films is that even though sometimes you have to update it, as long as you stay true to who the character was I think people will forgive any changes that happen.
Silver & Black was recently taken off Sony’s release slate because you’re still working on the script. I’m curious, what is the most important thing about nailing a movie about those characters?
I obviously can’t go into too much detail, but ultimately it’s, how do we tell a story in this universe with these two very cool characters that just feels different and fresh? That comes down to the story that we’re telling as well as the villain within the story. So it’s really about that: how can we be different? How can we be fresh? How can we tell the story that we want to tell, which is a Thelma & Louise vibe with Silver Sable and Black Cat?
Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger premieres Thursday, June 7 at 8 p.m. on Freeform.
Cloak and Dagger