On “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has plenty of ties to the superhero community. Yet when the chips were down in recent episodes and the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” was closing in, Coulson called on Mike Peterson, a.k.a. Deathlok (J. August Richards) for reinforcement. The one-man weapon was last seen in the first season finale as a reluctant pawn of Hydra. Now, he’s returned to take down that evil organization and help find Skye (Chloe Bennet).
Ahead of tonight’s new episode, “The Dirty Half Dozen,” Richards spoke with CBR News about Deathlok fighting the good fight, his relationship with Coulson, being Hydra’s prisoner and whether his character is superhero material. In addition, Richards weighed in on whether he would reprise his Whedonverse role of Gunn on “Angel” if a revival project ever happened.
CBR News: Deathlok turned out to be Coulson’s secret weapon. How surprised were you by that development?
J. August Richards: Pretty surprised. I didn’t really get the call that I would be coming back until shortly before we started filming that episode. In the back of my mind, it felt like the character would be returning, but obviously I didn’t know when. I was just as surprised as anybody about what Deathlok had been up to. I like the turn it took.
Mike was previously freaked out by what he had become. Do you feel he’s more comfortable as Deathlok and the potential for good he represents?
In the time off-screen where we haven’t see the character, I think he really made peace with what he had become and has accepted it. He sees this as an opportunity to redeem himself, to use his powers in a way that will be for good. Then, maybe he can forgive himself and face his son again.
Grant Ward was essentially responsible for Mike becoming Deathlok. Will that continue to cause tension between them?
Yes, and it’s great because it gives more of a dynamic to Deathlok’s relationship with the other characters on the show. All of the relationships are so different, so I’m glad there is one that is contentious.
In the last episode, “The Frenemy of My Enemy,” Deathlok and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) were whisked away by Hydra. What does that organization want with them?
I don’t want to give anything away, but knowing Hydra, it’s not good. Mike has a lot of experience with Hydra and their ways and how evil they can be. It’s definitely not good.
When tonight’s episode kicks off, how bad of a situation are they in?
It’s Hydra, so pretty bad. Let’s just say Mike has gotten into some tough spots in these last two seasons. This is going to be the toughest spot he’s ever been in.
The Real S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t that fond of superpowered individuals either. How do they view Deathlok?
Because Deathlok is so aligned with Coulson, they see him as an enemy. At this point, Mike feels he owes Coulson, essentially, his life. Coulson has really been there for Mike and seen the best in him. Mike feels like he owes something to Coulson. As a result, the Real S.H.I.E.L.D. feels very threatened by Deathlok.
What else can you tease about Deathlok’s appearance tonight?
We’ll get to see Deathlok interact with other characters we might not expect him to be aligning with. There’s something that happens where we’ll see Deathlok in a way we’ve never seen him before. It will be very surprising for the audience.
Viewers have been treated to a variety of Deathlok’s arsenal. What upgrades will he employ this time when under fire?
Deathlok is like a character of infinite powers. He’s sort of a Swiss army knife superhero. He has a lot going on. We’ll definitely learn a lot about that.
So far in this arc, we haven’t seen any of Mike’s home life. Do you consider him more man or machine?
I ask myself that every single time I get in front of the camera. It’s a question I almost can’t answer. It’s good because I don’t even know if Mike knows how much Deathlok he is or how much Mike he is. When you’ve been through the extreme circumstances Mike has been, it changes you on a psychological, mental and spiritual level.
The character is obviously a cyborg, but it’s unclear how much they’ve tampered with his brain. I always play the character thinking about how the circumstances he’s been through can change an individual. That’s the angle that I come at it from.
Deathlok has proven to be an invaluable asset. Why doesn’t Coulson recruit him on a full-time basis?
You’ll have to ask Coulson and the producers. It’s a question I did ask daily, multiple times, possibly hundreds of times on Twitter. I take the fifth on that. It’s above my pay grade. I show up when they ask me to show up. I love playing the character. I think there are so many possibilities of where this character could go. There’s so much we don’t know about him or what he can do and his powers. There’s so much Mike has to accomplish as a character and a person.
You are a self-professed comic book fan. Have you imagined, or discussed, how Deathlok could further fit into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe?
Here’s the thing. Obviously, their game plan is planned so far in advance. They revealed their movie schedule [last] year. At this point, I did the pilot and had no idea the character would be coming back.
I think this plan is set in motion and that if the character fits into that, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t. I never ask. I don’t lobby. I just trust. If I’m wanted for things, I’m there. If not, that’s cool. This is a gift that’s just kept on giving.
When “The Avengers” came out, I sent Joss Whedon an email telling him how much I loved the movie and how I felt he really nailed the experience of what it’s like to read the comic book and how he translated it to the big screen in a way I felt was perfect. Even to be a part of it in the way I am now is such an honor. Obviously, I’d love to be a part of one those movies as well.
You might be forever remembered as Charles Gunn on “Angel.” Those adventures live on in the comic books. With Netflix recently resurrecting “Full House,” how would you feel about revisiting the “Angel” universe as Gunn?
Man, I would love to. To a large extent, it’s a character I haven’t completely let go of because I’m asked about him all the time. Man, I would love to play the character again. I’ve heard about what happens in the comic books. I feel it would be incomplete if I didn’t get the chance to perform in it. I would jump at the chance to play Gunn again.
“The Dirty Half Dozen,” the latest episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs 9 p.m. tonight on ABC.