Most readers of this site will undoubtedly know actor Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Nick Fury's go-to right-hand man who popped up in Iron Man and became such a huge fan-favorite that he was even introduced into the comics by popular demand. What many may not realize is that Gregg was a hard-working actor for decades before getting that role, as well as a filmmaker whose first feature, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke, starring Sam Rockwell, got a lot of attention at the Sundance Film Festival.
He was just about to start shooting his second feature Trust Me, which premiered at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, when Gregg learned his character Agent Coulson wasn't quite dead in The Avengers and in fact was going to be the lynchpin for a new ABC series, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," which in fact aired its penultimate episode of the season last night.
On Tuesday, SuperHeroHype/ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk to Gregg about his new movie and with only two more episodes of the season, we had to slip in a few questions about the show and the future of Coulson once the season's over.
As far as the timeline of Gregg making his movie before going into production on the show. "I knew we were going to shoot a pilot right before we started shooting (‘Trust Me')—during preproduction I got a call from Joss saying, ‘We think you might not be dead,' and I gotta say it felt like a nice vote of confidence going into what was about to be the scariest thing I'd ever done."
The last few episodes of the ABC show have tied closely into the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which we're going to assume you've all seen by now, but for the three of you who haven't, there are minor SPOILERS both for that movie and "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" from here on out.
Gregg told us that they had just wrapped "the grand finale" of the season three weeks ago, having been filming the show for the past nine months starting last July. "It was so tense and fun, but we do more in eight days in terms of visual FX, action, fight choreography, especially when we finally get to the place where the show interacts with ‘The Winter Soldier' and HYDRA is revealed – that's everything cranked up to another level," he told us.
When asked about whether next week's episode will put a bed to the HYDRA storyline, essentially allowing the next season to start in a new place, he responded, "I knew there was going to be some bad stuff that was going to happen in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier' within S.H.I.E.L.D. I didn't know that we would potentially become agents of NOTHING. That said, the level to which that's a gamechanger becomes very clear in the season finale and there are a couple things that happen in the season finale that blew my mind and suggests the direction of what might be happening in Season 2. I didn't understand that the level of treachery would reach into my own team and I think it's really cool that it does."
As with all things Marvel, there's a high level of secrecy involved with everything they do which also adds to Gregg's enjoyment of making the show, especially the last few episodes. "There's something really fun about getting the scripts together in the room and having special red pages handed to us where we find out there's HYDRA within. Our life is like S.H.I.E.L.D. to see the actual faces of the other actors reacting to this."
Gregg wasn't sure whether the T.A.H.I.T.I. project that brought Coulson back to life might be connected to anything in the upcoming movies—"The bastards don't tell me sh*t" he said with a smile—but added, "What I sense as a fan, and this is my opinion is that there's definitely more to the secret of T.A.H.I.T.I. and we had a huge reveal at the end of the last episode when we find out who is in charge of the project and we know that both Coulson and Skye have been saved using this serum from a blue alien. I would be surprised if we don't find out pretty soon what species that is, super-early in Season 2 I'm suspecting, and I have a feeling that the ramifications of what it means to have that inside of you are much more far-reaching than we know."
We were curious how Gregg felt towards the varied reaction to the show which runs the gamut from those who have been diehard fans from the beginning, those who have fallen away after the first few episodes and those who have returned or joined on over the last few weeks as the show became more tied into the Marvel Studios films.
Gregg is really fascinated by the fandom he's experienced since becoming Coulson, especially when it comes to the show:
"I'm in the middle of it and I feel a great responsibility to satisfy the fans," he replied when asked about reactions to the show. "The fans are who brought Coulson back to life. I think ‘Coulson Lives' is why there's a show. I want so much for them to like what we're doing. I want it to be great and I feel really protective of my young co-stars and the 200 people who work on that show, supporting their families. When people were frustrated with not having enough superheroes or wanting the pace to move faster, it was hard for me and when people started to click with the show more and the numbers started to build and people seemed to start to get what we were going after, it has really been rewarding to me to see the build as the season went along."
"It's actually really interesting because due to social media, you really find out a lot more about what people are thinking then you ever used to and in some ways, that can be really hard, in some ways that's really satisfying, but I guess the one thing as an artist that's kind of useful is that you realize that the same moment that is somebody's favorite thing ever, somebody else detests and you kind of go ‘Wow! The span of reactions. Everybody is bringing something different to the party.' I watch it with my daughter and if we like it, I'm really happiest now. That's my barometer."
Working on such a big show and a vast storyline means that they're not necessarily shooting one episode a week before moving on, as Gregg explained: "For the most part, it's one after another but there's carry-over where a lot of times it's so big that they can't get it in eight days so there'll be two different units shooting on the same set or else one on location, some doing the last pick-up day of the episode before, some on the new episode and sometimes there'll be a third unit doing a VFX or action shot from the one ahead or one behind."
"I don't think what we're doing now on the show would be achievable if Marvel didn't have a fantastic system in place and a way to do VFX fast," Gregg said about the team making the show. "That's the only thing about the Avengers that's similar is that if you took the Avengers and it was a giant car and you put it into one of those car compactors, it compresses what would be seven weeks of shooting into seven days."
(Sadly, we didn't broach the subject of whether Coulson may appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron or future Marvel Studios movies, because we had the feeling if Greg has been informed either way, he probably couldn't or wouldn't tell us.)
Either way, Gregg's second feature, the noir comedy Trust Me is now playing On Demand and will get a theatrical release on June 6. Look for our full interview with the actor/filmmaker (including more on his transition from indie actor to Marvel mythos) sometime before then over on ComingSoon.net.