As previously and frequently alluded to in my recap of the Marvel Studios Phase 4 announcements from the Disney Investor Day last December, we MCU fans have been in utter withdrawal since last we stepped foot into the marvelous universe of magic, science, and super powers (July 2019 with the release of Spider-Man Far From Home). Given Marvel Studios’ proclivity to leave us wanting more, fans have been clamoring to see how Phase 4 will indeed kick off following the conclusion of the Infinity Saga in Avengers: Endgame. Thankfully, this coming Friday, a new era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will at long last begin, with the debut of something completely different – their first episodic streaming show!
That’s right! WandaVision is coming to Disney+ this Friday, January 15th! While WandaVision‘s debut will represent a whole new narrative distribution system for fans, it has definitely set up incredibly new assets and challenges for cast and crew veterans of the Marvel Studios films. And this past weekend, we were fortunate enough to hear about all of those from returning stars Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and producer/mastermind/deity Kevin Feige, as well as new recruits/future veterans Teyonah Parris, Kathryn Hahn, head writer Jac Schaeffer, and director Matt Shakman during a virtual press conference with moderator and sitcom veteran extraordinaire, Jaleel White (Family Matters).
White kicked off the event by discussing the fact that the first three episodes of the series were filmed in front of a live studio audience to recapture the authenticity of ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s-era sitcoms. He then asked Olsen how that affected her performance. Olsen responded saying, “It was the first thing we shot! It was so nerve wracking. There was a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of quick changes. And it totally confused my brain!… The idea of not playing to an audience, but feeding off an audience and having a camera. I was really grateful when we added a fourth wall!”
She then discussed which classic sitcom actresses she drew from. “It was an amalgamation of Mary Tyler-Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery, and I think I accidentally threw in some Lucy of the ‘70s, just because there was so much physical comedy.”
Bettany was then asked what it was about Vision that seems to hold true regardless of the surroundings he’s in. Bettany responded saying, “I was worried about that initially. I was like ‘Wow this feels so different… how do I keep him the same?’ And then I realized that he’s always been becoming something else. He’s JARVIS, he’s part Ultron, he’s part Tony Stark. He’s omnipotent, but he’s also this naive ingénue. And then I realized, I’ll just throw in a little bit of Dick Van Dyke in there, and a little bit of Hugh Laurie… as long as he remains, what Vision is — decent and honorable and exists for Wanda. And then you’re set!”
When asked what specifically he needs to blend into the community, Bettany humorously responded, “A lot of wigs.”
When asked about the ever changing formats of sitcoms between the ‘50s-‘70s had any effect on the physicality of their performances, Bettany had this to say, “I think there’s 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 laughs.”
Olsen chimed in, “Absolutely! The way women move throughout the decades changes so much when it comes to what society wants from them. And so Jac did write in quite a few nods to how those were evolving throughout the decades. In the 60s she gets to wear pants, and adjust how someone moves their space. And manners were a big part — when we talk about vocal work and speech and cadence — manners were a huge part of every decade. And so we would get this book of manners for the times as well. But we also have to remember that we’re not depicting an honest reality of the ‘60s or the ‘70s. We’re depicting this reality, which has its own set of rules.”
Katherine Hahn was then asked if she had a neighbor like Agnes, the character she plays in the series. “We did have a neighbor who was like this as well, who popped over unannounced. We’d always pretend to be excited to see them, even though it would always be the worst timing.”
When asked about the general nature of sitcoms evolving, and how WandaVision differs from that format, Hahn also stated, “What the sitcom has always represented was always this aspirational view. This comfortable ideal. So the trick was, not only are we trying to just kind of live within each decade, but also present this comfortable ideal with the structure of a sitcom… [these sitcom tropes] are something that are just baked in us as a kid of the ‘80s… the trick was not to satirize it, but to get inside each one. Which tonally was a trick to pull off, so I’m so blown away by Jac and Matt for being able to do that because it’s difficult tonally.”
