“I’ve never had more fun on a job before,” says the WandaVision lead who spoke with the Ted Lasso star about their shows, the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit, and what happens to the theatrical moviegoing experience now.
VANITY FAIR: Elizabeth Olsen and Jason Sudeikis met for the first time just before filming their 2017 indie Kodachrome, but they already had at least one thing in common: a “big old crush” on Ed Harris, as Olsen describes it. “He did not disappoint at all,” adds Sudeikis. “He stuck up for us. He cared about us. He cared about the movie.”
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Now, the two have much more in common, as first-time Emmy nominees. Olsen is nominated for lead actress for her work as Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision, a Disney+ limited series that explores grief and loss, through a superhero story wrapped in a parody of TV sitcoms. Sudeikis earned four Emmy nominations for Apple TV+’s darling Ted Lasso, which he cocreated, cowrote, and stars in as Ted, a cheery American football coach who attempts to coach an English Premier League soccer team.
In early August, Olsen and Sudeikis reunited over Zoom to chat with Vanity Fair about transitioning these characters to TV, their views on the new streaming empires, and what they think of the lawsuit Scarlett Johansson recently brought against Disney regarding the strategy to stream Black Widow simultaneously with its theatrical release.
Vanity Fair: It’s been quite a few years since you shot Kodachrome. What do you remember about where you were on your trajectories at that time?
Elizabeth Olsen: Of life? It was when I was at a down trajectory.
Jason Sudeikis: Personally or professionally? I feel like from the outside, it only seems like you operate in one direction [motions upward].
Olsen: From a personal standpoint. So, I was excited to get to do a small movie, an intimate job that had some levity. And that was really nice. And I have a big old crush on Ed Harris and I still do.
Sudeikis: Yeah. To know that the director was like, “hey, we’re thinking about Jason Sudeikis for this role” and then Ed Harris stayed on, It was like, “all right, pleasant surprise. Pleasant surprise.”
Your current projects, WandaVision and Ted Lasso, may seem very different but do have one thing in common: they both feature characters that originated elsewhere. Wanda is obviously from the Marvel films and Jason you played Ted Lasso in commercials. Why did you feel these characters would work on a TV series?
Olsen: I got really comfortable in the Marvel movies, taking up my piece of the story and my piece of, how does my little arc work in this much larger arc with 30 other characters? And so the idea of all the focus being on me and Paul [Bettany] totally freaked me out. And that it was on television felt weird because these characters are superheroes and maybe they should be seen on big screens and not televisions. But the entire DNA of the show was meant for television. It was written for television. The arc has to be told through television. And from an actor’s point of view, it was something I’d never done. I’ve never done sitcom acting, let alone go through the decades with it.
And I’ve never had more fun on a job before. We got to go to work and just feel like an idiot all the time. And all of us, we’d be like hamming, hamming, hamming, and use each other as these barometers of “are we doing this too much? Is this now just a parody? Is this a joke? At what point are we supposed to dial it back?” And at one point I did, I think, a quadruple take, and that was the first time the director asked me to pull it back and just do a double take. So it was pretty incredible to get to expand on the character and this world, but do it from a totally different perspective. I’m so grateful for that job.
Sudeikis: Have you hosted SNL yet?
Olsen: God no!
Sudeikis: No? Well, I’m not going to agent you and be like, “if they ask, would you ever want to?” But, look, I know you’re funny. It was really fun to watch you do multi-cam sitcom acting. And then the genre thing, it made me be like, “oh, she would crush on SNL”. You’re always going to internalize stuff because you’re, in my opinion, very, very talented and very, very smart. So then even when you externalize things, like a quadruple take, it would be joyful to watch even in the attempt. Watching the show, it didn’t seem at all like an aberration or like you were putting it on. It felt well conceived and well thought out. And it almost made me wonder if the creator was aware of that or was it all just an act of faith on their part.
Olsen: It was a total act of faith. What they did is they took comedy actors who are really funny and gave them the more dramatic stuff. Because they thought that would balance out when we failed. And we’re like, “You guys are very smart for doing this.”
Sudeikis: Now, are you putting that on them or was that articulated to you day one?
Olsen: We talked about it. We were so open about it. We’re like, “this is very clever that you guys put some of the funniest actors in MCU in these dramatic parts.” But SNL, I watch it every Saturday when it’s live. I’m obsessed with SNL and that’s why I would never! It’s like the ocean. I respect the ocean so much and that’s why I don’t need to go in it.
