This ain’t your grandparents’ Avengers.
In the new Disney Plus show, “WandaVision,” each episode finds Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) living in different comedy sitcom-inspired worlds, including “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Bewitiched,” “The Brady Bunch” and more.
“There’s a moment in the second episode where we’re trying to sneak away and we’re literally doing sneaking-acting,” Bettany tells Variety. “At one point, we stop and turned around at the same time. And then we heard [director] Matt Shakman say, ‘Uh, guys!’”
Just when they thought he was going to tell them to take it down a notch, Shakman said, “Can you have a double take?”
When you were first told the concept of placing Wanda and Vision into classic television sitcoms, did you understand it right away?
My contract was up and I just died twice in “Infinity War” and I got a call from the boss [Kevin Feige] saying, ”Come see me in the office.” I looked at my wife and I think I’m getting canned. I went in and Louis D’Esposito and Kevin Feige were there and I didn’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable so I lead with, “Look, I totally get it. It’s been great. I’ve had a great run, guys.” They were like, “Wait, are you quitting?” And I went, “No, aren’t you firing me?” They said, “No, we’re going to pitch you a TV show.” So I went, “Okay, I’m in!” Then we talked about two comic book stories that I really love: “House of M” and “The Visions,” which is a story about Vision trying to build a family in suburbia and it was sort a mash-up between them, and also with a sort of loving look at American sitcoms throughout the American century. I was like, “I’m in!”
Could you have ever imagined you’d be starring in a black-and-white sitcom?
It’s really bold. I thought we would be out of black and white by the end of the ’50s, but Kevin was really insistent that we stay in black and white until the end of the second episode. It is not an arbitrary reason that we are in sitcoms. All will be revealed as Wanda and Vision hurtle through the decades at breakneck speed. By the time we get to the ’80s, Vision is really beginning to wonder that there’s something wrong in this town, that this can’t be right. And he starts to investigate.
How much fun is it doing comedy as Vision?
I loved every minute of it. I mean, despite having been raised in London, I grew up on those shows. Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings after church and before sports were “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Bewitched” and “Little House on the Prairie,” even, and “The Brady Bunch.” All of those shows gave us an advertisement of America, which clearly works because I live here now [laughs]. So I was really familiar with those shows. Then I went back and I watched them and Lizzy and I looked at each other and we just went, “Wow, this is gonna be a lot of work because these are song and dance guys.” I mean, they are consummate performers. It’s a different thing, the skills that they had, the physical comedy aspect of it, we’re not used that. It was a real challenge. And it was frightening at times, but ultimately incredibly rewarding to do.
How conscious were you of how your acting style had to change for the different eras?
We were really conscious. I had never thought of it before, but once you start really looking into these sitcoms, like “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” their relationship is so warm. By the time you get to “Bewitched,” it’s already a man with a really powerful woman. He’s embarrassed by her power, and he wants her to suppress her power. And then “Brady Bunch” when the Vietnam War is raging. And then you sort of get into teachable moments of “Family Ties” and Tom Hanks turns up and he’s the drunk uncle [Hanks played alcoholic Uncle Ned on ‘Family Ties’], but it’s a teachable moment. And then you get into the kind of quite cold and cynical “Modern Family” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” The acting style is kind of deadpan and you don’t even really feel that the couples even like each other, so we were very conscious of those sort of cultural touchstones for each episode.
And then there is Vision and I was really worried. You’re reading the script thinking, “How do you make it still Vision?” And then I realized Vision has always been changing. We see him born in “Ultron.” He’s born on screen and I hope to never have to be born on screen again. And he’s sort of omnipotent, but he’s also naïve, a sort of ingénue and then by “Civil War” he’s sort of really intrigued with humanity and what it means to be human and things like love and stuff, and then by “Infinity War,” he’s arguably and ironically, one of the most human characters. So he’s partly Ultron, he’s partly Jarvis, he’s partly Tony Stark. And then I thought, “Okay, well, we’re just throwing in a bit of Dick Van Dyke in there as well.” And that’s okay as long as the core of him stays the same, which is that he is inquisitive. He is honorable. He’s decent. And he’s there for Wanda.
Now that you’ve done sitcoms, could Wanda and Vision do a movie based on old movies?
Wouldn’t that be lovely? It would be hard for me to overstate how much I enjoyed making this show. And it would be hard for me to overstate — and I shouldn’t speak for everybody else, but I’m just going to — we all had a ball. Everybody. Jess Paul, who is a dear friend of mine who I have worked with many times, who was the DP and is a genius with what he has done with this show. The set design, costume design, hair and makeup, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were getting to do this. And while it was sort of slightly frightening initially, I was very reluctant to shoot in front of a live studio audience, but Matt was right. Matt made us do it. It really helped give us that sort of performative quality that those shows have because those shows I feel like have an audience in the room because there’s an audience in the room. You start forgetting about the cameras and just play for laughs with the audience. And by the end of it, Kathryn [Hahn], Lizzie, myself, and also Teyonah [Parris] — bless her heart, she came to see it because she’s not in the first episode — all looked at each other and kind of went, “I guess that’s what the show is. I guess we got to nail it to the wall now.”