Chris Sullivan plays Taserface in Marvel Studios’ first-ever animated series, What If…?, as well as Toby in the hit NBC series, This Is Us. New episodes of What If…? premiere Wednesdays on Disney+. This Is Us is about to head into its sixth and final season, returning midseason 2021-22 with new episodes airing on Tuesdays.
What If…? flips the script on the MCU, reimagining famous events from the films in unexpected ways. Marvel Studios’ first animated series focuses on different heroes from the MCU, featuring a voice cast that includes a host of stars who reprise their roles.
Everyone has a family. And every family has a story. This Is Us chronicles the Pearson family across the decades: from Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as young parents in the 1980s to their kids (the big three), Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) searching for love and fulfillment in the present day along with Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson). This grounded, life-affirming dramedy reveals how the tiniest events in our lives impact who we become, and how the connections we share with each other can transcend time, distance and even death.
I spoke with the actor about getting to revisit the character of Taserface, his ultimate Marvel ‘what if,’ what he can tease about his episode, preparing for the final season of This Is Us, what he learnt from the show, his most memorable fan experience, and much more! Keep reading to find out everything he shared.
What was your initial reaction when you heard about What If…?, considering it’s so different from everything else in Marvel?
Chris Sullivan: You know, it was a few years ago now, they’ve been working on this for a while and were being very secretive. They were not giving out full scripts, being very vague, and so, I was very confused and very excited to see what they had up their sleeve, because they’ve always got something good, they have big sleeves and there’s a lot of stuff up those sleeves. Once I got to the recording studio is when I got kind of a better picture of what was happening, they were able to verbally explain to me what was going on– nothing in writing, no text messages, and it was very exciting. Then I watched the episode on Sunday night and was moved to tears to hear Chadwick Boseman and to see him, even in the animated form. It’s just really special.
What a special episode for you to be a part of too. I’m already preparing myself because I’m definitely going to cry.
Yeah, because the question that the show poses ‘what if’ and these parallel universes, where’s the parallel universe in which Chadwick Boseman lives and continues to play Black Panther in all of these things? It’s just a very, very sad loss for our community.
You got to revisit your Marvel character in this really unique, crazy new way with this show; what was that like for you?
I mean, it was a lot easier this time around, you know? No makeup, no prosthetic teeth, so he’s a little bit more understandable, enunciates a little better this time around, and he’s a nicer guy, as is Yondu and Thanos. Everyone’s been kind of– the rough edges have been sanded down by the wise love of T’Challa’s presence.
As you said, you didn’t have to do the makeup or anything else that comes with live action. Was voice acting for this role more challenging for you or was it fun to try this new way of bringing the character to life?
Yeah, I’ve done voice acting for a long time and so, it’s something I feel really comfortable doing. It was just a great afternoon of hopping in the booth and playing a character, who I enjoy playing.
Since you heard about this years ago, when did you officially start working on it compared to now as it’s finally being released?
My wife and I were trying to figure that out, because it’s long time ago. I mean, two and a half years ago, maybe.
What is your ultimate Marvel ‘what if,’ whether that’s playing another character, bringing your character to a different film, or maybe having them interact with a new character; what would be your dream in that aspect?
What if… Taserface didn’t die in that explosion and is floating out in space? He’s rescued and somehow comes across the Stark technology that he needs to transform himself fully into Overkill, the character he becomes in the comic books, and seeks revenge on Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy. What if? #Overkill.
Going back to when you first got the role, what was your reaction to finding out you were going to be joining this universe?
It was a dream come true. I mean, even before the Marvel Universe was a thing you could join, it was every kid’s dream, every little boy’s dream to play a space alien, space cowboy, to have a laser gun, all of those things. So, to be welcomed into this world by James Gunn and the Marvel family and given the opportunity, not only to to join the Marvel Universe, but to just play, get on set, act with legends like Michael Rooker, become good friends with Sean Gunn and Steve Agee, and just have a blast. It was a blast.
This is a little different with the Disney+ series compared to the films where you’re sitting in the theater to watch it or even at home after they’re released. Instead, you’re getting a new episodes weekly, each telling a different story. What do you think that adds for this for the show and viewers?
I mean, the Marvel Universe has set itself up with an endless amount of material. What If…? has endless possibilities that this animated series could go. So, we can have as many episodes as we want. So, watch, tell people about it, and they’ll keep making them.
Have you seen all the episodes so far or only yours?
I haven’t seen them — again, very secretive. I watched my episode, or I watched Chadwick Boseman’s episode that I was in, and I can’t wait to see the rest of it.
