Whenever Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes bursts into the camera’s focus on Disney+’s WandaVision, the show’s laugh track usually kicks in as the archetypical sitcom neighbour interrupts whatever odd thing Wanda and Vision happen to be doing. But the more time WandaVision spends following Agnes around, the more you see that, out of all of Westview’s residents, she might know the most about what’s truly going on.
When Gizmodo spoke with Hahn recently about what it was like to develop Agnes’ personality, the actor explained how her history of playing best friend characters immediately gave her a sense of what sort of headspace Agnes might be in, generally. But in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s WandaVision — where everything about reality is meant to be questioned — people like Agnes aren’t always what we perceive them to be, and Hahn insisted that audiences will be surprised as the story unfolds.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, Gizmodo: We see so much of the nosy neighbour archetype in Agnes, and that’s part of what makes her so immediately recognisable. She’s an Ethel. But I’m really interested to hear from you about who she is in those moments when Wanda and Vision aren’t around.
Kathryn Hahn: [laughing] Well, thank you for caring about Agnes’ personal life, because she is just always popping up at their house.
Gizmodo: But you can see that all of WandaVision’s characters have some sort of interior lives in ways that are taking place off-camera, to a certain extent.
Hahn: Right, yeah. It’s interesting. I can’t really let you know what’s going on in her private life just yet, but I do have this path for her in my mind. The thing I kept sticking with, as we were doing all of our research by watching a lot of old sitcoms, was that you actually don’t really get to see their private life ever. No one really cares about who they are, and they just kind of show up, and they’re in the living room or on the couch all of a sudden.
Hahn: I, in my career, have played the best friend a bazillion times, especially early in my career, so these are well-worn shoes, but that made me feel like I understood Agnes and what it feels like to be looking through the windows at that couple, wanting to be a confidante, and wanting some goss.
Gizmodo: What was most challenging for you about inhabiting Agnes, given how much experience you have playing these kinds of characters? What areas of your expertise did you tap into to really realise this character?
Hahn: I mean, besides keeping secrets, I would say this desire to please, you know? That wanting to be friends. I, certainly, am not an advice-giver — we all have those friends who will just offer up unsolicited advice. So much of this story is about boundaries, too, that people put up around themselves, when they do it, and why.
Gizmodo: There’s this social aspiration quality to Agnes you see more of in episode two, when you see her and Wanda interacting with whatever Dottie’s organisation is —
Hahn: The parent/teacher whatever.
Gizmodo: Exactly. What was so fascinating about those scenes is how you’re seeing Wanda and Agnes exploring Westview, but you’re also getting a sense of how there’s this undercurrent of menacing, but not overt horror.
Hahn: We’re clearly not just trying to faithfully redo genres of sitcom. There’s something churning underneath it all, and there are layers and layers to this story that are going to begin being peeled back, and people are going to have to go along for the ride. I know that there are a lot of theories, which are really exciting, but I also know that people really need to be surprised about what’s coming.
Hahn: Oh, yes!
Gizmodo: She was this really surprising breakout star in the movie that no one was expecting to take on this life post-Spider-Verse. So often, when characters like Doc Ock are reimagined, the reaction’s sort of mixed, and certain fans have complaints —
Hahn: [laughing] Oh, yeah. Right, right.
Gizmodo: But with your Doc Ock, people were immediately blown away, and I’m curious what it was like to be on the receiving end of that response when it’s kind of rare?
Hahn: I love the idea of being able to reframe and reimagine, and be like “Why not?” I was thrilled by that whole process, and it was a ball. I could only imagine the bummer if people weren’t excited about it. So, empathy for that.
WandaVision airs Fridays on Disney+.