Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Phil Coulson, is no stranger to directing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe star helmed 2008’s Choke, a film based on novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk; then, in 2013, he wrote and directed Trust Me. So, when he was offered a chance to direct a Season 5 episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., he stepped up to the plate — but the job was not without its own set of challenges.
Speaking to CBR, Gregg offered some insight into “Fun and Games,” his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. directorial debut. He addressed the difference between filming an episode of a television series as opposed to a feature, how the experience changed his view of the show overall and whether or not he’d consider directing another episode in the future. He also teased his favorite scenes from the episode and Coulson’s approach to surviving the future.
CBR: What was your biggest challenge when it came to directing this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Gregg: I guess it was just so different than other stuff I’ve done. Eight days to do it. You know, I’ve done two features — one had 30 days and one had 25 — and they didn’t have giant fights. I think that was part of it. The other part was stepping out of my normal role on the show to a different role and kind of directing actors who are normally my colleagues and working with a crew who I know, but not in that position. It made me a little nervous, you know? Anything new can feel a little nervous-making.
It ended up being an incredible thing, actually. I didn’t think I could feel tighter with my gang, but I ended up feeling really bonded with everybody by the way the actors all kind of stepped up and started looking to play: “What are we going to do now? This is cool. This is weird. Let’s do something weird and cool!” And the crew! Just everybody really, I felt, showed up extra forcefully to carry me.
On the flip side, what was your favorite part of directing S.H.I.E.L.D.?
I think my favorite part was it felt so intense and a bit exhausting, in a beautiful way. I felt completely wrung out doing the thing, but then — when I got in there with our incredible editor Kelly Stuyvesant and started piecing together what was there — it was rewarding. That part was really thrilling because I wasn’t even aware of all the cool stuff that some of the camera guys were grabbing and how they were working some of the ideas I had. Seeing it come together like that was a thrill.
Can you see yourself directing another episode down the line?
Yeah! It was more fun than I even imagined. If they’ll let me do another one, I would love to do it.
Has your time as director on S.H.I.E.L.D. changed the way you view the show as a whole?
It certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for some of the people whose jobs I don’t interact with normally, just everything that goes into all the decisions that the prop department — Scott Bauer and his incredible people, and Greg Melton and the production design — and the way that that all gets planned down so that, on the day, you show up and all the right stuff is there and ready — and they actually have a couple variations on it! The way the visual effects are all planned out. It was cool to see what everyone does every week that we don’t get to know about because we’re so busy just trying to perform a 50-minute move like that every eight days.
Do you have a favorite moment or scene you could tease?
Ah, there’s so many! I mean, the pivotal moments between Fitz and Simmons were moving to me, just as someone who’s been around those two terrific actors and people for five years now. There was so many fights… I was really surprised how much I found myself caring about the bizarre, sadomasochistic dynamic between Kasius and Sinara, but there’s a very quiet scene between Daisy and Simmons finally getting a moment together in the midst of this kind of pell-mell crazy action episode. It’s just quiet, and these two women talking and giving each other strength before things get wild again. It was the last scene we shot. It really stuck with me. I loved what they did.
Coulson is caught between two extremes. He’s got Yo-Yo, who believes they must do whatever it takes to survive, and then he has Mack, who thinks living that way will lead them to lose their humanity. Where do you think Coulson falls on that issue?
I feel like those are the two sides of Phil Coulson, manifested externally in those two characters, because he’s seen too often what happens when people seem to think they can put some core kind of human decency in a little box and put it away for a while and then take care of business and then come back and put it back in them. It doesn’t work, and yet, the stakes are very high here and they even have the bizarre dynamic of being in the future and having to go back into the past and rewrite history somehow, or try. I think he feels really pulled between the two poles that those two represent, and I think he’s trying to walk that tightrope.
Airing Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 stars Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Henry Simmons, Ian De Caestecker, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Jeff Ward, Eve Harlow, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Coy Stewart.
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