As Scarlet Witch, her powers include telekinesis, telepathy, and energy manipulation. In other words, Wanda Maximoff knows what libation you crave and can make your drink mix itself if you’re a nosy neighbor dropping by for a Tom Collins. In WandaVision, the new Disney+ series starring Lizzie Olsen as Wanda and Paul Bettany as her sweetly devoted android husband Vision, she’s initially wide-eyed and eager to please, living in an idealized suburban universe that’s actually a TV show.
No, that’s not a misprint and if you’re confused, you’re not alone. Let’s be clear: No one knows what the hell is going down in WandaVision, which manages to be upbeat and sparkling while also deftly grappling with some pretty heavy issues (we’ve seen the first three episodes, so will dutifully avoid any spoilers). Fans might want to look for some deliciously subtle references to Ultron and to Wanda’s twin brother, Pietro, and the fact that yes — as the trailers have revealed — twins do run in her family.
Counting the mid-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Olsen (who goes by Lizzie) has played Wanda in five Marvel films and is currently shooting the sixth — Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. In WandaVision, it’s heartening to see her bring to life a three-dimensional superhero who isn’t merely arm-candy in a catsuit, but instead, a fully-realized woman who’s both perky and petty, madcap and melancholy.
Ahead of the release of the first big Disney+ Marvel show, Olsen talks to Fatherly about her enduring affection for Wanda, and why she’s not really a comic-book nerd.
So you’re in London filming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Spill the plot details, please.
I’ll tell you everything we’ve worked for. We’ve been able to film for a few weeks. And that was really strange, I’m not making a pun, during the pandemic to get to know new crew members without seeing anyone’s faces. But it’s going as well as it can when it comes to safety and just having as good of a time as we can. Now we’re kind of paused.
As for WandaVision, how much involvement did you have in developing the character of Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch?
A lot. The thing that I have loved and probably only within the last couple of years took advantage of is that Kevin Feige and all the producers at Marvel have always made it clear that they want you to take ownership of your character and to participate if you ever have ideas or thoughts or questions, or don’t agree with something. And I’ve always felt really cozy in the lane I was taking up. This show has really allowed me to take up that space. I’m carrying that with me.
How did this show come together?
So it started with a general pitch without having a showrunner involved and without having a clear concept. It was more just like we want to do WandaVision in suburbia, through a sitcom that kind of feels like The Twilight Zone. I knew the story we were trying to tell, kind of vaguely. [Head writer] Jac Schaeffer and [co-executive producer] Mary Livanos, over chips and salsa, pitched to me the first handful of the episodes. Once I got the scripts, it was such an incredible relief because we had the whole show mapped out before we started the first episode, which was very helpful because we got to do table reads and work through it, answer a lot of questions, know which things were kind of going to be in flux while we were filming to try and work out along the way. I feel like as an audience member, you don’t have a lot of answers, but as an actor, if we had to go through it episode one, two, three, and not know what happened next, it would be very frustrating. It was really fun to figure out when we wanted to reveal certain cards.
So if there’s a person on this planet somewhere that has not seen a Marvel movie…
I believe that I know some of them.
What can they get out of the show?
There’s something shamelessly charming about these sitcoms and to try and hold on to that purity while a different reality is knocking out the door. Just to find that tension between those two worlds is fun to act. And I would hope then fun to watch. I think mysteries are fun and to get to why something is happening is fun. I hope we do get some new Marvel audience members through our show. I think that would be really spectacular.
There’s also this running theme of not fitting in, of being other, which I think a lot of us can understand.
We are not aliens, but we are superheroes. I do think that Wanda as a character has resented her abilities and her powers and maybe hasn’t really wanted them at large moments of her journey through the films. I understand that ‘I want to be normal’ feeling.
And you’re famous on your own. Have you ever felt that way, that you just want to hide in plain sight?
I try not to think too much about it. I think it’s harder in LA because there is fear of paparazzi. They know which Whole Foods I go to. It’s just stupid. It’s not even exciting photos, but then there’s that part of your brain that’s like, ‘Oh God, I hope they’re not there today.’ I’m not really out that much in. Marvel is really kind of the biggest thing for me. So it just kind of depends on when movies are coming out.
It’s really great to see Wanda as a fully-developed, well-rounded character and not just a foil or a sidekick.
I feel lucky the way they’ve developed my character in Ultron and they didn’t have to, but they chose to keep using her. This show has re-wakened my love for this part. It has made me feel like I have a totally different and new sense of ownership of her. And that just feels fun as an actor, especially after playing the same part for six years, to have this moment of evolution with her, which has been such a gift, and to do it in such playful ways with Paul. And Kathryn. I want to make a miniature version of herself and just keep in a pocket and have her help me make decisions for the rest of my life.
Kathryn Hahn is a national treasure.
Her acting ability, aside from her soul and being a great person, her range, it just blows my mind. Getting to work with her has been one of the biggest joys of my career so far. I’m just in love with her.
I’m going to ask you a really deep, personal question right now. Are you a comic book nerd?
I’m not, you know. I’m the youngest of four from my parents. My oldest brother, that was his thing. That was just like reserved for him and he already shoved enough culture down my throat. Every Tuesday we went to the comic store, he got his comics that the guy had behind the counter for his pickup every single Tuesday. It’s still a real thing. He has them all in the house. He has a storage unit just for his comics and he has toys and all the things. He’s a true fan, so he never wants spoilers. He never wants to know what’s going on in the shows or the films. He just actually doesn’t ask me any questions. He just gets excited to watch them and he goes to midnight screenings and the whole thing.
This show is so much about finding optimism and the will to go on and always moving forward. This has been a crap year for most people. Where did you find your own optimism?
I find my own optimism in the hopefulness, the natural goodness of people. I would like to think what we see every day and what is put out in the world is polarizing on purpose and that when you actually get to talk to people from different life experiences and different opinions, there’s actually something that we are all able to connect on. I don’t actually think that we can continue living in such a polarized way. My hope is that with every action, there’s a reaction and I’m just holding on to that reaction that we as a society and a world are going to have from this time.