If you don’t watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. you are missing out. It’s one of the best shows on TV and ABC has brought it back for a 3rd season.
We had the opportunity when we were in LA last month for the Avengers: Age of Ultron press junket to tour the set of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and interview the cast. Talking to Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, Agents Phil Coulson and Melinda May, was a wonderful experience. Ming’s laugh is infectious. Clark is such a pleasure to talk with. They were fun, humorous, and genuinely happy to chat with us about the their characters, Avengers tie-ins, family, and all things S.H.I.E.L.D.
At one point, the noise in the room was a bit much from other activities in the building and Clark wanted to make sure it got toned down so we got a good interview. He went and asked them to tone it down while Ming was answering her question, as it was quite distracting. Seriously? What a guy. Awesome. Can you love him even more??
And when Ming had to leave to get make-up done for a scene, he wanted to stay and answer a few more questions for us. I absolutely love interviewing talent that wants to stay and chat with us. It means a lot to interview talent that is engaged and interested in answering our questions. I love it when then love us and want to give us more of their time. You also have to love it when someone as awesome as Clark Gregg comments on your groups' awesome Nerdy Comic book t-shirts and lanyards. I mean, those lanyards come with some major privileges.
[at the time we interviewed them in early April, there had only been one screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron, so they hadn’t seen the movie yet]
Have you seen the new Avengers?
Clark: Oh, man, this thing—what are you doing?
Ming: I’m taking pictures of the bloggers.
Clark: Oh, ohhhh.
Ming: Let them be in front of the camera.
Clark: You saw Avengers?
Ming: The first movie, yeah.
Clark: I still didn't even see the part after I got killed in the first one 'cause I was–
Ming: Too emotional.
Clark: I was—frankly, I was too sad.
Ming: Way too emotional.
Clark: No, I haven't seen it. The lock down is so secure that I'm really excited 'cause I am gonna get to go see it with my pal here.
Clark: Monday night. But that will be the first that any of us have seen it.
We saw it last night.
Ming: You did not! [LAUGHTER] Okay, well, let us ask you questions then. What happened?
Clark: Okay, be honest. Am I in it?
Ming: Is he in it? Seriously because I keep bugging him that he's in it. And he's not telling anybody.
Clark: No one believes me. See then now someone can—it’s like you're secretly in it, and you're not telling us. I’m not!
Ming: It’s so crazy that you're not in it because it’s—
Clark: I didn't want to be in it. It’s too scary. I mean I haven't seen it.
Ming: Ugh, okay. So you weren't lying. Well, I’m glad—
Clark: How was it? Did you like it?
Ming: I’m glad you weren't lying though.
Clark: We’re not recording you. Is it great? That Joss, he's talented.
Ming: Joss who?
How much information did they give you in the very beginning about your characters?
Ming: They gave me the name of my character and that I was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and that she left the field for a reason, and that's about it. I didn't get very much.
Clark: Even in the pilot though, just from the script. In the pilot, the first scene where we meet you, is me going to find her where, she's behind stacks of boxes and paperwork having checked herself out of SHIELD. And we only gradually come to learn that she's got this reputation—
Ming: As the Cavalry.
Clark: As the Cavalry, and that she's a legendary warrior who quit and pushed away from the table because of a traumatic experience.
Ming: And I used my thing as an actor—”I’m quitting.” That's what I draw from.
Clark: Oh, that's your thing. A friend of mind gave me a Monopoly card that says “Get out of show business free.” Just when you’ve had enough of the abuse.
Ming: Yeah, that's right, just box yourself in and do not—
Clark: But it was referenced a number of times. There was little hints of it in different episodes of what had happened. Eventually some pieces got filtered in that is this involved a powered person and deeply scarring stuff, which I always really liked. It’s where the show kind of veers into something topical, the concept of people who do defend other people militarily, the scars they carry in PTSD, but it’s only been little piece meal hints.
So we were kind of excited, 3 days before we started shooting when we found out that this was gonna be the reveal.
Ming: Right because we've heard a lot about Bahrain. And there were always references to it. But the details of it weren’t really known until the episode. Or maybe a couple of episodes before there were some hints about that storyline, but nothing very specific. So a lot of times for us when we’re acting it’s almost as we’re the audience member, because we’re discovering it the way an audience member would discover it watching the show. You know, they don't tell us anything.
