Continuing our series of interviews from the top secret installation that hosts Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we turn the spotlight on to Clark Gregg, who played Agent Phil Coulson in a handful of Marvel movies before getting killed off and then ending up revived in the TV series. Gregg’s character of Coulson is the backbone of the series, and he’ll be meeting up with comic book royalty in Tuesday’s new episode of the show, which is called “T.R.A.C.K.S.”
Coulson’s revival has been a source of a lot of the mystery of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first season, and Gregg purposely tries not to let himself get too spoiled, to keep the honesty of his performance. “I deliberately keep it so that I don’t know more than what’s in the scripts, and I’m always about two scripts ahead in terms of what we’ve shot. But there’s a frustration in that, too, that works, that helps me,” Gregg says. He specifically refers to a sequence in “The Magical Place” where we saw a strange contraption messing with Coulson’s brain. “I saw that sequence, and I had a lot of questions. As a lover of comics, and [being in the] front row of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the early stages, I saw things that raised serious questions to me. Who’s behind that glass? What the hell is that machine, because it doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen at Cedars? And why fix him? Why go to these lengths over Coulson? That’s not my impression of S.H.I.E.L.D., or Mr. Touchy-Feely himself Nick Fury. What’s going on? That’s exciting to me,” Gregg explains.
He also points out how Coulson’s reaction wasn’t what you would necessarily expect from someone in his position. “What was more front and center was, suddenly after finding out how much has been kept from his own files, and even this file that he’s gotten with these pictures of himself in a body bag, it doesn’t tell everything. There’s things in there that just don’t make sense. I don’t know what they were doing with that thing, but theoretically, that doesn’t exist. So he’s got pressing questions, but then he realizes that he’s doing the exact same thing to Skye, and that causes a feeling of hypocrisy that, in the kind of rough-shoot company man having feelings that he’s pushed down all his life, that’s not okay, and the focus becomes if I’m going to want this for me, I’m can’t deny it to someone I care about, and that led to the trip to Mexico, and to me, the astonishing story from that agent who’d gone off the grid for twenty years, over the story of this little baby who’s an 0-8-4. I got chills when I read that,” he says.
Could the frustration all of these S.H.I.E.L.D. mysteries and secrets ultimately turn Phil Coulson into a bad guy? “The definition of what’s good and evil shifts,” Gregg says. “Anyone who assumes some sort of mantle of heroism, seems to develop a kind of hubris that leads to some kind of moral downfall of some point. Coulson, on the other hand, has always kind of been an Everyman who, in a way, is kind of like the moral core of that universe, and to a certain extent, this show. With that said, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a world of gray areas, and I don’t know how you do what he does for this many years without losing touch. I also don’t know how you get as emotionally and psychologically betrayed as this guy does without getting dark, and if it requires getting dark to get the truth, it feels to me like when you’ve had your status within the company jeopardized, you’re more likely to get that dark. I’ve got a feeling the last part of our season’s gonna get a little edgier.”
On a less edgy note, Tuesday’s “T.R.A.C.K.S.” features an appearance by none other than Marvel’s Generalissimo himself, Stan Lee, and without spoiling anything, Gregg had very positive things to say about his co-star. “I’ve been in a couple things where Stan Lee had a cameo, and I have seen everything that I know of that Stan Lee’s had a cameo [in]. This is his finest moment as an actor. He knocked this one out of the park. It’s a sexy, powerful performance, and he kind of rocked us all back on his heels. I don’t think anybody was prepared for it. I think he’s been going to the Actors’ Studio or something, because he really brought his A game,” Gregg says.
As for another comics legend, Jim Steranko, who frequently writes very critical reviews of the show at The Hollywood Reporter website, Gregg reveals that he hasn’t met the man who created several innovative and ground-breaking S.H.I.E.L.D. stories in the 1960′s. “I haven’t talked to Steranko, no. I admired him a lot in the comics, and he has a lot of theories about the version of the show he would like to make. I encourage him to make one of his own,” Gregg said, prompting laughter from the reporters surrounding him.
The next episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., titled “Tracks,” airs this Tuesday, February 4 on ABC. Take a look at some preview images and come back soon for more interviews!