Parris, who plays the now adult Monica Rambeau, was asked to discuss her character. “We met Monica in Captain Marvel as a little girl, and basically 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 to her between that gap in the years, and how she’s grown and evolved (or not), and we just follow her along.”
When asked when we’ll be seeing Monica again (on November 2022), Parris reiterated, “We will get to see Monica join Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel in Captain Marvel 2.”
When Parris was asked about how the history of what Monica has seen in the MCU has shaped her character up to WandaVision, she replied, “She has definitely been through some things and seen somethings. And it’s cool that you’re bringing that up because we actually do get to learn, particularly, what those things are that Monica has seen and gone through. And how they have shaped her life. So I don’t want to give too much away because we will actually touch a lot on that through the course of the show.”
White then asked director, Matt Shakman, a colleague of his since their early acting days on the sitcom Good Morning, Miss Bliss which was later retooled into Saved by the Bell, about the “sitcom bootcamp” he set up to prepare Olsen, Bettany, and the rest of the cast for the experience.
“We wanted to be as authentic as possible… production design, cinematography, costumes — everything was about going on this deep dive. And so with the actors we wanted to do the same thing. So we watched just a ton of old television episodes, talked about how comedy changes, because it really does. The approach to comedy in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s is really different. And as Lizzy said, 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. And 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 these days, and that laugh track is all canned and brought in. It changes the energy and the style, everything. We also worked with a fabulous dialect coach to work on how the people would sound in that era, how they would move. We just did everything we could to make it as authentic as possible.”
Head writer, Schaffer, was then asked to describe Wanda and Vision’s journey as a couple up to this point, and what we can expect of their relationship as the series progresses.
“I think that Wanda and Vision are, as a couple, a fan favorite because their love story has been so very tragic, but also really warm and intimate. And we’ve really 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. But what we have in WandaVision, which really is a treat for all, is we’re opening up the stage and the space for them, and they’re in this domestic sphere. We see them doing dishes in the kitchen and being cute–just all the homebody stuff you’d never see a superhero participate in. So we go from these enormous dramatic moments in the MCU, and in WandaVision it’s a lot of “cute, cute”– until it’s not!”
Feige was then asked about experimenting with the sitcom format for a Marvel Studios property. “This is Marvel Studios’ first foray, directly with the cast and amazing characters you’ve seen in movies coming on to television. And the idea was always to do something that could not be done as a feature, that plays with the format and the medium. And there were a lot of meetings before people understood what we were trying to go for. And we are only sitting here because Jac and Matt did. And were able to turn a wacky idea into a spectacular show… As it all came together, I’m actually very happy, and it worked out perfectly, that this is the debut on Disney+ for the MCU.”
He was also asked about whether or not there was any trepidation starting Phase 4 with a bold, different show like WandaVision, and what that says about Phase 4 in general. He stated, “I hope it says ‘get ready for the new, and different’… the Disney+ opportunities have allowed us to expand creatively what we do. The original plan was to have Falcon and The Winter Soldier debut first last year, followed very soon behind by WandaVision. But creatively it didn’t shuffle. Part of having a plan was having the ability and the ideas of how to shuffle should the need arise. I’m not saying we had planned for a global pandemic. We had not. But we’ve always over the past 12-15 years of Marvel Studios been able to shuffle around. This required no shuffling whatsoever in terms of the creative. Just in terms of production. And as often the case, when thrown curveballs… the unexpected has always served Marvel Studios well. And it’s served us well in this case. Because this show, being our first one, I love how bold it is. I love how different it is. And I love that it’s something you can only see on Disney+. We have things that could only be seen in theaters, and are made for that. But this is something that needs to be seen week after week on television, which is very different for us, and very fun. And as bold as it comes thanks to everyone we’re looking at here.”
As bold as they come for the MCU indeed! Once audiences get a glimpse of WandaVision on Disney+, they will all see that for themselves too!
WandaVision hits Disney+ with its first two episodes this Friday, January 15.