Interview Marvel Television

Interview With ‘Cloak & Dagger’ Director Jennifer Phang

A version of this interview originally appeared at Melancholyball.com.

The second season of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger premiered last week on Freeform; graciously returning for a fresh new interview is filmmaker Jennifer Phang, who directed S2’s premiere episode “Restless Energy.” (My earlier chats with Phang on her work on Cloak & Dagger and The Expanse can be found here and here.)

Dagger (Olivia Holt) and Cloak (Aubrey Joseph) at their hideout/sanctuary.

DOM: Hi again! Firstly, would you like to share your impressions on helping shepherd C&D into its second season? Given that the show accomplished its all-important first arc of world-building/origin-story-telling, was widely well-received by critics and fan audiences, and now is one of those shows where you have to consider advising someone on “binging the first season so it’ll make sense?”
JENNIFER PHANG: While the first season was heavy on their discovery of their own purpose and powers, this second season’s premiere is intriguing because it’s tackling the problems of feeling empowered but needing somewhere to get that energy out. Appropriately, the Season 2 premiere, scripted by showrunner Joe Pokaski, is titled “Restless Energy.” I love that this season is going to be all about Ty and Tandy leveling up, trying new powers, and we’re already seeing they might be in over their heads when they finds themselves trying to help victims of human trafficking. I am really glad a point is being made from the writers’ room that human trafficking is all around us in the U.S. and around the world. It’s a really hard issue to talk about because it brings up all sorts of controversial subjects,  and I’ve actually more than once had to tackle it in film and television in some form.

Zorro, from the 1920 film starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Loved the “movie night” scene in the church; so evocative. As a student of fictional heroes with masks, I have a soft spot for Zorro, as I imagine showrunner/writer Joe Pokaski does. Zorro really embodies both the dark cloak and the sharp blades in a way that aligns perfectly with Tandy and Tyrone’s special abilities. Can you talk about how you approached this scene?
Joe was so excited for this scene and was highly involved on the Zorro front. I think it’s brilliant that Zorro encapsulates both of Ty and Tandy’s skillsets. With the movie night scene, Joe had something very specifically magical in mind, and we needed to make sure that the screen and image was as large as was feasible, to fill up the space… My dramatic approach to the scene was to capture our actors at their most intimate and relaxed, while also gently conveying that they were keeping information from each other.

Nicely done, that was. As per Tandy’s question: Waffles or pancakes?
Sometimes waffles, sometimes pancakes.

The TV director studying the script, with a key prop from the episode.

Although I try at all costs to oppose the toxic-fanboy-subculture that complains about every little thing which deviates from canon — or doesn’t have enough comics references, blah blah — I am one of those fans who appreciates it a lot when the canon/comics references happen. To wit, my radar detected that this episode leaned in to the Marvel lore and superhero tradition a bit more than the first C&D season did, and I assume that was a conscious decision. Things like: Zorro, Dagger’s intense ballet practice (I mean, I know she did ballet in S1, it just seemed especially “highlighted” in this episode), the setup for their canon villain Mayhem, the “costuming” scene. Any comment on the increased embrace of the superhero comic stuff?

Emma Lahana as Brigid O’Reilly and…. we’ll see.

It’s nice that we are seeing an updated and relatable approach to all of these references. The addition of Mayhem is very exciting to me personally, because I think Emma Lahana is supremely talented on every front and a fantastic, inspiring person. She also dances ballet, and it’s intriguing to see her athletic ability translating to something equally powerful and intimidating.

Any anecdotes you’d like to share about the shoot, especially in regards to working with the show’s two enormously appealing lead actors, Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph? They have a lot of sassy catty dialogue in this ep, which is not only endearing but, as far as C&D goes, comics-accurate to the characters.
Olivia and Aubrey are so talented and committed to their craft. They are also nicely grounded and able to discuss ideas and craft at a high level. That’s something I loved about working with them in our first season as well. I really appreciated that they trusted the opportunities to really dig into what drives their characters. I was also so happy with the basketball/dancing montage. They both brought their athleticism and soul to a moment where Ty and Tandy were trying to cope with their frustrations in productive ways.

Tandy Bowen/Dagger unsheathing her light at the club.

Along those lines, one kinda fun thing about C&D lore is how the woman has the primarily offensive superpower, while the man has the defensive-infiltration ability. Like, in a head-on fight, one would have to say you’d want Dagger on point, right?
Ostensibly they work better together than apart and I see no need to play favorites! I mean, how amazing is it that Dagger can flip over an ambulance while Cloak can swallow up bad guys? I think just as fun are the symbiotic/interdependence themes, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that will evolve. In the season 2 premiere, Tandy is sad and mad that Ty went off to do dangerous heroic deeds without her.

Framing up a shot.

Speaking of, now that we’ve passed through a momentous March 2019, how was your Women’s History Month, your Female Filmmaker Fridays, International Women’s Day, and whaddya think of Captain Marvel?
All of the days were good days to be alive. And Captain Marvel… my heart fills with warmth when I think of the film. Goose?? I mean, COME ON. I was inspired by it on all fronts, especially in seeing how Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck approached it. Huge shout-out to Nicole Perlman, who was a part of that talented writing team.  

Totes agree, the writing carried Captain Marvel in so many clever and moving ways. Lastly, what else are you working on that you’d like to mention or announce? Anything you’d like to tell us nerds about The Naming Girl or The Boys or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
They are all very different but it’s wonderful to work with some of the geniuses in our field. I am always astounded by the discoveries available when you are working with seasoned filmmakers. I also can’t say enough about Maurissa Tancheoron and Jed Whedon at AoS. A dream come true, just being suddenly invited into their midst. It’s like working with these dazzling, creative people who defined my pop-culture for most of my life, and thus defined who I am a little. Just lovely. I happened to be directing my episode when they got to announce their series renewal, and that was wonderful to be around. As for my personal works, I’m looking at The Naming Girl with reverence. In the novel there are moments of crystalline truth, and I want to find the same resonance on screen.

Appreciate you chatting with me again JPhang, and best wishes on your future endeavors! Looking forward to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S6 E11, airing later this year!

Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger airs new episodes on Thursdays at 8 pm EST on Freeform.

Cloak & Dagger by their legacy artist Rick Leonardi, and yes, that’s Mayhem in the background. Might have to pull this one out of the archives for a refresh!