For the fourth time in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” history, Brett Dalton is playing a different version of Grant Ward. In Season 1, Dalton spun Ward as a straight-laced S.H.I.E.L.D. agent — up until he revealed himself to be a Hydra mole, of course. Soon after that, Ward became a vengeful antagonist for Coulson’s team, at least right up until Coulson killed him. Ward’s death ushered in Hive, a parasitic Inhuman who used Ward’s body as a means to an end. Now, the Framework has pieced together an all-new version of Ward that fights Hydra’s regime in the name of the Patriot’s resistance.
Speaking to CBR, Dalton weighed in on Ward’s various roles on the series and revealed his favorite version of the character (so far). He also teased “No Regrets,” tonight’s episode, and elaborated on Ward’s relationship with Daisy — er, we mean Skye.
CBR: You may be playing a different version of Grant Ward, but he really feels like the character we knew for the first three seasons. How do you, as an actor, keep Ward feeling familiar despite his crazy circumstances? What’s the true core of this character to you?
Brett Dalton: I mean, I’ve always felt that Grant Ward was — at the end of the day — misunderstood. He’s somebody that has actually not a lack of feeling, but so much feeling he doesn’t know what to do about it. The way he is is for a reason. I think that it’s really difficult for him to trust people, and that’s only because he’s been burned. It’s not that there’s a lack of love or empathy; I think that there’s actually too much. So, you know, I think what we’re seeing is — hopefully, in this pod — a nice combination of kind of all of the iterations of Ward that we’ve seen before.
He’s not the clean-shaven, “I don’t play well with others” version in Season 1, but — ever since he turned — he became much more interesting and unpredictable and dangerous, and that’s the kind of world I’m trying to live in with him. We want to have moments in there where we’re not quite sure if this is that Grant Ward, because that’s what the audience is doing too, just as Chloe [Bennett, who plays Daisy “Quake” Johnson] is doing when she wakes up in this Framework. We’re feeling him out.
Can we trust him? I think we can! Up until now, he’s done everything right. We’ve got one moment where he did that thing, and I don’t know if we can trust him. That’s kind of the line you want to be on, I think, especially for this character after the three seasons of stuff we’ve seen him do.
That being said, which version of Ward is your favorite so far?
Season 3 Ward. Season 3 Ward was my favorite. He was on a warpath against Coulson. He was using every resource at his disposal. He was just a man on a mission. There wasn’t a ton of conflict. It was just a bull in a China shop, and it was really fun to play. I got to act with Powers Booth and that was a lot of fun as well, and him and I were sort of able to paint the town red a little bit and he was able to show me the ways of old Hydra. It was cool! It was really, really cool. It was kind of our own version of Project Mayhem, if that makes any sense. It’s a “Fight Club” reference.
Per the promo for next week’s episode, it looks like Simmons fills Ward in on the Framework. What can you tease about his reaction to that bombshell?
Oh, yeah! It’s funny you should mention that, because — when she tells me — I’m drinking a cup of coffee and I do this great spit take and it gets all over Simmons, and then I have to clean up the mess and just apologize profusely and then I have another sip of coffee and then she tells me again and then I do another spit take. So really there’s a whole act of maybe 15 minutes of us doing spit takes.
So that’s the whole episode, right?
Right! It doesn’t really seem in keeping with the show, but we thought it would be a fun little thing to do.
Yeah, it’s a big revelation. I think that that’s a big huge thing to tell anyone, and it’s not something that people I think are like, “Cool! Yup! Knew it!” [laughs] Other than Coulson, I guess. But yes, it’s a very big pill to swallow, so I think the reaction is going to be complex.
I will say that, for Grant Ward, this is all that he knows. This is a construct of Aida’s doing, and so she’s aggregated all of these thoughts and impressions from everyone else. This is a Grant Ward created in her image in a way, and so everyone else is reading a lot of these things onto Grant Ward, but — for Grant Ward — he woke up and it’s a Tuesday. He has no idea about any of this stuff, so it will be interesting. Yeah, it will be interesting. He exists in the Framework exclusively; everyone else has some sort of real world counterpart. We’ll see how willing he is to accept that.
Does that help or hinder his dynamic with Simmons?
You know, it seems like — no matter what I do — Simmons always has a chip on her shoulder about me. And again, as I was saying, for Grant Ward, he’s like, “What in the world is going on?” For Simmons, obviously, she’s reading three seasons worth of stuff onto this virtual reality version of him, so I think it will be an uphill battle. I think that information is big, and people are reacting in a number of different ways. So I’m just dancing around your question, really.
At this point, we’re well aware of how Daisy feels about Ward, but can you explain how the Framework’s version of him sees her?
Well, I think that we’re seeing someone who has real affection for Daisy, or I guess her name is Skye… In this world, her name is Skye, at least to Grant Ward. Where we pick up in the Framework is she had just asked him to move in, so this is after years of them being together and even getting permission for two agents to cohabitate, so they’ve even done all of the paperwork. So this is something I think that’s pretty serious. It doesn’t seem like Ward is someone who trusts other people easily, but it does seem like — prior to this — they were a pretty healthy, functional couple. They went to work together, and — yeah — they hadn’t moved in with each other up until now, but at least they were in a discussion about it. Maybe Grant Ward has reservations about it, but they were quite serious and quite attached. So it has all the signs of it being a seriously and relatively healthy relationship.
It’s not until she wakes up all of a sudden and I’m like, “What happened to my girlfriend?” She was totally cool yesterday! [laughs] Yeah, it will have an effect.
Airing Tuesdays at 10 pm ET/PT on ABC, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” stars Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Chloe Bennet as Daisy “Quake” Johnson, Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons, Henry Simmons as Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie and more.
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