There’s nothing quite like diving into the deep end of the MCU’s new flagship TV series to make a splash. After her stint as Anya on beloved series Buffy The Vampire Slayer came to an end, the actor carved out a solid career alternating between steady gigs in film (Darkness Falls, Timer) and TV series (Gigantic, Once Upon A Time). For the last few years, she’s taken a step back to focus on raising her now-4-year-old daughter, save for the odd guest appearance here and there. But with Marvel’s WandaVision, Caulfield Ford has returned to TV in a big way with the seemingly sinister role of Dottie, a type-A housewife in the old-school sitcoms that have currently been filling out the universe of Wanda Maximoff. But as with everything in the series, Dottie (or should we speculate… Mephisto?) is not all that she seems at first glance.
The actor can’t say much about her character’s eventual arc (yet, anyway), but she filled The A.V. Club in on the process of joining a top-secret Marvel series, learning to act for the retro style of old TV shows, and trying to jump back into Dottie’s shoes after months of pandemic-necessitated isolation.
The A.V. Club: One of the most fascinating things about this show is that you’re playing this character, Dottie, but she’s also playing a role right in the world of these old-school sitcoms. As an actor, did it feel like having to flex a new set of muscles to meet the rhythms and styles of these old formats of TV shows?
Emma Caulfield Ford: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s a style, it’s a way of speaking, of sitting—the tone of your voice, just all of that. In the early episodes, especially, just getting all the technical aspects down, making sure you get it right, because, as anything, when you’re portraying something you want it to be as authentic as possible. You don’t want to give any reason for anybody to start complaining right out of the gate, like, “What’s that accent?” or whatever. You definitely want to make sure it all comes together and is believable.
AVC: How much did they tell you going in? Did you get an overview or were you just sort of learning more about your character week to week?
ECF: I knew nothing when I got it. [Showrunner] Jac Schaeffer, who wrote it, she wrote and directed Timer, which I was in years ago. And then we stayed very close. And we’ve been trying to work together for years, but nothing really panned out. And then she asked if I wanted to come play on WandaVision, I said of course, and then Kevin Feige approved me and that was that. And I went to Atlanta and really had nothing. Jac was very limited as to what she could say—even though it was her show!—she said, “I just can’t talk about it; you gotta get hired and then you’ll know more.” So then when I got to Atlanta, and did the table read and got the full script, then I was like, “Okay, all right.” And then I had a million more questions, you know? So the prep for it was really just learning and research and understanding, not just the technical aspects of it, but getting the accent and working out the character from the outside in, and just understanding all the the shifts and variations within the show itself.
I really wanted to talk about it because I just thought the whole thing was so cool. I couldn’t say anything about it to anybody except my husband and my agent or whatever. No, forget my agent! I fired him. My manager. [Laughs.] I’m kidding.
AVC: Marvel’s famous for its secrecy. Did they blindfold you and take you to an underground bunker to read your pages, or...?
ECF: They might as well have. It wasn’t anything quite like that, but yeah, it was very intense. It’s a whole other level of, you know, double -spy intrigue.
AVC: Was it sort of a sequestered feeling once you were on set, shut off from the outside world?
ECF: Yeah. I mean you’re on a lot, you’re protected in that way, and everybody’s in the same boat. Everybody knows that it’s in everybody’s best interest to keep everything very quiet. And then COVID happened and we got shut down for a while. So everything just kind of went out of our sphere. For months, we all were focused on very different things. I was home-schooling my 4-year-old, or at that time she wasn’t 4 yet. So I was just wearing a teacher hat, you know? I was not even thinking about work.
And then got the order to go back. I was like, okay, time to put that on. And I literally told Jac, “I’ve got to have a talk with you before I go back to work. Like, I really kind of lost track of who Dottie is. I know, but I’ve been so removed from her that my brain just moved on. It’s just shifted.” Like, “Help. Bring me back again.” She just went, “Okay, so let’s recap, and blah blah blah, and then there’s this and there’s this. You remember all these emotions we were talking about?” and I said, “Right. Got it. Okay,” and then I was able to go back to work but I was really kind of freaked out. Thinking, “I don’t know if I’m going to remember what I did,” or how to recreate it or elaborate on it.
AVC: Dottie is introduced like she’s being set up as this villain in the reality of the sitcom world. But then you start to see the ways that it’s almost this red herring, that she might be playing a role as much as everyone else seems to be. For all the secrecy or intensity of this project, was there a sense of playfulness for you as an actor, knowing that you’re getting to portray these different levels of the characters’ awareness and teasing out these little clues?
ECF: It was always fun—and really important to keep track of where I am all the time. You know, “Wait. Where are we right now?” Because we didn’t shoot in order, obviously. So you’re doing things, and you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, I just want to make sure. What do I know? What does the audience know?” Obviously, if I as an actor know something—which always happens, you read a script, you know something your character doesn’t—you have to forget that. So it feels spontaneous… With the added pressure of keeping quiet. [Laughs.] You just don’t want to be responsible for anything coming out. It would be so bad.
AVC: You don’t want to be the Mark Ruffalo of WandaVision.
ECF: You really don’t want to be the one that shot it in the leg before it had a chance to start off. So, I’m glad we’re talking about it now.
AVC: I know there are still things you can’t talk about—
ECF: There’s so much! I can’t. There’s really nothing I can say. It’s so funny.
AVC: Is there an example of a moment, maybe during these early episodes we’ve seen, that stood out for you while shooting? Whether it was your character or somebody else’s that you were watching, where it really felt noteworthy in terms of, “Oh, there are multiple levels of things happening here that are hiding so much to come.”
ECF: I don’t think so, Really, watching Lizzie [Elizabeth Olsen, Wanda] or Paul [Bettany, Vision] or Kathryn [Hahn, Agnes] just be these people, it was just such a joy. They’re all so good. The way one of them would choose to say a line, or if they brought a question to the director like, “Hey, was this a reference to Blank?” Like, I didn’t even think about that. “That is such a clever… Is it? That is so smart. My god, you’re so smart. Can we just be best friends? I just really want to, like, know you forever. Can I just follow you around and observe you in your mind for a little while?” [Laughs.] I’m so impressed.
AVC: Dottie and Kathryn Hahn’s character, Agnes, immediately became these fan favorites for theories about the plot—
ECF: She’s so good. I could just go on. I can literally spend an entire interview talking about the brilliance of Kathryn Hahn. Oh, my god.
AVC: Have people been sending you memes and fan theories and do you have a favorite one yet?
ECF: [Thinking.] I don’t think I have seen a meme! I’ve seen little, you know, what do you call them, I can’t even think of the word right now—not a collage—a bunch of images put together… What’s that called? [Laughs.] Oh, god, I’m so sorry. Really, my brain is totally fried. Let’s just say I haven’t seen them. But I have heard theories. Maybe I’ve seen memes, maybe I haven’t. I don’t know. Whatever I have seen, I really enjoyed that.
AVC: Fair enough. Thanks so much for talking to us—
ECF: Compilation! Compilation.
AVC: You got to it!
ECF: Compilation. [Laughs.] Thank you.