Paul Bettany on 'WandaVision,' Creepy Wigs and Making Marvel's Most Epic Saga Yet (Exclusive)
By John Boone
For anyone who's always thought Vision was the Dick Van Dyke of the Avengers members, has Marvel got a show for you: WandaVision, the studio's first offering on Disney+, sees the beet-hued synthezoid (Paul Bettany) and his witchy other half, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), get up to all sorts of hijinks and ensuing hilarity through the prism of classic sitcoms.
The series bops along from era to era to era -- and from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched to The Brady Bunch and Full House -- as a Marvel-sized mystery unfurls around Wanda and Vision about how and why they've found themselves in this small screen reality. Readers know the couple's history on the page can get very, very, very dark -- especially with Bettany confirming to ET two of the show's main comic inspirations -- so, what happens when the laugh track stops laughing?
Ahead of WandaVision's premiere, Bettany hopped on a Zoom call to talk resurrecting Vision, ditching the full-body paint for one particularly off-putting wig and why the series might be more "epic and crazy" than even Avengers: Endgame.
ET: When Vision died in Infinity War, did you know that he would live on -- however it is he's living on -- in WandaVision? Or had you thought that was the end of the road?
Paul Bettany: I was sort of 85 percent certain that was the end of the road. My contract was up. I had died twice. [Laughs] And then I got a call from the boss saying, "Can you come in the office?" I looked at Jen [Connelly], I went, "Ah, the boss has called me in the office. You know what that means." So, I went in and I didn't want anybody to feel uncomfortable, so I said, "Kevin, Louis, it's been great. No hard feelings. Thank you so much. I totally understand." They went, "Wait, are you quitting?" And I went, "No. Aren't you firing me?" And they went, "No. Uh, we're about to pitch a TV show to you." And I went, "Oh! OK, cool! I'm in." And then they decided to pitch it anyway. And it was so mad and bonkers, and I fell in love with it immediately.
Was it a rundown of the entire series at that point? Or was it the first kernel of an idea they shared with you?
It was the kernel of an idea. And it was a mashup between two comic storylines that I'm very familiar with, then with a sort of journey through American sitcoms throughout the eras. [Laughs] Which is a crazy idea!
What were the comics they pinpointed for you in that first meeting?
There's a great one called The Vision -- and it's the Visions in suburbia -- and there is House of M, which is a masterpiece. And then mixed in with The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Tom King's The Vision is an incredible and also incredibly dark book.
It's a very dark book, yep!
The sitcoms of it all obviously makes this different from anything Marvel has done before. But were there other ways in which it felt different being the co-lead of this project after playing a supporting role in these massive Avengers movies?
Yeah. Although I would argue with Kathryn [Hahn] and Teyonah [Parris], it feels like an ensemble anyway. And there are so many great actors that we have in the show that follow us through the decades, and they were brilliant. But yes, it was a lot more work. [Laughs] There was a lot more work and a lot more days in a row wearing the makeup, which ends up being quite painful. The thing that's painful about it is taking it off, actually, and so they built a really tiny, tiny sauna that I could go in at the end of the day with like a gin and tonic and sit there for 20 minutes and start to sweat it off, so you're not scrubbing this thing off with an abrasive brush.
I think Dave Bautista told me once that's how he gets his Drax makeup off. He has the same sort of sauna.
I heard that. I think that's where we got the idea. In fact, I think initially I was in his sauna. It was a much bigger sauna than I needed, and so I got a little wee one that was easier to move around.
You got more days out of the makeup than you usually do on one of these Marvel gigs. That had to be nice. I guess it was out of the makeup and into a wig.
Out of the makeup, into a wig, yeah, and into these amazing costumes. We had so much fun creating these characters and creating all of these looks and running around the American Century and sitcoms. It was a magical time.
Do you name your wigs?
[Laughs] You know what, I don't have names for my wigs. But I should. And I think from now on, I'm going to name them. I can tell you that Elizabeth had a name for my 1980s wig.
What was that name?
Mr. Creepy. She hated the fact that I didn't have sideburns on it. She said, "I hate it. It's so weird. Why don't you have sideburns?" And I said, "Because it was a wedge, and that was the style." She went, "It's creepy!" [Laughs]
I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by how damn funny you are in this. You've dipped into the space before -- I'm thinking of Wimbledon, which was, you know, a full-on rom-com -- but what was the experience of tapping back into doing more straightforward comedy for you?
It was so much fun. I haven't done that sort of thing since Wimbledon and A Knight's Tale and certainly not the physical comedy of it. You know, I grew up on those shows. In the '70s in England, on Saturdays and Sundays, there were reruns of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and so I was familiar with it, but when we started prepping for this, I really got into watching them, and Lizzie and I looked at each other at one point and went, "There's a lot more to this!" The skill that those guys and gals had-- They were song-and-dance people that could do anything. The physical humor and the physical manifestation of jokes and stuff, when you're used to trying to do things small for camera and stuff, you really feel like you're putting it all out there.
And I was in awe of Lizzie watching these episodes. She is given so much to do and is just masterful in all of it. Looking back, was there a moment that even you remember being surprised by what she was bringing to this?
Frankly, seeing her and Kathryn when we got onto set -- I mean, maybe we only ran it through once before we had to do it in front of an audience -- and the first episode and "This is going to be a gas!" and all of that stuff and seeing both of them. Oh! And I remember Lizzie walking down the garden path from the door to come and meet me and the way she held her hands and her elbows was just so accurate and so of that period. I thought she was brilliant. And that Mid-Atlantic accent that she got in the first couple of shows, it's just really great to watch.
Before I let you go, I remember when this was announced at Comic-Con, you said you had so many questions about the who and the what and the when and the how of WandaVision. I know you can't give away any of that, but can you tell me: Were all of your questions answered by the final episode?
Yes. I think my hope for the show is that it brings in a new audience of people who are going to enjoy that sort of nostalgia. It's an homage to all of those shows. There's nothing that is satire about them. We love those shows, and they're lovingly recreated. I can promise you the amount of effort that went into making them look accurate and shoot them in exactly the same way. The second thing is, I think for dyed-in-the-wool Marvel fans, it's going to really expand their understanding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and allow them to see the direction in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe is moving. And I think it will be incredibly fulfilling. You've seen three episodes, correct?
So, whilst we are definitely in sitcoms right now, let me assure you that this series, WandaVision, has more special effects requirements than Endgame. So, we are heading somewhere really, really epic and crazy.