SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you haven’t seen “The Series Finale,” the ninth and final episode of “WandaVision” on Disney Plus.
From their very first meeting about “WandaVision” to shooting the final scene of the game-changing Marvel Studios series for Disney Plus, actor Elizabeth Olsen and head writer and executive producer Jac Schaeffer have spent countless hours together crafting the story of how Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff grieved the death of Paul Bettany’s Vision. But when Olsen and Schaeffer recently joined Variety over Zoom to talk about the show, it had been many months since they had actually seen each other.
“It’s good to see you Lizzie!” Schaeffer said, using Olsen’s preferred nickname. “I was really looking forward to this, because I felt very solitary, in a bubble with all the press.”
Schaeffer and Olsen certainly know uncommon bubbles within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On “WandaVision,” the incalculable pain of losing Vision so soon after her twin brother Pietro was killed in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (and their parents died when they were children) causes Wanda to cast a massive, reality-altering field around the sleepy New Jersey town of Westview. Inside that bubble — which comes to be called the Hex due to its six-sided shape — the world becomes altered to resemble a succession of American sitcoms from the 1950s through the 2000s, as Wanda lives a fantasy of domestic bliss with a version Vision created by Wanda through her magic.
Over nine episodes, Schaeffer, director Matt Shakman, co-executive producer Mary Livanos, and the rest of team crafted Wanda’s journey through the history of American TV, including a day-long pregnancy with twin boys who grew to 10 years-old over the course of roughly 48 hours. The series ended with Wanda coming to accept Vision’s death and her position as the legendary Scarlet Witch, as foretold in the ominous Darkhold, a book of the darkest magic — and a portent of Wanda’s upcoming appearance in the Marvel Studios feature film “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which Olsen is currently shooting in London.
In their first interview together about “WandaVision,” for Variety‘s Dream Teams video series, Olsen and Schaeffer talk about their plan to flesh out a character who’d remained on the periphery of the MCU before now; how Wanda’s journey through the stages of grief mirrored the show’s sitcom homages; the decision to cast Evan Peters as a man claiming to be Pietro; and the possibility of another season of the show.
Let’s start at the beginning: When did you both first meet?
Elizabeth Olsen: Jac, when did we meet? It was at the Marvel office — I don’t know what date, though.
Jac Schaeffer: I don’t know a date, either. It was early, because we very early on needed to let you know the scope of everything. So my memory is you came in, we pitched you the thing, giving you the full scope of like the whole narrative and the grief journey. And then we had that fabulous Mexican dinner, where we got into the granular [details] and heard from you about your experience playing her and your hopes and dreams.
Olsen: Not to say that I had felt disappointed in any way in my past experience at Marvel — I’ve actually really loved being part of this family. It was the first time, though, that it felt like the creative [team] really understood what was in my brain about Wanda and her life. [It was] an acknowledgement of these these little anecdotes and moments she has had throughout the MCU, and then, like, blowing them up, and creating a whole detailed background. It felt like you were being seen for playing this character for such a long time.
What were your hopes and dreams, Lizzie, that you wanted for this for this character and that you were hearing Jac maybe reflect back to you as you were as you were talking about the character?
Olsen: Well, it was about this story of this young woman who has really had to make her way through so many difficult traumas without having the time to understand them, but really being propelled into making the best with what she had. And then there’s just smaller details of noticing that certain things were authentically Sokovian that we didn’t really get to make good use of yet, actually creating a real culture that has a nursery rhyme — really making this fake country tangible.
And then I desperately loved this idea of the suburbia and family aspect [of Wanda] and what it would mean if this woman got to give birth to her children. I just didn’t think I was ever gonna get to do that.
So Jac, as you were seeing what Lizzie was doing already with the character and what the comics had established, as she just referenced, how did you want to synthesize all that into “WandaVision”?
