Although those who saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” knew about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s takeover by HYDRA, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” still managed to drop a huge game-changer with last week’s episode, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” when Grant Ward — the team’s specialist and Supervising Officer to fledgling S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Skye — came out of the shadows and into the light as an Agent of HYDRA, serving John Garrett (Bill Paxton), the Clairvoyant. After shooting Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) and two other agents, Ward freed Garrett as the S.H.I.E.L.D. transport flies them wherever they want to go.
In order to shed a little light on Ward showing his true HYDRA colors, CBR News spoke with the man behind the secret agent with the highest espionage marks since Romanoff, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” star Brett Dalton, about the major reveal of last week’s episode, and what the future might hold for his character. Plus, he discusses working with Bill Paxton and interacting with him in upcoming scenes, the rest of the cast’s reaction to him finding out Ward was actually working for HYDRA, his massive Twitter shift to reflect his character’s new allegiance, the potential for the future of SkyeWard and how he might be able to lend his musical talent to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
CBR News: Brett, first of all, Hail HYDRA.
Brett Dalton: [Laughs] Thanks! I should change my voicemail now, huh?
[Laughs] Are you tired of hearing that, yet? Have people been saying that to you a lot?
Well no, they haven’t been doing the “Hail HYDRA” thing but people have been looking at me differently since then, because before the character was so stalwart and so well-intentioned that they fell in love with that, and they felt in some kind of way betrayed. “Oh, man I really liked this guy!” It’s funny, I do get a lot of texts from friends — this is real — who have co-workers that have kids or have kids themselves, and they’ll watch it, and the kids have a much different opinion of me now! [Laughs] That was kind of funny.
In a previous interview, you mentioned some of your favorite comic characters: Deadpool, Punisher, Lobo — a lot of morally ambiguous characters, certainly. Considering your love of these characters, how much have you enjoyed bringing an element of that to Ward’s personality, now that he’s been revealed as an Agent of HYDRA?
You know, bad guys are so much more fun. That’s the bottom line. Certainly as an actor, what it does is make this character so much more complex and that’s so fun to play. I think what the writers do a really good job of is — I can’t really tell you too much other than, it’s not like the writers flip a switch and all of a sudden, Ward is evil and I’m twirling my mustache and I’m petting a cat for the rest of the season. I think they do a really good job of fleshing that out and possibly explaining things.
I think they do a really good job of developing the character so that it’s not a switch for pure shock value. You do understand why he is the way he is. I just think it’s so fun to play and to have all of my scenes — many of my scenes — with Bill Paxton, it’s so much fun, and I can’t remember having that much fun on set. There’s a certain freedom to that. Something about when you don’t have to follow the rules — think about how much fun pirates must have! Geez! It feels like that. It feels like suddenly, this other character that’s been there all the time, and that person gets to come out, and there’s a freedom in that.
I’ve certainly enjoyed playing [it] and I certainly hope everybody watching it enjoys seeing that turn, and also I’m okay with being the guy that you love to hate, too. If that’s what I become, I’m okay with that.
You mentioned in an interview that you found out about Ward’s true allegiance when filming “Yes Men.” I know you talked about your reaction to the news previously, but what was it like to watch the reactions of your castmates when they found out Ward was HYDRA?
Actually, when we found out, we were all together. I found out beforehand, and they wrote a script that didn’t have that last scene in it, so they said, “Oh, cool! Fantastic episode, this is great!” And then there was a re-write that happened that we all came together to read that I was also a part of, and since I had already read that part, I just looked around and watched the reactions as they landed.
Chloe [Bennet]’s first reaction was, “I kissed you, you bastard!” And she hit me! [Laughs] Everybody — and I think Ming[-na Wen] was — when she watches a movie, she’ll be one of the most verbal ones out there, you understand exactly what she’s feeling at any one time, it’s fantastic. I do believe she was quite shocked. There’s this weird thing where when you’re sitting with a character for that long, you can slip into it so easily, your relationships are all bound up. You’re with this character for so long that you feel sometimes that you are that character. What happened with this thing is, in a weird way, I betrayed them. I didn’t do anything! It all happened in the story that I was excited to play and excited to take that opportunity to make that shift. As an actor, that’s awesome. But in a weird way, I felt like I betrayed them. It was a weird thing where all of our personal feelings were coming up, even though it was our characters that did it or something that happened in the writing. But all of us took that quite personally, whether we wanted to or not.
