Elizabeth Olsen & Kaley Cuoco sat down for a virtual chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors.
HBO Max‘s “The Flight Attendant” and Disney Plus‘ “WandaVision” – featuring Kaley Cuoco and Elizabeth Olsen, separately – are the two assessments of confounded ladies at their limits. In “The Flight Attendant,” Cuoco’s Cassie, a charmer who’s been wounded from a horrendous youth, hits a drunkard base in the wake of awakening close to a dead casual hookup in Bangkok and turns into a homicide suspect. In “WandaVision,” Wanda Maximoff, a Marvel Cinematic Universe character Olsen has played since the 2015 film “Justice fighters: Age of Ultron,” is a sadness blasted hero wrestling with the deficiency of her first love, Vision (Paul Bettany).
However, the discussion between the two entertainers was everything except weighty. Truth be told, it was, as Cuoco put it, “an affection fest.”
Elizabeth Olsen: I did research on you, Kaley. And I have watched your interviews.
Kaley Cuoco: Lizzie, I watched yours too! First of all, you’re in a bathroom. I think we need to let everyone know.
Olsen: I’m in a bathroom. I’ve been in the U.K. for seven months, and I got back two days ago, and my neighbor is doing so much construction to their backyard. I can still hear it, and I’m in the furthest bathroom.
Cuoco: Well, we can’t hear it, so you’re going to have to use your acting skills to pretend like you don’t. I’ve loved you forever. I want to be best friends with you. I know you’re shooting a film right now, right?
Olsen: I just finished “Doctor Strange 2.” I wrapped “WandaVision” in October on a Wednesday, and they flew me to London on a Friday.
Cuoco: So few people have had the experience of shooting during the height of COVID. I felt like the bubble girl — no one wanted to come near me. I’m sure all your main cast felt that way too. If we went down, it was over.
Olsen: I actually was a self-proclaimed bubble girl in my life. I was like, “I love my friends; I love my family. I need not see any of you for two months.” I felt really safe. We never had a spread. We worked six-day weeks, so there was no real-time for anyone to do anything.
“The Flight Attendant” I loved so much — I was annoyed that they came out weekly. It truly was part of my England experience. So, so, so good in it, Kaley.
Cuoco: My husband and I binged “WandaVision” together. We rarely watch the same things, and so we’re like, “We’re gonna watch this together and bond over this!” Are you a studier? Like, I don’t even know the word process.
Olsen: I wanted to talk to you about this, because you had mentioned that you don’t really prepare and that your brain just sees the page, knows it, and that’s it. And I am absolute, like, a theater school overprepared. I want my lines memorized a week before.
Marvel projects are always an adjustment. There are constant rewrites all the time.
Olsen: Like Teyonah Parris, we launched her character on “WandaVision,” and so Marvel was getting more information about what they wanted to do with her character while we were filming. It was like a whole thing moving. Because we were doing seven pages a day at least, we were just going full speed ahead. It was such chaos. We just couldn’t really stop and ask too many questions.
It was so specific to decades, sitcoms, and wanting to create something that felt authentic to each time. That was such a continual reminder of what we had watched during our boot camp together as a company, and it was really fun.
Cuoco: Had you ever done a sitcom before?
Olsen: No. It’s so hard!
Cuoco: Obviously, that’s my whole life. Especially with “The Big Bang Theory,” we’d have these guest stars come on, and some of them were wonderful dramatic actors or whatever, and they would feel so lost for a while. It really is so musical. Because I grew up with it, and I did it for so long, it’s so natural for me. It’s very different if you haven’t done it.
Olsen: We did a live audience for the first episode, and that was the first thing we shot. It was very confusing how to play to the camera. Like, I was like projecting, because I’m used to staging. When I watched the first episode, I’m like, “Oh, goddamn it.” I was so frustrated because I can see my 10-year-old theater-kid self playing out to the audience instead of the camera.
Cuoco: But don’t you feel like it was that era a little bit?
