The first Marvel Studios’ Disney+ series, WandaVision blends classic television with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that’s both wacky and wild, as one would expect from the suburban lives of two super-powered being. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have an idyllic marriage in a town where they spend their time meeting their new neighbors and getting to know their community, until they begin to suspect that everything is not exactly as it seems.
During this press conference to promote the streaming debut of the series, co-stars Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn and Teynoah Parris, along with director Matt Shakman, writer Jac Schaeffer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, talked about shooting in front of a live studio audience, inspirations for the different TV eras, sitcom boot camp, Wanda and Vision’s love story, the reshuffling of Phase 4 of the MCU, and how The Mandalorian has inspired Marvel Studios.
Elizabeth, how did shooting this in front of a live studio audience affect your performance?
OLSEN: It was the first thing we shot and it was so nerve-wracking. There was a lot of adrenaline. There are a lot of quick changes. It totally confused my brain. It really messed with my brain, the idea of not playing to an audience, but feeding off of an audience and having a camera. I was really grateful when we added the fourth wall.
Image via Disney+
It feels like you were drawing from either Elizabeth Montgomery or Lucille Ball, if not both. Who do you think you pulled from more?
OLSEN: I don’t know. I think it was an amalgamation of Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery, and I accidentally threw in some Lucy in the ‘70s, just because there was so much physical comedy.
Paul, your character is so off the chain. What is it about Vision that seems to hold true, whatever his surroundings are?
BETTANY: I was worried about that. Initially, I was like, “Wow, this is so feeling so different,” as I read the script, and I wondered, “How do I keep him the same?” And then, I realized he’s always becoming something else. He’s part Jarvis, he’s part Ultron, and he’s part Tony Stark. He’s omnipotent, but he’s also this naive ingénue. So, I realized, “Well, I’ll just throw a little bit of Dick Van Dyke in there and a little bit of Hugh Laurie. What Vision is, is just decent and honorable, and he exists for Wanda. If you do that, then you’re safe.
What does Vision need to blend into his community?
BETTANY: A lot of wigs and a good make-up job.
Kathryn, have you ever had a neighbor like Agnes?
HAHN: We did have a neighbor that was very much like this, that would pop over unannounced and we would definitely pretend to be excited to see them when it was always the worst timing.
Teyonah, what can you tell us about Monica Rambeau?
PARRIS: We met Monica in Captain Marvel, as a little girl. In WandaVision, we pick up with who she is now, as a grown woman. Through the course of the show, we find out what she’s been up to and what’s happened for her, between that gap in the years, and how she’s grown and evolved, or not. We just follow her along.
Can you give us a hint of where we will see her again, in November of 2022?
PARRIS: We will get to see Monica join Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel in Captain Marvel 2.
Image via Disney+/Marvel Studios
Matt, what was the sitcom boot camp like, that you ran for this group of actors?
SHAKMAN: We wanted it to be as authentic as possible. That was one of the biggest goals. So, production design, cinematography, costuming, and everything was about going on this deep dive with the actors, who all wanted to do the same thing. We watched a ton of old television episodes and talked about how comedy changes because it really does. The approach to comedy in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s is really different. And doing it in front of a live studio audience, which is this weird quasi-theater/TV thing really adds to it. You can feel the energy of that theatrical performance working with the audience, like with Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy or Dick Van Dyke. And then, when you get into ‘60s shows, like Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, it is a fourth wall and, all of a sudden, it’s much more like doing a movie. That laugh track is all canned and brought in, and it changes the energy, the approach, the style, and everything. We also worked with a fabulous dialect coach, to work on how people would sound in that era and how they would move. We just did everything we could to make it as authentic as possible.
Jac, how would you describe Wanda and Vision’s journey, to this point, and what can we expect to see of their relationship?
SCHAEFFER: Wanda and Vision are really a couple of fan favorites because their love story has been so very tragic, but also really warm and intimate. We’ve seen them in these really beautiful, stolen moments in the MCU. It’s actually been a small amount of screen time, but very powerful and very soulful. What we have with WandaVision, which is really a treat for all, is that we’re opening up the stage and the space for them, and they’re in this domestic sphere. We get to see them doing dishes in the kitchen and being cute and all of the homebody stuff that you would never get to see a superhero participate in. We really go from these enormous dramatic moments and fraught moments in the MCU, and then in WandaVision, it’s a lot of cute, until it’s not.
