Of all the characters on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Grant Ward has experienced the biggest evolution since being introduced to viewers in the pilot episode. The second season of opened with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was revealed to be a Hydra sleeper imprisoned by Coulson and his team, refusing to give intel to anyone other than Skye. Now, following his escape from a transport vehicle set to deliver him to his senator brother to stand trial, Ward has become a dangerous free agent. Not only has he killed his brother and parents, burning their house down around them, he’s offered his services up to Daniel Whitehall and Hydra.
Ward’s motivations have been a mystery since the start of the this season — while he seems to be honest with Skye, and is apparently intent on keeping his promises to her, there’s no telling what he’ll do now that the demons of his past have literally gone up in flames. And as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” heads to its midseason finale, it’s likely that events will start to coalesce into a major showdown.
CBR News spoke with Brett Dalton, the actor behind Grant Ward, about his character’s growth, including how he prepared for his new found villainy, the way in which Ward’s relationship with Skye has motivated him throughout the second season, the “completely unpredictable” nature of Ward and more. Plus, he weighs in on whether Simmons might actually keep her vow to kill Ward, and whether he hopes to stage a comeback as an actual agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
CBR News: With his turn, Ward quickly became one of the show’s most intriguing characters, and that’s only increased with his current actions. When you found out the direction your character would take this season, how did you prepare?
Brett Dalton: Well, the turns that he’s taken since the beginning of season two have surprised even me. Obviously, when we pick up his storyline, it’s six months later and he’s gone through a hell of a time by himself in solitary confinement. He’s had to wrestle with a lot of his demons, and as we see, he’s tried to end things at least three times. That’s where I was starting from. They wouldn’t tell me any more than that, other than that I’d only be speaking to Skye at the beginning of season two and there’s a promise that I’m trying to keep to her.
[Laughs] That’s all I had to go on! I didn’t know there was going to be an escape. Obviously, I didn’t want to spend the rest of the season trapped down in there. Everything since then, I didn’t know about. It’s been a fun journey that I’ve been taking with the writers, and it’s nice to be surprised.
Let’s talk about one of the biggest developments for Ward in the last episode, seemingly killing his parents and his brother, then burning down their house. How do you see that moment as a turning point for the character?
I think a lot of season one was about Ward’s past, and a lot of season two is about his future. There were a lot of flashbacks in season one about his brother and the well, which was a turning point for him. If you’re in solitary confinement and all you have is yourself in there, you’re going to be doing a lot of thinking. This moment he had at the well with his brother and his other brother is a defining moment for him. He has to return to that in order to bury it once and for all and move beyond it. This whole thing with the brother and the parents is something he tried to do [already]. He tried to burn down the house — that’s what got him in juvenile hall in the first place. This was a successful time at that — the first was a bit of a strike out. This time, he actually accomplished what he tried to do when he was younger. This is really him burying the hatchet so he can finally move on.
It’s great. The next time you see him, he’s all dressed in black and I tried to play it as him being a new man, completely. It’s the next chapter for Ward.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Ward are his motives. He’s previously said that he was never loyal to Hydra, he was loyal to Garrett. But he just joined back up with Hydra, entering into a partnership with Daniel Whitehall. What is it about Hydra’s positioning in the grand scheme of things that makes them appealing to Ward?
I think the way I left things with S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t exactly on amazing terms. [Laughs] What I will say is that he has his own motives — I’m the one playing the guy, and I know that the writers have something in mind, and I have some of that information. But the main point about that is he wants to keep his promise to Skye. As you can see just by being in the same room with Whitehall, he also gets to be in the room with Skye’s father. He definitely seems pretty singleminded in trying to fulfill his promise to Skye, so you’ll just have to see where it goes from here.
Obviously, Ward’s relationship and feelings for Skye have played a huge role in the second season. How will Skye continue to serve as a motivator for Ward as the season continues to move forward?
That’s a good question that I don’t actually have the answer to — not because I’m trying to be cagey, but because I sincerely don’t know. It’s been a huge, huge factor for him in the past, and I think it will continue to be. But how, I don’t really know. I know that season two, it’s pretty much his only motivation. There is a promise he’s made to Skye that he wants to keep. I feel like in every single episode, he’s even said that — those words exactly. “I want to keep my promise to you.” “I’m trying to keep my promise to you.” He’s been single-minded in that pursuit for all of season two. That’s absolutely his motivation, from captivity onward. We’ll have to see. I’m sure the writers have a lot more twists and turns coming up, just as they have with the rest of the season.
It’s surprised even me, which is pretty good!