Clark: They tell me some stuff.
Ming: That's because you're the director. You're Coulson.
What has been one of the most emotional scenes to shoot?
Clark: In Season 1, episode 11. I think it was called “A Magical Place.” And it was when Coulson was put in the memory machine by Raina and the people we did not yet know were Hydra and kind of forced to confront the fact that he had been dead that he’d been through this tremendously excruciating experience.
And also that stuff about the cellist and kind of the things he had lost. And that part of the journey of someone who’d been a kind of “no questions asked company man” realizing that he too had been lied to by all kinds of people.
Ming: I think—
Clark: Like you. That was pretty painful.
Ming: Yeah. Well, you’ve lied to me a lot obviously. I think for me there was this episode about this kind of ghostly figure that May had to fight with.
And it really brought back her personal issues about having to let go. So it had a reference to Bahrain, and I think that particular episode she was struggling with various things of just not wanting to engage but having to take care of a situation and allow herself to—there's a lot going on over there, isn't there?
Clark: That's all right. That's all right. We’re working on it.
Ming: But then of course I think the other scene was when Skye was—
Clark: When Skye was shot. It’s the family. This is a show about a family.
Ming: Yeah, that was a big one.
Clark: People who don't get to have real families 'cause they work too hard. I suspect you know what that's about. And how they become a family. And at the times when the bonds, the trust is questioned when people are hurt, we lose people on this show.
We lost B.J. Britt. And most of us are still recovering. You know, even some of the bad guys, we end up—we love them so much off screen. This is a really good set. There's others. This is a really good one. We have fun, and we take care of each other. And when we have to say goodbye to people it really is painful. And a lot of times you feel it in the scenes. And it’s just dark around here for a little while. We loved B.J. so much. And he was such a kind of discovery and such, a buoyant person.
I think we had five different goodbye parties just to keep him coming back around.
On stunts: What are you versus stunt doubles?
Ming: It’s a very collaborative effort between our stunt coordinator, a lot of people who do rigging and special effects, of wire work, as well as, my stunt doubles. I have sometimes two or three depending on their levels of skills, of what they can do. And it’s always an intense but really fun process. And I learn the entire choreography of every single fight scene.
And the only things that I don't do are the more dangerous things where it’s the wire works: you're being pulled across a room or you have to smash into a wall.
Clark: She's pretty remarkable. I think, we can divulge, this crossed a number with a 5 in it. And it’s a huge motivator to stay in shape—is that a secret?
Ming: No between the two of us, a century, right, plus? Wow.
Clark: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I guess I wasn’t prepared for that party.
Ming: I know. Doesn’t it sound worse that way? But, yeah.
Clark: We both really love that part of it. She gets to do a bit more of it, but I’m always fighting for a little bit more. It gives us an excuse, when you really have worked late the night before and you don't want to go to the gym. You remember that at any moment you're gonna be thrown into one of these fights. And you're gonna not want to have them pull you out 'cause you can't do it. And we have amazing doubles who really kind of make us look good in the moments where it gets too dangerous.
And I mean I've seen guy—people doubling me get carted off a couple times this year. It’s for real. And yet they let us kind of work in.
Ming: Matt Mullen, he's our choreographer.
Clark: Matt Mullen and Eric Norris, they really do an amazing job of kind of tailoring the fights to stuff that I do. They know that I practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a workout. And every once in a while they’ll let me throw in a move of that 'cause I might have some practice at it.
Ming: Mm-hmm, yeah, and I love just watching fight scenes, you know, because the Chinese movies are all about that. And so whenever we can throw little Easter Eggs in to the fight scenes that kind of give homage to very specific people like Bruce Lee or just any of these like amazing fights that I've ever seen. We always try to throw those in too for fun.
How much of your own personality goes into your character?
Ming: Oh! 100% [LAUGHS]
Clark: I mean for us it’s hilarious to watch the taciturn and lethal Melinda May and then hang out with the giggly and hilarious super sweet Ming. I mean you don't want to mess with Ming either.
Ming: Yeah, if I’m hungry.
Clark: But there's a difference.
[Ming gets called away to make-up]
Ming: They need to bruise me! [LAUGHS]
Clark: Oh, here I can do it right now. I can do it here.
Ming: Ready? Ready? Ready? Go.
