During my visit to LA a month ago I not only visited the set of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but I was able to interview the awesome cast and crew of this edge of the seat show! In my previous post I was able to provide an exclusive interview with the all star cast Iain De Caestecker (“Leo Fitz”), Elizabeth Henstridge (“Jemma Simmons”), Brett Dalton (“Grant Ward”), Henry Simmons (“Alphonso ‘Mack’ Mackenzie”) , and Adrianne Palicki (“Bobbi Morse”).
During this interview, I was able to speak with Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Ming-Na Yen (May), Jed Whedon, and Jeff Bell the writers of the show who do so much more than just write!
If you’re not familiar with the show here is a quick recap.
About Marvel’s Agents Of The S.H.I.E.L.D.
Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, reprising his role from “The Avengers” and the “Iron Man” movies) heads an elite team of fellow agents with the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as SHIELD, as they investigate strange occurrences around the globe and protect regular citizens from the extraordinary.
Its members each of whom brings a specialty to the group including combat and espionage expert Grant Ward, pilot and martial artist Melinda May, engineer Leo Fitz, biochemist Jemma Simmons, and computer hacker Skye.
As the show goes on the relationships between the characters are tested by the obstacles they are put through as apart of their jobs as Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D.
Interviews With Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D with Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Yen, Jed Whedon, and Jeff Bell
Question: How much information did they give you in the very beginning?
Ming: They gave me the name of my character and that I was an agent of SHIELD and she left the field for a reason and that’s about it
Clark: Even in the pilot though, just from the script. The first scene where we meet you, even though it 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 not wanting– just I’m quitting. That’s what I draw from.
Clark: Oh, that’s your– that’s your thing. A friend of mine 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.
Clark: But it was referenced a number of times. There were 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, you know, 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. And it’s only been little piecemeal hints So we were kind of excited, you know, three 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, you know, there were always references to it. But, uh, the details of it weren’t really known until the episode. Or maybe a couple of episodes before there were some hints about– about that storyline but, uh, nothing very specific.
You know, 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.
Question: What has been the most emotional scene to shoot?
Clark : In Season 1, episode 11 I think it was I get confused. I think it was called A Magical Place or Tahiti. 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. Like you, that was pretty painful.
Ming: Yeah. Well, you’ve lied to me a lot obviously. Yeah, I think for me it was there was this episode about this kind of ghostly figure that May had to fight with.
And it really brought back her own personal issues about having to let go. So it had a reference to Bahrain, and I think that particular episode, you know, she was struggling with, various things of just not wanting to engage but having to– you know, take care of a situation and allow herself to, yeah, 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 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 have– 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 love them so much off-screen. It’s really fun this is a really good set. There are 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. Anybody else?
Question: What are your stunts versus stunt performers?
Ming: It’s a very collaborative effort between our stunt coordinator, a lot of people who do like rigging and special effects of wirework, as well as my stunt doubles. I have like sometimes two or three depending on their levels of skills of what they can do. It’s always an intense but really fun process. And I learn the entire choreography of every single fight scene
And the only thing that I don’t do is the more dangerous things where it’s the wire works. And, you know, you’re being pulled across a room or you have to smash into a wall.
Clark: She’s pretty remarkable. We both, I think can divulge this crossed a number with a five in it. And, it’s a huge motivator to stay in is that a secret?
Ming: No between the two of us, yeah, a century, right, plus. Wow.
Clark: 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, you know 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 people double the size of me get carted off a couple of times this year. It’s for real and yet they let us kind of work in.
Ming: Matt Mullen, he’s our choreographer and Tanner.
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 into the fight scenes that kind of you know, give homage to very specific people like Bruce Lee or, uh, you know, or just any of these amazing fights that I’ve ever seen. We always try to throw those in too for fun.
Question: How much of your own personality goes into your character?
Ming: Oh! 100%
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 play fights with Clark and points our he has a bruise–
Ming: That’s funny. 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: It’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.
Question: Do you ever get to ad lib your lines?
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 superhero movie like the first Avengers. And the ones leading up to it, there was something that the audience really connected to in the superhero world, someone who was quite vulnerable, who, you know, this was kinda their job. Like, oh, God, what does this guy have for a superpower? And, um, 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-yah might’ve been mine.
Question: Do you have a plane interior where you shoot scenes?
Clark: That’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 see this plane. That thing really goes up with those cars on it. That’s a practical hydraulic.
It’s going to 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 have 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. That makes our job a lot easier. And then very often, you wouldn’t believe some of the strange underground military-looking buildings that are within 45 miles of here.
Question: Do any Avengers make cameos?
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’s very nice when, in this episode last year, the 22nd episode when, director Fury showed up and handed me this spectacular cube, which does a lot of groovy things that no one even knows about.
When he showed up and made Coulson the director of SHIELD 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 and Jeremy Renner have been really cool online saying how much they wanted to come to 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?
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 this Mack and this SHIELD 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– 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.
Let’s check out what the writers have to say about their awesome show that is picking up not only Marvel enthusiast fans but now a younger generation who are just now tuning into the Marvel world.
