Paul Bettany’s own experience with loss helped him to connect to WandaVision‘s exploration of grief. The English actor reprised his role as Vision in the Disney+ Marvel series after being killed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Due to the scheduling changes caused by the pandemic, WandaVision premiered on January 15 as the beginning of the MCU’s Phase IV and was met with widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike.
Centering on Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch following the events of Avengers: Endgame, the series was structured as a mystery, depicting Wanda and Vision living a seemingly idyllic suburban life in the town of Westview, New Jersey. This is gradually revealed as an illusion of Wanda’s own making, as she placed herself and those around her in a fantasy that mirrored the American TV sitcoms that were an escape for her as a child. WandaVision‘s exploration of grief and how it would manifest in someone with abilities like Wanda’s was often singled out as a reason for praise and is a chief reason the show scored 23 Emmy nominations this year.
Bettany, who himself is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series, talked to GQ about his own experience with grief and how it informed his performance. According to the profile, at 16, Bettany lost his 8-year-old brother Matthew in an accident, a wound that has remained fresh in the many years since. Though he believes revisiting that pain has gotten more difficult as he has gotten older, in the case of WandaVision, it helped him connect with the message of the project:
What a clever thing to do with a superhero-genre show and to have this woman going through unspeakable suffering in grief, who also happens to have powers and can create her own world. And then, suddenly, the reality hits and [she realises] ‘I need to let go.’ I really did connect to it.
Elsewhere in the interview, Bettany discusses having approached this reprisal of Vision as a challenge to connect with audiences despite the heavy makeup, or as he puts it, “move people as a purple robot.” He also addressed the controversy surrounding the many Wandavision fan theories, some of which resulted from his comment implying an epic cameo that ultimately referred to him acting across from himself as White Vision. Bettany avoided social media throughout the show’s airing, sparing him the brunt of the fervor, but remains apologetic for unintentionally leading fans astray.
Given Bettany’s personal history, it seems only fitting that Vision was the one to deliver WandaVision‘s famous grief line – which was even workshopped while he and Olsen were filming the scene. He certainly succeeded at moving people despite the obscuring nature of his costume. His ability to tap into genuine emotional understanding (despite his character’s struggles in that department) is seemingly a major reason. His performance is reason to hope that he returns as White Vision, who has not been seen since he fled after Vision restored his memories, and Bettany leaves that door open in this interview. But given his history with misleading comments, it’s best to keep speculation to a minimum.