ABC’s soon-to-debut “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” may be headlined by a Marvel Cinematic Universe mainstay in Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson, but not every character in the main cast is a seasoned veteran of the spy game.
The pilot, directed by Joss Whedon between “Avengers” movies and co-written by Jed Whedon, Marvel Studios films like “Avengers” and “Iron Man 3,” and introduces several new characters into the S.H.I.E.L.D. mix, none of which have comic book counterparts (at least not yet). Skye, played by Chloe Bennet, starts the series as a complete outsider — a civilian hacker diving into the budding world of superhuman activity who gets recruited into the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
As such, Skye will be seeing a lot of crazy stuff for the very first time — something Bennet, whose highest-profile credits previous to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a seven-episode stint on “Nashville,” says mirrors her own experiences. CBR News spoke with Bennet about how Skye’s arc may unfold in the show’s first season, her surprisingly comfortable Comic-Con International experience and whether or not her past as a Chinese pop star singer (under her birth name, Chloe Wang) may come in handy at any point during the series.
CBR News: Chloe, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuts next Tuesday. What’s your current excitement-to-nervousness ratio?
Chloe Bennet: It’s getting a little ridiculous. I’m so excited. Honestly, I just want to see the show, as well as everyone else. I’ve only got to see the finished pilot once, and that was at Comic-Con — which is the best way to see it. But I want to see it again. I can’t wait to start watching what we’ve been doing every day, and what we’ve been working so hard at, because the episodes get better and better and better.
It’s certainly a show with a lot of anticipation around it, connected to billion-dollar movie franchise, and the biggest role of your career. Given all of that, how are you feeling about the overall experience right now?
I’ve been feeling pretty calm considering all that you just said. I think the reason why we all work so well together, and hopefully the show will be so successful is because we’re all just focused on trying to do the best we can at work, and just make great TV. The hype is very exciting, and it’s very flattering, and I’m so glad that so many people are excited, but at the same time we just want to kind of keep our heads down and focus, and try to make the best product for everyone to enjoy. And that’s what the focus has been.
I have been living in the Marvel world. I walk outside on the weekends, and I’m like, “What do you mean there’s no Hulk? People don’t have powers?” It’s been fun.
With something like this, even though you’re been working on it for a while, is there still an abstract sense to it, since the public hasn’t seen it yet?
Yeah. It’s really weird that they haven’t, because there’s been so much hype about it, I feel like they have because of all the excitement and people expressing their excitement to me, and I hope it continues once the show comes out. It would be really awkward if it just stopped. [Laughs] I’m so excited for people to see what we’re working on, and hopefully enjoy it.
It’s been incredible. Joss [Whedon] is amazing, and [showrunners] Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen] and everyone at ABC and Marvel has been great. And my cast — they’re like family. It’s great because the show is about this ragtag team of people who aren’t very familiar with each other, and then they grow to be this semi-dysfunctional family, and our life is happening that way. They have slowly become my family members, because we spend so much time on set, and we’ve grown, and we’ve had this amazing bond because of how crazy of an experience this is. I feel like that’s not too far off from the show.
For an ensemble show, that must be important.
It’s really important, and it’s not fake at all. Clark [Gregg] has been such an amazing mentor for me, and Ming-Na [Wen] — they’re such pros. To all of us kiddos who are pretty new and pretty green, they’ve been such great teachers. We’re just all having such a good time.
To talk a little more specifically about Skye, the character you’re playing, you’re the outsider, rather literally, being thrown into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the first time. Does that make it a little easier to get into character, or is it its own sort of challenge?
It does, because when all this exciting stuff is happening, Skye is terrified but also super-intrigued and excited by it. It’s not too hard to play, because I’m also that way, whether it’s with the special effects or the stunts; it’s all so crazy and cool. It’s easy to play that kind of excitement and shock that Skye is feeling, because she’s thrown into this world of being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and normal things don’t happen to you every day when you’re a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
It’s fun to go to work and then drive home and be like, “I feel like I’ve played dress-up all day today.” We get to do that, and it’s work, so I feel like the luckiest person ever.
That’s kind of the dream of acting, right?
But it’s heightened with this show, because the stakes are so high, and because it’s Marvel, and we get to deal with superhumans and supernatural occurrences. It makes it even crazier.
In terms of the show going forward, we see in the pilot the very beginning of the indoctrination of your character into the S.H.I.E.L.D. world — is it a fairly natural fit for Skye, or does it take some getting used to?
