It’s been exciting to watch What If…?, the first animated series from Marvel Studios for a number of reasons, the most notable of all being that its inherently different from anything the MCU has done before. First and foremost, it’s a series of—as the title makes clear—hypothetical stories, set in a multiverse of vast possibilities. But since the show is animated, it means conceivably that the show could get away with using different actors than in the movies. Sure, there are occasional recastings in the MCU—looking at Don Cheadle and Mark Ruffalo—but it’s much easier to slip by when we’re talking animation.
The majority of the key voices in each What If…? episode are the same as the movies, though. Major players like Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Brolin, the late Chadwick Boseman, and even the legendary Michael Douglas have all returned to voice alternate versions of their famous Marvel characters. But that doesn’t mean everyone is back. Chris Evans, notably, wasn’t in the first episode, with Steve Rogers instead voiced by Josh Keaton. Episode 3 found Tony Stark and “Thunderbolt” Ross both played by voice actors rather than their more notable on-screen portrayers.
Perhaps most interestingly, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow was voiced by someone other than Scarlett Johanssson. But while that someone does have some significant voice acting experience, it’s a performer who’s more than notable on both the big and small screen.
Lake Bell voices Black Widow in Marvel’s What If…?
You may not even notice when watching What If…?, but Lake Bell provides the voice of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow for the animated series rather than Scarlett Johansson. The episode, which reimagines key moments from Phase 1 of the MCU—leading up to the formation of The Avengers—finds Natasha in a prime role; at first it appears that she’s killed Tony Stark, before eventually happening upon the truth of the real killer picking off Avengers candidates. Bell does some great voice work all along the way.
If it seems like she’s pretty good at this, well, it’s because she’s got some great experience in the world of voiceovers. She plays a hilariously deadpan Poison Ivy in DC’s extremely good Harley Quinn animated series (opposite Kaley Cuoco’s titular character), provided her voice for 9 episodes of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, and even wrote, directed, and starred in the film In a World…, where she plays a woman who finds herself deep in the world of movie trailer narration.
Bell is a very well known actor and filmmaker even aside from her voiceover-tangential roles. She’s played roles in TV shows like Boston Legal, How To Make It In America, Children’s Hospital, and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, among others, while also starring in movies like Million Dollar Arm and Man Up.
Was Scarlett Johansson replaced because of her Black Widow lawsuit?
You’ve likely heard the recent news that Johansson is suing Disney over the release of Black Widow, claiming that the movie’s release simultaneously both in theaters and for a premium on Disney+ cost her millions of dollars and was a breach of contract.
While it would be a perfectly logical progression of thought to think that the two sides are not currently working together due to the pending legal situation, that’s not the case here. These things are recorded far in advance, and Johansson likely made the decision long before the lawsuit (and Black Widow‘s release) to not return for What If…?. Just as one example of when the voice sessions took place, Frank Grillo—who returns as Brock Rumlow in the same What If…? episode where Bell plays Black Widow—said way back in a January interview with Collider that he had been working on What If…?. In an August 2019 THR interview, Hayley Atwell (who plays Captain Carter in the first What If…? episode) said that she had already been working on her episode.
In a nutshell? It’s just a coincidence. Funny timing, sure—but not intentional.
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