Jac Schaeffer exclusive interview: WandaVision creator on future of South Asians in MCU, biggest non-sitcom influences
- In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Jac Schaeffer, the creator of Marvel's WandaVision, speaks about the influences behind the show (beyond sitcoms), her sounding boards on set, and South Asian representation in the MCU. WandaVision streams on Disney+ Hotstar Premium in India.
Jac Schaeffer is in a unique position. As one of the writers of the upcoming Black Widow film, not only is she privy to what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in store for fans at the movies, but as the creator of WandaVision, she knows what's cooking in the streaming world as well.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, she spoke about the MCU's first Disney+ streaming series entering its 'second act', and where she turns to for advice on a project that is so closely guarded.
Schaeffer also spoke about the cultural diversity that future Marvel projects will embrace, with particular focus on South Asian representation, which has been teased in Eternals, and Ms Marvel.
Excerpts from our conversation:
We've had three episodes, how are you feeling about the show? Are you relieved with the reaction, are you still jittery about future episodes?
It's so nice of you to ask me how I'm feeling! I'm thrilled about the fan reaction, and the fan engagement. Every Thursday feels like Christmas Eve now, I just can't wait for the episodes to drop.
I am jittery, I am nervous. The fans care so much, and I am always afraid that they won't be satisfied, but I know what's coming and I think everyone will be excited.
Marvel projects are so closely guarded. Do you have any sounding boards? How do you know you're going in the right direction, and how do you find out if you're screwing up?
I work very closely with my producer at Marvel, Mary Livanos, and she is always the person I turn to with everything. And then, of course, Kevin (Feige, Marvel Studios president) is the master behind it all. And his instincts, especially... Often, there will be things that I'm not sure about and he believes strongly (in), and he's right. I have a lot of faith in Marvel, in their vision, in what they're doing.
And then I had this tremendous room full of writers. I hired some extremely talented people, a lot of whom have sitcom experience, and I had not written for sitcoms before, and I really leaned on them, in terms of breaking the stories and what feels right, and how episodes flow. I surrounded myself with smart people.
Since we're entering the 'second act' of the show, beyond sitcoms, what were your influences?
It's an interesting question, because I would love to do a deep dive, but some of it would be too revealing. But Twilight Zone is an enormous influence on the show, Outer Limits, Amazing Stories... A lot of those shows that present one thing, and it turns out to be something else, with the social commentary. Twilight Zone especially, was so often in domestic spheres, and would always flip the script at the end.
And there are so many prestige series now that play with genre, and play with the boundaries of what TV shows can be. And I have been very impressed with these shows that throw the rule book out the window, and those shows have been a big influence.
The first three episodes are really bold, in how they throw the viewer in at the deep end. Were there any discussions about scaling back and making the show more conventional?
It really was a gamble. It was a risk. We had a lot of conversations about things like how long we can hold on to the black and white, and how long we could keep this going. I wanted to see how far we could push it, but Kevin was the one who was like 'let's see how far we can take this'."
Every once in a while we'd get nervous about if we're showing enough, or if we should show more. We (eventually) found it, but early on, we were all committed to being daring and to making (the show) a little bit challenging. The reason that the mystery moments and the chilling moments land is because we lull the audience into this 'sitcom thing'. A guy choking? Who cares. But a guy choking after 19 minutes of a happy-go-lucky sitcom? That really ruptures the agreement that you have with the audience. That's what we were trying to do. Get them lulled and then knock them off balance.
As someone who knows what's cooking, what can you tell me about the future of South Asian representation in the MCU?
I can't speak to that myself, my focus has been WandaVision. But I do know that the projects are becoming extremely international . We have The Eternals is coming up, with an incredibly exciting cast. And another show that I'm particularly excited about is Ms Marvel. I got to know the head writer on that show well, and that show is going to be incredibly special.*
I feel like I started working at Marvel at a time of tremendous inclusion and diversity. And they've always been a global brand. I think the stories are getting bigger and the landscape is getting bigger. I hope there's something for everybody.
*Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, and features Kumail Nanjiani as a superhero whose secret identity is a Bollywood star. Ms Marvel is about Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teen.
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar