After taking a long and rocky road to get to their romantic relationship, will “Agents of SHIELD’s” resident science brains let a little malevolent A.I. come between them? Elizabeth Henstridge wants fans to know she’s rooting for FitzSimmons’ love in a time of Life Model Decoys.
As Gemma Simmons continues to come into her own in a particularly strong season for the character, Henstridge joined CBR for a look at how her role continues to evolve. Not only doe discuss how the show has been putting the FitzSimmons relationship to the test, we also discuss what it means for her to be a role model by playing a woman on a comics-derived series who’s greatest ability is her intellect and most formidable weapon is knowledge.
CBR: It seems like this must be a really fun season for you, a different one. Tell me what you’ve enjoyed about the “LMD” storyline thus far.
Elizabeth Henstridge: It’s so high-concept. It’s very Fitz/Simmons. I think that it’s nice to see them excited about something. They’ve been through it, and I think Simmons has kind of been stuck in the political field of how to manipulate and how to have power, and all that different stuff. It’s nice to have an LMD fascination there, too, that she gets to ignite the science-y part because it’s kind of why she was here in the first place.
Her brain is her superpower, so we see her utilizing that in a way that she hasn’t before, in terms of calling Mace out on lying and working a situation behind the scenes. She might not be able to knock him out with a punch, but she can cripple him with some information that she has got from researching into what happens when you lie. It’s a nice turn for her to have that control.
How did being confronted with the reality of nonscientific magic change her world view? Did that really rock her?
Oh, for sure, and I think she’s fearful and everything, but she doesn’t believe in magic. She thinks everything is able to be explained, and we just don’t know how to explain it yet. So I think she’s fearful of the unknown, but I think ultimately it spurs her on to figure out “How is this happening? Because it’s not magic, so how are we doing it?”
We’ve seen beginnings of -- I wouldn’t call them stress fractures, but she and Fitz are going to struggle. Tell me where we’re going from here with that struggle.
I think we’re going to find out what is worth it for them to be together. I think it’s something that every agent has to ask themselves. We’ve seen Coulson’s romantic life and how that has ultimately failed with anyone that’s gotten anywhere close. May’s marriage broke down, Daisy’s lover died. We don’t have a great track record of relationships working in this show. God love them, Fitz/Simmons are giving it a go, but they’re fully aware. That’s why it took them so long to get together because they’re so aware of how difficult it can be.
But for me playing it, it’s just fun because it’s definitely on another level to normality and a regular relationship. The situations they’re placed in are very extreme, but at the heart of it, they're things that people go through as boyfriend and girlfriend. They’ve known each other for so long, but when you’re romantically tied to someone, when you’re living it with someone, you’ve got to sleep in the same bed after a hard day’s work, when you have to choose which cushions you want on the bed, all these things create conflict, which for a scene is amazing, for characters is perfect.
I believe in them. I feel like they’re going to be fine, but they definitely have challenges. And secrets, which -- trust is such a huge thing in a relationship, and they have to keep secrets from each other. So yeah, it blows up a couple of times.
The Mace relationship is also a fun one for you to play out. It’s kind of activated her, it seems like. She’s always been a problem solver, but more on a scientific level, but this is really being a problem solver for the good of the group, for the good of the agency, for the good of the world. So tell me about that, having fun with that dynamic and where it’s taking her.
Yeah, you’re right. Everything you said is spot on. It’s a different realm for her and it’s a different muscle she has to exercise. The fun thing is that it’s still intellectual, so she can be good at this. She just needs the confidence that she was lacking to go after him and call him out a couple of times, and stand up and feel the authority that she has.
She’s done that. She stood up to May; she’s gone hard after May saying, "You’re lying, and I know it." She didn’t know it. She just saw an eye twitch and she just had no choice but to go for it. It’s just great to play those scenes, because that is not me in real life. I would never go up to somebody and be like, “You’re lying!” I would just scurry away.
Yeah, it’s great to see Simmons kind of having that power of political gain, but then she’s still got a lot to learn. It would be too easy if she just got one over on him once and that was it then.
We’re in this great moment of time where we have these female role models in shows like this. You get to be a non-superwoman, but like you said, her brain is her superpower. What does it mean to you to be in this moment where young women and girls can look at you and your character and say, “I can do something like that?”
It’s such an honor. I think we’re in a very privileged position and, whether we like it or not, we are role models. If you are visible, you are a role model. It’s just [a question of] how big of a scale or what the influence is that you have.
I love this role, and I fought so hard for this role because she is a lot of the things that I hope to be, and that I would want for young women everywhere, and young men for that matter, just not apologizing for your intelligence, striving, but that she’s got flaws and she works on them. Sometimes she doesn’t know they’re there and suddenly they pop up. She’s still human.
But I didn’t realize the impact that it could have on other people, specifically young girls, until we started meeting the fans. That’s primarily what I get: “I love science, I used to hide that I was a bit of a geek, and now it’s cool, and thank you for playing a woman scientist on TV.”
My mom is a doctor. My grandma is a doctor. It’s like the family business. I’ve been surrounded with women that are doctors and scientists, and I’ve always -- I’ve loved science. It’s something I definitely took for granted, and not everybody has those role models. To me, it was just normal, but it’s a total privilege to show that it can be normal for everyone. It’s really cool.
It’s something I didn’t anticipate, that side of this job, of the impact you can have on people’s lives, and how much people care, and how just there’s something about sci-fi that touches people in a different way. It’s a whole new realm for me. Marvel is a family – and everybody on a Marvel show will say that, but it’s true, and this show is a family and I think, yeah, us hearing people saying, “I love that you’re a strong female,” it just makes us come back to work and be like, “Yes!”
It starts at the top. We don’t write our own lines. These characters were formed and Maurissa Tancharoen is a trailblazer, and all our other EPs are very supportive of representing as many people as possible, because we’re meant to reflect our audience. So that’s what we strive to do.