Elizabeth Olsen’s film career began — explosively — with the 2011 Sundance sensation “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” after which she went to co-star in a number of independent films. But she soon noticed, Olsen tells Variety in an interview for her Power of Women cover story, that she was perhaps being pigeonholed.
“I wasn’t being considered for studio films,” Olsen says. “I asked my agent and manager why, and they said, ‘Well, you don’t do them.’”
So Olsen began taking what are called “general” meetings in order to broaden her repertoire. As she filmed reshoots for Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla” — which was very much a studio movie — Olsen found herself having tea with “Avengers” director Joss Whedon for a possible role in his upcoming sequel “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Coincidentally, her “Godzilla” co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson was also meeting with Whedon about new characters he planned to introduce in his follow-up to the massive 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers” — namely, the twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.
“He explained to me how they were going to use the characters — that he wasn’t planning on introducing her in tights and a leotard,” Olsen recalls of that meeting. (About her working relationship with Whedon, Olsen said only that he was “helpful,” and says, “I relied on him a lot, because he had created the character.”) According to Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, “She was the only choice for that role,” he says. “Her name came up, and we all went, ‘Yes!’”
Fast-forward through six movies — a mid-credits cameo in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” followed by “Age of Ultron,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Avengers: Endgame” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” — and Disney+’s mindbending 2021 stunner series “WandaVision.” Yet now, Olsen’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unclear. When fans last saw her in the May release “Multiverse of Madness,” Wanda had brought a castle down upon her as she destroyed the Darkhold, the evil book that had twisted her into a vengeful villain for most of the movie.
Wanda sure did appear to have died — and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) certainly thought she had too. But not so fast, says Feige. “I don’t know that we saw her under rubble?” he says in upspeak. “I saw a tower coming down and a little red flash. I don’t know what that means.”
When pressed for specifics about where Wanda could reappear — to help launch Marvel’s future “X-Men” plans, in a stand-alone Scarlet Witch movie, an upcoming “Avengers” film, or even in “Agatha: Coven of Chaos,” the Disney+ spinoff of Kathryn Hahn’s fan-favorite “WandaVision” character, Agatha Harkness — Feige demurs and answers vaguely.
“There really is so much more to explore,” he says. “We still haven’t touched on many of her core storylines from the comics.”
“I’d work with Lizzie for another 100 years if we could,” Feige continues. But then he throws out one final hint before signing off. “Anything’s possible in the multiverse! We’ll have to see.”
For Olsen’s part, she says, “I don’t think any of these characters are ever really gone,” and she’d love to see Wanda head “toward some sort of redemption.” But she underlines that she doesn’t know anything yet: “I really don’t know my future. There’s nothing that has been agreed on.”
It’s not the first time that Olsen has come to a crossroads with her work in the MCU. After “Infinity War” had come out, but before the release of “Endgame,” she says that Marvel approached her and Paul Bettany — who plays Vision, her husband — about “WandaVision.” In the show, a bereft Wanda, while grieving Vision’s death, holds an entire New Jersey town hostage so she can play out her fantasies of a suburban life with him (and eventually, their twin boys).
Inventively, the story is told through the American sitcoms Wanda and Pietro would watch during their Sokovian childhoods. “Kevin wanted to play with some fun themes and ways of telling the story that they hadn’t really explored,” Olsen says about how the show was conceived. And doing “WandaVision” on Disney+ — it launched the MCU on the streamer, as well as Marvel’s Phase Four – excited Olsen, because the story “could only ever be a show,” she says.
Olsen says Bettany spoke with Feige first and told her, “I’m really excited.” She adds with a laugh: “I also think Paul would play the Vision for 45 years. Nothing will ever stop Paul — he’d come back as a ghost if they needed him to. He loves it so much!”
“But I mean, there was a version where Paul and I could have said, ‘I don’t know. That sounds kind of something that we’re too scared to do,’ because Disney+ has never done a Marvel thing,” Olsen says.
History, however, tells us that Olsen and Bettany did agree to star in “WandaVision.” And Feige is grateful for it. “We only even would have dared attempt something like ‘WandaVision,’” he says, “because Lizzie is such an outstanding actor.”
Olsen went into the series knowing that “Multiverse of Madness” would continue Wanda’s story where the series had left off — something that delighted her. The MCU has been highly serialized since “Iron Man” was released in 2008, but the narrative handoffs have been from movie to movie: “WandaVision” propelling the storytelling into “Multiverse of Madness” signaled a marked change. “I thought it was really exciting that they weren’t planning on picking up the movie universe where it left off, but it really was incorporating the show,” Olsen says.
When “Multiverse of Madness” came out last spring, Olsen had a bad cold that caused her to miss its premiere. Her admission on “The Tonight Show” that she still hadn’t seen the movie — Disney sent her a screener with an overly intrusive watermark — made headlines at the time.
Has she seen it now, though?
“I saw the movie!” she says — in fact, she watched it on Disney+, where it began streaming on June 22. In that format, there was no distracting watermark that “could be in the middle of someone’s face in a closeup.”
“I wasn’t being stubborn about it,” Olsen makes clear. “I was just like, ‘Well I want to have a better experience watching it.’ It’s not the ideal way to see something with lots of beautiful special effects.”