WandaVision covers the decades of sitcoms to modern day. What were the tools that you used to research the changing dialect?
SCHAEFFER: It really was almost like doing an accent or a period piece. Especially with the ‘50s and ‘60s, we would compile these big lists of sayings of the era, and then we had to have a subsection for Paul. When it was on its feet, there were adjustments and improvements for all of those little textual things. In the early ones, it genuinely was a research thing, where we were plug and playing the expressions to make it really fun, in that way. And then, as we move forward, the sitcoms of the ‘80s are burned into my actual DNA, so that was not so much of a challenge.
Image via Disney+/Marvel Studios
Which period of sitcom speak did you find the most challenging?
SCHAEFFER: The ‘50s era, with the patter-patter, since we did it live, the rhythm of that and feeling like it was a play, I hadn’t done anything like that before. It was so much fun. It was like laughing gas, all the time.
Kevin, this is the first foray into sitcoms for the MCU. How have you found the experience?
FEIGE: This was our test run. Marvel, of course, has had a lot of good, successful TV in the past. This was Marvel Studios’ first foray, with cast and amazing characters that you’ve seen in movies, coming onto television. The idea always was to do something that could not be done as a feature, that plays with the format and the medium. There were a lot of meetings before people actually understood what we were trying to go for. We’re only here because Jac and Matt did, and were able to turn a wacky idea into a spectacular show. And we’ve got lots of other things we’ve announced that are coming up, but as it all came together, I’m actually very happy. It worked out perfectly that this is the debut on Disney+ for the MCU.
Did the changing decades affect your approach to the physicality of your characters?
BETTANY: There is a lot more slapstick and physical comedy early on. Luckily, by the time we get to the ‘90s, they’ve all made me look so ridiculous that I didn’t really have to work that hard for the laughs.
OLSEN: The way women move throughout the decades changes so much, when it comes to what society wants from them. Jac did write in quite a few nods to how she’s evolving throughout the decades. In the ‘60s, she gets to wear some pants, and that adjusts how someone moves through space. Manners were a big part of it. We talk about vocal work and speech and cadence, but manners were also a huge part of every decade. We would get this book of manners for the time period, as well. We also had to remember that we’re not depicting an honest reality of the ‘60s or the ‘70s. We were depicting the MCU reality, which is its own set of rules.
HAHN: I feel like what the sitcom has always represented is this aspirational view and this comfortable ideal. The trick was, not only were we trying to live within each decade, but also present this comfortable ideal of the structure of the sitcom. The set-up of the misunderstanding and the resolution is such a comforting little structure that, as a kid of the ‘80s, we have baked in us. The trick was not to satirize it, but to get inside of each one. I’m still so blown away by Matt and by Jac being able to do that because it’s tonally such a trick to pull off. That’s difficult.
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Kevin, this is kicking off Phase 4, but that wasn’t the original plan. Was there any trepidation in starting things with WandaVision because it is so different? Do you think Marvel fans are more open to risks like this? What does this say about Phase 4, in general?
FEIGE: Well, I hope it says, get ready for the new and the different. I hope all of our movies have said that, one after the other, over the years, but certainly with the Disney+ opportunities, it has allowed us to expand, creatively, what we do. Yes, the original plan was that Falcon and the Winter Soldier was gonna debut first, last year, followed very soon behind with WandaVision, so creatively, it didn’t reshuffle. Part of having a long lead plan is having the ability and the ideas for how to shuffle, should the need arise. I’m not saying we were prepped for a global pandemic. We were not. But we’ve always, over the past 12 or 15 years of Marvel Studios, been able to shuffle around. This required no shuffling, whatsoever, in terms of the creative and the production. The unexpected has often served Marvel Studios well, and it has served us well in this case. This show, being our first one, I love how bold it is and how different is. It is something that you could only see on Disney+. We have things that you will only be able to see, initially, in theaters, and this is very much made to be seen, week after week, on television, which is very different for us and was very fun. It’s as bold as it comes, thanks to everyone [involved].
