Emma Caulfield On ‘WandaVision’ And Discovering She’s A Gay Icon
"Every once in a while something has come along that I’m excited to be a part of. And I don’t know for whatever reason I guess they’ve attracted a big gay following..."
In the second episode of WandaVision, Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes tells Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda, that “Dottie is the key to everything in this town”.
In walks Dottie, the queen bee of Westview, played by the iconic Emma Caulfield Ford. And the gay screaming you heard in the background was from me, super excited to have one of my favourite actors who played one of my favourite characters from my favourite show back on my screen.
Emma Caulfield Ford’s first big role was playing Susan Keats on Beverly Hills 90210 during the shows sixth season. Her character was a newspaper editor who dated Brandon Walsh (played by Jason Priestly) before leaving that zip code for another to work for the Clinton/Gore campaign.
But, the role that cemented her as a gay icon was her role as the beloved Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her character was originally introduced as a one-off monster of the week that turned into a reoccurring role, eventually leading to her rightfully earning a spot in the opening credits. Anya was a thousand year old demon that, after being defeated in her first appearance, was turned back into a human. Her entire story arc was about her learning to be human, a journey that is equally comical and beautiful. I have cried watching many an Anya scene — from her not understanding Buffy’s mum’s “mortal” death to her brutal death in the finale.
And with Dottie, Caulfield Ford brings the same energy she does to every project — turning a side character into something way more interesting. She’s like a breath of fresh air injected directly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Agnes describes her as the queen bee of Westview, we know there’s much more going on, and our first huge clue is the instantly iconic encounter poolside with Dottie and Wanda. We hear The Beach Boys singing ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ over an old radio while a voice (Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park) tries to communicate with Wanda through it. It’s such an intense scene where both Olsen and Caulfield Ford go between the sitcom acting and real world acting effortlessly. The scene plays out like something out of Twin Peaks, only with a lot gayer energy. It gave me such chills that once I finished the episode, I immediately went back and replayed that specific scene. It even got me to put ‘Help Me, Ronda’ on my newest playlist.
The way Caulfield Ford goes from Sitcom Queen Bee to confused, scared real person is impressive to say the least. It’s something a lesser actor would not have been able to pull off. But if you’ve watched Buffy as often as I have, then you know she is no lesser actor.
“The actual emotional beats of being in this state and then something bringing you out of it and being like, ‘what’s happening’ and then [snaps fingers] right back into it again,” Caulfield Ford tells me. “We were both very excited to shoot that. Lizzy was really excited about that scene, I was really excited about that scene. We just knew it was going to look bitchin’ when it was done and the payoff would be so great. I was so blown away when I saw it — I was like, ‘This is even cooler than I thought it would be.’”
The fact that she affectionately refers to Elizabeth Olsen as Lizzy is incredibly charming– but her whole personality oozes charm. She paused the interview at the top to put in eye drops then jokingly told me I made her cry. When I mention her former Buffy co-star, Tom Lenk, she responded with, “I just want to eat his face.” She was verbose and welcoming, while dressed in a stellar plum coloured blazer.
Even when she spoke about the different eras she had to emulate, she is charming, “Obviously the accents and particular mannerism for those periods were very exact so that took a lot of prep work and working with a vocal coach. To make sure the body language was right not just for the period but for the sitcom itself. And each sitcom has its own vibe. So each thing changes accordingly whether it’s Bewitched or The Brady Bunch or Dick Van Dyke, wherever they go everything has its own thing. The black and white stuff was the most specific and probably the most foreign because it’s so removed from how we talk now.”
She then goes into the accent she did in her first WandaVision appearance, hanging on every syllable, “You know that Mid-Atlantic thing is very…”
I add, “And the cadence is there too,” to which she replies, “And the cadence! Without sounding like a fool!”
emma caulfield is in wandavision!!! i stanned her so hard in buffy the vampire slayer
— 🧸Gagey Poo🧸 They/Them (@GageTheeThembo) February 5, 2021
When I ask her if she knows what it is about her roles and her acting that draws in gay fans, she answers with complete honesty — something that feels very Anya but is also clearly very Emma Caulfield Ford: “Oh god. That’s a really good question — I have no idea. I would say most of my acting decisions have been based purely on money. You know, whatever pays for your mortgage or that pays for whatever.”
I’m floored that this doesn’t seem like a question she’s been asked before. I had assumed every woman who starred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is tired of being asked about their gay fans. The process of becoming a gay icon is a relatively mysterious circumstance, but you could argue that these figures usually share qualities of glamour, flamboyance, and strength.
But, much to my happiness, she seems actually interested in the actual answer to this question.
“A lot of the things you do are to keep working and stay alive… every once in a while something has come along that I’m excited to be a part of. And I don’t know for whatever reason I guess they’ve attracted a big gay following. I don’t known– is fantasy really big in the gay world? I don’t know! I would love to have that answered for me by someone in the gay community. I feel like I don’t have a good answer other than I guess I’m just lucky… I don’t think I can take credit for it. I don’t know. Please enlighten me.”
“I mean,” I tell her, “You can take credit for it because it’s you in those roles!”
“It’s me but what are the roles? What is it about a role or project that would endear me?”
I tell her it’s that she plays these characters that are always going through something while trying to fit in and still be happy and that’s probably what draws queer folks to her. Her pitch perfect portrayal of an outsider trying to fit in.
“That makes sense, okay,” She responds, sounding both satisfied with my answer but also a bit heartbroken. “But also that’s incredibly sad. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s a really interesting topic but no one should have to live that way and yet it’s been the reality for a long time. With very serious consequence if that truth, your truth comes out. If I’ve played people that spoke to that and it’s helped then, hell, I’m super thrilled,” she tilts her head and looks directly at me, “It’s an added bonus”
I smile and thank her for her time. She smiles and tells me to stay safe.
WandaVision is currently streaming on Disney+.
Ian Carlos Crawford is a freelance writer and podcast host who has too many feelings. Follow him on Twitter at @ianxcarlos.