Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany break down the playful sitcom allusions of WandaVision
WandaVision wasn't supposed to launch Marvel's next big chapter. After the universe-resetting finale of Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe planned to usher in "Phase 4" with films like Black Widow and Eternals, while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier would be the first of several live-action TV series on Disney+.
But after the coronavirus pandemic derailed the studio's carefully laid plans, it's now the ambitious, genre-defying WandaVision that's up first. And there's a strange serendipity in launching a new world of Marvel television with a show that's determined to deconstruct the entire medium. After all, WandaVision is a TV show about TV, following Elizabeth Olsen's sorceress and Paul Bettany's synthezoid as they zoom through different decades in a world inspired by classic sitcoms.
When the show starts, the newlywed Scarlet Witch and Vision are living in suburban bliss, a gleaming black-and-white picture of domesticity that feels straight out of The Dick Van Dyke Show or I Love Lucy. But as the series progresses, so too do the sitcom references, with Wanda and Vision moving through scenes that reference shows like The Brady Bunch, Full House, and Malcolm in the Middle.
"It was really about trying to capture [the authenticity], from the length of your fingernails and how they were shaped to the different types of fake eyelashes you were wearing," Olsen tells EW. "The whole thing was very specific, and it was really fun to do that as an actor. Usually we try to adapt our bodies or how we speak or how we walk as a character for one project. To get to do this like six different times was really fun."
It's an unexpected tonal departure for the MCU — and it signifies new territory for Olsen and Bettany, too. Wanda and Vision have been Marvel staples ever since 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, but their stories have largely been overshadowed by other Avengers like Iron Man and Captain America. WandaVision offers the chance to fully explore the strange, sweet love story of the android and the witch.
It also allowed the two serious superheroes to get a little silly. Bettany in particular got to explore a new, goofier side of Vision — basically answering what would happen if you crossed an all-seeing android with a bumbling sitcom dad.
"Initially, I was a little worried about it, but then I realized Vision's actually always been changing," Bettany says. "You see him born, for goodness' sake. He's omnipotent, but very naïve. By Civil War, he's beginning his burgeoning interest in humanity and love. By Infinity War, the irony is he's almost more human than he's an android. Then I realized [WandaVision is] just throwing in a bit of Dick Van Dyke and Bryan Cranston and a little bit of hilarity. It can absorb that, as long as [Vision's] central core is this decent, kind creature who just lives full of wonder."
The actors also fully immersed themselves in the world of classic sitcoms. For the first episode, which is inspired by the late '50s and early '60s, they shot in black and white in front of a live audience. And to illustrate Wanda's telekinetic powers, the crew ditched the CGI and used classic wire tricks to make household appliances float and move.
"The thing that was so remarkable was these special-effects guys were used to blowing things up and dealing with fire and extreme wind, and [now they] were becoming puppeteers of props," Olsen says with a laugh. "The funniest thing to watch was one of them had a towel, and one had a cup, and they had to try and make it look like the cup was being dried. It was very complicated!"
The result is a detailed, decade-hopping love letter to television through the ages — and brand-new territory for Marvel.
"[Olsen] and I looked at each other after we finished the first episode," Bettany says. "You're standing in front of the audience. We bowed, and you've just made a total fool of yourself. But I think we both felt fearless after that. It just felt like, well, you've done it now."
WandaVision debuts Friday on Disney+.