Ghost Rider has arrived on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and the character — played by Gabriel Luna — made a strong first impression (and a rather violent one, taking advantage of the shows new 10 p.m. time slot) on last week’s fourth season premiere.
Bringing a Marvel character as high-profile as Ghost Rider into an established series entering its fourth season isn’t an easy task, and CBR News spoke with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon about it a premiere event last week in Los Angeles. Tancharoen and Whedon also discussed the changes made to the show’s Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes — created by Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore and introduced in 2014 — how the Inhumans fit into season four and the ongoing importance of diversity to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
CBR News: Maurissa, Jed, Ghost Rider coming to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and that’s a big deal — and he’s not necessarily the first major Marvel character you’d expect to show up on the series, which is likely part of the point of it. What’s it been like to introduce this new element into the show in season four?
Maurissa Tancharoen: I’ve definitely felt the testosterone level turned up to, I don’t know how many notches.
Jed Whedon: The first time they showed us the car, they peeled it out and did a little demonstration, and she just turned and looked at all of us boys: “I”m happy, but you guys are really happy, aren’t you.”
Tancharoen: Everyone’s faces — their eyes were popping out of their skulls.
Whedon: We’ve been very much enjoying the new flavor. It has been a challenge in terms of how to introduce it and get it right — we don’t want it to feel not of our show, so there was a lot of discussions about how to get that right. I think Gabriel Luna was a key factor in making sure it landed.
Tancharoen: He’s doing an incredible job. He’s playing someone whose skin melts off and his skull sets on fire, but when he is Robbie, he’s very grounded. There’s an emotional weight there. He’s doing such a great job.
This version of Ghost Rider has only been in the comics for a couple years, and it’s the first time Robbie Reyes has been adopted to other media. He appears similar to the source material, but there’s also some clear differences; the character is older than he is in the comics. How much latitude did you have in interpreting Robbie Reyes?
Tancharoen: The comics have absolutely influenced the direction we’re going with Robbie, but as with everything, we always do our own spin.
Whedon: With some of the superficial changes, there’s an expectation with the name “Ghost Rider.” The look, I think, is a little bit more of a throwback, but with elements of the new Ghost Rider. In terms of story, we aged him up. We think people who are are familiar with that comic will still be very surprised, but happy with how much we play to it, and how faithful we are. And people who are not familiar will just dive into something that feels very new.
Ghost Rider is clearly a major part of the season — his name is in the logo — but the show also has a lot more going on this season, story-wise. How much does Ghost Rider — I don’t necessarily mean this as a pun — drive the season? How big of a force is he?
Tancharoen: He’s clearly driving the premiere of our season.
Whedon: He comes with a whole bag of tricks, and his own baggage. He’s not the only thing that comes with Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider has his own demons, so that will probably become a major part of our season.
Tancharoen: But we have much more beyond Ghost Rider for the rest of the season; hopefully things that will surprise you.
Whedon: Or maybe not, but they’ll be satisfying if they don’t. [Laughs]
One thing we haven’t heard much about yet is the role of Inhumans, who were a major focal point of the last two seasons. How important is that aspect this time around?
Tancharoen: It’s very important. We’re now seeing our characters in light of the Sokovia Accords, and S.H.I.E.L.D. being re-legitimized, so that definitely affects our cast of characters.
Whedon: The Inhumans present a great storytelling device in that they’re a metaphor for what it’s like to be different. We always try to lean into that aspect of it. It’s not just about, “What’s your power?” It’s, “How are people going to react to you? What does it feel like to change? What does it feel like to not be accepted?” We’ll never ditch that aspect of the storytelling.
One thing about the show is that it’s always appeared very mindful of representation — it was personally exciting that there were two Asian-American main cast members from the start, and the show has further diversified. The Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider is one of the few Mexican-American genre characters, period. How important has diversity continued to be for both of you, as the show grows and evolves?
Tancharoen: It’s very important to us.
Whedon: One of us is diverse. [Laughs] I won’t say who.
Tancharoen: Actually, as a team, our first job together, we were a diversity hire because we were a team.
Whedon: I don’t know if we should tell people, they already think I got the job from my brother.
Tancharoen: Well, truthfully [Jed] got the job because of me. [Laughs]
Diversity’s very important to us. We are both born and raised here in Los Angeles. We grew up with diversity surrounding us. It’s everything that we know. We like the show to represent the world we live in. Thankfully, we work alongside people who are advocates for diversity, as well. It’s not just us. It’s everyone we work with.
Whedon: That was a big part in picking this version of the character. That’s the world we wanted to live in, and it does matter to us.
Tancharoen: It was important for us to have a Mexican-American actor play the role, as well.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs 10 p.m Tuesdays on ABC.
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