Olsen: You think I got away with it?
Cuoco: You for sure did. It looked like that time. It’s like when I watch “I Love Lucy.”
Olsen: How young were you when you started working?
Cuoco: I have been doing this for 30 years. Since I was 5.
Olsen: Picking “The Flight Attendant” — was the original material very dark, and then you added the levity and created the tone based on what your natural inclinations are with storytelling?
Cuoco: When I found the book about four years ago, the book is extremely dark. There is not one funny word. It is tragic, and she is super tragic. I loved the book, but I loved her. And I thought, “OK, let me get the rights to this. And maybe it’s a movie.”
Then I started sitting on it; no, I think it’s a show. I laugh so hard, because of the number of times we used the word tone, I can’t ever say the word tone again. I said, “The tone is it’s me, and we’re gonna throw this girl into this horrible situation, but you’re also gonna laugh, and you’re gonna cry, and then you’re gonna feel super awkward.” It couldn’t just be that darkness. We had to walk that tightrope, which, by the way, was a total challenge.
Olsen: That’s why I love it because I couldn’t put it in a box. That’s what made it so enjoyable and thrilling to watch because you didn’t know how things were going to be solved because it didn’t feel like it followed a formula.
Cuoco: I found myself doing just a million different takes — maybe this time I cried, and the next I would laugh — because we didn’t know how we were going to edit this thing together. I’d go home some nights like, “Why am I doing this? This is the biggest mistake of my life. I’m leaving.” Then, the next day, we’d do a scene, and I’m like, “God, this is so good.” I would just go through these emotions like I was a psycho.
I’m a speed demon in life. I’m a speed demon when I work. I want to move, move, move.
Olsen: It sounds a lot like how we had to film “WandaVision.” We all just were trying to survive by going as quickly as possible. The only time we would slow down is when we get into Marvel Land. Marvel’s just such a strange beast. It’s the biggest stakes in the entire world: “The world’s going to end. Humans are going to die!” But it’s all about character.
That’s its own tone that’s hard to find, but when we’re in the sitcom zone, it was just a speed demon.
Cuoco: Did you like sitcoms growing up?
Olsen: I did. I drew from what we were referencing in each episode, like “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” I loved “I Love Lucy” growing up. “Laverne & Shirley.” Everything that was on Nick at Nite. I love the “Brady Bunch” movies. I think I was really ripping them off and not “The Brady Bunch.”
Cuoco: I have another question for you. My first show [“8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter”] was with John Ritter, who was my entire world. I remember conversations when I was 15 years old where he said, “You have to remember when you’re on a set, it’s like a tree. Number one’s here, and anyway you act is all trickling down that tree.” You can be a boss, you can be a great actor, you can get work done, but you can just be nice. People are missing that.
Olsen: I just don’t understand how people think that fear is what’s going to create good work. That was a big deal — for Paul Bettany and I both — on “WandaVision.” We were always a part of the “Avengers” ensemble films. We don’t really play any kind of leadership role, so it was really important to us when we were doing this show for that to be the vibe. We had the greatest time making it, even though it was impossible. Every day felt impossible. You want to take care of the crew, and then you also want to have difficult conversations, but you just need to have them with respect for one another.
Cuoco: It was such responsibility in my eyes, what that tone was going to be. It all came from me. When I came there in the morning, the things that came out of my mouth, they were watching me, and I know that. It felt also like such a privilege.
Olsen: People are away from their families for at least 12 hours a day. Everyone’s life is what you do at work, especially with those crazy hours, and to not treat people well is just beyond me. Yes, I love being able to set that tone on projects. I think it’s really important.
Cuoco: There were a bunch of fan theories with “WandaVision.” Did you read into that at all?
Olsen: No. I was filming a movie this whole time. I’m still recovering.
Cuoco: What about the “what is grief” scene? Did you know that was going to be a whole thing?
