Since his debut as the unpredictable scientist Holden Radcliffe in the third season of “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD,” actor John Hannah’s been delivering an always-on-the-edge performance week in and week out that constantly begs the question: is Radcliffe a good guy, a bad guy, or what?
As the series’ current “LMD” storyline is poised to upgrade to a higher OS this week, Radcliffe and his aims still remains somewhat enigmatic, even as it appears that he’s been pursuing his own specific agenda far longer than he has SHIELD’s, and even his sympathetic sci-bro Fitz may be surprised to discover exactly Aida’s creator is up to at the core. Hannah offered CBR a few precious glimmers of his own take on the good/bad doctor.
CBR: As S.H.I.E.L.D.’s resident Dr. Frankenstein, what’s been interesting to you about Radcliffes’s development and where he’s going?
John Hannah: I think, when I first came in in three, his past was rogue – not in the sense of being a bad guy, but simply in the sense of not being within an establishment and working very much off-grid.
While he’s come into the S.H.I.E.L.D. fold, specifically working with Fitz, while they have shared a lot of technology and a lot of the development on the LMD program, I think he starts to develop “side projects.” That’s quite interesting, again: to be someone who is not the up-down, white-hearted good guy. Not that I’m a bad guy, but just he’s got some side projects going on.
Does he have a blind spot for the potential things that can go awry in the pursuit of his science?
I think as a pure scientist, he’s pursuing what is capable without necessarily structuring what it might be ultimately used for. He’s pursuing whether or not something is possible, rather than what you will do with it when it is real. So yeah, he has that blind spot, but I think that’s very much how science has always been.
I don’t think scientists have necessarily developed whatever they’ve developed or discovered, whether it’s medicine or technology or whatever, and necessarily seen the uses that it might be put to. And similarly with the LMD program where Aida is seen and says that she has therefore been a Life Model Decoy used as a “shield” for agents to preserve life. Obviously, other people can see other uses for that.
We saw him make the right moral choice last season when we saw what the products of his research would be used for. Is it different this time? Does he have more of an investment in Aida, herself, and in the LMD program?
Yeah. I think he was co-opted into the program of the experiments of the transgenesis with Hive and the Primitives, as they were. That wasn’t necessarily his field. I think his real field, his real interest was in transhuman technology, and obviously then Inhumans as well, which was a big step up, but the whole development of AI, and therefore while working with Fitz of pecking out an old S.H.I.E.L.D. program of the LMDs. So I think that was always his field, but it’s almost like Season Three was a kind of cul-de-sac, really. He went off his old grid. I think he’s back on that now.
Give me your take on his feelings toward Aida. Is it fatherly?
Yeah, very much so, and also possibly as it develops, as she proves there’s almost a paternal…I don’t want to say God-like, because obviously that will get interpreted in a particular way, but a paternal, caring and sympathetic way in which that technology has developed self-awareness and how that self-awareness disappoints.
A bit like you would with a child, where a child becomes aware of their own limitations, their own lackings. I would say there’s certainly have a very benign kind of deity sense about it – a benign…not dictatorship about it, but a benign parental way about it.
Will Radcliffe be trying to make excuses for her behavior?
I think the technology as we’ve developed it at first with Aida – and there is a malfunction within that, it’s partly because there would normally be a long time of testing and development within it, but because of circumstances she gets used much more quickly than would have been advisable, and malfunctions through that process. So I think that’s just science, trial and error, and learning from those errors.
Has the relationship with Fitz changed him, maybe given him more of an awareness of the moral implications of the things that he does?
I think so. I think he’s quite an individual in the way that his technology and the way that he worked earlier, like I said, without the worst aspects of being rote, being an individual, being a loner in that sense. I think working with Fitz and coming into contact with other scientists has given him an insight into himself and his own humanity a little bit – but again as a theoretical scientist, I think he’s probably more interested in what the next thing is and that development.
He remains a character who can go, it feels like, in any direction. It must be fun to walk that line. Tell me about creating him and keeping that suspense up as to who he really may turn out to be.
It was interesting because when I spoke to the guys on Season Three about what they wanted and who they wanted, the first thing that happened to him in Episode One is that he gets kidnapped and is suddenly put in a situation where he again has to operate in a way outside of how he might have been because he’s basically trying to stay alive. So that was quite fun.
There’s been various extreme elements of his life and the danger that he’s in that is not like a straight-down-the-middle character. So yeah, it’s been interesting playing extremes, and then being a little deceitful at times as well – a little sleight of hand! That’s been quite fun to have other side projects going on.