Secrets of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
By: Lynn Barker
When the superheroes of The Avengers need a little info or help, they might turn to S.H.I.E.L.D., a super secret government branch (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). In the 2012 movie Marvel's The Avengers, Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton appear along with S.H.I.E.L.D. Deputy Director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). This team aided our heroes from above in their giant Helicarrier. Boss agent Coulson was also in the Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Thor films.
Cut to a new TV series called “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airing starting September 24th on ABC. Although head agent Coulson died in the “Avengers” movie, he is mysteriously back at the helm in the series (Executive Producer Joss Whedon assures us this will be explained) and is still played by actor Clark Gregg. Aiding Agent Coulson to protect, spy on and serve us are these cool new cohorts who can kick mega-butt although they have no superpowers.
Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward -While Agent Grant Ward is highly trained in combat and espionage, he sometimes fails at interpersonal relations. He’s a man of few words, but always cool under fire and ready for action. Fiercely loyal, he would give his life for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Ming Na Wen as Melinda May- Agent May is an expert pilot and martial artist. Though she was once a legend in the agency, she mysteriously resigned herself to a quiet desk job in recent years.
Chloe Bennet as Skye- Computer hacker Skye has a vast knowledge of code. Some would call her a free spirit, others a disruptive anarchist. But all agree on her uncanny ability to gain the upper hand through wit and charm. Skye’s background is also something rare to S.H.I.E.L.D.: a mystery.
The producers say they are building the series as a family show that dads, sons, mom and daughters can get into together. Also answering questions about the new series for us was Executive Producer Joss Whedon who has been at the helm of cool TV shows and movies like: “Firefly”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and The Avengers.
Q: Joss, why the great interest in a TV show about the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization?
- Joss: You know, I'm always interested in people who are in pressure‑cooker situations that are not necessarily world‑famous for it. I like the people who are sort of on the fringe of things. We have the history of the organization from the comic book. But these guys are out there by themselves and we can bond with them in that they don't have every resource, and they don't have the answers. It’s not "Here comes S.H.I.E.L.D. to solve it." It's up to these guys. And that's what really makes a group bond, and that's the sort of thing I like to write.
Q: Brett, you play Agent Ward. Were you into comics or Marvel comics as a kid or teen?
- Brett: Yes! I still have a great deal of my comics collection. Like when gray Hulk meets green Hulk, I have the Wolverine issue where there are three slashes through the cover page, I have X-Force with the connecting covers, Spider-Man, the silver cover edition.
- My dad and I used to go to comics stores once or twice a week and he just asked me, “When you were growing up, did you ever think you would be a part of this thing?” Of course not. They weren’t even doing the movies back then. It’s particularly satisfying to go from the page to the screen and now being a part of this world that I was already a part of in my head.
Q: What qualities do you share with your character Grant Ward?
- Brett: I’m a very hard worker. I’ve worked hard for everything. I want to push myself and see if I can do a thing that somebody says I can’t do. Your parents want you to be doctors and lawyers and stuff so I have that in common with him.
(Note: Coulson was killed in The Avengers film. In the comics there is a thing called a “Life-Model Decoy” duplicating an actual person. Since Coulson is back… is he one? Joss Whedon tells us it will be a mystery for a while, but we will find out in the series).
Q: Clark, Agent Coulson died in the movie. Did you feel like your days of playing him were over? How did that go?
- Clark: While I was surprised how emotional it was to me to give up the character and the long‑term job, I made jokes like, "Is there a rewrite going to be coming from the governor at any point? Do you want to shoot one where he grazes me a little bit?" But, it was really clear that I was dead. Somebody said "Hey, it's a comic book universe. How dead can you be?” Then four or five months after The Avengers I got a call from Joss, he explained a little bit more and that there are things Coulson doesn’t know and by the time I hung up, I was very deeply onboard (for the series).
Q: Can you talk more about Coulson and how the character evolved?
- Clark: He’s like a magnificent chain letter that began in Iron Man with a couple of scenes and the minute I showed up and started getting snarky with Robert Downey and improvising a little bit, suddenly, there were more scenes, and he was in more movies. And every new director and writer came and put a little bit more of a twist on him.