What were the inspirations for the mystery and darker aspects of this show?
SHAKMAN: When we were in our period sitcoms, when something shifted from a Dick Van Dyke or I Love Lucy style into something that was outside of that and going into a Twilight Zone space, we talked about the period shows that addressed the odd and the strange, and how we could embrace that. That’s a little bit about how we approached the shooting of it and the look of it.
SCHAEFFER: The Twilight Zone is an enormous influence on me, personally. I really think that’s actually how I learned to tell stories. it was so incredibly deft at that turn, where you think you’re in one thing, and then suddenly it’s flipped on its head. We were all incredibly enamored of that. I think there are a lot of current shows right now and prestige series that are doing this very exciting thing, where you watch a couple of episodes and you think the show is one thing, and then by Episode 4 or 5, it flips the script. That’s where the more contemporary references come in, in terms of boundary pushing, in genre.
Kevin, can you give some insight into the Hydra commercials?
FEIGE: That was part of something, early on. That’s part of the truths of the show, beginning to leak out. Commercials was an early idea for that. If this is the very first Marvel/MCU thing you’re watching, it’s just a strange version of a ‘50s or ‘60s commercial that you’ll have to keep watching series to understand. If you have been watching all of the movies, you might be able to start connecting what those things mean to the past.
Image via Disney+
Matt, how challenging was it to pay homage to the evolution of sitcoms without appearing tone deaf, since comedy and society have changed so much? Was there anything specific that you couldn’t do because it doesn’t translate anymore?
SHAKMAN: For sure, we did consider that. So much of that is in the writing, with what Jac was choosing to build, early on. The key reference points are family sitcoms. There are so many legendary sitcoms throughout time, but Taxi doesn’t really relate to this show where The Brady Bunch does. There are key reference points that were about this idea of family, and oftentimes, that does age pretty well. The key references that we were looking at are those miraculous shows that have managed to be timely and timeless. They resonated in their moment and somehow, when you watch The Dick Van Dyke Show today, it’s just as good as it was back then. What’s the magic behind that? Kevin and I had this amazing lunch with Dick Van Dyke that remains one of the great afternoons of my life, and we asked him, “What was the governing principle behind The Dick Van Dyke Show? Why did it work so well?” And he said, “If it couldn’t happen in real life, it can’t happen on the show.” If you’re drawing something that’s grounded and real and it resonates with everyone’s experience of home, you can do crazy things. You can tumble over Ottomans, you can be goofy, you can be anything, but as long as it’s grounded in real life, that makes it work. So, a lot of the reference points that we gravitated towards were those kinds of shows.
SCHAEFFER: When we looked back and were doing our research and were looking at these older show, there were shows that were a little disappointing and that were not acceptable for today. We had a really incredible writers’ room full of people where part of our job was to keep an eye on these things. Fairly quickly, we zeroed in on family sitcoms. There are a lot of different workplace sitcoms and other types of sitcoms, but the family piece kept us very, very centered. I can’t speak to the larger puzzle of what this show is, but that was a piece that kept us on the right track.
Kevin, what was behind casting Kathryn Hahn?
FEIGE: It was one of those miraculous things that happened. Maybe it was over the course of months, but in my memory, it all happened very quickly. It was a rare general meeting, which we don’t usually have a lot of time to do, but Kathryn came in and sat down with Louis D’Esposito. She was a fan of what we were up to, and we’re fans of hers. At exactly that same time, we were sitting in that writers’ room, trying to think of who to play Agnes. It should have taken two seconds, but it took five seconds for somebody to say, “Wait, what about Kathryn. She was in yesterday.” It almost never happens like that, but it’s usually never as perfect as this. I think it happened very, very quickly, and it also solidified the voice of the character.
Image via Disney+
Kevin, it’s not the same universe, but was there anything that you saw in the making of The Mandalorian that you applied to making WandaVision?
