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"It's not something you get to play very often": Interview with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Clark Gregg

Daniel Rasmus
Gregg with Lola, the flying car

Clark Gregg shares his insights on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the MCU, and whether his Lip Sync Battle moment influences his performance.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell
Network: ABC

As a consequence of live tweeting about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Clark Gregg and I connected on Twitter. We found time for a brief chat about the show and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), among other things.

Daniel Rasmus: So, Civil War …I’m very familiar with the comic books. The movie isn't at all the comic book version of the Civil War, which was much more S.H.I.E.L.D. heavy than anything that Marvel's put on the screen. But immediately on the [May 10] episode "Emancipation", you launched right into the "register your Inhumans" debate. Was there some conversation about how that happened, or you just got pages and that's what you shot?

Clark Gregg: It seemed kind of obvious to me, just knowing the comics, that movie was going to end up with implementation of some version of the Sokovia Accords. You'd read between the lines, after having seen Ultron. I could see where it was going. It was fun to have that come into our portion of the world, in that it has immediate foreboding ramifications when it comes to, in our world, registering Inhumans. I liked the way they did it. I thought it was great and I thought having Coulson and Talbot once again on opposite sides of an issue, even though we’ve developed a certain amount of trust. I love when Adrian [Pasdar] shows up.

DR: Yeah. I thought it was interesting that the movie's plot was so far away from the comic books, but on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., they brought it a little closer. The movie didn’t really address general Inhuman or "powered people" registration. It was all about the Avengers in the film, and there were hints that others would be registered, but I’m not even sure they used that term ["Inhuman"]. It was more about the Avengers signing the Accords. In the books, Maria Hill was the implementer, not the Secretary of State. I thought it was good to see the idea broadened.

Going back to your resurrection, was there something as an actor, a kind of crossing that abyss of having been killed and having been brought back to life, which changes the way that you play the character?

CG: Very much so. It's not something you get to play or explore very often. The idea of that, and how that affects him going forward is always interesting to me, particularly how it changes his point of view. It's something that was dealt with more in seasons one and two, but I still feel like it informs his world view, and I suspect (and hope), it's something that we'll get to explore more going forward.

DR: Do you ever discuss canon with the writers? Do you ever nerd out with them and ask, "Why did you guys take this so far from where the books went?" Or not, because the books are, in a way, the ultimate kind of disconnection? Daisy, for instance, was close to Nick Fury, rather than Coulson; she's the one who recruited Phil Coulson into S.H.I.E.L.D.

CG: Once in a while we'll talk about it, but it's more that the writers and I, at the beginning of the year (or sometimes during the middle of the season), will have a conversation about what the reference point is. Is it going to be the Secret Warrior arc, or how many of the original Inhumans are going to be involved in what we do? We'll talk, for instance, about how this year's going to be about "shadow" S.H.I.E.L.D -- trying to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. in the shadows -- and if there's anything that's kind of influential in what we're trying to do, it's more like Global Frequency or some kind of graphic novel like that's connected.

DR: Tell me how fun it is to have your hand to play with. [Editor’s note: Coulson's hand was removed to save his life at the end of season two.]

CG: It's nice to have my hand back. My poor hand was getting a little beat up inside the various fake versions of itself.

DR: Now you get to do cool things with it.

CG: It has some powers, yes.

DR: Different powers depending on different situations, it seems.

CG: You never know; it's whatever Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) seems to have come up with for me. There might even be some new reveals of what the hand can do before this season’s even over.

DR: I thought it was interesting that you had what appeared to be a force field, which hasn't even been invented yet.

CG: Right? And yet it has on my show.

DR: It's interesting because every other technology is kind of incremental. The Quinjet's pretty cool, and the take-off a couple weeks ago was one of the more spectacular airplane take-offs I've seen on television, but a viewer can still imagine that. The force fields? That was a bit of a stretch.

CG: Which take-off did you like? The one that's through the broken doors? Again, I'm going to give you a slight foreshadowing in that you might see an even cooler version of a Quinjet take-off before this season’s over.

DR: I'm looking forward to that! What's your favorite Coulson moment?

CG: There are so many at this point! I loved the early stuff with Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); I loved some of the interchanges with Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Certainly me geeking out over Cap [Captain America] (Chris Evans) and blasting Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Also, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) showed up and gave me back my beautiful gun and made me the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- even though S.H.I.E.L.D.'s defunct.

DR: From an acting perspective, when somebody like Brett Dalton ends up completely shifting characters, what do you do in terms of changing the way you play off of that?

CG: Luckily, the way that I respond to it is the same way Coulson does, which is you're not sure what to make of it. I loved the line they wrote [in “Paradise Lost”]: "I knew this would come back to haunt me; I just didn't think it would actually come back to haunt me." Dalton's performance has been so amazing and nimble, and it's continually evolving. I’m a little bit jealous of all the crazy places he's got to go, but it's really been a great gift to all of us to watch all the stuff he’s done with it. I think what he's done with Hive this year has been remarkable.

DR: It's too bad that people doing genre work don't get nominated for Emmys. Brett and Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black can sit at the Golden Globes and talk about that at some point.

Going back to the subject of take-offs, the bus died and you were able to make Zephyr One, but Lola’s still not flying.

CG: Yeah, it's a never-ending source of some heartbreak, although it’s hard to rationalize, being in deep cover in an outlawed organization, driving around in a flying red corvette. I've been begging. Maybe they'll come up with a version that’s a little bit more plausibly under cover.

DR: Well, it'd be nice, even if it was just at the ready in the hangar and not necessarily flying at the moment, right?

When you’ve got people like Adrienne [Palicki] and John Hannah on set -- that have kind of a rich genre background, do you guys ever nerd out and just bring in things from other places: Heroes or John’s work on The Mummy films? Does any of that ever cross over, just in afternoons of fun?

CG: No, it's just in stories. All we're able to carry in our hectic schedule is just stories from those various worlds.

DR: Just a couple more questions: Did playing Britney Spears on Lip Sync Battle influence your take on Coulson at all?

CG: Yeah, I'm sure there’s some way; Coulson spends a lot of time on really fancy planes but he never really gets to dress the part. (laughter)

DR: I'm assuming there's no plans for an affair with the new head of the ATCU?

CG: Oh, you mean with Adrian (laughter)? Not that I know of, although that moustache is very appealing.

Season four of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will air in the fall on ABC.

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