Olsen: What’s the “what is grief” scene? Oh! Yeah, “… if not love persevering” — that’s so funny.
Both of our shows do this — we talk about characters that have immense trauma. I actually was very worried about that episode, the penultimate episode, where we go back in time with Kathryn [Hahn] and myself, and we replay these moments that we actually haven’t seen in the MCU. Some of them we reshot, and I just didn’t know how we were going to piece it together. It all felt like, “Oh, God, are they going to be with us?”
I thought about that when you guys were exploring the relationship that she had with her father and her brother and the accident — everything that comes out through the flashbacks. You either have your audience or you don’t, is what I think. And you just swing for the fences and just hope that people are moved by it, or understand something on a deeper level.
Cuoco: That’s such a good way to look at it. It definitely felt that way with “Flight.” But you’re right. They’re either with you, or they’re not. You can’t think of what people are thinking when they’re watching. You need to dive in.
Olsen: Let’s see —
Cuoco: You have your note cards?
Olsen: Mm-hmm! Do you feel like there is a certain moment in your career where you found your sweet spot? Like, “This feels good. I think I finally know how to maneuver in this land confidently.”
Cuoco: It’s weird because I have been doing this for so long that I don’t know another life. I wasn’t the actor who got thrown to the wolves, did a huge project, and had overnight fame.
My feet feel on the ground as a producer. I don’t know if you always dreamed of being a producer; I did not. But I felt this stride as a producer. I like controlling things. I like picking things. I like judging.
Now that you’ve been behind the scenes as a producer and you’ve seen how hard it is — I find I have much more empathy towards everything.
Olsen: I think I had a hard time finding, surprisingly, my voice as a producer until James Ponsoldt was a director and producer on “Sorry for Your Loss,” and he really nurtured me into expressing myself. Then I found a flow, and then I found my confidence. I came from a theater school where it actually — like you were saying before — taught you you’re the last person to come in and the first one to leave. That is what your career is, and don’t get a big head. I always wanted to kind of keep my opinions to myself, because I’m just an actor. Then I realized that that actually only hurts the story because you know the character. Now I think I actually have a hard time just being an actor when I see things where I’m just thinking, “Why are we doing it that way?”
During “WandaVision,” I really did enjoy being just an actor, but because of the way Matt Shakman, our director, worked, Jac Schaeffer, our creator, and Mary Livanos, who is our Marvel producer, they almost included Paul and me like producers. I can’t help but be nosy now. Everyone in my family, if they heard me say that, they’re like, “OK, Lizzie, yeah. You don’t like being nosy. Sure.” I mean — the nosiest child.
Cuoco: Do you think you would ever direct?
Olsen: I only recently thought that I might, but because of what I feel like as a producer, and honestly as an actor sometimes. I have to be so obsessed with it. I don’t know if I’m ready for that right now. I think there’ll be a time, but I like stopping and being like, “OK, we’re wrapped. Bye.” What about you?
Cuoco: Well, you know how much I love homework, so I don’t know if me being a director would be — I’d have to get like the best team in the world. Because I know what I need, but all the in-between, I don’t know if I quite have that in myself yet.
Olsen: So maybe, maybe not, but you are continuing to produce the next things you act in?
Cuoco: Not necessarily everything.
Olsen: You’re doing a Doris Day project?
Cuoco: Yes, so that’s in “development.” That word means I could see you in 2028 when we start shooting. That will be through my production company. Then we’ll do the second season of “Flight Attendant,” and “Harley Quinn.”
Olsen: Are you filming “Flight Attendant” now?
Cuoco: September-ish. Do you think you’ll do a second season of “WandaVision”?
Olsen: No. No. It’s definitely a limited series.
Cuoco: Limited series. Well, we said that too.
Olsen: I mean, I’m saying that. I don’t know. I mean, with Marvel, you can never say no. People die, people —
Cuoco: That’s true. You’re right. I really thought I had a major scoop for the entire world just now. But then she took it back very quickly.
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