Schaeffer: Producer Mary Livanos and I spent so much time poring over the scenes in the MCU of Wanda and Vision and just obsessing over all the little details. I mean that paprikash scene [in “Captain America: Civil War”] is this classic scene that’s held up, and for good reason. There’s so much intimacy in that scene. It’s this little pause in the middle of all the chaos. It just seemed to me that they had their own little worlds like as performers and as characters inside of the MCU. Obviously it linked up with this notion of suburbia and with the sitcoms. All of that just complimented itself over and over again.
I am not a comic reader, and that is what i’ve loved about my collaboration with Marvel, with Mary Livanos, Kevin Feige and all the incredible producers there — that’s their everything, and they know it all and they’re walking encyclopedias and so.
We would circle things — just like this comic, this story, this image. We were putting various sort of cells up on the wall to be like, this is our touchstone for this moment.
What are some examples of those touchstones?
Schaeffer: “Witches Road” we looked at quite a bit for for the visuals. There were some of those up on the wall that had to do with the finale. And then, I’m not going to remember the names or the artists, but the earliest comics where Wanda and Vision are in suburbia, Wanda is pregnant — just seeing Wanda with a pregnant belly like in the art was just, forgive me, so fertile. That’s what we’re after, we want to see these superheroes in a domestic sphere.
One of the trickier elements of the show I would imagine for both of you is that, at first, Wanda shares the audience’s confusion about what is actually going on. How did you thread that?
Olsen: As an actor, I think, you make decisions when you trust the script and you trust how the story tells itself. Since we were very lucky and had all of the scripts before we started, we never ended up misleading ourselves because everything was was already set out.
Schaeffer: It was necessary to chart everything out, this idea of a non-linear structure that would feel like a mystery to unpack. The linear story, if you were to do that, actually starts with Episode 8, and then Episode 4.
In addition to that, and it probably even more importantly, from the very beginning, from my first pitch I tracked the narrative according to the stages of grief. It seemed like a very exciting place to start that Wanda is with the audience and is in legitimate denial. That obviously it’s a metaphor for human grief, but it also works for the narrative structure of the show in this crazy, MCU superhero kind of way.
In the scripts, like, the format even would tell you when you were in sitcom mode in terms of like screenwriting structure, and when you stepped out. It would look different on the page, which was meant to tell everybody — department heads and [director] Matt Shakman — where we are in the story.
But, Lizzie, one of the many things I loved about working with you, was it wasn’t like a monolith of here’s denial and here’s anger. Those incredibly delicate transitions in and out of those moments, and the slow burn of being with you on your discovery is what makes it all so beautiful and so relatable and human.
Olsen: The thing that I that I also loved as an added element of how you structure, the story, which I leaned into was, the actual decade itself and how that decade used sitcom [tropes] to tell these stories is connected to where our character is. She is losing it in “Modern Family” for a reason, and it’s not in the ’50s. Because the ’50s is everything’s all together and we don’t see anything that’s happening’ we’re post-World War Two, we’re like suburban family and we are having a kick ass economy kind of thing, and you can see that, and they really embraced what was happening with these. It is completely necessary to the story which decade we’re in.
With Marvel Studios productions, there’s a certain expectation for heightened visual effects and intense action sequences. How did you balance that against this deep exploration of Wanda’s grief and the ways that grief can manifest in a person’s life?
Schaeffer: We always knew we were gunning toward this big finale. That was part of my promise to Marvel. We would pull out all the stops with with the finale. I felt a lot of confidence in that and and competence in Marvel and Kevin Feige and Mary Livanos to do all of that spectacle.
As a storyteller, I was very intrigued at the challenge of can we tell a small story and can we cultivate a scenario in which, when Wanda looks at Vision and has a hallucination of him with his head caved in, that that could pack the same emotional punch or similar to Thanos snapping his fingers. If we do our jobs well, can we make small moments have the weight of all these other things. It was so fun to find the moments where the world frays, and where the MCU comes up around the edges.
Lizzie, you’ve played this role in a series of huge movies, from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” through “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” How does that compare to making “WandaVision,” where you’re in a bunch of sitcoms and you’re somehow playing the same person?
Olsen: It’s so funny. I’ve said this before, but I really felt OK with just knowing that aspect of the story I was a part of and having blinders on for everything else — just, you know, taking up my my lane.