Question: We have the Marvel cinematic universe and the TV shows. Are you limited to what you can and can’t do?
Jed: We definitely have free reign but it does limit us in that we can’t kill Captain America like we plan to each week. No, you know, obviously there are guidelines. They have these huge temples and we sort of move between them and there are things that are off-limit to us for sure because they have either big plans for them or have already shot stuff that’s gonna use them. But in terms, we don’t feel limited by it.
It’s sort of a fun puzzle for us and, you know, we get big toys to play with because of it. So, you know, it’s sort of a privilege to live in that universe and the fact that when something happens on our show it is canned. It exists and the fact that we have to be respectful to that also, it also means that if we do something it is canned and so that aspect of it.
Jed: But yeah it’s more of a puzzle for us and we get the privilege of seeing what’s coming down the pipeline and sort of catering our stories to move between it. I think we have more fun with it than we do.
Jeff: The only challenge really was when we first launched we knew that Hydra was the big bad guy in Capt. two and there was one word we were not allowed to say on Shield. We called it the H-word and so we knew that was coming and we knew we were building to that, and we knew we were gonna reward that way. We knew it was gonna blow apart the team but, it might have been helpful to have said the H-word earlier for big comic fans. They’re going who are these bad guys.
If we said, well he works for Hydra, he works for Hydra, she’s with Hydra people would have been oh, they’re doing Hydra, that’s cool, but we couldn’t say that. That was really the only limit but the upside was it just exploded in our show and having the word turn like that and letting Brett do that and become that, was awesome and then it really depends on each movie. Like Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have much for us to tie in with.
Jed: And you can consider it a limitation to have a film that literally destroys the organization that your show is named after.
Jeff: Cause when we first wrote it it’s like episode seventeen, do we still exist? Agents of hmm???
Jed: We took it and saw it as an opportunity and I think that it, you know, us working around that and finding a way to make that our show came up with some of the best stories that we had. It generated things that we never would have thought of and put us in a tight corner that we had to ride our way out.
Question: Aside from just the story how has it affected your approach?
With season one people didn’t really know what to expect. By season you got people following. It’s just as essential to see the TV series as it is the movies.
Jeff: (to JED): I like her.
Jed: I’m gonna put that on a t-shirt.
Question Did approach season two differently than in the way you did in season one?
Jed: I think that the big advantage we have now is that people know the characters. A huge disadvantage for us was that they were original characters which most Marvel properties launch with something that you are familiar with.
Jeff: but no one else.
Jed: Right. That was new for all of Marvel and new for the Marvel fans so I think that initially, people reacted to that. They were saying okay, well I’m not seeing things I know of and this has a big Marvel flip at the top of it. but as time goes on and you get to know the characters you start to become familiar with them,
Sky becoming who she became was more rewarding because you spend a year with her getting to know her and it wasn’t like the first episode, here’s this character you’ve heard of. You had to spend some time with them but I think there was a little barrier to entry because these were new names, new faces.
Jeff: And from our perspective, though part of that was we’re an ABC network show. We’re not a sci-fi show. Our mandate was not just to do a show for hardcore Marvel fans. Our show was to try to make, get as many people in as possible and so it was an opportunity for a lot of people to come in.
Characters they didn’t know and so if you’re not a big Marvel fan you don’t know that Sky or Ward was not part of that cannon but for the diehards, they’re like well if Mike Peterson isn’t Luke Cage we don’t like him. And then we go oh, but we’re building him to death lock and you have to be patient to do that because we’re doing 22 episodes and they were like oh, that’s cool.
Jed: So our approach hasn’t really changed. It’s just been easier. You know you don’t have to spend the time. Initially, you have to spend time introducing the characters and now you can just throw them into trouble. Everyone goes oh, no and they’re making their way into comics. you know, FitzSimmons are now in the comics which to us is so fun and, you know, it starts to just weave together and who knows where stuff started and where it ends.
Jeff: And you saw an example but what’s happened with Ward we think Ward has become you need a good act out, do something with Ward.
Jed: Ward walks in. yeah. it’s like oh, no this is — he’s gonna kill somebody or kiss them. I don’t know and I hope he does both. It’s weird. Is it just me, is it just me?
Question: Are there any cameos we could expect?
Jeff: How would you define cameo like Stan Lee?
Question: I mean Stan Lee would be great but I was thinking of like Avengers?
Jed: Well, you know, that falls in the category of questions we can’t answer. That is always a possibility. It would be cool if that happens.
Question: Who would you like to see?
Jeff: All of them. There’s just one episode. They were all in it.
Jed: We don’t really have favorites in that department. There’s a lot. There’s fun to be had with all of them.
Question: Describe your writing schedule.
Jeff: We start June first and the writers room broke today and then Jed and Marissa and I will be here until the second week of May finishing the episodes and then for two weeks we go crazy and sleep and then we come back June first should they say hey, let’s do this again. It’s 22. It’s stupid.
Jed: We’re trying to negotiate that down.
