In “Face My Enemy,” the fourth episode of Season Two and what looks to be the most romp-like installment of the series to date, May and Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) find themselves undercover as partners on the dance floor — a prospect that may make the fan contingent hoping these two old allies will fall for each other profoundly giddy — attempting to make beautiful music together in pursuit of global security.
Actress Ming-Na Wen slipped out of her dance shoes long enough to jump on the phone to speak with CBR News about the fun she had shooting the episode, as well as how May is handling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new role as an outlaw peacekeeping force.
CBR News: Tell us about tonight’s episode. Clearly, looks like an exceptionally fun experience.
Ming-Na Wen: It really was. When the producers handed me this gift, I was excited because it was a very May centric script, and there were quite a few challenges. One: the ballroom dancing — and both Clark [Gregg] and I have never done ballroom dancing, so that was quite a trip to have to learn to execute that well because we are, you know, spies. We didn’t want to look shabby.
Who took to it better, you or Clark?
Well, I never want to make comparisons with my co stars, but, yeah, me [Laughs]. But I’ve had dance training in the past with ballet and jazz and tap and modern dance, so I definitely had the advantage. But Clark came through with flying colors. He was a very good dance partner.
What new things do we learn about May as a result of putting her in this unique context?
Well, last year one of the things that May said quite strongly was that she didn’t like going undercover. And I think this particular episode really showcases that’s she’s very good at it. So like the good soldier that she is, even though she is not supposed to enjoy something, she’ll do it out of duty. But you get to see her smile a lot more. You get to see her do a few other things.
There’s a contingent of fans that would love to see the Coulson and May dancing a lot more. Do we get a sense of romantic possibilities, or is this still in the longtime old friends zone for these two?
Oh, the Team Philindas! The Philinda fans, for sure.
Does this episode keep things in the friend zone or give hope to that ‘shipper contingent?
Yeah, there’s definitely something between the two of them, and I like the fact that it’s very ambiguous because both of them are such professionals, but they have such history together. And they’ve been through so much that the two of them can only relate to each other what their past was like and what their personal experiences were like. And I think the strong friendship can lead to things, but right now, it’s definitely not something that the writers are making definite, I’ll say. But it certainly doesn’t help when they put us together in a ballroom scene all dressed up as Bond and Girl Bond [Laughs]. We’ll see. We’ll see. I’d love for it to just continue. I’m a big fan of all those shows from “Cheers” to “Moonlighting” where it’s just the constant unknown of two people, and if they ever hook up or not.
We’ve gotten glimpses so far of how May’s handling the new paradigm of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the current outlaw brand on it. What can you tell us about how May’s reacting to this uncharted territory?
I think May’s really stepping up her game because she’s had to fill Coulson’s shoes. Coulson is now filling Fury’s shoes as director, and there’s a great deal more responsibility on her end out on the field, as well as coordinating things out at base. For me, I just love the dynamic of her becoming more of a people person. I mean, she’s definitely an S.O. to Skye, which is a necessity because as we’re trying to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D., we need every member to be as proficient and available with their potential and their abilities to act out in the field. She’s really stepping up her game as a very integral part of rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D.
May assuming that mentorship with Skye was, I thought, a really intriguing element. What’s been fun about playing that and seeing where the characters are going to go now that they’re a little more bonded?
Yeah, I think their relationship’s really evolved. I love scenes where it’s about two women who are not against each other, not trying to tear each other down. This is about Skye really proving herself to May, and now May sees her potential as a very good S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. And I love the dynamic of being her mentor, and guiding her so that she can perhaps not just instill some of her own personal skills to Skye and her philosophies, but she can also just develop more of that friendship. I don’t think May is very good about making friends, and then this sense of being a mentor, I think she’s more comfortable with.
One friend is no longer a friend: Ward, and we haven’t really got too much of a sense of where May stands.
It’s really funny. When Brett and I see each other on set or when we’re at an event together — we were just at Dancing with the Stars together yesterday — we haven’t had any scenes really at all this season. So we always joke with each other like, “Oh, which show are you on?” “Which show are you on?” So I think at this point, May would rather keep her distance with Ward, because deep down inside, like Coulson said, she definitely holds a grudge. She relishes it. So if she ever did see Ward, I think she would probably want to tear him a new one. So she’s keeping her distance because she knows that he’s needed right now to help us get more information about Hydra, at least according to Coulson. I don’t think May completely agrees, but she’s just following orders. It would be nice for us to eventually have a scene together and see that dynamic.
I want to see that scene, so tell the writers.
He’ll get bitch slapped, you know it! [Laughs]
There are so many exciting characters from the Marvel Universe coming on and great actors playing them. What are you especially excited about?
Well, in many ways, the fans know as much as we do, seriously. I was so excited when I found out that Lucy Lawless was going to be one of the cast members. And then I read the script, and it’s like, well, she doesn’t really die, does she? It’s one episode! So I don’t know. I’m just really enjoying all these new characters, and I do hope that they keep bringing on more and more Marvel characters because that’s what the fans want. And it certainly makes it exciting for us to tear away from the six original S.H.I.E.L.D. members, and having the opportunity to just find new histories that we might have with various Marvel characters and building on that. Building on the whole legacy of what Marvel is.
What has it meant to you to play such an empowered woman on television, in a genre project — which I know you’re a big fan of — that also comes with certain personality traits and flaws that make her very real?
When you are living in someone else’s skin for as many hours as I do on this show — 12 to 17 hour day — you can’t help but have some of the character’s personality or dynamic kind of influence you and rub off on you. I’m not being a method actor at all about this, but there is just a synergy that happens. And I do find myself really believing in my own abilities. And May is such a role model for young girls and women in general. I just love being her. And she’s so different from me because I am quite oftentimes the girly girl. I giggle all the time. I laugh all the time. And I’m very dirty in my jokes [laughs]. I get to be like Ming-Nasty every now and then — not every now and then, all the time! So it’s really great to have this other personality in my life right now. She brings out more of my inner strength than I thought possible.
With the dance skills you picked up, are you going to try to retain that the next time you have a break and “Dancing with the Stars” is looking for someone to come on?
[Laughs] I wouldn’t mind! I love dancing. And in fact, this whole ballroom dancing has kind of gotten me excited about taking some dance classes again, and watching those amazing dancers on “Dancing with the Stars,” yeah, that’s another great way to stay in shape. Other than working on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which I have to say: I’m in the best shape of my life because of this show.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” fourth episode of Season Two, “Face My Enemy,” airs tonight on ABC.
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