"Agents of SHIELD's" Clark Gregg Believes "There's a Darkness Within Coulson"

At one time, Phil Coulson was considered the Everyman of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But now that we're two and a half seasons into "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," he's facing some top-of-the-pay-grade problems as the agency's much-put-upon director.

Ahead of the just-concluded winter break, Coulson crossed a line to put an end to Grant Ward's persistent introduction of chaotic danger into the lives of his team, and to gain vengeance on Ward for having killed his girlfriend, Rosalind Price. However, Coulson may have created an even more formidable adversary in the form of Hive, an evil entity who is now possessing Ward's dead body.

RELATED: "Agents of SHIELD's" Bennet & Dalton Herald Big Changes, Strained Loyalties in Season 3

Now, his prized protege Daisy Johnson is coming into her own, and her growing independence -- and budding romance with fellow Inhuman Lincoln -- may soon put the mentor and the mentee at cross-purposes.

As Coulson continues on his rocky path in the second half of the season, actor Clark Gregg spoke with the press, including CBR News, on just how hot it's getting in the Director's chair -- plus the answer to the inevitable question: Team Cap or Team Iron Man?

On how he thinks Coulson will react when he discovers Grant Ward -- or some version of him -- has survived after their seemingly deadly confrontation:

Clark Gregg: On the one hand, it's pretty startling. On the other hand, in the brain gymnastics of that moment, when he decided to take him out, there's a feeling like he could have left him there and felt pretty safe about it. But how safe could he really feel about it?

I'm gonna become Coulson now: It happens all the time, because other people have already come back -- several of them -- from this place. So I don't think he would have been considered permanently neutralized if he had just left him there. That said, I think he's gotta be just shocked to see him.

And the other way I would think about it is, for so much of his lif,e this guy has put the organization [and] pragmatic objectives of how to protect people within the Marvel Cinematic Universe first. And one moment, when he still could arguably have been doing that, definitely some personal anger, rage, revenge crept into it.

I think on some level, he sensed crossing that line was a line that he can't cross. And so, to have Ward show up, and then -- eventually at some point, I'm sure he'll figure out what Ward is, the birthplace of the Hydra logo -- I think on some level, he has to kind of be like, "Of course. Of course. One piece of candy, and that's the one that had the poison in it."

On the emotional fallout potentially still looming from taking Ward's life:

I mean, he's never been a super-emotional person on the outside. That said, I think he's a very emotional person, in a repressed way, on the inside. It comes out in certain moments. In TAHITI, the first time he was there -- it comes out. And I don't, I mean the Coulson that I feel like I'm seeing in these episodes, that I feel like we shot three years ago... what? He seems different to me... There's just a darkness going on, and I think that's partly driven by the fact that the person who okayed the sniper bullet that killed Rosalind Price is Malick, and that's still out there.

On whether his dynamic with Daisy might be headed for tension as her leadership abilities continue to emerge, increasingly without Coulson's supervision:

Yes! Yes. I mean, certainly there was -- I feel like in a lot of Season 1 and part of Season 2, there was the discovery, I think, of two people who had been lonely and looking for something their whole lives. She really knew it more than he did. I don't think he ever expected it, or thought that he needed anything like this, and was quite surprised by how much he came to care about this person, and to feel like she was a daughter. I mean, to me it always seems surreal. She's his daughter, and he sends her out on the most terrifying missions! I won't let my daughter go, you know, drive with anyone who I don't know very well.

And yet, it's definitely moved into a different phase. One of the things I like about the way Coulson has been written on this show is that he tries to give people more and more and more responsibility, as soon as they're ready. Whether it's Fitz, or Mack, you know, the person who's been most wary about Coulson, most suspicious about him. That's who he made Director when he knew he was going off to do something that was at least as much driven by Coulson the man as it was Coulson the agent.

I think the same is true for Daisy. She's not a teenager -- even if she acts like one sometimes! He's trying to give her responsibility, and he has to welcome when she takes the initiative, and hear her objections -- and at times push back against them. But if he's just kind of watching over her shoulder, what kind of leader is she gonna become?

On Coulson's reaction to Daisy and Lincoln growing closer romantically:

That's come up a couple of times in this show. It certainly came up when he found out that Agent May was sleeping with Ward. Like so many fraternization policies, it seems a little nebulous! It seems to go back and forth at times, and it gets to really the heart of what the show is about.