Jeff: It’s too many.
Jed: Let’s do like 20 and by that I mean sixteen.
Jeff: No, it’s, it’s funny because, you know, we talk about internally like god, Games of Thrones was great. They did ten episodes. We’re like ten episodes? We’re just like oh, we got 12 to go. We’re already tired.
Jed : Right, so we start on June first and we start prepping six weeks later so we, that’s how much lead time we have so, you know, that buffer …
Jeff: There’s a train track. They say go and you start running down the train track and six weeks later they let a train behind you, all this and you try to stay ahead of that train until, until next week and you’re trying not to get run over by the train.
Jed: Also, you can plan, you can generate all the story you want but there’s always a bump in the road. You know, schedules. There’s a lot of actors. There’s rain. There are things that you can’t anticipate that when those bumps in the road come you just have to.
Jeff: Evidently every show on TV has a Patton Oswald at least twice a week. Have you noticed this? And so us trying to get a Canning on this show it’s like getting Elijah. You set a chair, you hope he shows up and that’s it.
Jed: We’re like we’ll come to you with a camera. Just tell us where you are.
Question: You guys have been showing a lot of backstories. What’s your favorite?
Jed: Well we’re happy with [episode “Melinda”].
Jeff: Did you see the Cavalry story? Did you like it? Was that a good answer to the question of what happened and all that?
Jed: I mean we’ve been waiting to tell that story for a while.
Jeff: Cause we know last year but part of it was when do you tell that story and how much of who she is and, you know, we wanna earn that story. We didn’t wanna wait too long.
Jed: We kept actually sort of slotting it in as this is a nice place but then as we were introducing the new world that Sky enters we started sort of falling in there and we were like oh, that’s actually …
Jeff: Honestly, one of my favorite moments of the season is when you’re watching. Okay, so this is a human story and then there’s this May flashback story, and when you realize no, this one thing happened here and she says it was her daughter, and the girl steps in. I still get chills but I love that moment for us and the fact that those two stories which I think hopefully felt separate came together in a surprising way.
Jed: You know, it’s fun to read people saying when are we gonna hear this story? We’re like we have it in our back pocket going that’s a good question actually.
Jeff: Well, the other thing we did was at the end of 16 we go we’re gonna get Ward and he shows up in 17 and it’s like how about a flashback story instead. So but and then it happens here as you can see there’s more of that. So structuring 22 and how do you, how do you keep it interested so it doesn’t feel like the same thing every week, we started with White Hall and then Dad showed up. You know, it’s fun to try and keep all those different threads alive over the course of 22.
Jed: Our favorite thing to say right now as the writers are going home and we’re shooting our last episodes this is our 44th episode of Shield which anytime you say it to anybody who works on a show they go oh, whoa, that’s right, that’s the math.
Jeff: Then you cast them and they’re like this is our 493rd episode. That’s true. You guys have been doing it longer than us.
Jed: And then you see an ad for the final four episodes of Mad Men will blow your mind.
Jeff: Which takes you the toll up to 17.
Jeff: Good, they’re all good. We’re not bitter at all, really not. Not bitter.
This concludes our fun and exclusive interviews with Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Yen, Jed Whedon, and Jeff Bell #ABCTVEvent #AgentsofSHIELD. If you haven’t already check out our other exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes tour of the Marvel Agents Of The S.H.I.E.L.D. set!
SEASON FINALE: S.O.S. Part One and Part Two
THE INHUMANS’ ENDGAME IS REVEALED, ON THE TWO-HOUR SEASON FINALE OF ABC’S “MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”
S.O.S.,” Part One and Part Two
“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.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Stars
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stars Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Agent Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons, Nick Blood as Lance Hunter and Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse.
Guest-starring on S.O.S. Part One
Guest-starring on “S.O.S.,” Part One are Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie, Ruth Negga as Raina, Kyle Maclachlan as Cal, Jamie Harris as Gordon, Christine Adams as Agent Weaver, Mark Allan Stewart as Agent Oliver, Maya Stojan as Kara/Agent 33, Dichen Lachman as Jiaying, Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell, Kyle Mattocks as Agent Harris, Ryan Powers as S.H.I.E.L.D. tech agent and Alicia Vela-Bailey as Alisha.
Guest-starring on S.O.S. Part Two
Guest-starring on “S.O.S.,” Part Two are Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie, Kyle Maclachlan as Cal, Jamie Harris as Gordon, Christine Adams as Agent Weaver, Mark Allan Stewart as Agent Oliver, Blair Underwood as Andrew Garner, Maya Stojan as Kara/Agent 33, Dichen Lachman as Jiaying, Luke Mitchell as Lincoln Campbell, Brendan Wayne as Jiaying’s assistant, Robert Reinis as a bartender, Daz Crawford as Kebo, Alicia Vela-Bailey as Alisha and Anthony D. Washington as TAC agent #3.
”S.O.S.,” Part One was written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Vincent Misiano. ”S.O.S.,” Part Two was written by Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen and directed by Billy Gierhart.