FEIGE: I think we were all underway on WandaVision, long before we saw The Mandalorian. There is lots and lots of The Mandalorian that has inspired us at Marvel Studios, not the least of which is the stage craft technology that they pioneered, that we’re using on some upcoming projects. It was wonderful to see the amazing job that Disney and Disney marketing did at eventizing that. One of the things I was always concerned about was to say, “Anything that we do, we want to eventize. We want to make people understand that these projects on Disney+ are as important as the projects going into theaters, and we want to feel that same excitement.” The Disney marketing team is the best in the world, and the best of all time, frankly, right now, and they certainly showed that they can do that spectacularly on Disney+ with The Mandalorian. Also, there was the fun week-to-week discussion, which happens with all week-to-week television. Sometimes series drop all at once on streaming services. Disney was very smart to do the week by week because that conversation that happens every week between episodes, I think is very important and, frankly, just a lot of fun. Each time I witnessed that and experienced the enjoyment with that, with The Mandalorian, it got me excited for the way we had already been building for WandaVision to be unveiled.
Elizabeth, how do Wanda’s powers translate to the sitcom world?
OLSEN: I can’t wiggle my nose, so we had to figure out something else that was period appropriate. To watch our special effects team that usually blows things up, set things on fire, and create wind and smoke, they became puppeteers of things floating in the sky and dealing with magnets in different ways to make things spin. It was just so incredible to watch our special effects team adapt to the era specific ways of creating these practical effects, by doing the research of what they did on Bewitched, or even holding still and doing a quick change and trying to remember your body for the camera. There were just a lot of silly things that we got to do. I’m used to it all just coming together in CGI, so it was really fun to have practical effects there.
How would Wanda describe WandaVision, from her point of view?
OLSEN: From Wanda’s point of view, she would describe WandaVision as a family sitcom of two people trying to fit in and not be discovered for being different.
Image via Disney+/Marvel Studios
Teyonah, the last time we saw Monica, she was a kid in the ‘90s, and she’s probably since sheen some stuff in the present day, with aliens, people from other dimensions, and half of the universe getting snapped out of existence. Prior to ending up where she is on WandaVision, in such a twisted reality, who was she?
PARRIS: Monica has definitely been through some things and seen some things. It’s actually really cool that you bring that up because we do get to learn what those things are, that Monica has seen and gone through and how they have shaped her life. I don’t want to give too much away because we will actually touch a lot on that, through the course of the show.
Kathryn, what about for Agnes?
HAHN: I would say the same thing. In all of those classic sitcoms, there’s always that person that busts through the doors and sits on the couch, but you never get to know anything about them. They’re just there. In that classic way, I was able to walk into it as Agnes, with all of those beautiful tropes set up behind me to just build on.
Kevin, with WandaVision now kicking off Phase 4 and all of the shuffling of release dates that’s been going on, can you clarify where Phase 4 ends, at this point?
In that case, your late grandfather, Robert Short, worked as an executive on The Dick Van Dyke Show for five years. Can you talk about how that might have led to this project and how special it is to you to get to pay tribute to him, in this way?
FEIGE: It is special. My grandfather worked for Proctor & Gamble, and back in the day, they were the sponsor and producer on mainly soap operas, but in the early ‘50s and ‘60s, they did some primetime. I don’t know if that he was actually on the show, but he was at the company that was one of the sponsors behind the show. That might’ve had a little to do with that. It mainly is that I watched too much TV as a kid, and TV meant a lot to me. I found comfort in television families. One thing we talked about early on is that these are not parodies. This is not direct satire. We love these things and they meant a lot to us. As dated and silly as they may seem now, there’s a comfort factor there. That was the primary factor behind and the comic inspiration versus what led us to put these ideas together. There is a wonderful thing that happened with Matt’s background, which is so amazing. Lizzie’s background with her sisters didn’t even occur to me until we were standing in the writers’ room with pictures of Full House on the wall and I went, “Oh, right.” And there was the connection of my grandfather, going way back. Even Bob Iger ran ABC and was very influential in putting Family Matters on the air. That’s a funny connection to being in these meetings, and Alan Horn ran some of the greatest, biggest sitcoms of all time. At a certain point, Matt included, this was everybody’s past and it was fun to hear stories, as we worked on this series, about all of these people that we worked with every day, and getting insight into a bit of where they’d come from, my grandfather being one of them.
WandaVision is available to stream at Disney+ on January 15th.
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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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