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Exclusive Interview: Clark Gregg on Trust Me and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Clark Gregg discusses Phil Coulson’s role on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and his latest film as a writer/director, Trust Me, playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Obviously the norm is going through the process of starting with a pilot and waiting to commit to series, but “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is going to go to series, right?

I don’t know. They haven’t told me. Honestly, they haven’t told me the answer yet. I certainly would be sad if it didn’t because I have a feeling it would mean that Coulson didn’t live anymore. But yeah, I think we made a good pilot. Joss knows what he’s doing, and other writers, his brother Jed and Jed’s wife Maurissa are amazing. I think we’ve got a shot.
 

Could you imagine if it didn’t? I can’t imagine them not moving forward on a S.H.I.E.L.D. series.

I would be upset.
 

If it does, would you be a regular on every episode?

I can’t predict the future but it certainly looks that way.
 

I was wondering if that was the concept or you’d just pop in and out.

It’s Agent Coulson’s world and everyone else is just living in it.
 

Is he the same old Coulson?

Well, I don’t know how he could be the same old Coulson given that last time we saw him in The Avengers, he was not in good shape. Same old Coulson? I don’t know, remains to be seen. You’re trying to get me killed by all the Marvel spy satellites.
 

No, I know obviously I can’t ask how he comes back so I was trying to think of some interesting ways to talk about it. But are you going to whip a new team into shape?

Yes. It’s a world of post-Avengers and it’s a world where Coulson is in better shape than last we saw him. I think in a world post-Avengers where the public is aware of superheroes beyond Tony Stark and the world of Thor and aliens coming through time portals, there’s a lot of business for S.H.I.E.L.D.
 

Are you going to have nice action scenes, like the One-Shot short with the quickie mart fight?

Isn’t that a great fight? Yeah, I would be surprised if that part of Coulson did anything but expand.
 

Good. When you read the Avengers script, did a part of you think, “Really? You’re using me to show that anyone can die? But it’s obviously not going to be Tony Stark, Thor or Captain America.”

I did get a phone call before I even got the script saying, “Listen, you really do have a big part in The Avengers.” I said, “That’s thrilling, guys. I’m so excited.” They said, “Yeah, what happens to you is what brings The Avengers together.” I thought oh, no. Is this my last Marvel movie? But then when I read Joss’s script I thought what he came up with was so spectacular and such great scenes. It was such a great death scene, I felt really lucky and I was really at peace with it, so I was really surprised when they called and said, “Huh, we might have a little more work for you.”
 

When you did Iron Man and they were starting to lay the groundwork for S.H.I.E.L.D. and all the Avengers elements, did you think they would be able to pull it off?

No, I don’t know. It seemed like a daunting task. I didn’t know how anyone could pull off the Avengers script, to bring all those different characters and different worlds together and give them all something to do, and yet not make it feel like “Oh, now it’s so and so’s moment!” But like a cohesive story, I thought Joss’s script was genius, and funny. In my wildest dreams I never thought it was going to be so funny.
 

I also got to see Much Ado About Nothing in Toronto. Are you a big Shakespeare guy already, or did you get into that through Joss?

I’d always loved Shakespeare. I started out doing theater in New York. I used to go to Shakespeare in the Park a lot. My theater company did mostly new American plays, sometimes some Chekhov or Shaw or something. But we would kind of sneak off to Vermont in the summers and do Shakespeare quietly there. There’s a whole thing where there’s Shakespearean actors and not. We didn’t really feel like we had a license, so when Joss said, “We’re doing this and it starts in two days,” it was kind of the perfect way in for me. I couldn’t really question any of that, I just had to show up and know my lines and try to discover those scenes on the day.
 

When it is a film adaptation, does it make it more difficult to memorize the lines if it’s not the complete Shakespeare passages?

No, it was easier because they change no lines other than I think he combined a couple of characters and made some male characters female, but he cut, which everyone does when they make a Shakespeare movie. I think Much Ado About Nothing in its whole text is probably three and a half hours long. So in a way the scenes were boiled down. It was kind of the meat of the scene, the kind of film essence of what the scenes were. If I had had to do the full megillah, I would’ve been toast.
 

I don’t think I could remember a whole Shakespearean passage to deliver it, but if I could, then having to remember this part’s out and we’re skipping ahead to this part, might be confusing.

Luckily that’s the beauty of film. You don’t have to do the whole play. You’ve got this short scene to do and you’re good.
 

What was the vibe on Joss Whedon’s homegrown microbudget set?

Well, he did the movie with a bunch of his regulars, a bunch of people who’ve worked with him in a lot of different shows. A lot of them were excited, the “Buffy” people were happy to work with the “Angel” people and the “Serenity” people. I was kind of the new guy but everyone treated me like I was just on one of Joss’s other TV shows. There’s a very festive, grateful atmosphere. They like being together, they like working together and they were comfortable doing this thing on the fly, not much time. Having an ensemble that trusts each other, I can’t really imagine how you could pull off making a Shakespeare film in eleven days otherwise.


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.