Debra Jo Rupp on bringing her sitcom experience to WandaVision
Compared to saying Avengers: Endgame, the cast of the new Disney + series WandaVision is pretty small, but that gives any character who lives in this weird sitcom world more opportunities to spark our imaginations. So it was a massive impression in the first episode Debra Jo Rupp as Frau Hart, Frau von Vision (Paul Bettany) Chef Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed).
Of the actors, Rupp was by far the most at home during the filming of Episode 1, which was filmed in proud classic TV tradition in front of a live studio audience with multiple cameras … until that means things are getting that far funny how Wandas (Elizabeth Olsen) The impromptu dinner party takes a dark turn. This is because Rupp has been feeding the energy of the live audience with credits for sitcom recordings for decades Friends, The ranch, and of course That 70’s showwhere she played Kitty Forman for 200 episodes.
Below, Rupp explains how she was asked to join the cast, why she had so much fun on the set, what it was like filming in front of an audience who didn’t know exactly what they were getting into, and how they filmed the great dramatic postponement of the first episode. She also agrees with me on why we never find out Ms. Hart’s name and suggests that we may see her character again later.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for WandaVision, Season 1, Episode 2.]
COLLIDER: To start off, what was it like getting on this project and being the one with the most sitcom experience of the actors?
DEBRA JO RUPP: Well, this part was very nice because I was also the oldest person there, I think. It was good for me because I felt very rooted, so there was something I was in control of. I felt safe – right outside the gate I felt safe in the genre. That was kind of great, and I think it was partly why I was hired.
How was that process of getting hired?
RUPP: I got a call from the director who knew me – I did a lot of theater. I come from the theater, I like a live audience. I get a lot of energy from an audience and I had just worked on [director Matt Shakman]Theater in LA, the Geffen Playhouse. So he knew me from there and called and said, “I have a request.” And then he tried to explain it to me and I didn’t understand anything he was saying. And then my great-nephew said, “Aunt Debbie, if you don’t take this job, I’ll never speak to you again.” So it all came together and man, man, I’m so happy that I did it.
Image via Disney +
Because your urn-nephew keeps talking to you?
RUPP: Well my nephew will keep talking to me, but it’s the most attention I’ve had, that I don’t even know, and it’s like younger people. Well I think it’s all ages, but there are a lot of younger people that I’ve missed and that’s why it was really nice. It was actually very nice for me.
I know they shot the first episode in front of a live studio audience, but how exactly did the actual experience of recording reflect your previous multi-cam experience?
RUPP: It was very similar, absolutely similar. They set it up so that we had a week of rehearsal like you do for a sitcom. It was exactly what I was used to. The difference was the audience reaction because the audience are Marvel people. They came to see a superhero Marvel show and then got this. It was great fun. They got in and everything, but in the beginning it was like, “Ooh, ooh.” I can only imagine what they were thinking that made me laugh.
Sure. So there is a very specific era that you call up in Episode 1. Were there certain characters from sitcoms of that era that you were looking for inspiration?
RUPP: No, no characters, but I’ve seen a lot of different black and white shows. And inevitably there is a scene in each of these sitcoms where the boss, strangely enough, comes over to dinner and now and then the woman. So, I looked at these and mainly tried to learn more about what women were like during that time. Women in the 50s are very different from the 70s than they are now, so I took a look at it to try to get a handle on that.
This really comes out because there are scenes where the men are talking and Mrs. Hart is just sitting there. I think you can definitely find some level of boredom and some level of just resignation.
RUPP: Right? Yes exactly.
I may have missed it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Mrs. Hart doesn’t have a first name, does she?
RUPP: No. Well I don’t know, I don’t remember. I don’t think she does, but we’ll call her Vivian.
That’s a nice first name. But there is another thing that speaks to the misogyny of the era: “Why should women have a first name?”
RUPP: That’s exactly right, I didn’t think of that. That’s exactly right, yes.
It’s a fascinating episode just because you have the traditional aspect and then you have this incredible change during the suffocation scene. And I wanted to get your perspective on what it’s like to film this, and what helped build the tension and twist that happens?
RUPP: Well, first of all, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever done, ever, ever, ever. It did two things at the same time. It was a big challenge that I loved, and the director was extremely patient as I kept saying, “Wait what? Should I do what? No, I don’t get it. Wait what?” He was so patient and when I got it it was like, “Oh, can I do it again? Can I do it again?” It was just so much fun. It was really a lot of fun. Plus, I knew where it fitted in the episode and I knew it was pretty much the first rift, so that was very exciting.
Image via Disney +
Sure. How did they move the cameras in relation to the filming?
RUPP: When we did the dining room scene, the sitcom had three or four cameras, but I think it was three cameras back then. And then when we were doing the dining room scene, we went to a camera. So these are different angles, but they can get closer, they can tear down a wall so they can get in. That was a really good question because it raises things. In this first episode sitcom, multi-cam and single-cam were combined. I was very comfortable on the multi-cam, and Lizzie and Paul were very comfortable on the single-cam, and then Fred [Melamed] can do everything.
He is a genius. One detail I want to ask about about this scene is the fact that your character keeps saying “stop it”. And I can’t imagine how many times you’ve said that line …
RUPP: Not enough, it was so much fun. Not enough.
So your character appears in episode 2 as well, and I’m not going to ask you how many more episodes you might appear in later. But I’m curious about episode 1 to episode 2, there’s a shift in genre and timeline. In episode 2, did you get the impression that you are still playing the same character? Is your costume just a little different, your hair a little different, but is it just a slightly different length of time?
RUPP: Yes, she is a person. Yes she is a person.
Although time changes, it doesn’t change.
RUPP: Well, time has changed, so it has to change because time has changed. So yeah, it’s changing, I think, in terms of tension.
Caught. Well it was an absolute pleasure.
RUPP: Thank you, thank you.
And keep your fingers crossed that we can see more of you on the show.
RUPP: Cross your fingers, yes. I think you will.
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About the author
Liz Shannon Miller
(211 articles published)
Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has been speaking about television on the internet since the dawn of the internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider. Her work has also been published by Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She’s also a Produced Playwright, a variety of podcasts, and a collection of “X-Files” trivia. Follow her on Twitter at @lizlet.
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