In addition to film premieres, SXSW has increasingly been the place where TV series have their big unveiling, as well. Today, it was the newest addition to the Marvel TV family, Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger, which debuted to raucous applause—in a Presbyterian church, no less. The unusual setting was an apt one for a series whose leads, Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph, got their jobs via an unusual method. “[The director] tricked me,” star Aubrey Joseph admitted with a laugh, saying that during their audition process pilot helmer Gina Prince-Bythewood took him aside and asked him to just “respond” to a speech Holt’s character delivers. The speech wasn’t in the script, and instead the two actors simply played off one another, even convincing Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb that it must’ve been written, so fully did they nail the characters. (It was also a last-second audible play: showrunner Joe Pokaski revealed the two leads of the series weren’t cast until mere days before they began shooting.)
That wasn’t the only trick the director used. Prince-Bythewood (Beyond The Lights, Love & Basketball) would also play music during rehearsals, Cameron Crowe-style, to help her young charges find the proper headspace for their characters. “The goal was to make my son’s favorite show,” she said when asked why she took the job, noting that she hadn’t wanted to do TV, but was won over by the story. Marvel got its money’s worth there: The show definitely looks good. It has some real issues in other areas, but the charismatic leads are the true find, and if the show succeeds, it will largely be on the back of the work they do. “It’s an honor, it’s a blessing,” Joseph says of playing the tormented Dagger, and the two exuded an easy chemistry in real life as well, showing why they worked so well onscreen together.
Marvel fans, take note: They make some real changes to the origin story of these characters, and relocating them from New York to New Orleans is only the most superficially cosmetic one. There are parents, home lives, and all manner of other backstories rejiggered to serve the long-form TV storytelling framework. Feel free to adjust your outrage and/or defenses accordingly.