It’s that synergistic time of year when the game-changing impact from the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe film of the moment — in this case, “Captain America: Civil War” and its Superhuman Registration Act — hits home on television’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” And smack in the midst of it all is Phil Coulson, and the actor who plays him, Clark Gregg.
It’s been a spirit-testing season for Coulson, filled with frequent setbacks and reluctant line-crossing. His team has seen its share of divisions, as the Inhumans, the Secret Warriors and superpowers have come increasingly to the forefront of his corner of the MCU. And now, it’s all exacerbated by the schisms caused by “Civil War.”
Gregg joined CBR News to sound off on the road ahead for Coulson, and his own character’s increasingly empowered aspect. The everyman of the MCU also discussed the pleasurable connections of the broader MCU on screen and off, as well as the perks of being a genuine fanboy playing in the shared universe since the first “Iron Man” film.
CBR News: Tell me about where Coulson stands going into the big finale episodes.
Clark Gregg: He’s in his own personal hell. There’s a lot of reasons to think that he did the right thing squishing the life out of Grant Ward. It has certainly created an opportunity for this, for the first Inhuman, the terrifying Hive, to arrive back on our planet, and the fact that he’s walking around un-killable and very dangerous, looking like the also apparently un-killable Grant Ward, really makes him feel responsible for this mess.
That it has cost him his beloved Daisy, and that she now is the ultimate cult member, only a superpowered one, it couldn’t be worse. The great line that the writers wrote was, “I knew this would come back to haunt me, I just didn’t think it would actually come back to haunt me.”
How is all of this changing the MCU everyman in Coulson? He’s essentially almost superheroic himself, now. How does that affect how you play him?
I mean, he’s certainly cybernetic, which is merciful, because the people he’s going up against are so powerful that’s it’s nice that every once in a while his hand is able to save him, or save he and May with his amazing shield. I fantasize that every Sunday night he sneaks off to the lab and Fitz shows him a new power his hand has, in return for some really spectacular sandwich that Coulson has to make for Fitz.
But I really feel like he still really is an everyman. He’s an everyman in a world that’s changing, just like our world is changing. Just like in our world, there are people who are different now, and some of them are people he really cares about.
The world is changing so much, I don’t think it will be long before very normal people who are tasked with protecting us have either endo- or exoskeletal components that are cybernetic en route to be able to do their job. But I still think that at their core, they will be a regular guy.
You have to tell me your reaction when you heard about the scene revealing the electronic shield in his arm, because that was a very cool moment.
Sometimes, it’s hard to picture when you read the line on the page. At first, especially, I would pray — it was almost kind of a Buddhist chant. I’d say, “Come on Colfax, come on Colfax,” as you hold your arm out and there’s nothing there.
But I developed so much faith in him that I really thought, “Well, there’s probably going to be something really cool here.” And yet, nothing prepared me for the brilliant, very Cap-esque shield, although with the S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem and not the Cap emblem. What he did there was so spectacular, because I think, actually, the GIFs that people posted online, I think brought us a number of new viewers.
Let’s talk about the times when you get to reconnect with the extended Marvel Universe family, when you go to something like the premiere of “Captain America: Civil War.” What’s that experience like for you?
I love those people and those actors. It’s such a good bunch, and we had so much fun making “The Avengers,” and the other movies too, that I’ll always feel a kinship with them. But to be honest, at the “Civil War” premiere, I was just as excited to meet some of the cast of “Daredevil” and Luke Cage himself as a fanboy. To meet Mike [Colter], who’s doing such an amazing job as Luke Cage, was really exciting to me.
Because of the great character connections between Coulson and Tony Stark, and Coulson and Captain America, are you hoping that you do get to play some sort of great reunion scene with those actors to kind of bring everything full circle for Coulson’s character?
No, I don’t anymore. I suspect that will happen when it needs to happen, but it’s not something that I’m sitting around thinking about. I really am thrilled with what our writers are doing in our particular portion of the universe. I know Marvel is run by people like Jeph Loeb and Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito, who are as much fans of the material as I am. And when the time is right for a story to be served by that, I’m sure [Coulson’ll] do it. I really — I have a lot of faith that it won’t be done until it really serves a story, and not just to tie up loose ends or be a gimmick.
What side of Coulson are you still hoping to play as the character goes forward?
I mean, every time I think they’ve done pretty much everything they possible can — you know, Nick Fury showed up at a moment of great peril at the end of Season One and made him the director of a S.H.I.E.L.D. that no longer existed, and he had done his very best at it. It’s been very, very difficult, and he’s honored by the task, but I hope at some point, before it’s all over, he gets a chance to go back into the field.
You know what it’s like to be a fanboy. Tell me, at this point in the game, when you get to connect with the people who are as passionate about the show and Marvel as you were when you were young, what has that experience has meant to you?
You know, just to have a character who shows up in the comics, and is part of this world, and to have kids come up to me and want their comic book signed, it just blows me away.
I have to also say, the way the fans treat me and treat Agent Coulson, it blows me away, every time. It means so much to me, that he means something to them. That he represents something to them. It means a lot to me.
I think this is an amazing experiment, and I can’t say enough about how fun it is to be part of something where the people who are telling these stories, the writers and directors, and the producers, the people who run Marvel. They keep doing it well, no matter how weird or off-beat the property, because they love it so much, and the fact that it is still all one story. It may not be all the characters in every project, but the fact that it’s all one story happening across these, from Netflix to TV to the movies. That just is a grand storytelling experiment that I really enjoy as an adult, and I feel like the 11-year-old Clark on my shoulder, we’re both having really the time of our life watching it.
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