After spending an hour with Ming-Na Wen at her spotlight panel at Fan Expo Canada, it would be understandable if you walked away thinking she should add “humor” to her stoic “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” character’s already impressive arsenal of weapons.
On “AoS,” Wen plays Melinda May, a no-nonsense, fiercely loyal secret agent who is gifted in hand-to-hand combat and shooting firearms. Throughout Wen’s Fan Expo panel, the actress behind May employed wit, quips and self-deprecating jabs with equally deadly — and funny — accuracy, while fielding questions about her Marvel Cinematic Universe role, as well as previous projects such as “Stargate Universe” and “Mulan.”
When Wen stepped on the stage to a rowdy round of applause, moderator Morgan Hoffman opened by mentioning that Wen’s resume is full of kick-ass characters. Does Wen seek out these types of roles, he wondered, or do they simply find her?
“I don’t know,” Wen responded. “If you believe in life synergies and things, it’s a combination of that and luck. A lot of luck. You need a lot of luck in being an actress. Maybe the casting people see that in me, or I give off that energy. But I’m really kind of a wimp.”
Prior to joining Agent Coulson’s team, “Stargate Universe” was Wen’s home for two years. Asked about her reaction to the series’ cancellation, Wen replied, “It was sad because it was an amazing show. We had an incredible cast and writers and producers. It was so much fun and shot on the other side of Canada in Vancouver. It was really sad. The other ‘Stargate’ series had gone on and on and on. Because the producers were really itching to do something a little bit different, they made our ‘Stargate’ a little bit darker. It didn’t take at first, but then the throngs of fans were so upset when the show got cancelled and ended with everybody floating out in space in deep sleep. Hopefully it lends itself to a movie to finish it off.”
Discussing “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” Season 2 episode, “Melinda,” which detailed how May earned the nickname “The Cavalry,” Wen said she welcomed the chance to explore the softer side of her character.
“Her ‘Cavalry’ name was such a mystery, and it kept being a mystery for so long that when our writers told me that they were finally going to reveal what happened to her, I was a little bit nervous,” Wen admitted. “I was a little bit concerned, because the build-up had been a year and a half. What if it didn’t live up to that expectation? But they did an amazing job writing the story. I was so thrilled and honored that they wanted to explore that part of May. Hopefully, it helps the audience really understand that she had PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Those are real issues that we deal with on our show, aside from the fantastical.”
Explaining to the audience that a subset of AoS” fandom has dubbed Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Melinda May “Philinda,” Hoffman wondered if romance was in the duo’s future.
“They don’t flirt, you know,” Wen responded with a laugh. “There’s such a bond between Coulson and May, and the history that they have. In the backstory for Melinda, they went through the academy together, so they have a lot of history. Sometimes the best kind of love is coming through friendship and having a shared history and betraying each other and lying to each other. That’s all love.”
Asked why “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” connects with so many viewers, May’s response was to ask the audience rahter than her. “My take is, because I am such a geek, I’m such a fan of the whole genre,” she said, offering the reason for her personal attraction to the show and its characters. “How crazy are we about ‘Star Wars’ this year? I was sad I couldn’t go out on Force Friday and buy some toys. I am one of you guys when it comes to this stuff. I go to work every day, and even when it’s at 3:30 in the morning and I feel like crap, I get excited. It’s an incredible sandbox to be in.
“The reason why Marvel is so good at connecting with the people is because they are telling human stories in a fantastical world,” Wen continued. “It’s about humanity. It’s about connection, family and learning if you can trust or believe in people when they’ve turned on you. All those elements, and dealing with your own inner demons, which a lot of these characters do — plus the explosions, the fight scenes and the humor — all adds to it.”
Hoffman then turned to the line of fans forming in the middle of the room, the first of whom wondered what sequence Wen was most excited to film?
“The most exciting thing was the pilot, and just the fact that I got this great gig,” Wen replied. “I’m working with Joss Whedon and meeting all my co-stars and the crew and the team. I’m flying a plane. Now, every new season is always exciting. It feels like going back to school, but better.”
