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WandaVision, the new Marvel series on Disney+, goes to great lengths to authentically emulate classic sitcoms. The aesthetics, comedy, and even the smallest details of whatever retro TV world Wanda and Vision are trapped inside of are familiar to anybody who ever watched Nick at Nite. But, Debra Jo Rupp, a sitcom veteran who most famously starred on 200 episodes of That '70s Show, knew right away that the Marvel series wasn’t like any sitcom she’d been on before.
“I went into the weapons room — not room, it’s like the weapons building,” Rupp tells SYFY WIRE, explaining that Marvel Studios is “gigantic” and features some props that you might not find on a typical sitcom set. “I knew that I was part of a bigger world.”
At first glance, Rupp appears to be playing a pretty standard sitcom stock character. Mrs. Hart is introduced in the series premiere as the wife of Vision’s boss, Mr. Hart — and in classic ‘50s TV housewife fashion, she’s really trying to be a gracious house guest. Rupp says her main concern in making this first episode was “being true to the time period,” which is something she has some experience with.
“I did a period thing with ‘70s Show,” she says. “So the ‘50s was just a different period for me. The way the people talked and what they found funny was different in the ‘50s than it is right now. People are a little more worldly now. And, in the ‘50s, women were different. They grew up differently. Different things were important to them. I find if I put myself where women were in that time, I’m pretty spot-on with the period itself.”
But, as Rupp noted right away, WandaVision isn’t your typical sitcom — and Mrs. Hart, who Rupp says will appear in future episodes though she won’t reveal anything else — isn’t your average sitcom character. The first real sign that something’s amiss comes near the end of the first episode, when Mr. Hart begins choking on some food at dinner. As he chokes, Mrs. Hart, with an eerie smile plastered across her face, keeps cheerily asking Wanda to “stop it,” over and over again amidst increasingly deranged laugher that borders on sobbing. It’s a very creepy turn in what’s otherwise a charming half-hour of TV, and Rupp says it was initially tricky to get the moment right.
“The director, Matt Shakman, talked to me a long time about that [scene]. I thought I would understand what he was talking about, and then I would go to do it, [but] I didn’t. So, there was a lot of talking,” she recalls, alluding to whatever deeper mystery is lurking underneath WandaVision’s surface. “And then once I got it, it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It was highly theatrical and very dramatic and really fun.”
The superheroics and twists might be new to Rupp, but there’s one aspect of WandaVision where she was the most at home. The premiere was filmed in front of a live audience — a first for Marvel and for some of the more-seasoned MCU actors like Paul Bettany, who told SYFY WIRE that his first time filming in the format was a “really fascinating and thrilling experience.”
“I’m used to it,” Rupp says. “I’m an audience person, I get a lot of energy from an audience. ‘70s Show was in front of an audience, all the sitcoms I did were in front of an audience.
“I was totally the elder statesman,” she adds with a laugh.
New episodes of WandaVision premiere on Friday on Disney+.