I did this show right after Season 2 of “Sorry for Your Loss,” and I’m a producer on that. I really started to feel this ownership of character and story and leading a set. I was really excited to finally have that opportunity in a Marvel space and have Paul by my side with that. The allowance for it to be a full character piece was a relief for all of us, I think. And then to also just relish in the Marvel aspects of it — it was this joy to merge the two once we completely flushed out these character journeys.
To go from decade to decade, I just assume that I am the same person, just in a different tone, and we really wanted to stay authentic to those tones. So I never thought of her as being a separate character. It was just trusting that it was Wanda, just in in a different aesthetic.
When Evan Peters showed up on “WandaVision,” since he played a version of Pietro Maximoff 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” movies, it got a lot of people speculating that the MCU was going into the multiverse — especially given the title of the next Marvel project that Lizzie in. Did you have a sense that that would be the reaction? Since you knew Peters was actually playing a random regular guy, how did you feel about how intense the speculation became?
Olsen: When we heard that Evan was going to do it, my mind was blown. “This is the first time we’re merging! This is crazy!” And then to use it in such a clever way as as Jac does was so satisfying. Working with Evan playing this version of Pietro [laughing] was just so fun and weird and funny and oh God, Jac I loved it so much. I’m so grateful for that.
Schaeffer: It was an early idea that Mary Livanos and I had and the writers room was so behind. It brought us so much joy and delight, the possibility that we could we could do this thing. It’s one of the few things in in this series that I was like, yeah, I was expecting a really big reaction. Everything else, I’ve been sort of floored by the enormity of the reactions, but that was the thing that I’ve been sitting on for two years, just being like, “Just wait! Just wait!”
A lot of fans really took Peters playing Pietro to mean something significant for the MCU. People wondered, does that mean Ian McKellen is going to show up, or Patrick Stewart? How much of that kind of reaction factored in at all to your thinking?
Schaeffer: Naively, I didn’t expect people to get carried away in that way. I’m curious to hear what Lizzie has to say about this, but we didn’t anticipate that the show would drop after a full year of an MCU drought in the middle of a pandemic. I think we’re all so delighted by the response and so happy, I think, especially about the emotional response and how our discussion of grief has been embraced. I can speak for my writers room, I think that was our chief motivation and guiding light, and then all the other things are the fun of it.
I couldn’t have anticipated… I don’t know, maybe Mary Livanos and Kevin Feige are like, “Yeah, it’s like this every time.” But I’m like, these theories are crazy! [Laughing] So it wasn’t that was not part of my thinking, and also, that’s not my department. I am lucky enough that I get to hear about the other projects and sometimes I’m involved and their conversations. I know a little bit about all the things that Lizzie’s been up to. But that’s a bigger, fancier thing, what you’re asking about.
Lizzie, how did you feel about the idea that somehow Michael Fassbender was going to appear as your father who wasn’t actually your father?
Olsen: I knew that there are theories that had to do with people wanting more surprises in cameos. But I’m not really that aware of what these fan theories were, so I’m kind of learning about it as we go. Paul said something about this crazy cameo when he was really just talking about doing a scene with himself, and I know Paul thought that was a really funny joke, and I thought it was funny. But I was like, I think people are actually going to suspect that there is more to come.
I didn’t know about the multiverse when we were filming this. So I wouldn’t assume that that’s what was happening. I thought it was just a clever way to have a Pietro. I didn’t understand the larger plan of the multiverse until I started working on “Multiverse,” or whatever our movie’s called, the “Doctor Strange” sequel! [Laughs]
Because this is a show about grief, we do watch Wanda say goodbye to the version of Vision that she created inside the Hex. But it’s also clear that Ghost Vision now has all of Vision’s memories. How did you want to honor the story of grief while also setting up this new version of Vision that is going to perpetuate further into the MCU?
