Agent Coulson of SHIELD has been a key character throughout Marvel Phase One. And while death in the superhero world should never be regarded as permanent, for the moment, at least, it seems that Coulson actor Clark Gregg’s association with all things Avengers is at an end. But what a way to go. And you can relive it all over again when Avengers Assemble is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 17 September .
If you buy the Blu-ray, you’ll also get to see Item 47 , the latest Marvel One-Shot short movie, which introduces us to a couple of new agents of SHIELD, including Agent Blake. He’s played by L ost ’s Man In Black, Titus Welliver, who describes him “a desk bound agent, who wishes he could still be out in the field, like Coulson had been.”
SFX had a chance to chat with both actors, and in the battle of the geeks, one seemed a surefire winner… though it was the other actor who knew what SHIELD stood for.
Clark Gregg – Agent Coulson
SFX : So, poor old Agent Coulson is no more. Were you surprised at how everybody took him to their hearts?
CG: “I was kind of gobsmacked. I got the sense that the fans kind of enjoyed Agent Coulson because he was the human face of that world, but, but I was not prepared for the Coulson Lives phenomenon. You know, bumper stickers up all over the globe. I found it very moving actually.”
When you first took that role in Iron Man, did you have any idea that they were going to keep using you, or did it just happen as a succession of happy accidents?
“I don’t know, I guess it was a kind of a combination of happy accidents and things working correctly, you know. It was a really small role in the beginning. I was really on the fence about whether to do it because it felt like the kind of thing that would just get cut out. But the guys at Marvel, they really improvise. For people with such a fantastic and famous masterplan, they improvise. There was something about Coulson that worked, and seemed to be serving a purpose so the writers said, ‘He’s gotta be SHIELD.’ And they’d always said no to having SHIELD mentioned, but suddenly for some reason they thought, ‘Yeah yeah, have him mention SHIELD!’ And all of a sudden I was saying ‘Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division’. And I’d read enough comics to know that it was quite a privilege that I was getting to say this. I’d suddenly become a more interesting character. When I went to the first screening and I heard people gasp when they heard that, I thought, ‘Oh this has turned into something cool.’”
So you were a bit of a comic geek? Sorry, I’ve just been talking to Titus Welliver – who’s in Item 47 – and he just outed himself as a comics geek and he outed you too.
“I was, but not on the par of Titus, whom I’ve known for 25 years and who was the first person I ever met who had action figures back in the ’80s. So yeah, I definitely read some comics and drew much more than I should have done in school, but I’m not on the par of the legendary geek Titus Welliver.”
They managed to keep your death in The Avengers under wraps until the film came out, so it did come as a bit of a shock. It left the Coulson Lives people calling for Joss Whedon’s head, but am I right in thinking that Coulson’s death didn’t actually come from him? It was actually part of the Marvel masterplan?
“My understanding is that it was not Joss’s idea, and that it was one of the key story problems. It was always gonna be the case in trying to write The Avengers . Unless the Earth has been wiped out, or New York City, who are they going to avenge? And it seemed like a really clever bit of craft, whoever came up with it. Even so, when I knew that that was what was gonna happen, I was concerned that I would get a script where, you know, act one was my funeral, and I wouldn’t really get to be in the movie. Instead it was really kind of Agent Coulson’s finest hour, and to have such spectacular final combat… it was more than a little gratifying!”
“I have seen, I have followers on Facebook and on Twitter who send me the really great stuff, and I’ve seen a bunch of kind of fan art that has my face as The Vision. And someone did an amazing bust, like a sculpture, mixed The Vision’s face with my face. Hey, if I got a call, I would pick up the phone very quickly, but I have a feeling they have different plans for The Vision.”
Of course, having appeared in all the different Marvel movies so far, you’ve had an experience of a range of different directors. How do the directors compare?
“It’s funny, I always am aware of how completely different each one of them is and, at the same time, how there’s a similarity, kind of a thread. I thought Kenneth Branagh couldn’t be any more different than Jon Favreau [laughs]. You know, one guy’s from Queens, and the other guy, you know, is friends with the Queen. But as soon as I got on the set of Thor , I realised how similar they were. They both have this real passion and vision for the story, from very different angles. They’re both actors who really like actors and love to direct actors in a way that kind of brings actors to life. And they’re both really funny. I kind of felt like they were, you know, cousins from across the pond.
