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Marvel Avengers Assemble – Clark Gregg interview

Marvel Avengers Assemble

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CLARK Gregg talks about the evolution of Agent Phil Coulson from Iron Man to Marvel Avengers Assemble and why he thinks fans have now embraced him.

He also talks about working with Joss again on Much Ado About Nothing and the fun and challenge of working with Robert Downey Jr.

Q. How would you describe your journey so far as Agent Phil Coulson?
Clark Gregg: I would describe my experience with Marvel so far as a series of shocking surprises, which started with a character named Agent Coulson who had like three lines in Iron Man suddenly getting called back every week to do more and more scenes. And then doing a scene in Iron Man 2 where they suddenly told me: “Tell him [Tony Stark] that you’re going to New Mexico…” I did it about four times and I eventually pulled over one of the producers and said: “Wait, I feel like I should know why I’m saying this. What’s in New Mexico?” And they were like: “Oh, nobody talked to you? Thor! Thor is in New Mexico! You’re going to be the one that takes care of that. Are you free?” And I was like: “I’m going to get free! Yeah!” And then at the panel for Thor [at Comic-Con] Joss Whedon ran up to me and said: “I’ve been meaning to call you, you have a substantial role in The Avengers! Can I introduce you as part of the cast?” So, when I’m going to find out what the next step is for Agent Coulson, should there be one, it will be like that… a satellite will drop into my living room and a hologram will pop up with somebody explaining to me the next step.

Q. This is the first time we’ve found out something personal about him. How did that idea come up?
Clark Gregg: There’s been little hints. Marvel called me a year ago and said they wanted to do these short films that they put out with the Blu-rays that gave those little hints. It’s one of the things that I love about the guy is that he’s so kind of mysterious. The hints come out in the way that he’s sardonic with Tony Stark or the threats he makes. He says one comment in Iron Man 2 about how he’s going to taze him and watch Super Nanny while he drools into the carpet. So, some people were like: “Oh, he likes Super Nanny? Ah, he watches reality TV.” So, I have this very collaborative relationship with Joss where he writes really brilliant character stuff and I get to say it. So, on this Joss came along – the same as the other writers and directors have to a certain extent – and took the materials that had been there before and took them a step further.

It had never occurred to me, for instance, that Agent Coulson might be a fan-boy. I know I am! But the idea that in this universe Steve Rogers is a real person and a real war hero who disappeared and that Phil Coulson had grown up reading his comics and collecting the cards and action figures… it made perfect sense. It plays so nicely against his irreverence with the superheroes… that he really got into this because he loves that world was just a fantastic thing that Joss came up with.

Q. How do you understand the character and his motivations?
Clark Gregg: From the moment that Joss came up to me at Comic-Con it was clear that he had watched the other movies and was a big fan of The Avengers. That made me a little nervous because to some of the extreme fan-boys, of which I count Joss, Agent Coulson at first was upsetting because he was the only character that wasn’t in the comics. There are so many S.H.I.E.L.D characters over the years so why didn’t those films use one of them? So, I thought: “Oh boy, I’m not long for this universe after Iron Man because it had made them so mad.” But something about Agent Coulson really connected with the fans and I think that’s because he’s so normal. He’s so average, especially as personified by me!

So, I’m very much the average person’s avatar… the kind of fan-boy avatar and Joss really took that further. So, when Joss felt that Coulson was the person who had the connection with the superheroes and was the right person who, when they were bickering and squabbling, became the one to say ‘enough is enough’ and to grab the most fierce-some weapon in the universe and take on Loki, I thought that was a magnificent next step for Coulson.

Q. Have you ever collected anything like Agent Coulson does?
Clark Gregg: I’ve just realised that I don’t. And it seems so weird! I’ve got nothing!

Q. Is the camaraderie that exists between you on-screen, as well as the sense of humour, the same in real-life when you’re on-set?
Clark Gregg: It’s funny people. I think most of the actors that I know that I think are good are kind of funny people. There’s just something about being alive to the truth of a moment that makes a good joke that also makes a good actor. But a lot of people don’t have a big background of doing comedy but Joss threw them great lines and he somehow picked people who could make them come alive. There are so many funny lines that I feel I’m going to have to go back and see them because the ones that were in scenes I didn’t do I didn’t even pick up on until I saw it. Some of them are great throw-aways such as Tony Stark’s brilliant little joke about naming people after movies or characters… calling Thor Point Break and Reindeer Games.

Marvel Avengers Assemble

Q. How was working with Robert for you personally? Does he improvise a lot within the moment?
Clark Gregg: I wish everybody got the chance to do some of the scenes that I’ve gotten to do with him because I don’t quite know what’s going to happen next… it’s going to be within the parameters of the scene. It’s roughly going to be the lines. But I spent most of my time… and when I watch it later I see a guy trying to keep up because I’m trying to keep up. But he’s giving you the best work you can do.

Q. You’ve since worked with Joss on Much Ado About Nothing, haven’t you?
Clark Gregg: I did! It’s that maniac’s idea of a week off after the most gruelling six months shoot! We were having dinner and he said: “Oh, I’m going to make this movie next week.” I was like: “Aren’t you supposed to be resting? That’s crazy!” But he said: “Yeah, but I think I want to make a little indie kind of movie at my house… you’re Leonato!” So, I said: “Oh, I should go home and start learning some lines.” And he said: “Yeah!” And then two days later I was walking into his kitchen with an iPad, which tells you a little bit about the concept going in [laughs].

Q. Is it true that Chris Evans took everybody out one night after shooting?
Clark Gregg: There was a text that went out that just said ‘Assemble’ because there were very few nights when everybody was in Albuquerque [New Mexico]. But there was definitely a night where we all went out… not everybody as not everyone was in town, which was kind of sad. In fact, Joss was out of town doing a charity event and there’s nobody who loves going out to dance more than Joss. He’s kind of famous for it. So, when he had to see the pictures of all of us going out dancing, again, later than we should have been out, it was a little bit of a heartbreaking moment for him.

Q. Will you be on board for the next one?
Clark Gregg: One thing I’ve learned about the Marvel universe is that it’s a little bit like God… if you want to make him laugh, just make a plan. So, I don’t know.

Read our review of Marvel Avengers Assemble

Read our interview with Scarlett Johansson

Read our interview with Cobie Smulders