By Zach Johnson
Debra Jo Rupp is no stranger to sitcoms. As Alice Knight-Buffay on Friends (1994–2004) and Kitty Foreman on That ’70s Show (1998–2006), she’s made an indelible mark in television history, making her casting in Marvel Studios’ WandaVision all the more genius.
Rupp joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the role of Mrs. Hart, the curious wife of Fred Hart (Fred Melamed). In the pilot episode, she attends a dinner party with her husband, hosted by Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision Paul Bettany). Mrs. Hart wastes little time before peppering the couple with questions such as: “Where did you two move from? What brought you here? How long have you been married? And why don’t you have children yet?” The questions wouldn’t seem invasive if either knew the answer. “I think it’s Mrs. Hart’s way of polite dinner talk,” Rupp insists. “It’s the answers, or lack thereof, that…”
Rupp cuts herself off, careful not to spoil one (or more) of the series’ many mysteries. Ironically, WandaVision—and the entire MCU—was a mystery to Rupp before director Matt Shakman called to offer her a role. “I’d been doing a lot of theater because I really like an audience. That’s why sitcom is so great for me, because I get camera and I get a live audience. I get a lot of energy from an audience,” Rupp says. “I’d worked at Matt’s theatre in Los Angeles. He called me and asked me to do it. He needed someone who knew the sitcom genre really well, because the others were less familiar, and he needed someone who could be dramatic. I fit the bill! I got the phone call and now I’m in this Marvel world.”
Prior to being cast, Rupp adds, “I knew absolutely nothing… but I learned quickly.”
WandaVision marks Marvel Studios’ foray into the world of sitcoms—with an MCU twist, of course. The first episode is set in the 1950s, and Rupp enjoyed traveling back in time. “I was already used to doing a different period with That ’70s Show, but I had not done black-and-white like that before. I like the clothing of the ’50s, because it looks good on me, as opposed to the ’70s; that clothing is not good for a short person. So, that was a plus!” Rupp was also fascinated by the use of practical effects to replace each sitcom style. “In the kitchen scene where Lizzie is cooking, I watched all the men hidden in cupboards pulling strings,” Rupp recalls. “I said, ‘Wow! Don’t they have machines for this?’ Nope! It’s people.”
With only three episodes available to stream so far on Disney+, little is known about Mrs. Hart thus far… including her full name. “I’m going to call her Vivian,” Rupp says with a laugh. “From this moment on, she is going to be Vivian Hart… until we’re told otherwise!” Whether Mrs. Hart—er, Vivian Hart—will pop up in future episodes remains a mystery. “I don’t know what has been edited out,” Rupp teases, “but I’m hoping you do see me again.”