These are people who have dedicated their lives to this cause, to this belief, and everything they seem to learn on these missions is, "Oh! Oh, yeah. It's good that we're here, because there's some really twisted stuff -- and interaction with alien and trans-dimensional cultures here that's really dangerous to our future." And they forfeit a lot of what you would call normal life. I feel like he tries to have respect for the fact that people have needs, and I don't just mean that in terms of sex, but in terms of intimacy and romance, and that there's a certain amount of -- there's a comportment involved.

The other part of it is, I love this part in the episode that was before the break, where everybody was pretty sure that Coulson had lost his mind over Rosalind. Meanwhile, he was sending the, you know, inviting her to the secret base, and I thought Mack's jaw was gonna hit the floor. Of course, Coulson was using it to do an end run and completely vet her organization, and found out it was rotten, and that she didn't know about it. And that's what he needed, to feel okay about going on a date with her. I just attacked your base! Okay, now we're good.

On the likely looming confrontation with Lash:

I will say that the days are coming where we will need to know exactly where everyone who is Inhuman who has crossed our path are, while we sort out if they're going to be friend or foe. That's our version of "Civil War," I think. I'm just guessing, as someone who's watching what's going on here. Lash is one of those people we're going to have to find that out about.

Again, just as a fan of the comics, I feel like anyone who thinks they're really positive about exactly what Lash is -- and this is not a spoiler, because I'm just guessing -- there's more dimensions to Lash coming than we're aware of yet.

On whether Hive is a similarly multi-layered adversary:

I see a lot of dimensions there. He's the perfect villain for this show, because he carries with him the memories, desire, hatreds and agendas of Will and of Grant Ward. At the same time, he's got a much deeper, bigger agenda that's thousands of years old, and gave birth to Hydra. The whole runner about what it was on this planet and what it has meant in this multi-generational story of Hydra, I think, is insanely cool. I never had any idea -- maybe no one did -- that the Hydra logo might represent Hive.

My understanding is that these Inhumans, from an episode last year, were seeded here as a potential warrior race being built by the Kree to defend themselves. Again, this is just me, the nerd, talking, but that's what I remember. At the same time, when you listen to Jiaying and some of the Inhumans talking, they feel that they are complimentary. No two of them are the same, and they are meant to create a balance, and I don't know if that means to take over this world.

It's almost like in "Prometheus," where the engineers created this species, and now this species of potential warrior mutants -- if I'm allowed to use the M-word -- have a different agenda of their own and are becoming something else, altogether. Hive is one of those. They're about fulfilling their own destiny, and if humans get in the way of that, I suspect, like so many alien races, they'll consider us dispensable.

On whether Coulson will be predictably Team Captain America when Civil War breaks out, or whether his experiences might lead him another way:

I think the Coulson from some of the earlier films especially would have just been, "Wherever Steve Rogers goes, I'm gonna be there with my cards -- and at some point, I'm gonna get them signed." But I think what's amazing about doing this character for 70 episodes of television, and putting him at the lead of a no-longer-existing S.H.I.E.L.D. that's hunted around the world is, you get a very different perspective.

What I love about what the writers have done, is that rather than wait for something to cross over from one of the movies, they just exploded Terrigenesis around the world and set up Secret Warriors, and set up an Inhuman outbreak that's different, frankly, from what's in the comics that I ever read.

Now, [Coulson is] having to deal with something that feels very topical to me, in that there are people that are suddenly evolving very differently from the rest of us, and there are forces in the world who want to exploit those people, and there are forces in the world who want to exterminate those people. And here's Coulson, with the person who may be the closest thing he has to family, and she's one of them. And he's getting closer to more people like that. At the same time, some of the most terrifying threats to this person that he cares most about are other Inhumans. I don't know, that feels kind of topical at the moment.

I guess this goes back, to try to answer your question, there are a lot of people saying very simple solutions to problems right now, that seem to get people very fired up, and it's usually about kind of identifying one group and then making everyone else the "Other." And the Other's a threat. And everyone I know, who I've been fortunate enough to meet who worked in the military or worked in police work, they don't see it that way. The people who, really, you admire, who do those jobs. Because when you get into the actual, practical logistics of that stuff, you see yourself in everyone.

There's no easy answers like that. So I think at such time as ever Coulson actually has to deal with what's going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's really going to depend what has happened here between now and then. Because here is really where his focus is, right now.

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