I think there are certain things that she is able to fit right into, but there are other things that are, even for Coulson, like, “Oh? What’s this?” It’s going to be very entertaining to watch her be initiated. She’s the computer hacker who’s been on her own, living in a van, and then she’s brought onto a S.H.I.E.L.D. team and starts living in the S.H.I.E.L.D. giant airbus. Even that, in and of itself, is going to be funny to watch. I don’t think Skye’s very coordinated with combat training, either. [Laughs] We’ll probably see some funny scenes that have to do with her getting initiated in that sense. She’s not very good, which is great for me, because I’m not very good.
As you said, you’re now living in the Marvel world — previous to being cast on this show, what kind of exposure have you had to Marvel, from comics, movies, whatnot?
I have six brothers, so I think I have more exposure than the average girl. I have no sisters, so it wasn’t really princesses around my house, it was sports stuff and comic books. So obviously, I was a fan, the movies in particular. Once you get cast in Marvel’s first TV show and a Joss Whedon TV show, you definitely go do your homework. Once I got more into it, I fell in love. One of the best presents ever was at one of our first table readings, we get there, and we have a pile of awesome comic books. They’re like, “That’s your homework!”
It’s been really fun to get to know more of the Marvel characters, and I have my favorite — Jean Grey. I think I might be her for Halloween. Or, Brett [Dalton] and I were thinking that maybe I would be Simmons or Fitz. Or maybe I would be Melinda May for Halloween, and he would be Coulson, and then they would be us. I want all of us to be each other for Halloween, because once you get into the show, you’ll see that we all have very specific wardrobes. And Ming-Na’s outfits are awesome.
You’re diving into not only the world of Marvel, but also one of Joss Whedon.’s Were you a fan of his TV work ?
Definitely. Obviously, everyone in the world has seen “Buffy” at least once. I loved “Buffy.” But once you are cast in a Joss Whedon show, you go back and you rewatch everything. Still, I’ll go back to my trailer and I’ll watch episodes, but the whole new show thing has given me little time to actually do other things. So hopefully when I have more time I’ll watch more.
“Dr. Horrible” was amazing. So funny. That’s Maurissa and Jed as well. I’m a huge Joss fan. And working with him on the pilot — it’s surreal.
Speaking of “Dr. Horrible,” a couple of different Whedon projects have had a musical element, and you’ve got a background as a singer. Any chance that will come into play — somehow — on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
[Laughs] Skye goes on a stint of being an Asian pop star. That would be hilarious. In between takes, sometimes to memorize our lines, we’ll sing them to each other. Clark is a big rapper on set. Maybe we’ll do something like that. Every time we have a mission, we just sing about it, and it becomes a dramatic music video, with fog. And it’s solved in that song. We’re onto something!
It’s definitely interesting that with “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” there are two Asian-American actors in the main cast of the show, and the characters have nothing to do with their race, which is obviously rare. How meaningful is that aspect to you?
It’s so meaningful. Not only is it Ming-Na, it’s me, and our writer/executive producing is also an Asian-American woman, Maurissa Tancharoen. It’s really special, and I think it gives us an edge. It’s rare that there are so many Asian-Americans on a show, the leads, and they’re all women. It’s pretty kick-ass.
Coming from my background in Asia and always being proud of my Chinese culture, I’m so proud. I’ve had lots of Chinese-Americans coming up to me and saying, “I think it’s so cool, I love Ming-Na.” I have young girl fans say, “I’m proud to be Chinese-American because of you.” It’s incredible. I’m very excited. And hopefully we will be able to get over to China, and talk more about it.
And it’s great because I can speak with Ming in Mandarin on set and brush up on my Mandarin. [Laughs]
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was publicly screened for the first time last July at Comic-Con — what was your experience like?
I had never been to Comic-Con before. When we were told that we were going to go, Joss was like, “I’ve been there before, so you’ll be in good hands.” When he said that, I was like, “I feel like you’re really underplaying what you’re saying right now, because I’m pretty sure you’re the god of Comic-Con.” And he was.
It was just so great to see the loyalty of the fans, and to see how excited they were about this, and how they just took us in into their world that we really haven’t been a part of. Their enthusiasm was so cool. We started shooting the second episode two days before we went to Comic-Con, so it was a great push of energy to really make this a great show after leaving there. And the costumes were awesome.
I bought a Chewbacca robe — like a really big, fuzzy Chewbacca robe. I bought it to walk the floor as a disguise, so it’s this big, floor-length Chewbacca robe. I bought it as a joke thinking I wouldn’t wear it, but I wear it every day on set. [Laughs] I sleep in it. I go to hair and makeup in it. It’s like a giant sleeping bag that you can wear, but you look like Chewbacca. It’s a dream come true.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24 on ABC.