Sudeikis: I don’t know. I think we’ll see. This is going to be like Charles Foster Kane’s declaration of principles. “I would never host SNL.” And then, “And your host, Elizabeth Olsen.”
Olsen: So tell me about Lasso: small to big.
Sudeikis: Me and my buddies, Joe [Kelly] and Brendan [Hunt], did those commercials in 2013, 2014, and we then sat down to talk about it in 2015. And it was kind of like, “okay, is it another set of commercials? Is it a movie?” I knew what the character was and we all grew up with great sports films, by Ron Shelton and Rudy and Hoosiers and things like that. But then also liked Nora Ephron, you know? We wanted to make something that had a little bit of romance. And romance may not be sexual, it’s also a platonic version of romance. And the story just sort of spooled out of us in a way that garnered a pilot episode and then a well-beat-out outline for a season. Because we were kind of modeling it after the British Office where it’d be like six episodes, six episodes, and then maybe an hour and a half special, like a movie type thing. Not wanting to take up too much space and not knowing how long it would go. And so it only could be a TV show, was the way it felt.
And so then it went away for a while because that was in 2015. And then lo and behold, it comes back around when I met Bill Lawrence for this other project. That one didn’t work out, but he was like, “Do you have anything?” I said, “Well, we have this.” And I remember having a whole bunch of stuff in this office, more work than I think he realized. He’s like, “Oh yeah, this is definitely, this is a whole thing. Okay. Wow. You guys have really thought this through.”
Olsen: Did you have a [writers] room or did you already write most of it?
Sudeikis: No, we definitely had a room. It was like I knew the chords, I knew the structure of things. We had a great room of 11 people for the first season. With hiring people, we just had good fortune. I didn’t know it was interesting at the time, but asking people during the interview process who their mentors were, who were the people that encouraged them, who made you think you could do this for a living—you can learn a lot about a person by listening to them talk about their mentors, their heroes.
Olsen: With the jokes, I feel like they’re so quick, but they’re so specific to people who watch sports and who knows sports. Well, not all of them, but a lot of the jokes are. Do you have a list of ones that you want to get in there or are these coming up in the room? Because it gets me as a big sports person.
Sudeikis: It really depends on it. There’s some ideas that I’d had for years and years that are just from old notebooks that I used to carry around when I worked on SNL before you would type things into a phone. And storylines and themes and characters that have just been ruminating in my head based on other ideas for either movies or sketches that didn’t make it. And then a big part of the room is that we have this collective consciousness that isn’t all sports.
And then with specific soccer jokes, we do try to include jokes that we call “two percenters” that only football fans would like. Just as our little tip of the cap because we wouldn’t be here without that group of people digging our shit back in the commercial days.
Your shows were on Disney+ and Apple TV+. Did you have any concerns about them being on streaming services, which were relatively new at the time, and finding an audience?
Sudeikis: It’d probably be more so if it was like Goodyear TV+, if it was some brand that didn’t already rule the world of entertainment and technology.
Olsen: I did a version of that with Facebook. And I didn’t like that experience. I loved my show [Sorry for Your Loss] and I loved everyone that I worked with. But the Facebook relationship was frustrating because of the lack of television experience and how the platform is organized. When we went to season two, we had a meeting that our show called for Facebook to have with us, so that we can give them our notes about their platform and why we think it’s really hard to find our show on their platform and how it’s congested. So I was anxious going into Disney+. But I knew it was Disney. And I think I was more anxious with the Marvel characters being on television than I was about the Disney+ element.
Sudeikis: Golly, I didn’t even consider that. And you’re absolutely right, because Facebook would be closer to Apple. Truth is we didn’t have a choice. We pitched it to a bunch of different places. They were the only ones that would open the door and say, “yeah, come in out of the rain, you can hang out in here. You can do your little show in here.” And so, the trepidation was alleviated by the fact that there was nowhere else open to us.
Olsen: Facebook and Apple I feel like aren’t that similar.
Sudeikis: No, but they hadn’t created content before.
Olsen: Well, Facebook now is [scaling back] scripted content.
Speaking of streaming, both of you have starred in big theatrical movies. Are either of you worried about the theatrical experience, in the way that COVID has changed how movies are being released at this point? We saw how that’s playing out with Scarlett Johansson’s recent lawsuit.
