Clark Gregg Talks 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.', 'Civil War' Ties, and His Epic 'Lip-Sync Battle'
Now that the world's seen "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." And nobody's better schooled on the inside secrets of the MCU than Director Phil Coulson himself: Clark Gregg.
As the series heads into its season-ending episodes, Gregg reveals how the "Civil War" plot twists turn up the temperature on an already heated season of conflict within the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, and he provided a glimpse into his own recent personal showdown, when he faced off against "Marvel's Agent Carter" star Lip Sync Battle."
Moviefone: What's the fun for you and the team on the show, knowing that these big Marvel movies are coming each year that will have some kind of element that you can incorporate in your story?
Clark Gregg: From my vantage point, it's a world I love. I've been involved in the earlier phase of the building of the Cinematic Universe, and I've gotten to watch the way that Jeph Loeb and everybody else has built the television part of the universe and all its different portions, whether it's Hell's Kitchen, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," or "Agent Carter" in the '40s.
So to just see this one story be told across all these chapters, and too see the way the little ripples happen -- I mean, it was more terrifying when you realized that maybe, after "Winter Soldier," the organization that Coulson works for doesn't exist anymore. Nothing's quite that extreme, but certainly everything that happens in "Civil War" shows up on our show with this episode, and within seconds, there's my pal General Talbot there to start registering Inhumans, some of whom are my very close friends.
What was intriguing about the timing of everything this season? To be able to incorporate that Superhuman Registration Act into the plotline, right at that moment when things are heating up in your season with dividing lines amongst your characters?
Well, certainly that idea of what it means to be an Inhuman. The alienation of someone who feels like "the other" has been something that's been going on in our show for quite some time, and something we've been exploring. So when "Civil War" takes it to the point where there's a Registration Act and that's dividing the Avengers, it just takes everything we've been doing and setting up and cranks it up to a new level, right when we're going into our last three episodes -- two of which are our own version of a Marvel movie, a two-hour finale.
What have you loved about this particular season?
I love the way the writers have taken this idea of the Inhumans, and from the capsules that we saw being harvested at the end of last season to a global outbreak where suddenly people are evolving differently -- and some of them are within our own team and some of them become members of our team, and others would like to destroy our team.
It creates a problem where there's no easy answers. Though Coulson probably imagined when he was main director of S.H.I.E.L.D. that his job was really going to be about rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. before HYDRA could destroy it, suddenly his job very much becomes about Inhumans and Secret Warriors, and feeling the way those divisions play out on his own team.
How has the proliferation of superpowers on the show sort of changed everything thematically as you put the show together each week?
At the start of the show, it was very clear that Joss and Jed [Whedon], and Maurissa [Tancharoen], and Jeph and Jeff [Bell] were committed to making a show that was different than what you were seeing in the Marvel movies. The most prominent difference was the fact that it was centered around someone that the fans had responded to because he was very normal and didn't have any powers.
He was the audience's avatar, in a way. An Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. A very good agent, and even though he didn't know it, an agent who had been brought back from the dead using Kree powers, which would become very important to people who were learning about Inhumans.
What they did in this season, and with the outbreak of Inhumans, is they started to have powered people that are part of our show, and yet still have them be about S.H.I.E.L.D. I like that it's become its own very different thing within the Marvel Universe that feels totally and logistically appropriate for television.
It pushes the envelope as fast as Mark Kolpack and as his brilliant VFX team, and the technology can evolve. And I just was watching some of the shots that are from our finale, and as I say every year -- and it's true every year -- I just saw stuff I've never seen on TV again, because they pushed the envelope further.
Coulson has really had his feet held to the fire toward the end of second season and all through this season. What's been fun for you about playing him in this sustained distress?
Well, the episode where everything's good and there are no problems -- I don't know, maybe an episode of that might be interesting. Who knows? We'd probably cook up some giant dilemma just so we wouldn't be bored. A cop drama in a city where everyone gets along is probably not a good show.
I love that they seem to constantly take him from one frying pan to another, global, interplanetary Inhuman fire. This year they even had him on a foreign planet hunting down his adversary. Come on, that's fun! I sit there on the foreign planet and I go, "This is the best job anyone ever had."
I have to ask you about your bravest performance yet: on "Lip Sync Battle."
Yeah, I temporarily lost my mind for a second there.
You looked like you were having a blast.
It was really fun. I love Hayley Atwell. She is really the one who made that Dubsmash part of our world last year at Comic-Con, and we had a blast fighting it out with them. It was painful to lose the Dubsmash war. So it was thoroughly to kind of even it out a little bit with the wonderful lip sync battle. Although, when I saw her spectacular Lady Gaga performance in the head-to-toe neoprene with the giant crown, I thought it was all over. I guess I didn't give enough credit to the shock value of my 50-something self in the Britney [Spears] costume.
How did that concept come together, including your wife Jennifer [Grey] and all that?
I don't know how it happens for everybody else, but for me, it was very, very sudden. Maybe somebody fell out or something, but it was a call on Thursday that this was an option, and an ask and request for some songs that I liked and a list of songs presented to me.
I didn't know that particular Britney song that well, but I was assured by Constance Zimmer and Shay Sanford-Fong, one of our brilliantly talented hair people that it was something I should explore. Especially when I saw the video and explored the possibility of the androgynous flight attendant.
Just hours later, I was there rehearsing with this spectacular dance team, Danielle Flora, the dance goddess there. And choreographing this crazy number, which all seemed great because I didn't really imagine myself in quite that costume. They pointed out that in the video, there was a male passenger that Britney had made out with. I said, "I can think of a good passenger," because my wife is so game. She agreed to be the mysterious passenger in scene 3B.
As much as I love Coulson, it's maybe my favorite performance of yours, Clark.
Oh bless you, thank you so much.