Clark: You go bruise. I’ll take another one or two if you don't mind.
Ming: That's funny. Yeah, yeah. So I hope to see you guys again. I just have to go to work now and be bruised—it’s a very glamorous job.
Clark: That's funny though 'cause they're gonna go put her in makeup and get a lot of bruises. But after fight day they're all real, all up and down her arm.
Ming: Arnica is my friend. So we all know. I’ll talk to you guys again soon. Bye. Have fun, Clark.
Clark: Mother of two. Father of one.
On ad libs and one liners
Clark: I have ad libbed a couple of them, but not a lot of them. My god, I’d love to claim more of them. But a lot of them are our terrific writers. From the get go, Joss in the pilot and these writers—one of the reasons they I think brought Coulson back to life is that to their surprise in a super hero movie like the first Avengers and the ones leading up to it there was something that the audience really connected to in the super hero world, someone who was quite vulnerable, who this was kinda their job. Like, “Oh, God, what does this guy have for a super power?” And got to have some kinda snarky lines.
It’s always been something that people really responded to about Coulson. And they give me some great ones. They’ve accepted the fact that at the end of most scenes where that's appropriate I’m gonna do one extra pass and throw in a couple. Um, “Boo-ya” might've been mine.
On Lola flying, shooting out insides of the plan, and movie magic. Do you have a plane interior where you shoot those “other” scenes?
Clark: It’s a great question. It’s very similar to the films only with about a tenth of the time and resources. The short answer is you see Lola, you this plane. That thing really goes up with those cars on it. That's a practical hydraulic. And if it’s gonna be coming out the back of the plane suddenly this will be surrounded by either green or blue. And the sky and the wind machines and everything, it’s a blend of practical and digital, Mark Kolpack and his amazing team.
And I feel like one of the things that's been really satisfying is to watch how he's kind of revolutionizing what's possible on a TV show that shoots in eight days and does 22 of them in a season, can be accomplished. There's enough that's really real. I've seen one of these completely filled with snow, and then it’s gone the next day. It makes our job a lot easier. And then very often we’re suddenly at some—you wouldn’t believe some of the strange underground military-looking buildings that are within 45 miles of here.
Do any Avengers make cameos? Any you’d like to see?
Clark: I’m always happy when those friends come to play. I’ve always felt that Coulson was kind of the crazy uncle of the Avengers. And he never likes to choose favorites. It was very nice in this episode last year, the 22nd episode when, Director Fury showed up and handed me this spectacular cube, which does a lot of grooming things that no one even knows about. When he showed up and made Coulson the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. that was a big day.
I love whenever Maria Hill, Cobie Smulders, comes to play. We've had Lady Sif a couple of times. Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner have been really cool online saying how much they wanted to come play. They’ve been a little busy doing this independent film that you guys saw the other night. At some point I’d love to see all of that. I gotta say, for me, what was really exciting this year was people asking less that question and more, “Oh, Dear Lord, how is Fitz? How is his brain? Is he okay?” The way people have kind of—and I really think a lot of this credit goes to the writers and some of these actors, the way people have really kind of been concerned about Skye and Chloe Bennett and fascinated by Mockingbird and Mack and this S.H.I.E.L.D., too. And having people like the magnificent Edward James Olmos show up.
What we’re doing here is getting to bring new stuff, the Inhumans into the world. And at some point, I do think the flow will become a little more porous. But I’m glad we've gotten room to kind of set up our own thing.
And more fun on set
Ah, posing for a photo with Clark Gregg/Agent Phil Coulson. Now THAT was a FanGirl moment!
And if Clark Gregg/Agent Phil Coulson likes you enough, you get to sit behind his desk for a photo…
Watch Tonight's Episode “S.O.S.”
MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.—“S.O.S.,” Part One and Part Two”—S.H.I.E.L.D. puts everything on the line to survive a war that blurs the line between friend and foe. Coulson and his team will be forced to make shocking sacrifices that will leave their relationships and their world changed forever, on the two-hour season finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” TUESDAY, MAY 12 (9:00–11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Mitchell Haaseth) IAIN DE CAESTECKER, CLARK GREGG, ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE
Avengers: Age of Ultron—New Trailer
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is now playing in theatres everywhere!
I've been invited to LA courtesy of Disney for a media event. All opinions are my own.