With only a handful of episodes left for the season, things are definitely heating up and the level of danger is escalating on Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, airing on Thursday nights on Freeform. With the premonition that one of them will die looming, Tandy (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) will test their combined powers to learn more about what they can accomplish together, as they try to navigate their own issues while dealing with the bigger threats that are out there.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, showrunner Joe Pokaski talked about how proud he is of what the Cloak & Dagger writers’ room has done this season, how much the actors – Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph – have brought to their characters, whether Cloak and Dagger will embrace their partnership, by the end of the season, how Episode 8 might break a lot of hearts, the desire to get to 100 episodes, the biggest challenges in being the showrunner of this series, and what he likes most about who Tandy and Tyrone are, at this point in their story. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Looking back on the first season, overall, what are you most proud of actually being able to pull off and get accomplished with it?
JOE POKASKI: Honestly, I’m most proud of my writers’ room. There’s been a lot of talk about putting together a diverse writer’s room, and I’m very happy that I dug in and found these brilliant writers that represent things that I don’t understand. We’re able to have a writers’ room with a majority of black writers who can really talk about issues, and a lot of women who can really keep me honest as to how to push the envelope and tell the story of a young woman who’s a superhero. [With Episode 6], we were able to tell the story of two young men, driving through New Orleans and talking about their reality and how justice is for other people, which literally brings tears to my eyes, every time I see it, and of two women talking about science and about how they need to save the world. I certainly can’t do that, on my own. Jenny Klein and J. Holtham both wrote that episode and they’re able to understand what we’re trying to do while putting their personal experiences into it. That’s probably what makes me most proud.
On top of all of that, Tandy and Tyrone feel like real and authentic teenagers, which isn’t easy to do.
POKASKI: A lot of the credit not only goes to our writers’ room, where many of them are much younger and more handsome than I am, but to our actors. Aubrey [Joseph] and Olivia [Holt] take every script they read and they come at me with anything that doesn’t feel like something that they’d say. They’re such great partners, in the sense that you can write something that even sounds natural, and they’ll make sure they add their angle to it. If you look at Aubrey crying, in the last scene [of Episode 6], you’re just like, “I don’t know what you’re drawing from, but I just wanna hug you, and I can’t hug you ‘cause the whole idea is that nobody can hug you right now.” They commit to the point that I wanna call them psychological help when I’m in the middle of every scene. And then, we yell, “Cut!,” and they’re back on their phones, acting like normal human beings. They’re not damaged. They’re just geniuses.
The first season of a series, you have to establish the world, introduce the characters and set up all of the relationship dynamics. When do you feel like all of that really started to come together?
POKASKI: My intention has always been to make sure we take our time with that. There’s been a little criticism of the slow boil, that seems to be going away now, which is nice. It’s always been my intent to make 100 episodes of this show. I think Episode 4 was the end of the “we need to understand Tandy and Tyrone before we understand Tandy and Tyrone.” Episode 4 was the important turning point for, “All right, we’re not gonna jerk around the audience. They’re gonna talk about everything possible, right now,” which a lot of TV shows either avoid or make happen in Episode 1. That was another episode that was really drawn out by the experiences of my writers’ room and was directed brilliantly by Ami Mann. I feel like that was the end of our first act of really making sure that we understood them, individually. In loose terms, Episodes 5, 6 and 7 are about them coming together comprehensively, not only as a team, but as best friends. Then, Episodes 8, 9 and 10, just forget about it.
Tandy and Tyrone didn’t ask for their powers, and they didn’t specifically choose or ask to have each other to share that with, but as we’ll see coming up, they’re learning that they might actually be stronger together. By the end of this season, how would you say they’ll feel about each other?
POKASKI: I can’t give that away! By the end of the season, they’ll embrace what Cloak and Dagger embraced, in their first comic. It’s about, “The universe has thrown us together and we need to understand the reason.”
It’s definitely ominous when you have a prediction that one of them will die.
POKASKI: Yeah, and it’s intended to be. They saved each other when they were eight years old. Now, if you pose the question to both of them and you ask, “Will you sacrifice yourself to someone who was a stranger, nine episodes ago?,” I think you’d be amazed at what the answer is.
Would you say that prediction will be in the forefront, for the rest of the season, or at least until we see how that plays out?
POKASKI: Yeah. What we’ve been trying to do – and hopefully once you watch the finale, you’ll understand it better – is to lay out what these two are heading up against, on a global level, as well as those dolls on the mantle. They are not there by accident. Evita (Noëlle Renée Bercy) told the story of this duel in Episode 3, so by the time we get to the end, anyone who’s been paying attention and not been doing laundry during the show – which I am guilty of with some – will actually feel like they’ve had all of the information that’s leading up to what we’re building toward.
It seems like this show is just going to get more and more emotionally intense. How would you say that fans of the show will be left feeling, by the end of the season finale?
POKASKI: Hopefully, if I do my job right, they’ll be wanting to watch Season 2. I think Episode 8 might break a lot of hearts. I don’t want to get into too much of the detail, but it’s part of the hero’s journey. As you start learning and understanding what destiny has in mind for you, that destiny knocks you on your ass. I think the audience should probably prepare to be knocked on their butts a little, in Episode 8.