“And then, when I got to Joss, Joss loves Shakespeare as much as Ken Branagh does, which is why I ended up doing Much Ado About Nothing at his house as soon as we wrapped The Avengers . I also thought that he had the geek, comic-book love that Favreau had. He was kind of a fusion of both. He also had this ridiculously passionate connection to Shakespeare, and the idea of big stories.”
So having done Much Ado About Nothing as well, are you now officially part of Joss Whedon’s recurring troupe of actors?
“I don’t know. You know, we had a nice date, I hope I end up in a relationship with him. I do, I’m quite fond of him and I really loved his script and I loved working with him, and I was really happy that he invited me to be part of Much Ado .
“The whole thing’s all been odd. I’d barely done any Shakespeare since I was fooling around with the idea of being an actor at college, and the week before Joss called me, I had this very intense dream where I was doing a Shakespeare play. It felt like a richer experience than anything I had been doing. Then I got this call from Joss, and even though I was starting a play in New York like the next day – and I had to fly back and forth – I just immediately said yes , even though, literally, I had to kind of learn my lines in about 48 hours.”
Was it a fun experience?
“It was amazing, I really loved it, I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m gonna go to Toronto on Friday night to see it for the first time.”
You done some scriptwriting in the past. Would you like to write a Marvel movie?
“Would love to. ‘You’ve killed me off, the least you can do is let me write one of those damn short films!’”
Titus Welliver – Agent Blake
SFX : So how did you enjoy your brief association with the Marvel Movie Universe?
TW: “Loved it. It was a real pleasure to be a part of something I grew up on.”
Were you a comics geek then?
“Oh yeah. I was a real fan of Kirby, Romita, Gil Kane, just to name a few. Steranko. Big big fan of those.
Ah, those ’60s and ’70 artists. Everything seemed so much more “cosmic” back then.
“Yeah, very much more. And that’s Kirby, I mean Jack Kirby, he was the guy that went far out first, and started dealing with those wild sort of cosmic things and also using photographs as backdrops. I mean, his stuff was way out. It was way, way out. Stan Lee always just kind of driving his guys to do something that was interesting.”
So, since you are such a comic geek, and now that you’re part of SHIELD as well, do you actually know what SHIELD stands for?
“You know what, that is an evil question because, you know, I sometimes forget what SAG* stands for, so, you have to take pity on me.”
( *SAG is the Screen Actors Guild – info ed )
It’s kind of a trick question anyway, because they changed it a few years back.
Yeah, it was the Enforcement and, I can’t even, Strategic… no…? Clark Gregg delivers it well every time. He’ll know. He’s an old mate of mine and I gotta say, I’m always impressed that he’s able to just have that come out of his mouth. He’s very convincing.”
How long did you spend filming Item 47?
“I shot my stuff in two days, which was all in that little black room. If you notice when you watch it, the floor is a kind of black lacquered floor which made it a very difficult room to shoot in. They had to be very careful ’cos of reflections. It was a short shoot, but it was a tremendous amount of work and Louis D’Esposito, the director, had a very specific idea of how he wanted to move the camera, so it was very technical at the same time. But great fun, great fun.
“It was shot in a warehouse that was very close by Marvel, so, being a geek, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with writers who were writing actual books. And there was the costume department for the films. I definitely regressed to, you know, ten, eleven years old. It was incredibly interesting to me.”
And I’m going to have to ask this, now that you are a part of the Marvel universe, is there an option for you to continue, maybe into the series that they’re developing for TV?
“I don’t know, I literally, you know, that press release was just done last week, and that was the first that I’ve heard of it. I would certainly be more than happy to participate in that, although I have no information, no insider information. But I would love to do it because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself on Item 478 and I think if you’re gonna be part of a fictional universe, this is the one to be a part of.”
By Dave Golder, with thanks to Jacob Martin