This interview includes spoilers for the entire season of “WandaVision.”
When it was first announced, “WandaVision” seemed like a strange proposition. It was touted as a Disney+ series that would continue the saga of the Marvel heroine Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her synthezoid lover, Vision (Paul Bettany) — who, by the way, had died — while also paying homage to decades of sitcom history.
Somehow “WandaVision,” whose season finale was released on Friday, did all that and more: It told the story of how Wanda, in her mourning for Vision, had used her powers to recreate him inside a New Jersey town that she had turned, unwillingly, into her own TV show. It reacquainted us with characters like the resourceful F.B.I. agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and the sarcastic scientist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings); gave us new champions, like the indomitable intelligence agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris); and provided an unforgettable antagonist in the manipulative witch Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn).
And then, finally, it gave Wanda a chance to tell Vision goodbye.
These innovations and unexpected twists were built on the groundwork laid by Jac Schaeffer, the creator and head writer of “WandaVision,” who took a premise from the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the pages of the publisher’s comic books and shaped it into a tale of trauma, grief and shout-outs to “The Munsters.”
As Schaeffer explained in a video interview on Saturday, her goal had always been to explore the origins of Wanda’s psychic wounds by wrapping them in the mystery of her retro-TV fixation.
“For the whole season it was like, how does she do this? How, how, how, how, how?” said Schaeffer, who has also contributed to Marvel movies like “Captain Marvel” and the upcoming “Black Widow.”
She continued: “And really, the question is, why? What in her personhood, what in her past, led to this moment? Let’s explore that, unpack that and look at the full human before us. And still have it be entertaining, with all the bells and whistles and all the blasty-blasty, all in one thing.”
Schaeffer spoke further about the making of “WandaVision” and the meanings behind the multiple layers of its story. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
What, in the earliest stages of this, got you excited about making a TV show about Wanda and Vision?
The first thing was the notion of, how do you do this? How do you take sitcoms and combine them with Wanda and Vision who, up to this point in the M.C.U., were such self-serious characters and dramatic characters with so much sadness surrounding them. They weren’t funny. What’s the synthesis? I’m a big fan of “Lost,” and I was very inspired by shows like “Russian Doll,” “Forever” and “Homecoming.” I relished the opportunity of a slow burn. It seemed like an exciting, sneak-attack way to have a bit of a social commentary and a very large story of character and grief.
How much of the concept did Marvel already have on the table when you walked through the door?
At the center was Vision and Wanda and her infamous story of loss, both in the comics and in the M.C.U. And then there was a lot of speculation: Yes, she creates a false reality, but is it false? Is it real? How does she contain it? What is the nature of her powers? Who are the helpers that are involved? Who are the antagonists? All of that was really up for grabs.
How did you decide which sitcom eras and which shows you wanted to pay homage to?
In my pitch, the “rewind” episode was a “C.S.I.” episode. I thought, how interesting to do sitcom, sitcom, sitcom, and then shatter that and be in a different genre. But once we got in the writers’ room, we stayed with family sitcoms and sitcoms that were on the brighter, optimistic side of the spectrum because it is a fantasy. That meant things like “All in the Family” and “Roseanne” got shunted to the side. I had an episode that was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and it was about Wanda’s work-life balance. Those are spectacular shows and say so much about our culture and ourselves. But we stayed in the zone of aspirational family sitcoms and that helped us find the focus of the show.
Of the Marvel movie veterans you included in “WandaVision,” what got you interested in Randall Park and Kat Dennings? Was it their previous TV sitcom experience?
Both Kat and Randall were extremely early suggestions. There were a number of suggestions and those two, I was like, yes and yes. We knew there would be helper characters and I’m such a fan of their work in sitcoms and elsewhere. I was also interested in bringing to the fore supporting characters who traditionally have a smaller presence. Even though they are still supporting in the series, I wanted to feel their agency and their allyship and their excellence in their fields.
The series also introduced us to the grown-up version of Monica Rambeau. Did you want her story of personal loss to mirror Wanda’s in some way?
Early on, there was the notion of a character who would function in this role, someone who was leading the charge on the outside of the Hex and would see things clearly — who would be battered around by Wanda but was able to cut through it all. I had been a contributing writer to “Captain Marvel 2” and felt very close to those characters, so when we got the go-ahead for Monica, we had a lot of ideas. We really wanted to align her with Wanda because this show is about grief. But it is also about empathy and acceptance. It was important to me that the interventions with Wanda that were successful came from other women.
Of course, getting Kathryn Hahn to play Agatha Harkness was the show’s casting masterstroke. How much of that character was defined by the time you approached her?
We had Agatha because she’s so tied to Wanda’s stories in the comics. At first she functioned as a magic expert, and as we got into it, we wanted to have a more antagonistic force. We were writing her and she just leapt off the page. She had this arch, comedic thing and these sick burns. We were trying to figure out who to cast, and Kathryn had come in [to Marvel] for a general meeting and we heard she was in the building. It was like, Oh my God. Everyone got really still. Any writer on the planet, in television, in film, is in love with Kathryn Hahn and wishes for Kathryn Hahn. You sit down for your writer prayers at night and say, bring me a Kathryn Hahn. The next day or the day after, she came in and we pitched her the whole show.
Do you think that Agatha, in her own weird way, was somehow helpful to Wanda?