I think it changed the dynamic a little bit on set, but offscreen as well, because I was hardly with these guys anymore. But it changed things in a way where our personal feelings were sometimes involved.
It definitely makes sense, you’ve all been with these characters all season and it must have been tough. It seems likely that Ward is going to have to face down his other comrades on Coulson’s team at some point. We’ve definitely seen that level of betrayal in the movies, but certainly not from such an intimate level. Viewers haven’t gotten the chance to see the inner conflict that comes with that level of betrayal. As Ward goes through the episodes leading to the season finale, how much of that inner conflict is on display? How much of that emotion were you able to use?
All of it. Really. All the stuff that I was feeling it seemed like had an outlet in the script. It’s not like I had to bottle that up. I think what you’re going to get watching it is the same feelings you’re feeling are there. You get to experience that as an audience watching in the same way that we experienced when we first read it. It’s something that’s explored in a really smart way.
I don’t know what more I can tell you about the interaction with the cast or any of that other stuff, but it makes for some great television! [Laughs]
Well, let’s move to something that you might be able to talk a little more about: Ward is likely going to have a lot of interaction with Bill Paxton’s character Agent Garrett, and that must have been a thrill to interact with him on a deeper level.
Oh, are you kidding me? My God. Well, he plays my supervising officer and I owe a great part of who I am to him. I am who I am, I think, partly because of his training and who he is. Working with him is one of the coolest things I’ve done professionally.
And he really, in real life, took me under his wing, too. It was this weird thing where art is imitating life, absolutely, where he became my mentor — whether or not he even knew it. But I was always sitting there watching him, and often because my scenes were with him, he was right there in front of me doing his scenes while I was watching him. Not only is he an amazing actor, but he’s a great human being and I think that he brings something to the table that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” the show really needs. We’ve had talk of [the] Centipede program, we’ve had talk of the Clairvoyant, all of these things, and this is like a wonderful, complex, fun baddie that is on the show now that is opposed to S.H.I.E.L.D. In some ways, it’s like he’s the anti-Coulson, the anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s fantastic. So, to see all that play out is quite fun when you have somebody that’s not just talked about like the Clairvoyant. It’s not somebody who’s talked about, it’s someone you can see and it’s freaking Bill Paxton, and he just delights in it. It’s fantastic. Man, he plays that character very well. It’s been so fun to work with him and what he does with it is just amazing.
One of the things I wanted to touch on was there’s been that will-they/won’t-they chemistry with Skye that got somewhat of a payoff in the episode, but now everything Ward has ever done is somewhat in question. I’m not going to ask you to spoil anything, but do you think Ward’s feelings for Skye are genuine, despite the situation he’s in?
Well, I think what I can say is that I don’t think Ward has ever been in a situation quite like this. He has been undercover before, but the circumstances are very [different] — I’m in a plane with five other people in close quarters, I’ve been with them for a really long time and I’ve had to wear that mask of Agent Grant Ward for perhaps longer than I have in the past. So, perhaps there are feelings that came up that are genuine because I don’t think Ward has been in a situation like that before.
I think what’s so great about it, though, is that it is in question. When you see him again, you really don’t know what’s true and what’s false. You can watch back through [past] episodes and there are Easter eggs in there with editing in terms of little hidden gems in there that can be seen in a whole new light that the writers knew people were going to watch again. It’s great — there’s a couple of them there, where people say, “We don’t know who to trust,” and then you see maybe the next clip — there’s a nice beautiful one in “Turn, Turn, Turn,” where Coulson is talking about it and says something like, “They’re right under our nose.” Cut to the next scene and it’s Chloe and me in the supply room.
But there’s a couple of them in the last couple episodes. They’re there if you watch carefully.
One big point of “Turn, Turn, Turn” that some viewers might have missed was that Ward was the guardian of The Bus’ backed-up hard drive with all the secret technology uncovered so far this season. When will readers get to see payoff from that? Are they going to get to see it at all?
I don’t think I can answer any of that, other than — Hey! You’re right! He is in charge of this thing, and the writers don’t forget about it. I think what they’re so good at is that stuff happens and it’s not forgotten about. We started our show on the heels of the Battle of New York that happened in “The Avengers,” and it’s not like New York is all put back together and it’s fine. There are consequences for everything, so it’s good that people are watching this close because, that did happen and it won’t disappear.