What can you tell us about the episode?
I will say this: Taserface is the least surprising member of T’Challa’s Ravagers. There is someone who shows up as a Ravager that is gonna blow your minds.
Jumping into This Is Us, where you make me cry every week, what is that like for you getting ready to say farewell to the show and go into your last season?
Yeah, it’s a very sad time, but it’s also a time to celebrate, time to wrap up the story in a thoughtful and loving way. It’s gonna be a heck of a season.
You all created something very special. I know everyone in my household from myself to my parents and grandparents all watch the show; it’s a very nice way of bring families together, which, obviously, is one of the main themes.
Yeah, it has connected people in a way that was surprising and not so surprising. A lot of friends of mine have used episodes of the show to initiate difficult conversations about addiction, sexuality, death, or any of those things. So, it’s been a real honor and pleasure.
I know we’ve sort of heard that season six was always the goal and that this is where the story was meant to end. Do you already know what is going to happen to Toby and his story? Can you tease anything?
Oh yeah, I know, I got all the inside scoops. I mean, you can’t tease anything for This Is Us. Dan Fogelman is even more strict than the Marvel Universe. So, we can’t give much, but this season is really going to be — if you’re not caught up, get caught up, because you’re not gonna want to miss this one.
What was your initial reaction when you found out what Toby’s ending was going to be? Have you read any of the scripts?
I haven’t read any of the scripts, again, very secretive. I live in a secret world, not even secret from you, secret from me! I just show up and they lay it on me, but it’s gonna be a painful season of television. Our writers and Dan Fogelman have a lot of respect for our audience and a lot of love for these characters, so everyone is going to be treated lovingly with a lot of care and respect.
The show teaches a lot of lessons as you mentioned, so I’m curious, did you learn anything that you feel like you’re going to carry with you for the rest of your life?
It’s surprising, as an actor, I have a hard time identifying and expressing my own feelings, and the show has definitely given me a language and tools to better my relationship as a husband, father, and friend. The show is a handbook for living. They’ve given us the secret to living in a loving and connected way.
I adore seeing you and Chrissy Metz together on my screen. You both are just fantastic.
Yeah, that’s gonna be the sad part, not getting to go to work with Chrissy. We have a lot of fun. There’s a lot of love there between us.
The fan response for both Marvel and This Is Us is just insane in the best way. Fans are so passionate about everything. So, have you had any memorable fan interactions that have stuck with you?
Yeah, I mean, I’m constantly amazed and astounded at the different ways that people relate to our show. But I was at a comic con in Utah, one of the bigger ones, in Salt Lake City and this couple walked up to my table and they had twins strapped, each had a twin. I said, “Oh my gosh, these are twins,” and they said, “Actually, they’re triplets and we lost one of the babies during delivery. Your show gave us kind of the roadmap on how to process and work through that.” So, just when you think our show is so specific, like this is such a specific scenario, there’s somebody out there who was needing exactly what our show was putting out at that time. I’ll never forget that. That was a really memorable one.
I have to imagine things like that make you feel really good as an actor, especially to realize that you’re giving a representation to real people, life, scenarios that matter, and really letting viewers relate in their own way.
Yeah, this show… we hold up a mirror to our audience, to let them know that we see them and that they’re not alone. That’s something that we can do as individuals for each other, our friends, and family. So, it’s enjoyable to be a part of a creative collaboration that also does that.
Obviously, the show is not over yet, you still have to film the new season, but what thank you would you like to give to the fans who have been watching this long and are getting ready to tune in for your final season?
This season will be the thank you. We’re not getting canceled, we’re not being renewed, we are ending the show intentionally, which means that we are ending the story the way we want it and the way that it deserves to be ended. If you’re going to invest five seasons of your time, six seasons of your time on a show, you deserve that. So, this season is going to be our thank you and love letter to our audience.
When you were getting ready to do Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and then This Is Us, which did you get asked more in terms of spoilers?
Oh, This Is Us cause it was more public. For Guardians, people didn’t even know I was in it. There’s still people I know who are not good friends, obviously, but people in my life that are like, “I was watching this movie and I swear that sounds like Chris.” Yeah, dude. We all come to it when we come to it, what are you gonna do?
Do you have any dream roles that you hope to do in the future?
Oh geez, I mean, that’s a hard question. I would love to do some straight comedy. I would love to… I don’t know, there’s a lot of people I would love to work with. As far as dream roles go, I just want to keep being a part of things that are challenging people to be better versions of themselves, win one way or another.