Olsen/Bettany talk telly.
It’s the twist no one saw coming – turning the MCU into a sitcom and asking Dick Van Dyke to help tell Marvel’s most ambitious story to date. The cast and crew of WandaVision tell us what to expect from Phase 4’s new chapter…
WandaVision is not an easy show to explain – even for the people who made it. We know it picks up right where Avengers: Endgame left off, and we know it’s about Wanda Maximoff and Vision living out a life together in the suburbs, but we also know it’s styled as a classic sitcom, and that whopping big bits of the MCU occasionally crash into each episode. We also know, of course, that Vision is dead…
“You have to understand, I thought I was getting fired!” laughs Paul Bettany. “I can’t remember the pitch because the moment I realised I wasn’t getting fired they were telling me this story and I kind of switched off, thinking, ‘I can keep the kids in school!’”
Written as a comedy love letter to the history of television and a bold new entry into the Phase 4 timeline, WandaVision marks Marvel Studios’ first TV series as well as their bravest and most ambitious venture to date.
“I think it will make everybody look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a whole new way,” says Bettany. “Marvel has always taken big swings… But we’re a really big swing. There are more VFX shots in WandaVision than we had in Endgame. That’s a big ask.”
Sharing a Zoom call with co-star Elizabeth Olsen, Bettany seems giddy with excitement to talk about the show, even if he is struggling to explain what’s actually going on (partly because he’s not allowed to, partly because it really is as odd as it sounds). Speaking to Total Film after the first cryptic trailer stirred the fanbase into a frenzy, the pair admit that the idea of moving the MCU to TV didn’t always sit quite so comfortably.
“We’ve been the emotional throughlines in the films,” admits Olsen. “So there’s a little bit of nerves about how you bring that to television. But I also feel like this is the first time you really get to see Wanda in a three-dimensional way. I feel like it’s only made these characters deeper and more interesting.”
Created by Jac Schaeffer (writer of Captain Marvel and Black Widow) and based on an idea that Kevin Feige had for filling the gaps between Phases 3 and 4, WandaVision puts Maximoff in a new reality drawn from classic sitcoms like
I Love Lucy, Bewitched and The Dick Van Dyke Show. As the series progresses, so does the history of TV comedy, moving the story through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s into the Modern Family and Office era. Recruiting former sitcom star and current sitcom director Matt Shakman to helm the series, Marvel put its most valuable property in the hands of the guy best known for making 47 episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia…
“My mind exploded!” laughs Shakman, remembering the moment he found out exactly what he’d signed up for. Knowing that a large part of the show was going to pull influences from vintage TV, and wanting to pay homage to history without slipping into parody, Shakman’s first move was to set up an interview with sitcom legend Dick Van Dyke.
“We had lunch at Disneyland, which is exactly where you want to have lunch with Dick Van Dyke,” he laughs. “His rule was, if it didn’t happen in real life, it couldn’t happen on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The stakes were real, so he could play with the comedy around it – and I wanted the same thing for WandaVision. It had to always feel true and grounded.”
Filming on the same backlot that once housed The Partridge Family, Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie, Shakman needed WandaVision to feel as authentic as possible. “We used vintage lenses and lighting for each decade,” he explains. “Every costume was handcrafted, often with vintage fabrics, and the crew all wore period outfits on set. We even put the actors through a sitcom bootcamp for a couple of weeks.”
“‘Bootcamp’ makes it sound a lot harder than it actually was,” says Bettany. “We basically just sat in a room and watched a load of TV…”
They’re still giggling about their favourite dress-up moments (Olsen being “really preggers” in her ’70s outfits; Bettany over-egging a Brady Bunch-style opening montage), but the standout moment for everyone came early on when Shakman decided to film the pilot episode in front of a live studio audience. This included live line-readings, live effects, and live reactions from a bewildered crowd who watched Scarlet Witch and Vision doing comedy as a ’50s suburban married couple.
“We were very lucky because the audience was a big bunch of Marvel fans,” says Olsen. “Anything we were going to do they were going to get a kick out of! Also, everything we did for every decade was honest to that decade’s abilities, including the special effects, so it was just such a joy to have everything on a string instead of it being CGI. I think the audience got a real kick out of all the lo-fi stuff.”
Told to amp up their acting, Bettany and Olsen threw themselves into the comedy as hard as possible, hamming up every line, playing to the gallery and maybe even attempting a few cheeky nods to Only Fools And Horses (“I’m not going to give them away, but there are a couple of people that I clearly robbed blind!” smiles Bettany).
It’s almost as if they didn’t just finish fighting a multi-billion-dollar blockbuster battle to save half the population of the universe… As much as Wanda Vision plays like a sitcom, it’s also a triple-A action story about two Avengers dealing with the aftermath of Endgame, everything that came before, and everything that’s starting to build back up again for Phase 4.
“Law & Order this is not,” laughs Shakman. “This was not six months of shooting people walking down the same hallway. Kevin was really clear from the beginning that this show would be very different but it would also be as Marvel as anything else they’d ever made – including some of the biggest set pieces they’ve ever done.”
Edging closer to the big-screen reality that we’re more familiar with as the series continues, Wanda Vision will eventually fit comfortably alongside the other Marvel movies once the full puzzle box has been opened.
“You’re never told to rein anything in at Marvel!” says Schaeffer, who serves as showrunner and head writer. “I came from independent cinema where you had to justify having a box of donuts in the shot… On Wanda Vision, it’s not entirely ‘the sky’s the limit’, it all needs to be earned, but I was always pushed to have it be as imaginative and amazing as possible.”
Key to understanding the show’s bigger connection to the MCU is the character of Wanda herself. The series borrows from comic storylines including The Vision (2015), Witches’ Road (Scarlet Witch Vol 2 #3, 2016) and House Of M (2005), but they’re redrawn to take her into a wholly unexpected new direction.
“It was extremely important to me that we not do the lazy thing of having a superpowered lady who can’t handle her powers and goes crazy,” says Schaeffer. “It was all about being as authentic as we could with her.”
Adds Shakman, “We’re telling the story of Wanda becoming the comicbook character that most of us have heard about. One of the things that makes her such an interesting character is that she’s suffered more than anyone else. She’s lost her parents, she’s lost her brother and she’s lost Vision. This story explores grief, and how we heal.”
For the show’s two stars, Wanda Vision was also an opportunity to develop the characters they’d been living with over six years and five films. Until now, they were unable to step completely out of the shadows of the other Avengers. “Lizzie and I found our own lane in those movies,” says Bettany. “But those movies have so many characters that everybody only has a small amount of screen time to tell their story. Our story was the emotional bleeding heart of it all, and I love that, but it’s been wonderful to have time to really relax into it. This whole show is about us – and that does feel different. Every episode, the fans will be able to peel back more layers.”
Exactly what’s going to be left once those layers have been peeled is anyone’s guess, especially when we’re talking about the end of a blockbuster comedy sitcom superhero series that spans decades, alters reality and weaves its main threads back into movies that haven’t even been made yet. Will we get more Wanda Vision? Is Scarlet Witch being teed up to take a bigger role in the MCU? Is Vision coming back?
“You never know,” smiles Bettany, with a shrug. “The truth is, life is curly. You think you’re gonna get fired and then they give you a great big TV show instead.”
WANDA VISION STREAMS ON DISNEY+ FROM 15 JANUARY 2021.
‘I WAS ALWAYS PUSHED TO HAVE IT BE AS IMAGINATIVE AND AMAZING AS POSSIBLE’ JAC SCHAEFFER