As soon as the west coast feed of “Turn, Turn, Turn” ended last week, you changed your entire Twitter layout to reflect HYDRA, which was just great. You’re very active on social media, live-tweeting puns during the show. How long did you have that changeover planned?
I sat with the big information they gave me for a couple of days, and I’d say about a week or two after, I thought, “Man this is a great opportunity. Man, this is great.” I remember live-tweeting and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a fun little Twitter stunt where at the end of the episode, what would happen if we changed everything and then it went black?” Then, all I had to do — Marvel has the best people. I just mentioned that and Samantha Thomas, a producer on the show, helped me with the whole thing and helped facilitate that.
It was a really cool thing. I’ve never done a Twitter stunt. I usually just hang out with the puns and I find that quite fun, and it’s a relief that others do too! [Laughs] It’s nice there are others out there who appreciate that, because when you say those things out loud, people just roll their eyes and ask you to leave the room.
When it actually happened, I was watching and I was seeing all the Tweets come in, and I laughed out loud when everyone said, “What? Oh my God! Nobody saw that coming!” But I was talking earlier about how personal feelings can come into it, a personal reaction could come into something like this. And everybody seemed to feel so betrayed that a lot of it came out as, “I can’t believe that you did this! I feel so betrayed and I hate Grant Ward now. [Laughs] If you read enough of those, it’s hard not to take those kind of personally. There were people who were just so shocked and believe in Agent Grant Ward so much, and SkyeWard — they believed in this direction they thought it was going, that they were just outraged when it took a turn. But as it came out as a manifestation, there was a lot of the word “hate” in there, “I hate your profile pic, you have to change that, that’s just rubbing salt in the wound!” stuff that came out afterward that I got to experience first hand.
But, we left them with some very big news at the end of the last episode. They’ve sat with that for a week now, so hopefully when they turn on their TV, they get a chance to maybe look at me in a different light this time around, because those tweets kind of hurt. [Laughs]
There’s been a lot of theories online about Ward’s allegiance following the last episode, with theories ranging from him being a double agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. to him being controlled by HYDRA via technology — triple agent, quadruple agent. What’s been your favorite explanation for Ward’s betrayal so far?
I think the triple agent thing is the one that I heard that I thought was quite funny. Of course, the quadruple agent — I literally can’t wrap my head around that. I don’t know what that means. I guess, I was actually working for HYDRA while actually working for S.H.I.E.L.D. while actually working for HYDRA or something, some crazy — it becomes so meta at some point that the whole idea of a quadruple agent just seems like a brain teaser, but I do think it’s quite funny.
You would be the “Inception” of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” characters.
That’s exactly what it is! It’s like “Inception,” or it’s like one of those magazine covers where you have two people and they’re holding that magazine, and on that magazine cover is the same cover of the magazine. It’s a whole bunch of images reflected.
I know you have a great singing voice — you did a great rendition of “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” for Chris Lowell’s “Beside Still Waters” Kickstarter drive. Any chance we’ll see you use some of those musical skills on S.H.I.E.L.D.”? I hear there’s an upcoming episode with a cellist.
[Laughs] Buddy, I wish. I really wish. Maybe there’ll just be a tag where it’s just Ward and Garrett dressed like the guys from “Clockwork Orange” just singing in the rain or something like that and doing their own fun rendition of it. Or Karaoke night at HYDRA. That would also be fun. [Laughs]
I’m very flattered that you watched that and it’s a fun thing that I hope I get to do in the future. But it would be cool, right? We already have “S” in the title — we could just make it Singing Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division, call it day and have a musical episode. I’ll get right on that!
Wrapping up, as the season heads to its conclusion, is there something you want to communicate to viewers to specifically keep their eye on?
SkyeWard is not dead, for all the shippers. Also, I’m really proud of the last couple episodes we’ve got — and I don’t think fans will be disappointed.
[Editor’s Note 4/15/2014 12:00 PM PT: A previous version of this question mistakenly read, “Wrapping up, as the series heads to its conclusion…” No spoilers here, folks. A series renewal has yet to be confirmed.]
“Providence,” the latest episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesday, April 15 at 9:00pm on ABC.