You’d been pretty stationary, in solitary confinement, for most of the season until the escape — what’s it been like to be out of the cell and able to really show off some of Ward’s spy skills again?
Well, it’s been great. The good thing about being in a cage is that your schedule suddenly becomes very light because you’re in the same place, there’s no sound you have to worry about, there’s no location logistics you have to worry about — you’re just in a box. You’re in a room with another person, and those scenes are really great because they’re entirely about the acting. It’s about the relationship between you in a cell and the other person outside of that cell and all the stuff that’s going on within that room. There’s something really cool about that. But being out is also really liberating. [Laughs] I really felt such a freedom in just getting out of those clothes! I was in those clothes and in that room for so long — it just felt like, “I’m never getting out of here!”
But it’s cool to be out there, and that’s what Ward is known for — everyone talks about how dangerous he is, what incredible spy skills he has, so it’s fun to be able to deliver on those. Not just to be a threat that people talk about, but a threat that is very real.
As the season progresses, are you looking forward to interacting more with some of your old friends on Coulson’s team?
That’s always nice. We really do love each other. I’d say this season has a different flavor in general. Season one, we were all together and all solving things together. It was six guys on a plane who would investigate these unexplained events, and sometimes the people who were trying to do things with certain powers. We were doing it together — but this season, we’ve introduced a lot more characters, there are a lot more storylines going on. In general, the scope is much larger in what we’re trying to do here. We’re often not on set at the same time.
But it would be great! These are some of my best friends, and we get together casually and socially out of work, but it’s also really nice to work with your friends, too, because you bring so much to the table and it’s just fun. I definitely hope that happens in the future — just from a pure friends place, I’d like to be with my friends again and work with them.
An interaction that surprised quite a few people was Simmons’ promise to kill Ward if she ever saw him again. Do you think she’ll be able to make good on her vow?
Well, that would be some good television, wouldn’t it? To have someone who is the meekest out of our group suddenly become the most ferocious. That would be very, very interesting.
I remember the stage direction, which is the way I played it — she says that thing, and Ward believes her. There’s no commentary on it — she means it! We’ll have to see what happens.
I hope she doesn’t fulfill that on one level, because then I wouldn’t be alive anymore! But it was a good moment, I think, that fans were surprised by.
Back when Ward’s betrayal was first revealed in season one, you mentioned that there was a massive social media backlash. Have you seen any trends in audience reaction to Ward in season two?
Yeah, I think the turn was really surprising. Nobody really saw it. I was a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing the entire time, and then for him to work for this evil organization that was diametrically opposed to S.H.I.E.L.D. was an even bigger thing. We saw at the end of season one that I was really following more of the man than the organization. It wasn’t like I had “Hydra Life” tattooed on my chest with the octopus or something — and the octopus would be wearing sunglasses, by the way. I think [audiences] got a chance to see a lot of backstory and why I would be following Garrett.
But I think what fans see now, in season two, is that Ward really is a wild card. He’s not working for any one organization at all — he’s kind of working for himself at this point, and he has his own motivations and reasons for doing all of these things. He has the skills to do whatever he wants to do, which makes him really scary. I feel like people have been onboard with it ever since then. It’s not like, “Hail Hydra, man!” because I’m not Hydra, nor am I really S.H.I.E.L.D.
I feel like people and fans are excited to have somebody who is completely unpredictable. When he’s onscreen, you don’t know why he’s taking that bus, you don’t know why he’s in civilian clothing. You don’t know if he has a bomb strapped to him or what he’s doing exactly. That’s really exciting.
I think fans are — hopefully — onboard with the guy. He’s completely a lone wolf out there, and a determined one. It’s cool to watch. Kudos to the writers for that, as well.
As the series heads to its midseason finale, what should viewers be watching out for with Ward?
This season, everything’s been turned up a notch. The midseason finale is no exception. There’s a pretty big game-changer in there, and that’s about all I can tell you — but our show won’t be the same.
Finally, one thing on every fan’s mind: Do you think Ward will ever come back to S.H.I.E.L.D. as an agent?
Well, certainly not if I have the Hydra tattoo! I would have to get that removed.
That’s a question on my mind, too! [Laughs] I don’t know. I really don’t know. That would be kind of fun, but gosh, so much has happened that there would have to be a really long, “I’m sorry” period! [Laughs] I don’t know. Maybe he’d just have to be stuck in the kitchen washing dishes for a year to prove he could be back on the team. I really don’t know. We may have turned a corner on that, or it could be one of those things where it’s the most impossible thing that couldn’t happen — and then it happens, which makes for exciting stories.