Disney+’s WandaVision told its grief-laden story with a trip through sitcom history, delighting fans of the comics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Nick At Nite alike. But if series creator Jac Schaeffer had been inclined to use a sex-positive drama or bold comedy as the show’s framing device, the stroll down TV memory lane might have featured even more Kathryn Hahn (never a bad thing). The two-time Emmy nominee has starred in several inventive and provocative shows, including Transparent, I Love Dick, Mrs. Fletcher, and I Know This Much Is True. Hahn will next appear opposite Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell in Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door, continuing her impressive trek across platforms and genres.
Though she’s made herself at home on the small screen, her film credits offer just as many entry points into the Kathryn Hahn fandom (or “Hahndom,” as only we call it). The actor broke out in comedies like Step Brothers before starring in more intimate dramedies like Wanderlust and Afternoon Delight, then throwing herself right back into bawdiness with Bad Moms. But even with all this versatility and verve on display, Hahn is still at a bit of a loss for why Marvel came a-knockin’ on her door, Lobster Thermidor recipe in hand, with a fantastic role: that of Agatha Harkness (a.k.a. Agnes), a seemingly ageless witch who goes toe to toe with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who is now officially the Scarlet Witch.
Hahn was more than up to the task, effortlessly shifting from black-and-white busybody to fearsome foe, at times stealing the show away from the requisite superhero pyrotechnics, and earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. The A.V. Club spoke with Hahn about working with MCU veteran Elizabeth Olsen, witches, what she has in common with Agatha, and her thoughts on that divisive finale. But as for what drew Marvel to her in the first place, it was Kathryn Hahn all along.
The A.V. Club: You’ve been at the center of a few adaptations recently, including I Love Dick and Mrs. Fletcher. WandaVision also has source material that you could draw from, whether you’re talking about the MCU or comic books. What kind of research did you do for the role of Agatha?
Kathryn Hahn: Oh, I did a ton. At the beginning, I was given a huge binder from Mary Livanos, our producer, who’s kind of worked on all things Marvel. And what she gave me basically covered from the first time Agatha Harkness is mentioned in any Marvel comics. I wish I had them with me, but I believe it was, God, I mean, I think it was in #66 or #61 and all the way through—when she’s in the Fantastic Four with Nicholas Scratch. And so I was able to see how she was represented all the way through.
The way she was presented then, I kind of had to throw all that way because she’s touched on in so many areas in the Marvel comics. I had to create my own bird out of what I was given in these scripts. So, all of that is in there. This is Agatha: she’s still a centuries old witch, she just presents differently. She’s still a nanny, she’s still a mother. She still was in New Salem. She still probably is all those things, but how she manifests in this world, at this time with Wanda, is that she probably felt this unbelievable magic that she couldn’t put her finger on. It was something that she had been looking for probably for centuries and had to get to the bottom of, and found herself in Westview, pretending with Wanda just to try to find out the source of this magic beyond even her understanding of magic.
AVC: We know that magic came naturally for Wanda while Agatha spent years learning and perfecting. Did you see them as opposites, and did you make that part of your performance?
KH: Yeah, they are. I mean, we talked about the Amadeus/Salieri relationship. [Agatha] was this older witch looking at this young, beautiful, innately, profoundly, perfectly natural God-given talented witch. Magic just came to her; she just had it. And it was something that I [as Agatha] had been studying for centuries to achieve—this chaos magic that she just had and I could never achieve. That was something that we really leaned on. It was really important to us to try to investigate. This wasn’t a typical antagonist-protagonist relationship. They could be friends, they could be mentors, they could be mother-daughter. It could be so many different things all at once; I didn’t just have to be a villain the whole time. There was many, many different layers to this relationship all at once.
AVC: So much went into the creation of this character, from the costumes by Mayes C. Rubeo to the great grasping motions Agatha uses. But is there any part of Kathryn in Agatha?
KH: Oh, that’s such a good question. I mean, it was important to me that there be something. There was something about, as learned as Agatha is, and as kind of by-the-book as she’s described, there was something really interesting to me that—especially how we see her in Salem with her mother and her origin story—there just be something like “dirt under the nails” about her. That there just be something about roots and about trees… There could be something natural. And there is something about witches that I know to be true, that there is something about the natural world that a witch is connected to. Even now, you think of witchcraft and there’s something about the moon and about controlling nature.
So there was something about the roots of a tree to her that I wanted see in her. I worked really closely with Mayes, who was an amazing collaborator. You see vines kind of going up Agatha’s dress. I didn’t want there to be like chest cleavage showing. Mayes was a really great collaborator with that. Her hand movements to me feel very, like you said, clawing. We just kept seeing trees or vines. To me, there’s something in that, in her physicality that reminds me of me when I was a scrappy kid in Ohio. I can’t describe it. I never like really thought of this before, but there is something of me in her, for sure—playing outside, dirt under the nails, matted hair, dirty hair. There’s something elemental about Agatha in her full witch mode that feels very close to me as a kid.
AVC: That kind of goes hand in hand with something you’ve said about your husband seeing the version of you that loves to ham things up when you’re playing the nosy sitcom neighbor.
KH: [Laughs.] Yes. For sure. There’s something about this part that has felt very joyful to me, just in terms of why I wanted to be an actor in the first place: It was to be able to take these wild swings in genre and scale. My first experience of performance was going to see Hansel And Gretel, the opera, and there was a witch in it. And I just remember seeing this big, wicked witch on the stage, singing opera. The scale of it was so big. And I’ve been really lucky and blessed to have been playing these very neurotic women for the last six years—very small, tight, or just smallish, scale-wise. And I love that—it’s natural, very meat and soul. But there’s something also that felt very freeing about going to this place again, that I had not felt maybe since I was a kid. That felt really fun. The allowance of this kind of scale.
