WandaVision’s director on the challenges and mysteries of the Disney+ series – and what fans will think of the final episode
Matt Shakman reveals what it was like to turn Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s heroes into sitcom stars – and why fans should be looking very closely for clues.
Marvel Studios’ first foray into Disney+ streaming comes at last this week with the release of WandaVision – though this new series is far from the usual Marvel Cinematic Universe entry.
Starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as their titular Avengers character, the series unusually combines the spectacle of the MCU with the styling of classic US sitcoms (and a smidge of the Twilight Zone), creating a truly unique love letter to television that also furthers Wanda and Vision’s story – for more, read our WandaVision review.
And bringing that story to life is veteran TV director (and former sitcom child star, appropriately) Matt Shakman, who recently caught up with RadioTimes.com to give us a few hints about what fans could expect from WandaVision.
Get ready for Easter Eggs galore, a “satisfying” finale and some very creepy goings-on – because from the sound of things, WandaVision has it all.
Hi Matt! Based on what we’ve seen in trailer and so on, WandaVision feels like a show of two halves – was it harder to shoot big Marvel-type action scenes, or recreate the classic sitcoms?
You know the great thing about WandaVision is that the whole of it was a challenge. It was about recreating sitcoms, yes, it was about large-scale Marvel action, a lot of stuff inbetween. But it was about trying to find a through-line with all of it so that it made sense together as a cohesive whole.
And I think that was the biggest goal - to constantly be reminded what the spine of the story was, which is this love story behind Wanda and Vision. And finding a way to make all these disparate elements come together and belong in one whole project.
Adopting the classic sitcom style of acting must have been different for Paul and Elizabeth – were they nervous about taking it on? And what was it like for you directing?
Well they're brilliant actors first and foremost, and they are fearless. And that is one of the great things about them, and I think it's a secret of their genius – how they're so brave, and they're willing to try almost anything. And they can pull off anything.
They're both theatre actors, they both have done a lot of different styles…they've never done anything quite like WandaVision, but they definitely had all the tools that they needed to be able to do it.
They are brilliant comedians, which I didn't quite realise. I didn’t know they’d be that good in that kind of physical comedy space. That was a huge surprise, and a wonderful surprise.
But we had the best time, they're hard workers, they studied those old episodes a lot, we did it together as a group, but also individually. We came to the set with a certain shared understanding of style that we wanted to tackle, and then we played around with it, and we had the best time.
A big part of that sitcom style is the series’ fictional commercials, which also contain some nods to the Marvel universe. How closely should we be watching them for clues, or are they more like mood music?
I love what Kevin had to say earlier at the press conference – certainly, you know, larger truths about the show are finding their way into these earlier episodes. So I would encourage fans to definitely pay attention.
There are Easter Eggs that are small and that some people will get and some people won't, and that doesn't matter to the ultimate narrative, whether you're picking up all of the small Marvel references or not, you will ultimately go along for the ride and understand the story.
Um, but [the WandaVision commercials] are part of the larger narrative, for sure.
Talking of Easter eggs more generally, are there more in the series we should be looking out for?
There definitely are quite a few - even in the first few episodes I'm sure you've spotted a few, and I know many keen-eyed Marvel fans will spy quite a few. There are some that we intentionally planned, of course, they're part of the larger narrative. There are some that are in there just for fun because they can be.
And there are some that are in there that I didn't even realise were in there, because my prop department or someone clever started putting something in there. So there's a full mix really, a wide range.
The first three episodes are all about half an hour, roughly sitcom length - are all the nine episodes the same, or do some of them get a little longer?
I don't want to give too much specificity away, but I will say that one of the joys of doing the show is that we were given so much freedom by Disney+ to create this – as Paul Bettany has said now, trademark Paul Bettany – “bonkers” show, that allowed us to play with form in every possible way.
And that includes running time.
Speaking of running time, WandaVision was originally reported to have six episodes, but it's nine - were those reports wrong or did something change?
No nothing changed, I think actually what was said earlier is that it would be a six hour, roughly six hour event series? So people then of course made their own conclusions about episodes, and it became known as six episodes. But no, the plan has always been nine episodes.
In the three episodes released to press, WandaVision’s structure is broadly 20 minutes of sitcom with 5-10 minutes of Twilight Zone at the end – would you say that continues or after episode three, does the format change and become slightly different?
I don't wanna give too much away, except to just say that the show plays with form and structure constantly. That's one of the great joys of doing it, and hopefully one of the reasons why people might find it interesting.
There are lots of surprises to come - and how things are structured and how they're presented is one of those surprises, as you kind of go. Absolutely the first episode is very much your sort of live in front of a studio audience sitcom from the 50s, whether it's I love Lucy or the Dick van Dyke show.
But then things change, of course, and there are other elements that come in, it moves to a kind of Twilight Zone-type place at times, and that does continue to evolve and change, but it's all part of this idea of Wanda and Vision questioning their own reality, and us questioning that along with them.
Without giving anything away, how big does the series get later on? The first couple of episodes are quite self-contained, but we’ve seen what looks like bigger action in the trailers.
We've always been describing it as a mix of classic sitcom and large-scale Marvel action and I think that's very true, it's an accurate way to talk about the show.
And it's also been something that Kevin Feige has been saying since the beginning: one of the things he loves so much about this show is that it's just so full of surprises. And when it decides to go big, it goes big.
How do you think fans will feel after they've watched episode nine - what will people be left with?
That's a great question - obviously we hope that people are engaged, that they do feel satisfied, and that they're also excited for what's to come. This is definitely a show about learning more about Wanda Maximoff, learning more about the Scarlet Witch, learning more about not only where she's been, but where she's headed too.
This is an exciting opportunity to really delve deep and level this character up.
Does that mean we’re in for a cliffhanger?
I mean I couldn't possibly say! But I think it's a very satisfying, complete story that we're telling.
And finally, the standard question for these strange times – with so many TV shows and films stalled or delayed by the pandemic, how was WandaVision affected? And what was it like to come back and film with COVID restrictions?
Yeah we had filmed about two thirds of it before we were shut down, and it was difficult to put on a mask and shield, and do all of that.
But luckily we had bonded so much as a crew and a cast, and we had developed a shorthand and trust, that you could actually get the work done and it didn't feel like we were losing anything. The magic was still there, even though we were all like this half the time, covering our faces.
It's just the reality of the world we're living in now. But it was wonderful to be together again, we spend so much time isolated like this, over Zoom, so it was a wonderful time to be back together with this group of people that I loved, getting a chance to focus on making something great, as opposed to focusing on how crazy the world was.
Want more WandaVision content? Check out our latest WandaVision review, our guide to the WandaVision cast, the WandaVision release schedule, Agatha Harkness and the creepy WandaVision commercials. Plus, we ask: is Wanda pregnant? When is WandaVision set and how did Vision survive?
WandaVision releases new episodes on Disney+ on Fridays. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year.
Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.