Olsen: I’m worried about a bunch of things. Not worried on Scarlett’s behalf. But I’m worried about small movies getting the opportunity to be seen in theaters. That was already a thing pre-COVID. I like going to the movies and I don’t necessarily want to see only an Oscar contender or a blockbuster. I would like to see art films and art house theaters. And so I do worry about that, and people having to keep these theaters alive. And I don’t know how financially that works for these theaters. I do hope that there’s some sort of solution that the larger companies are coming together to keep, at least in L.A. this is going to happen. But I do think it’s going to be how it kind of used to be when studios owned theaters. And I have a feeling that we might go back to that being the only way to keep them alive with such expensive real estate. But when it comes to actors and their earnings, I mean, that’s just, that’s just all contracts. So it’s either in the contract or it’s not. What about you? Are you worried about Scarlett?
Sudeikis: Of course. How could I not? She’s married to my comedy brother [SNL’s Colin Jost].
Olsen: I think she’s so tough and literally when I read that I was like, “good for you Scarlett.”
Sudeikis: Well, I mean, it is appropriately bad-ass and on brand. I think it’s also married to yes, the COVID of it all and success of the streaming sites. But also just technology. I mean this thing [points at his TV] is as good as any movie theater, and all that stuff is getting cheaper and cheaper. If you’re a family of five and you’re going out there and it’s a whole thing. And yet the communal experience, towards Lizzie’s point is, is one that you can’t replicate in home. You can’t replicate through social media. I think both of our shows have succeeded greatly on their own merit, but it’s certainly written further through people’s love of them socially. Which would have happened back in the day around a water cooler. And while that’s nice, it’s still not the same as sitting next to everybody and getting scared at the same time or cheering at the same time and laughing at the same time.
I do think though, if we just use anecdotally, Kodachrome as an example, more people probably have seen it because it got on Netflix than they would have in the theater. And the more that happens, the better. So it’s like there is that reach that as long as those streaming sites are still paying to make those little movies, they have the opportunity to be seen. And so it is this balance. I just hope that with that still comes creative autonomy, and we don’t lose sight of that.
What about the experience of making these shows will you take on to your next project and the one after that?
Olsen: Well, I definitely had a shake-up to use my full body as an actor. I had to create a character and voices. And just all the technical stuff that I have loved doing my whole life was just shook up a bit. And so I’m now really excited to do more of that and to feel a bit freer in building characters. And so that has really informed the next thing I’m working on now and preparing for. It’s just kind of put me back in my actory body in a really good way.
And hosting SNL.
Olsen: Of course, now I’ll host SNL because stage fright has nothing to do with that. I can do a monologue in front of people and make them laugh.
Sudeikis: Not a prerequisite. Having worked there for 10 years, not a prerequisite. Well, the tacky answer is it’d be tough not being the boss again. And I’m fucking flabbergasted that people have picked up so much what we set down for them. You know what I mean? From colleagues on the writing and acting side to just regular folks back home, people I’ve never even met. It’s thrilling. I have to try to make sense of that for myself. And I think a lot of it has to do with it being something so personal. And so that might be the thing to lean into.
Olsen: It’s interesting you say that because immediately three days after wrapping, I had to go into a film where we’re not in WandaVision land, obviously. I mean, they kind of are a muscle, these Marvel movies. Instead of going back to that routine of it, I tried to do what you’re saying. I was like, “okay, so what can I play with that I haven’t gotten to that’ll at least satisfy something inside me that I want to play with right now?”
Sudeikis: I don’t know when I’ll get to do that again, when I’ll do that next. Because yeah, it’s Lasso—
Olsen: Lasso forever.
Sudeikis: At least for a little bit longer.
Olsen: Is it what you said, three seasons and then a special?
Sudeikis: I mean, the special would have been the third season with the initial thing. Now you sound like you’re my agent or manager.
Olsen: Oh good, that’s what I came here for. That’s what I wanted to do.
Sudeikis: Who sent you? I know the end of this story. I mean, the fact that we have a third season could fucking blow it all and ruin what would people like so much of the first season. We might be in the middle of doing it now in the second season. I don’t know. We’re just doing it the same way we did it last time. So we’ll see. But yeah, that’s a big old, long winded question mark.
Olsen: Or an ellipsis.