AVC: What do you think it was about your body of work that caught Marvel’s eye?
KH: I mean, I have zero idea why I was thought of for this part. I have zero idea. I can’t point to one other role that I’ve done which would have been like, “Oh, yes, of course, Agatha Harkness in the Marvel Universe.” I still am like, “What?” It was just the weirdest alignment of stars. I’ve done big things in comedies. I did Bad Moms, so maybe that was it? But I don’t know. I can’t point to one thing, that was recent, that would have done the thing. I have no idea.
AVC: You have done so many different types of movies and shows that it’s hard to pinpoint the role. It’s even hard to sum up a Kathryn Hahn-type character. But I usually get the sense that your character knows something the rest of us don’t.
KH: Well, that’s really cool. That’s really awesome. I certainly don’t feel that in my real life at all, but maybe the parts that I play do. [Laughs.] I went in for the general and then it was like a couple of days later, they were like, “We think we have a part for you.” And it was this part.
AVC: Marvel was already this massive entity, but this is the first time we’ve seen one of its properties gain real awards traction. WandaVision earned nominations across the board, including in the lead acting categories. Do you think that when someone like yourself who has a bit more indie cred than, say, some of the other people that might be involved in the MCU, that kind of helps give genre shows more of an edge when it comes to awards?
KH: I don’t think that it would be anyone that has indie cred’s involvement. I think that it was just the perfect storm of artists and material. All of the Marvel artists involved in this particular piece of material were able to shine in ways that they’ve always had in them. They’re incredible artists, in every department. I was floored by what I saw these Marvel departments do. I think that it was just Kevin [Feige]’s idea for this show that just blossomed into this bird, and this allowance that gave these artists, who had been working on these projects for so many years, the freedom to do this with what they’ve always been able to do. I think it makes total sense just to see these incredible artists that usually blow up buildings in Marvel movies, and now just kind of using wires to move plates around for like the practical magic in the ’50s episode. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? Or like the hair and makeup doing those amazing period wigs. It goes down to the underwire, bullet bras from the ’60s—the corsets and the beautiful, bright fabrics that they would use, because they knew that they would work the best for black and white. All of these artisans and the composers and the special effects and our amazing DP. So, I don’t know. I still think that I can’t pin it on any one person or necessarily anything indie, I just think it all just happened to work. It was a perfect storm.
AVC: What do your kids think of you joining the MCU? A lot of actors have said that it impresses them. When we talked to Jean Smart after she joined the cast of Legion, she said her son finally thinks she’s cool.
KH: Oh my god. Well, she’s always been cool. [Laughs.] Well, my kids, in the beginning, they wouldn’t give me anything. But I think after the show being out for quite a while, and now we can safely say it’s been a big deal, they finally think it’s cool. They’ll never really tell it to my face, but I do think they think it’s cool. They can’t say it to me, I’m their mom!
AVC: Back in March, you did an interview with The New York Times, and you said you didn’t necessarily see what happens to Agatha in the finale as a punishment. That, after scheming the way she has and stealing magic for centuries, she maybe needs a rest. Do you still feel that way five months after the finale?
KH: I’m glad you brought that up because I actually don’t. I think it’s kind of the worst. I kind of was making a joke when I said that. I actually do think it’s kind of the worst. I mean, to clip her wings and put her somewhere like that with boring people and not have anything to do. It’s the worst, it’s a nightmare. Yeah. I mean, [Wanda] basically lobotomized her.
AVC: That actually happens on a massive scale in the show; it’s basically the whole town being held hostage. By the end of it, Agatha’s looking, maybe not sympathetic, but you are kind of like, hmm, did she have a point?
KH: Well, exactly. I say like, “You’re cruel. You have no idea what you’re doing.” Yeah, by the very end, I’m like, “You have no idea what you brought.” I’m really trying to get her to understand the ramifications. Yeah, exactly. By the end, this girl has no idea what she’s doing.
AVC: Is there something that you learned from working on the show that you’re eager to take into the next project? Or, because I know you’re in the middle of filming, you’ve maybe already taken into your next project?
KH: I learn something from every job that I’ve done. No matter what the gig is, I’ve learned something and will bring it to the next, for sure. There’s not an experience I’ve had that I haven’t learned something from, and this was no exception. For whatever reason, I didn’t think WandaVision would be quite as deep or moving as it was. But this was such a surprisingly profound experience. I mean, I think what I learned from it was how much bigger my imagination could be. I learned so much from working with Lizzie [Olsen], who had been in this Marvel world for so long, and she was such an incredible scene partner.
I’m not used to really working with a lot of green screen or working with a lot of effects. I’m used to these tiny scenes where it’s just you and the other person and the camera and a boom operator, and it’s so small and feeling-based and very natural. This really did feel the same—even though the scale around it was so much bigger, it really did feel the shame. It’s such a testament to the director, to our amazing writer, to Lizzie, that we were able to keep that same feeling in this huge world. So I think I learned how to hold on tight to the truth of what the scene was, like the stakes and the givens, even if the scale is a little bit bigger or you’re in a different genre. Just keep holding onto the truth of it and just keep receiving what your scene partner is giving you. And I think maybe that’s what I’m trying to hold onto for this next one. There’s a lot of people in each scene, so it’s about just staying present and being there for your scene partners.
AVC: Of all your previous work, whether it was hugely popular or a little more under the radar, which one brings you the most joy when people bring it up?
KH: Oh, I mean, it’s so hilarious to me that anybody remembers anything, so it’s always so funny when somebody that I wouldn’t expect, like a middle-aged guy, says like, “I really loved Mrs. Fletcher” or “I really loved I Love Dick.” It always makes me so happy. Or like when a young kid is like, “I’ve just watched Parks And Rec and you were so fun.”