By the end of the season, would you say that we’ll have a good sense of where you would take Season 2?
POKASKI: Yes and no. I think there will be places where we’re leaving some stuff open, intentionally, but there’s also something tremendously definitive, in our post-credits sequence, that will help define some of the drive.
You talked about wanting to do 100 episodes of this show, but when you set this series in motion, did you have a five-season plan, or were you just thinking ahead, in more loose terms than that?
POKASKI: I happen to be someone who can’t turn off my brain, at times. I wrote an 80-page bible for Season 1, and every season has a similar type of structure. So, there is a definitive plan for five seasons, and then leaving ourselves open for more opportunities and for Disney to buy more corporations that free up more characters.
Do you feel like you stick pretty close to that bible, or would people be surprised by what that looked like if they looked at it?
POKASKI: I think it’s half and half. My philosophy is to have a really good plan, so you know where you’re going. Then, if you really know where you’re going, it allows you to deviate to the better story.
What would you say the biggest challenges are, in being the showrunner of a Marvel superhero series, but specifically this series?
POKASKI: God, I don’t know. To be honest, I expected a lot of bureaucracy, on the Marvel side, and there is some, every once in awhile, but they’ve been tremendously freeing. They make such good television, with shows that are different. The biggest challenge comes from the weather in New Orleans, where there seems to be four hurricanes, no matter when I want to shoot. Honestly, just the timing of making sure that we can find the best directors and find the best writers and really lock everything down is a challenge. And there’s the challenge of, how can we tell something different? How can we put a mirror up to society, in a way that someone can watch it and, hopefully, make some better choices, to make the world a better place?” I think that’s a challenge that artist would have. But Marvel has been my hero and has been behind what we want to do on this show, from day one.
Because you don’t have a movie budget, but people have certain expectations of TV shows looking a certain way now, was there anything that you couldn’t do in Season 1, due to time or budget restraints, that you’re hoping you could still do, at some point?
POKASKI: Yes, but I don’t want to get into specifics. I think there are probably more success stories. We have such an amazing crew. Part of the reason that I picked our particular look and feel is that I didn’t want to wait for a dolly track to be laid, so I put the camera on shoulders. We were able to do a lot. There’s some stuff, in the finale, where we could have been bigger, if we had 30 million more dollars, but we make sure it’s all about our characters. I always wish I had more money, but at the end of the day, I always have to be reminded that the scenes people talk about are of the two kids talking. I go through all of my favorite movies and TV shows, and I don’t really think about the spectacle, as much as the really tight emotional moments. Breaking Bad is one of my favorite television shows, and they blew stuff up, but it was always the mind games and the emotional metaphors that really got me.
Because Marvel is so secretive, how did you decide what you would tell the actors, as they were auditioning? How do you tell them anything about what they’re auditioning for, to see what they can deliver, without actually telling them what they’re auditioning for?
POKASKI: It’s so hard! For Aubrey and Olivia, part of it was having a great partner in our pilot director, Gina Prince-Bythewood. Because we were reinventing the story a little, it allowed us to talk about two people who weren’t necessarily the Tandy and Tyrone you’d seen. But for other characters, it’s tough. When we do auditions, we have to change the names, so I a little trick where, if you’re casting Brigid O’Reilly, you name the character Bailey Callahan and you hope the actor knows enough to Google and figure out who it is. Marvel still allows you to talk about the emotional core of the character, so if you can do that, then you can fill them in on the mythology later. You just need to find someone who can do the hard part of the job. It forces you to find that analogy and break it down. The Bridget scene, for auditions, we actually wrote a version where she walks into the dry cleaners that Tandy and Tyrone go into, in Episode 2. It allows you to break the character down into her basic emotional essence. Part of the reason Emma Lahana is on the screen right now is ‘cause she read that scene between the lines, and she really crushed it. Jaime [Zevallos], who plays Delgado, did a self-tape, so he didn’t even audition in front of us. He was this man who just looked strong and you saw his tattoos. He decided to not dress like a priest. When you get the right actors, it makes your job easier ‘cause they bring a little of themselves to it.
What do you most like about who Tandy and Tyrone are, at this point in their lives and story?
POKASKI: I like that it feels like a coming-of-age story. It was many years ago for me, but I still feel like we all carry around the baggage of youth. I think Facebook, and things like that, help it not go away. I remember being so scared. I remember, my first day of college, almost wanting to cry, as I forced myself to meet friends. What Aubrey and Olivia do is they bring this uncertainty. Olivia brings to Tandy this decided cynicism. She’s decided that the world has taken from her and she can’t trust it, so she’s gotten harder. And Aubrey brings this fear to Tyrone. He’s decided the world is unsafe and he’s gonna hide, so he’s become softer. Both of those actors bring very similar things to very different conditions, and I can’t applaud enough how they, without saying a word, get that across. If you look at Aubrey, in particular, who was not necessarily as much a screen actor – he came up in the theater as young Simba (in The Lion King) – watching him grow up, as a character and as an actor, over these 10 episodes, has been one of the biggest pleasures of my career. They just get it. It’s about this generation, too. They know everyone screwed them over and it’s on them to save the world, and at least Aubrey and Olivia are up for the challenge.
Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger airs on Thursday nights on Freeform.