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WandaVision Creator Jac Schaeffer Talks Origin Of The Series, MCU Initiation With Black Widow, More - Exclusive Interview

Ever since its debut on Disney+ in January 2021, WandaVision has wowed MCU fans as one of the most creative projects Marvel Studios has ever produced, depicting a reality in which superhero couple Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have been living a mysterious existence in a shifting façade of classic television sitcoms while the outside world tries to figure out how it's happening and why.

Holding all the keys to the mystery and how it will eventually unfold is Jac Schaeffer, WandaVision's creator and head writer. The series is actually Schaeffer's second MCU project, which comes after she co-wrote the story, along with Ned Benson, for the long-awaited Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) prequel Black Widow.

Before that, Schaeffer's work on film mostly went for laughs, kicking off with her debut in Hollywood as the screenwriter and director of the comedy romance TiMER (starring WandaVision's Dottie, Emma Caulfield); and as scribe of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake with the crime caper The Hustle, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. Schaeffer also has a bit of Disney magic in her past, as the screenwriter of the 2017 Frozen-themed short film Olaf's Frozen Adventure.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Schaeffer discussed the origins of WandaVision, the fan fervor as they enthusiastically search for clues in the series, her work with Olsen and Bettany, and a little bit of Frozen too.

Telling stories the Marvel way

WandaVision is easily one of the most creative shows I've seen on TV in a long, long time, and it really takes the MCU to new and unfamiliar heights. I'm wondering if you could take me back to that first meeting — that pitch meeting with Kevin Feige, presumably — about the series. What do you recall about his initial reaction to the pitch, and how much did you fine tune things from there?

First of all, thank you for your sentiments, that's very sweet and I'm thrilled that's been your reaction to the show. 

So I heard about the project kind of early on not directly from Kevin but from another executive at Marvel, and I was instantly intrigued and desperately wanted to be a part of it. I spoke with my producer, Mary Livanos, quite a bit before I met with Kevin and they had the concept of WandaVision and sitcoms and the history of sitcoms, and they had a lot of different ideas, notions, and visuals, and it was all really exciting. It was like a fabulous Halloween candy bag full of wonderful goodies. I took some time with it and came up with what I thought would be a compelling through line to unite all of these ideas and pitched it. It was a very comprehensive pitch, and it broke everything into episodes, and they liked it. I put a [writer's] room together and worked with my team to make it a reality.

Now obviously COVID has turned release schedules upside down and inside out, so I'm not sure which one came first in terms of timing, but regardless of that, I'm wondering if your work on the story for Black Widow and the creation of WandaVision informed each other in any sort of way, and if so, how.

I mean, in terms of process there was some cross-pollination for me, just because I worked on Black Widow first. There was a tremendous learning curve for how Marvel operates, and what their philosophies are in terms of story and character and even [when the projects are] released. That was incredible to learn all of that, and then I think I brought many of those lessons to WandaVision. But they're very different projects because one is a feature and one is TV, and it was very exciting to be a part of WandaVision at the time, because this was one of the first shows being put together [in the post-Disney+ MCU]. So there was a lot of discovery there. I feel very lucky to have been there at that time.

Jac Schaeffer says she's thrilled by fans' engagement in the series

I've loved following the fan theories throughout the first three episodes, and I'm wondering if there is something so well hidden in there that they haven't picked up yet. Is there anything fans are not picking up on, and on the flip side, is there something hiding in plain sight where you sit back and you chuckle and say to yourself, "I'm surprised people haven't picked up on that!" With me, for example, there's the first official trailer opening with the song "Twilight Time" by the Platters, and I sat back and thought it was your little tip of the cap to The Twilight Zone, because WandaVision is a Twilight Zone sort of series in a way. Maybe I'm overthinking it?

I don't really think it's possible to overthink it. I love all the overthinking because also it makes me look good because people are like, "Oh, look how clever this is," and I'm like, "That is clever, even though that never occurred to me, but I'll take it." I sat in a room with a group of enormously talented people, and we tried to look at this from every different perspective — and I think all of that hard work and investment has fueled every aspect of the show. And so there are plenty of intentional things that fans are finding, and there are things that are unintentional, but are kind of baked into the psychology of the show. There are a number of things that no one is anticipating, and that's very exciting, because of how enthusiastic this fanbase is. I hope they will feel rewarded for their commitment.

How challenging is it to merge a setting that you have with WandaVision, that idealistic setting of the old-fashioned sitcoms, with, for example, Wanda's powers? Again, this is fan speculation here, but obviously we've seen some of Wanda's powers in the MCU films, but there are others like Chaos Magic that we have yet to experience. Some people may think the sitcom setting around her may be part of her Chaos Magic. How difficult is it to merge those sensibilities into such a specific setting like these classic TV sitcoms?

It was a treat to sort of examine those questions, and they're really important, interesting questions. Early on, we had a lot of conversations about what does her magic look like in these settings? And we had a lot of conversations about rules of the world and how seriously we take the sitcom thing. And it was really great when [director] Matt [Shakman] came on board and he was so interested in doing her magic practically, that was our hope, and he had the know-how and hired the people who made that work. I feel like it has sort of unified feel because of that and I love it. I find it so charming seeing her do magic like that.

Collaborating with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany

You have Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, who know these characters and have their ideas of who these characters are, but then you bring in a couple of creative people like yourself and Matt Shakman to all of a sudden bring something new to the table. How collaborative were they with you and Matt in the creation of WandaVision?

Oh my gosh. So much. I was very familiar with Paul's comedic work in Wimbledon and A Knight's Tale, and even A Beautiful Mind, with his sort of charismatic performance in that, so I had a real sense of how to write him in the comedy space and he was so game for it. He was so up for it and excited, and wanted to be funny and silly, and that was wonderful. I knew less about how to write for Lizzie in that space, but I'm still sort of blown away by how technical her performances are physically and her voice, and her bearing, and it was wonderful working with her to make that work.

Then, in terms of this sort of like more dramatic moment, she's a very methodical performer. If something doesn't make sense to her, she wants to have the conversation. We had a lot of talks in order to make all of the pieces of her voice authentic. And then with Paul, he writes as well, and has such a sense of like the right turns of phrase for certain things. There was a lot of silliness with him getting all of his little idioms right and making the most of the moments. It was so great. I love working with both of them.

Bringing aboard a bit of Frozen magic

One of my favorite characters of all time is Olaf, from Frozen, and of course you have had involvement with the character, writing the screenplay for the film short Olaf's Frozen Adventure. Then for WandaVision, Frozen's Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez composed these wonderful theme songs for the beginning of each episode. Was that by happy accident or design that you had your connection to Frozen and the same songwriters were brought in to write the themes for WandaVision?

That's so funny — it was a happy accident, Matt [Shakman] and Bobby go way back. They're friends from college. Matt brought them on to this. When I worked on the Olaf project, they were not on the project at the time, but Kristen's sister was the lyricist for that project, so I sort of obliquely had contact with them and I'm madly in love with the composer [Elyssa Samsel] and lyricist [Kate Anderson] from Olaf — they're an incredibly talented duo and so wonderful. It was kind of a collision of a bunch of things to suddenly be working with Bobby and Kristen, which was amazing. We know a lot of the same people and it was wonderful. It was very easy working with them because we had all of this sort of side-by-side shared history.