WandaVision director breaks down 'Agatha All Along' and teases the 'surprising but satisfying' finale
Warning: This article contains spoilers from WandaVision episode 8, "Previously On."
WandaVision director Matt Shakman has seen your memes and obsessive theories. Ever since Marvel's first Disney+ show debuted in January, the twisty, genre-hopping series has sparked countless Twitter threads and Reddit posts trying to untangle the Westview mystery. Eight episodes in, we've learned a lot about Elizabeth Olsen's sorceress and Paul Bettany's undead android, but many questions still remain — like what's the deal with Evan Peters' Fake Pietro? Why is "Agatha All Along" such a bop? And how on earth are they going to wrap this whole thing up with just one episode left?
"It's wonderful to see that it's inspired so much interest in the fans," Shakman tells EW with a laugh. "We share the various memes and stuff on TikTok among the cast and crew and writers. It's so wonderful that we made this thing with so much love and passion, and it has been received with so much love and passion by the fans."
Before the final episode debuts on Disney+ on March 5, Shakman spoke to EW about Wanda's journey so far — and what to expect from the "inevitable" finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: To start, we gotta talk about "Agatha All Along." Tell me everything about recording that song and filming it with Kathryn Hahn.
MATT SHAKMAN: It was such a pleasure. We planned out all of those moments as we were going, of course, because you can't go back to the magic show to shoot that moment or go back to the Brady Bunch set that we only had for a short period of time, or the front lawn set for her moment with Herb. Everything had to be planned along the way — which meant that in the middle of shooting that stylized sitcom moment, we'd be like, "Okay, now for 'Agatha All Along!'" It's a completely different language, which was more cinematic, more from her point of view. We had a great deal of fun with it.
It was a combination of planning and storyboarding and figuring that out, but then wonderful things happening in the moment. I remember coming up with the idea two minutes before we did it that she'd have a picnic on the lawn while she's controlling Pietro, and Kathryn had so much fun eating grapes and drinking wine and controlling him. And it was just incredibly surprising how people responded to the song and to watch it climb the iTunes chart and to see Kathryn Hahn move ahead of Justin Bieber and the Weeknd. [Laughs]
When I spoke to Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez about writing the music for the show, they told me you and Robert went to college together.
Yes! I have tapes of Bobby's music from back in college that he would probably not want me to release. Maybe I will and I can pay for my retirement that way. [Laughs] But we met a long time ago and collaborated then. I adore him and his amazingly talented partner-in-crime, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They're an amazing team, and I was so grateful that they were willing to be roped into this fun experience.
One of the things that's so striking about this show is how it plays with tone. You have the comedic sitcom moments, but the most recent episode is a deep dive into Wanda's grief. As a director, how did you want to find that sweet spot and figure out that tone?
I'm glad we're able to talk now after that last episode because that last episode pulls the curtain back. The whole show has really been about Wanda processing grief. That's been the engine behind everything, from the earliest episodes all the way up until now. As a director, and for what [series creator] Jac Schaeffer and her team were creating as writers, it's all connected to remembering that that is the spine of the story. The story is about how to process loss — and how do we learn to move on from that? That is the through-line that carries through everything. It's this love story, it's this exploration of loss, and that allows you, once you're grounded, to play with all of this comedy and all of this style. In the end, you're creating these worlds that Wanda has created to escape from that. You want them to be perfect and detailed and real to her. They're not parodies, they're not spoofs — they are the world she has chosen to create to retreat from the real world. That was our sort of governing idea, and I think that affected tone.
What kind of conversations did you have with Elizabeth Olsen about navigating that? The show spends so much time inside her head, and she's played this character for so long that she must know Wanda better than anyone.
She's wonderful, and she's been the biggest advocate for this character from the beginning. When she first got the part, she read everything that there was out there, and she very much understood that Wanda has experienced more loss than anybody else in the Marvel universe. She's lost her parents, she's lost her brother, she's lost the love of her life by now, and she's right on the edge. In some ways, [Wanda is] as close as Marvel gets to exploring mental illness, really — like, how do you hold together your reality when you're constantly experiencing so much trauma? She taps into that so beautifully, and she's an incredibly talented actor. She can do these incredibly dramatic scenes, but then also you can watch episode 1, and you can see her out-Lucy Lucy and out-Mary Tyler Moore Mary Tyler Moore. She's so funny and alive and brilliant at all of those different styles. She knows and loves Wanda better than anybody, and it was such a great opportunity to build and take that character to new places together with her.
