Josh Stamberg on 'Operation Varsity Blues' and 'WandaVision' Theories

After notable roles in The Affair, Drop Dead Diva, The Loudest Voice and Parenthood, Josh Stamberg is coming off his biggest project yet, playing S.W.O.R.D. acting director Tyler Hayward in Marvel’s Disney+ original series, WandaVision. In a conversation with ET, the actor opens up about landing the role, the one thing no one predicted about his character, and appearing in the Netflix documentary Operation Varsity Blues, which chronicles the 2019 college admissions scandal.  

When it comes to the documentary, which is now streaming, it is largely told through reenactments of wiretapped calls led by Matthew Modine as the scheme ringleader, Rick Singer, with Stamberg portraying one of the parents, Bill McGlashan, who was charged in the bribery case alongside actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. 

Stamberg says that director Chris Smith called him early in the development process and invited him to be part of this “mashup” of a film. “It didn’t totally make sense to me, but it sounded exciting,” he admits. And while he didn’t initially know who McGlashan was, he was familiar with the scandal. “I had followed the case pretty closely because I have known Felicity Huffman for a very long time.”

While Stamberg hasn’t spoken to the former Desperate Housewives star in awhile, he was worried about “treading on bodies that were already down in a way,” he says, explaining that “the whole situation is wildly disappointing and sad, not only for them, but for their kids. So in that regard, it felt like it was an important story to get out there.”

And in this moment with the country reckoning with white privilege and systemic racism, Stamberg adds, “That mattered to me.” 

But no matter how Operation Varsity Blues lands with audiences, it’s unlikely to surpass WandaVision, which became the biggest series of 2021 and a rare watercooler moment in pop culture during its nine-episode run. “In my sort of longish, longish career, I’ve been on some successful shows or, dare I say, hit shows. But this is like juggernaut territory,” Stamberg says. 

In the puzzle-box series, the actor plays the antagonistic director of Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division, taking over for Monica Rambeau’s (Teyonah Parris) late mother, Maria. And following the Blip, he’s grown wary of superheroes. So when grief-stricken Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) creates a hex around a New Jersey town as she mourns the death of Vision (Paul Bettany), Hayward is more focused on protecting his secret project rather than trying to figure out or understand what’s really going on with the former Avenger.

As the episodes debuted, audiences quickly turned on Hayward, with theories suggesting he was a version of Ultron or Mephisto, hiding in plain sight. “On Twitter and Instagram, people were like, ‘I can’t stand you. But great job,’” Stamberg says, adding that kind of reaction was “oddly pleasing because it means it worked.”

For all the theories floating around, the actor says nobody predicted that he would create White Vision. “I loved that,” he says, while adding that he’s more than happy to play Mephisto as so many fans suggested or hoped for.

Surprisingly though, Stamberg did have his reservations about the role, which was another handsome jerk in a long line of similar characters he’s played in the past. For better or worse, he has a reputation for playing “the guy you’d love to hate” and making them more than one-dimensional antagonists, which is good “because they tend to be meatier roles.” 

One of the questions he had for Marvel was, “What can we do to keep him from just being mustache twirly?” the actor recalls. “And I liked that, at least for an episode and a half, there got to be some quote-unquote charm or some likability before it sort of descends into this guy who’s so hungry to run the universe.”

The other thing Stamberg made sure of before signing on was that Hayward wouldn’t die. And with his character being arrested by the FBI in the finale, it certainly leaves the door open for the actor to return in future Marvel projects. “I do pray as the creator of the White Vision that I’ll come back somehow,” he says, adding, “I would not only be disappointed, but a little surprised if I didn’t show up somewhere.” 
     
No matter what, “I knew it was a really big swing and ambitious. That’s what I liked about it,” he says, appreciative of the response he’s gotten. And despite being another guy audiences love to hate, “I could see this was something really special. And fortunately, all of those other roles had somewhat prepared me to hopefully make this a little more interesting.” 

Stamberg concludes, “This one does feel next level and that feels great.” 

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