'That '70s Show' Star Debra Jo Rupp Talks the Sitcom Tropes of Marvel's 'WandaVision'
"I will not watch 'Endgame' because I feel like people I've grown close to die"
Published Jan 21, 2021Marvel Studios may have surprised some by avoiding the typical comic book movie mayhem and instead paying tribute to the mid-century sitcom with WandaVision. In the show, which kicks off Phase 4 of the MCU, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are living an idyllic sitcom universe, rapidly advancing through the decades and living through a number of different eras of sitcoms. As Wanda begins to recognize that the stylized universe she is inhabiting may be an illusion, the sitcom world breaks down and surreal elements start to creep in.
With WandaVision paying homage to sitcoms of the past, it's no surprise that the cast is fleshed out with a number of veteran sitcom actors. Debra Jo Rupp, who played the iconic role of Kitty Foreman in That '70s Show, appears as Mrs. Hart in the first two episodes of WandaVision, including a pivotal scene in the first episode. Debra sat down with Exclaim! to discuss Marvel, the surreal dining sequence in WandaVision, and the differences between American and Canadian fast food.
Marvel Studios is known for its big blockbuster epics. WandaVision has a very different style, different tone. Were you familiar at all with the Marvel Universe?
No. I thought it was like a cartoon. That it was like a cartoon with people flying around and you know, doing their thing. I just like real things. I'm not like into sci-fi at all. You know, I was never into geometry because you can't see anything. Who cares? So no, I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing.
It's such a different style from everything else they've done.
Lizzie [Elizabeth Olsen] told me when I got there. We had a week's rehearsal, so I had time to kind of figure out what was happening. They said, watch this movie, watch this movie. So I just stayed in my hotel room. One day, I watched four movies back to back. I got very, very involved in everyone. Very involved. I will not watch Endgame because I feel like people I've grown close to die. So I don't care to see that. Here we are now in WandaVision and I couldn't be more pleased.
You've worked on sitcoms, film, stage and animation, and WandaVision is a show that plays with form and genre. You get to take part in some of the comedy, but you're also in some of the first scenes where the sitcom artifice breaks down and the more dramatic and surreal elements come into it. How different is it working on a show like WandaVision, where you have comedic elements like Paul Bettany singing "Yakety Yak," and then the very weird sequence at the dinner, as opposed to working on a sitcom like That '70s Show or like a procedural like Law and Order?
I will tell you that that dinner table scene is the most fun I've ever had in my life. In my life. It was... you couldn't be too big. You got to be kind of funny, but then you got to do this, like, twist thing. And I knew it was the first one in the series. So I made it extra specially big. It was so fun. It was great. And, you know, I watch it now and the black-and-white is really good because it points out different things that I think you might miss. Because I think people take colour for granted. And then watching it in black-and-white you go "whoo." There's like a Twilight Zone aspect to it.
Obviously a lot of care went into the different homages, and I've read that people on set were shown episodes from past episodes they wanted to pay tribute to. Were you shown any specific performances?
Well here's the thing, Drew, I am old enough to have lived through them. So, there were things on that set that I recognized. I went, "Oh yeah, I remember that TV. I remember." Oddly enough, in those early black-and-white sitcoms, the boss always comes to dinner. So you can always find that scene. The wife is sometimes there, sometimes not. But I did try to catch as many as I could. I don't know how many I googled, you know the early, early, sitcoms. So mine is kind of a compilation of many things.
Are there any other sitcoms throughout history that you would have really loved to have been part of?
I would have loved to have been part of All In the Family. I would have loved to have been part of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, because I just think that the casting and that show was genius. Oh, there's a whole bunch.
Paul Bettany started off just doing a voice in Iron Man. Jarvis the computer.
Yes, yes, yes.
Then in the second Avengers movie he was given the role of Vision and given a full body and appeared on screen. If Marvel came back to you and said, 'Mrs. Hart is coming back, she's gonna have a superpower now,' what kind of a superpower do you think you're gonna be interested in?
You are the first one to ask that question. Know I have to think. My superpower... okay, so I don't know what this superpower would be. But there's sometimes when I'm driving and there are really bad drivers around me, and they cut me off or something. And I would like to be able to give them a flat tire. So whatever that is, maybe a dart shooter?
I think you could just get a nail gun or something. You might not even need a…
Fine. What power do you want me to have?
Maybe a telekinetic tire ability. Maybe you can flatten tires with that.
That's what I would like.
You were born in California, raised in Massachusetts, fairly close to the Canadian border. Are you familiar with the disparity in quality between Canadian and American A&W? Have you ever had Canadian A&W?
I do not think so. I have worked in Vancouver a lot, but I don't think so.
I would recommend having a Canadian A&W burger.
Oh my gosh.
Very different from an American A&W.
Yeah. Yeah, much better. I'm trying to spread the word. That's part of what I'm trying to do here. So, yeah, next time you're working in Vancouver. Or anywhere, I'm in Calgary and we've got plenty of A&Ws here too.
It was great to talk to you.
It was great talking to you too.