- In Iron Man 2, He reveals that he’s not afraid of Tony Stark, and he's going to taze him and watch "Supernanny" while he drools into the rug. It’s like he’s managing all of these diva rock star agents, and I really enjoyed that. Joss came around and established that he's a geek. He's a fanboy. He's the nerd avatar in this world who grew up reading this stuff and absolutely believes in the heroic stuff.
Q: We see that there is some great fight choreography on the show. There are different action styles; some more military and May is a ninja.
- Ming-Na: Yes I am! I don't like to brag about it, though, so just keep it down.
Q: You played a kick butt character like this before (on TV’s “SGU: Stargate Universe” TV series). What was it like flexing those muscles again?
- Ming-Na: (flexing her arms) I am so proud to show off these guns. You know, it's wonderful to be put to task and having to raise the bar and work out and do the training to really be able to carry this character off. And I think I'm going to be in the best shape of my life. I'm really enjoying it, surprisingly, because I normally don't like to work out at all. I hate it but I do like kicking butt!
Q: Chloe, your character Skye seems to have some serious computer skills. Are we going to see more of that in the series?
- Chloe: You know, what's interesting about Skye is she's a computer hacker, but she's not one of those girls with a dragon tattoo, who is awkward socially and inept. She's actually better with people, I think, than computers. So I think you are going to see a lot of her being Skye and kind of working with people just as much as computers.
Q: How will the show go week-to-week? A different superhero each week or what?
- Jed (Whedon –Producer/Writer): There will be a challenge every week. It is a Marvel thing so there is going to be an overarching mythology, and all of that stuff will come into play for sure but it’s not going to be every week, some new hero.
- There could be a device. There could be a mystery. There are so many aspects to what's happened since everybody in the world found out that there is a superhero team and there were aliens that invaded New York (in The Avengers movie), and we want to be able to change it up every week and deal with every aspect, the spy stuff, the hero stuff, the heartfelt stuff, the humor. We want to make sure that, every week, you get something that feels a little bit different.
Q: The pilot has been super secret. Could you talk a little bit about what it was like working on something that was hush hush?
- Brett: Yeah. I sort of like keeping secrets. I don't know if that makes me weird or whatever, but I just ‑‑ I just think it's a great reveal. It wasn't that difficult for me to keep a secret, but Marvel security made sure that those secrets stayed on set like you wouldn't believe.
- Chloe: Yeah. It's a good thing we all like each other a lot because we pretty much can only talk to each other because no one else can know anything.
- Ming-Na: As an audience member, I love not knowing, and I hate spoilers. It just ruins the experience when you get the behind-the-scenes things and photos of us on set. But I think there's a lot of people out there who appreciate us keeping quiet about this and being surprised.
Q: Was it important for the S.H.I.E.L.D. members to not have superpowers? They are brilliant and have great fighting skills but they aren’t superheroes. They are very human.
- Joss: It’s a thing that appealed to me from the very beginning; the idea of people who couldn’t get Thor’s hammer, who didn't get the super soldier serum, the idea that everybody matters, that the people that get pushed to the side in a giant epic that's only on the screen for two hours can take the spotlight.
- Clark (as Coulson) was sort of an audience proxy (standing in for the audience) in the movies, and the TV show is very much about that sense of, "Well, what about the rest of us? How do we cope with this?" And so, yeah, it was important that our core team, while they are all incredibly good at what they do and ridiculously attractive, they still don't fall under the category of super.
Q: You shot on a military base and in Paris. Will the S.H.I.E.L.D. flying headquarters be going to other international locations in the series?
- Jeffrey (Bell, Producer): Yes. One of the things we love about "S.H.I.E.L.D." is that it is international, and so we did go to Paris in the pilot. And we hope to travel internationally with the series as well. You know, you can do certain things here with movie magic, but we also felt it's pretty cool to have Brett on a motorcycle through Paris, and so we hope we can take different characters around the world. We want to be a big, cool show on ABC, and we bought the plane. So we are going to have to use it for something.
Q: Will the show go crazy, like an episode in black and white or a musical episode?
- Joss: Musical? I'm ruling out a musical.
- Brett: (kidding) I worked on my dance moves for nothing?
- Clark: We worked on three songs already!
- Brett: (Looking at the other actors) You guys can forget the choreography.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" premieres on ABC September 24th!