Schaeffer: It was very tricky, the balance of, This is ultimately a story about acceptance, but also paying close attention to the fact that this is the MCU and stories spiral outwards. We wanted Wanda to say goodbye on her own terms. That’s what was most important and then all the sort of like color and lights and set pieces, it’s all very fun and very wonderful and why we’re all fans. But to me, the thing that we always held on to is that at the end, it is her choice, and we also tell the story of her acceptance of herself as the Scarlet Witch. So becomes this this enormous acceptance sandwich.
I think for the character of Vision, I was very enamored of this this notion that he’s been so many things. So I don’t think that it’s a cheat or anything that there is still this Vision. She said goodbye to the Vision that we know and love, who we call we called Soul Vision — I’ve heard him called Hex Vision, which I also really like. I think that she had to say goodbye to the to the fantasy and she had to fully process her grief so I feel like we were able to kind of have our cake and eat it too.
Olsen: That’s something we talked about a lot, how everything that Wanda had gone through in the MCU had happened to her, and she almost didn’t have any agency. That was a huge part of this ending. There is this Vision out there with all of his memories — it just doesn’t matter, because he’s a stranger.
Jac, you alluded earlier to having at least some knowledge of what’s going to be happening in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” How much did that factor into what kind of connective tissue you wanted to have between “WandaVision” and that movie?
Schaeffer: Truthfully, the connection between “WandaVision” and where we leave Wanda and “Doctor Strange 2,” it was sort of fluid for a time, because we were very much under way before they were entirely underway. So it was a conversation. From where I’m sitting, it’s been very organic. The acceptance arc was was the point of “WandaVision,” but the falling action evolved. It’s a lovely way to do a handoff, and I’ve been over here wishing them well in Los Angeles, as they’re in the U.K.
Olsen: I didn’t know my part in “Doctor Strange” until right before we got back to filming during the pandemic. We had two months left, and we’d filmed the majority of our show already. Really, I kew nothing until that moment when they pitched [“Doctor Strange 2”] to me verbally.
So I tried, as much as I could, almost less so to have it affect “WandaVision” as have “WandaVision” affect it. I think that’s really been where the connection is. It’s almost like we’re trying to make sure that everything is honoring what we did [on the show].
From all I can put together, the events of “WandaVision” unfolds in a matter two weeks. Wanda goes from being a grieving widow to a mother of twin, 10-year-old boys in a matter of days. How was it for you, Lizzie, to explore that aspect of Wanda? It does seem it might factor into “Doctor Strange 2,” because Wanda hears the twins’ voices at the end when she’s reading the Darkhold.
Olsen: So I haven’t watched the finished finale, so I’m not even sure exactly… [Laughs] There are multiple versions of all [post-credits] tags in Marvel world. So that’s good to know, because that was the conversation, should we or should we not hear the boys. That I believe has enriched her humanity and has now become more informative of the character she continues to become.
Jac and I had so many conversations about the love/hate relationship of a woman going through nine months pregnancy within a matter of minutes and the falseness of our pregnancy TV just you know perpetuating these blissful birth sequences that last seconds long. But at least we’re all very aware that it is not us trying to kind of put a blanket over this fuzzy beautiful aspirational birth experience, where she all sudden loses the belly immediately.
Even though it’s a short period of time of the two weeks it doesn’t take away from the the experience of the potential of having been actually these 10 years with these children, and I think that’s really important to feel as an audience member and for Wanda to have experienced.
Finally, the ninth episode is called “The Series Finale.” But I can assure you that I am not alone in wanting to see more of the story of Wanda and whatever this new Vision is, in whatever shape that would take. Is that something that you also would like to do, and perhaps could break that news right here with Variety that you are doing?
Schaeffer: I’m going to let Lizzie handle that.
Olsen: Oh gosh. I’ll just steal what Feige said, which is that’s not in the plan; however, we all know not to say no in the Marvel world. Anything can be possible, even if it’s not the immediate plan when you’re making something.
So let’s put it this way, Jac, what is your future with Marvel, if you know it already?
Schaeffer: I don’t know it already. I can just say that it has been the highlight of my career, working on the show. I love working with Marvel and I will forever be grateful to them for giving me and us the space to tell this story.
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