Absolutely. Agatha, technically, is more on the villainous end of the spectrum, but she actually is the chief instigator of Wanda’s healing. And there is a desire to connect with Wanda and to mentor her and to learn from her. Agatha’s damage is so severe, and she has been alone for so long, and all of that hurt has calcified. The question of, can she be pulled back from this very selfish, power-hungry place? I would argue she totally could, given the right story line. In the writers’ room, one of the things we kept saying is, Agatha is not wrong in her analysis of Wanda being in denial. She’s being kind of harsh with it. She could go back and get a degree and maybe be gentle. But she fast-tracks what is necessary for Wanda in her journey.
Did you decide from the outset that Agatha would get her own theme song at some point in the series?
In the writers’ room, we wrote theme songs for our episodes. We knew that these songs weren’t going to be the songs — it was really to entertain ourselves. The writer of that episode, Cameron Squires, his song was called “That’s So Agatha.” Then of course Kristen and Bobby [the songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez] came in and made a theme song that’s a literal No. 1 hit on iTunes. Ending the episode with her song would be not just the ultimate twist but her commandeering everything we had seen up to that point. I would argue, she doesn’t take control of the world. It was actually a synthesis of Wanda and Agatha. The idea of “Agatha All Along,” it sits well with Wanda not wanting to be fully responsible.
Was it a certainty that you’d be able to get Evan Peters, who was Quicksilver in the “X-Men” movies, to play the show’s fake Pietro?
It was an enormous question mark for a very long time. And it took a while to figure out if it would be possible. It was late that it was finally confirmed that we could do it. But we were writing for it. Evan is such a chameleon in that way, that could play an amalgamation of Uncle Jesse [from “Full House”], Nick [from “Family Ties”] and Joey from “Friends.” He could play those layers.
Did you have a backup plan if you couldn’t get him?
The ground is often shifting, and sometimes that’s how the amazing things occur. There are a couple of scenes that I wrote that I’m like, “This is genius!” And then it was like, “No, you can’t have that toy.” You find a different toy that suits your show better. But there wasn’t a Plan B on that. There were just very, very intense hopes and dreams, and they were met.
A speech from Vision in Episode 8 — and particularly his quote, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” — really caught on with viewers. Did it land as powerfully for you when that episode was being written?
In the writers’ room, we had intense conversations about grief and loss. We had a grief counselor come and speak to us. My initial pitch, the structure of the show was mapped to the stages of grief. I did not know that that line would be a sensation, but it did feel at the time that it was the perfect distillation of the show. Laura Donney wrote an extraordinary episode, and as we were moving toward production on the scene, Paul was really hungering for, what’s the thing that Vision can say that will bring her comfort? He wanted a line that, in a very Vision way, would perfectly encapsulate a definition of grief, like in “Age of Ultron,” how he says, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
So I came up with a line that was something along the lines of, “What is grief but love surviving?” We agreed that wasn’t quite it and we were turning it over and trying to figure it out. My incredibly talented assistant, Laura Monti, came up with the word “persevering.” We all believe that the line was born of the enormous amount of collaboration and unity on the show. So many talented women, specifically, came up with it.
Do you think Wanda got the fate she deserved in the show’s conclusion?
I don’t know if she got what she deserved. She got to say goodbye on her own terms. That’s what’s important to me. Everything that she’s been through has been forced upon her, and things have been wrenched from her. It’s all been in this frenzied, stakes-of-the-universe way. She has to make really big decisions with no time for processing. This goodbye moment is her choice and she got to do it in her own way. That is what she needed to process everything she’s been through and reach acceptance.
What did the final scene of the series mean to you?
[Pauses, then laughs.] There’s not a whole lot that I can say. What I can say is, I love the duality of it. I love the real Wanda, sitting on her porch, making a cup of tea, doing her ruminating and reflecting. And the super-lady in the back room who is astral-projecting and functioning at a level that we have yet to understand. I love that.
Was it important to you that this series got to tell the stories of several women in ways we don’t often see in superhero franchises?
It was very important to me to put authentic women onscreen. I want to see myself and my friends and my sisters and my mom and my aunts. I want to see nuanced portrayals of their exterior and interior lives. For me, personally, this was the first time that I was running a [writers’] room, and it was intimidating to step into a leadership role. But I found myself able to meet the challenge, and I enjoyed it so much. Everyone was very motivated to push the ball forward in terms of representation and visibility of women and people of color. I’m very proud of that. It felt important and necessary.
Other superhero stories that have put women front and center have been a magnet for detractors who want to tear down or dismiss these projects. How do you think “WandaVision” avoided this?
I think sometimes there are projects that are very, “Rah! Powerful lady!” Great, let’s do that, that’s awesome. With this one, our approach was that this is a two-hander, this was a love story, and Vision’s character and Paul, the performer, had as much grist for him. Yes, it’s Wanda’s story but it is a true ensemble — it’s lots of women and lots of people. I wasn’t trying to make feminism palatable; that wasn’t what I was trying to do. I was trying to have it be one of the many foundations of the story. You can satisfy the desire for representation by putting people on the screen and writing them well.
That was my agenda. I hope in the future that it’s just self-evident that the more perspectives you have in a story, both onscreen and behind the camera, the better everything is. And we all agree and now we’ve moved on.
Are there plans for a second season of “WandaVision”?
That is one of the things that I super can’t talk about. I will just reiterate what [the Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige says: We set out to make a very complete and satisfying series. But with an entity like the M.C.U., you never know.
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