In the eighth episode, like you said, you pull back the curtain, and we get that explanation as to why sitcoms, and why these specific sitcoms — The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Malcolm in the Middle. What was it about those shows in particular that made them the right fit for Wanda's story?
We were looking at family sitcoms. There are a great many wonderful shows like Taxi or The Office that could've been inspirations, but the ones that we focused on were the ones that were about family because that's obviously what Wanda yearns for. She loses her family when she's young, she loses her brother, she loses Vision and the family that might have been. So the family sitcoms were the strongest thematic connection to that.
Were there any other sitcoms that you considered? Did you ever consider doing more of an explicit Full House homage, given Elizabeth Olsen's connection to that show?
We did. I mean, obviously we didn't recreate any one show. We were always trying to create WandaVision. In the '50s, we were drawing inspiration from I Love Lucy and Dick Van Dyke, and I know there are some purists who will say, "Yeah, well, it's late '50s, early '60s." [Laughs] But yes, we took inspiration from all kinds of different shows, and we were picking the shows that we felt were incredibly timely and timeless. They were so popular in their moment and their era when they came out, but they also continued to be really good and live on.
So we did look at Full House, we did look at Family Ties, we did look at Growing Pains. We looked at so many different shows, and I have some small nods in there. There's an opening title sequence to episode 5, where we do the crane shot from Full House, where they're having the picnic, or we run through the park with them as a nod to Lizzie growing up just behind the camera on that show.
You've talked before about how much fun it was for you to play in the '80s specifically because you yourself starred on an '80s sitcom: Just the Ten of Us. What was it like for you to immerse yourself in that decade?
The '80s really was the decade for me, for the Lopezes, for Jac Schaeffer. That was our decade. We grew up watching those shows, and I happened to grow up being on those shows! So for all of us, it was sort of that place where it went from being an exercise in nostalgia to being our DNA, in a way. It was therapeutic — much like this whole show is for Wanda, to be honest — to go back and look at my past, and to also be able to look at it a different way. Because I'll be honest: I was a kid actor, and when I grew up and became a director, I wanted everyone to take me very seriously as a director. I do work in dramas as well as comedies, and you think, well, will they be able to take that kid actor from that TGIF sitcom seriously? But now in a way, this show has allowed me to own my past. If I hadn't done all of that stuff as a kid, I would not have been able to make this show. So in a way, it's therapy for me too.
We shot at Warner Bros. Ranch, which is this place where we shot Just the Ten of Us, the show I was on as a kid. Growing Pains was shot there, and every other sitcom was shot on this little street, which has all these wonderful little sitcom houses. So we were there surrounded by this history of television all the time. My personal history, but also the history of TV in general, and I think part of that informs the authenticity.
I have to ask about Evan Peters as Fake Pietro. When did he get involved, and what was it like to have him on set?
He's the best. He's such a funny guy and a brilliant actor. And he's just like everybody else on the show: We needed super actors. I don't mean actors that play superheroes, but actors who can do anything. We talked about Lizzie, who can deliver drama and move you to tears, and she can be funny and fly through the air, and she can sell those amazing moments of action. And Evan is just like that. Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Paul Bettany, they're all just these amazingly talented Swiss Army knives: They have every tool you need.
As we're going into the final episode, what do you hope people take away from the finale?
I hope that they feel like the journey was satisfying for them. I know there are so many theories out there; there will be a lot of people who will no doubt be disappointed by one theory or another. But we're always telling this story about Wanda dealing with grief and learning how to accept that loss, and hopefully people will find that the finale is surprising but also satisfying, and that it feels inevitable because it's the same story they've been watching the whole time.
I would imagine that would be so rewarding as a filmmaker to get to do that deep dive into grief and loss, while also playing in the crazy, action-packed Marvel sandbox.
Absolutely. The challenge as a director was unique. I'll never have a job like this again. This was the job of a lifetime, to be able to draw on all of those different skillsets. But what does hold it all together is that it has a big heart. It's a love story, it's a story of loss, and I think that resonates even more in this crazy pandemic that we're all trying to survive right now. I think we can all understand where Wanda's coming from, so it helps it to resonate a little bit more.