Multiple fans praised Wen for being an inspiration and role model, with one individual asking what it was like being a woman of color in the sci-fi universe.
“It’s always been a struggle as an Asian woman to break into the business in the first place,” Wen said. “I think I’ve had the great fortune of having people believe in me, and wanting to hire me and work with me. It is exciting. It thrills my heart. I just met a couple of girls today — just looking at their faces and feeling that connection that I’ve somehow either inspired them or gave them someone who can be a role model… I have a daughter of my own, who doesn’t really look up to me. So, I’m doing something wrong there. [Laughs] I’m kidding!
“It’s a wonderful perk of my profession,” Wen continued. “The whole idea of getting into this business was because I wanted to be part of a community and to be able to entertain people. If you can entertain them and inspire them, that’s just a great perk and honor.”
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe plans already announced for the next several years, one fan inquired about which movie Wen would like to see May appear in.
“First of all, I’m a whore when it comes to work,” Wen joked. “I will take any job. So, if anybody here has something they can offer up, call me. My ultimate dream is to be in a ‘Star Wars’ movie. I’m so close. Have you seen the Infinity 3.0 posters? They have a Marvel world. They have the Disney world, and then they have the ‘Star Wars’ world. ‘Mulan’ is part of Infinity 3.0. May hasn’t gotten there yet. But, I’m like, ‘I’m in two. I just need that one.’ Everyone needs to sign on to Instagram and Twitter. You need to let George Lucas, Disney, Star Wars, J.J. Abrams, anybody, know. I just want a walk-on in a ‘Star Wars’ film before I die. Then, of course, any of the Marvel movies would be fabulous. Was that desperate?”
“She’s one of my most challenging characters, because she’s such an antithesis of who I am when it comes to her personality,” Wen said, responding to a question of how she finds her connection to May, as an actor. “As you can tell, I talk a lot. She doesn’t. I smile and laugh a lot. She definitely doesn’t. I think it’s about her internal strength. That we have in common. Also, she hides her emotions behind this shield, [Laughs], this armor that I’m hoping in Season 3 she’s break through a little bit. Me, I handle things in an opposite way with humor. I think if you can’t laugh at your troubles then you are in trouble. I’m so good at flying a plane and jumping out of a plane and parachuting and kicking ass. I’m lying.”
Asked if and how “Captain America: Civil War” would affect “AoS” next summer, Wen pleaded the fifth.
“Ooo… I’d rather answer a really, really personal question,” she said. “Not that one. You might not see Agent May anymore. People are watching. I can’t answer. Sorry.”
“Who cares? It’s cancelled,” Wen jokingly responded to a question about she’d imagine the “Stargate Universe” crew’s adventure continuing. “I would have liked to have seen [Camile] reunite with her loved one back on Earth and have an opportunity to fulfill her destiny. The character I played on ‘Stargate Universe,’ to my surprise, was a lesbian. I had never played one before, and my husband was really, really happy about it. See, that’s personal.”
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” resident traitor, Brett Dalton, has discussed on social media what a klutz Wen is on the set of “AoS.” When this was mentioned, the actor feigned anger at her co-star.
“Brett! Hydra! Kill him!” Wen declared playfully. “For those of you in the know — and for those of you who are not — Apple Boxes are basically boxes made out of wood. It’s one of the oldest things that Hollywood uses for everything and it’s amazing. It’s the only thing I think that has remained a staple in filming. They have different sizes. Quarter boxes, half boxes and full boxes. Because Brett is sooo tall and I’m not, even in heels, a lot of times when we do close-ups, those extra two or three inches really help the camera crew go back and forth more easily or it looks better. A lot of times, I have to use Apple Boxes because I’m not that tall. I just look tall on camera. But, yeah, I fall off of them all the time because I’m really a klutz. I’m so not Agent May.”
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