Quint Interviews Clark Gregg about AVENGERS
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Little did I know my nerdy ramblings about a certain big scene in The Avengers would lead to a discussion with Agent Coulson himself, Mr. Clark Gregg. I thought I was just releasing some of inner geek so it’d quit bouncing around my grey matter.
However, the spoilery piece (read it here) caught the attention of Mr. Gregg who not only tweeted it out with a “Hrmmm” but got in touch and volunteered to talk on record about Agent Coulson’s big moment in the film.
So, again… super spoilery stuff here. If you read AICN and care at all about Avengers spoilers then I have no doubt in my mind you’ve seen the movie by now, but in case one of you finally escaped a dark well, skin fully lotioned, and haven’t gotten a chance to check out the flick yet then do not read this. You’ll be sad you did.
Here’s a nice jump in case your eyes should flicker down the page before backing away in abject horror from the spoilers herein:
Welcome back. Now let’s talk Agent Coulson’s death. Mr. Gregg was very political about the theories involving his potential return, but the genuine feeling I get is that if Marvel is planning anything more for him they’re playing it close to their vest and he’s not in on it.
The tone of the interview was surprisingly somber. It felt like we were talking about the passing of a family member, but I love this interview… I hope you do, too. Enjoy!
Quint: So, what’s new with you? (laughs)
Clark Gregg: I guess everybody knows what’s new with me.
Quint: Since I wrote that article I’ve been kind of inundated with email responses that kind of run the gamut of “No, that’s bullshit. It would be a cop out if your theory turns out to be true” to “Yeah, I don’t buy it for a second.” (Laughs) No matter what, it must feel really good for you to kind of see this groundswell of love and support for the character. Having spent just a little time talking with you, I think it’s pretty clear there’s a lot of you in Coulson.
Clark Gregg: Definitely. It feels like a really good fit, which made it sad to kind of read those pages and on the days leading up to shooting that scene and the day shooting that scene. I was like “Wow, I really love this guy. I’m really connected to this, because this feels heavy.” (Laughs)
I was kind of “Come on man, relax. It’s pretend!” But I was kind of like “You know here we go. We are going to do this now” and my hands would be shaking a little bit. It’s just, you know, you have to connect to a certain extent to any character you’re going to try to make feel real at all, but this guy with five years and four movies…. You’re right, it’s really gratifying, because I love what Joss (Whedon) did with it and I loved the idea that he could go from you know being kind of connective tissue to really being kind of a force that could really drive the audience’s experience and make it ideally more moving instead of just funny or snarky and to kind of be aware that there is the power of that reaction and to have been in some theaters where people kind of gasped or called out.
You know, what’s underneath your drive to do this is you want to connect with people, you want to give them an experience that’s moving or entertaining and to feel such a palpable version of that is really rewarding.
Quint: I’ve seen the movie three times now and I just watched it again a couple of days ago and in every screening there have been gasps at your death scene, but like the one that I went to a few days ago, which is the first paid screening, there was not only that, but people started murmuring like “Oh no. No!” And I haven’t seen that reaction in a movie in a very long time.
Clark Gregg: They did it in a great way, like they kind of let you get to know the guy over a couple of movies and people kind of get who he is at this point and I’m lucky to be in this spot where of all the people with super powers or billions, there’s this one guy who is really just there because he’s kind of determined and the fact that Joss only kind of doubled downed on the audience connection by also revealing that he is a fan boy and that he kind of got into this because he grew up loving Cap in the comics, I think just so wisely connects him and really identifies who he has been for people just in time to cruelly crush them! (laughs)
Quint: Well, he did. He made Coulson kind of us and our entrance point into this crazy world and you very much so. Did you get to keep the cards?
Clark Gregg: Those damned cards! That’s one of the many things they took from me in this movie. (Laughs)
Quint: You didn’t get to keep the cards?
Clark Gregg: No, but I’ve gotten tons of really… I’ve got so much great memorabilia and cool stuff to last a lifetime.
Quint: Do you remember your initial reaction for when you first read the scene? I mean what jumped to your mind first? Like “Oh shit!” or “Damn it!” or like “Oh well, if I’m going to go, I’m going to go out in a blaze of glory.”
Clark Gregg: Well, this guy from THE HUFFINGTON POST who I spoke to, Mike Ryan, when I was kind of at the end of a long day… I just ended up talking about this, so some of this is in there and you might want to check it out, but they called me, you know? I really had gotten to know Kevin Feige and Jeremy (Latcham) and the guys at Marvel. I certainly had this weird experience where I knew they were maybe going to make AVENGERS, but I didn’t imagine it would have much to do with Agent Coulson with all of those big movie stars and superheroes in the mix and then when I was backstage at Comic-Con right before we went on to do the THOR panel Joss came up and introduced himself and said “You’ve got a big part in THE AVENGERS, can I introduce you as part of the cast?” I almost died of geeking out on the spot. I thought “That’s a nice intention, but by the time everyone gets their say… I’m just walking through with some crudite.”
Then Kevin called me and said, “Look, you do have a really important role and we want to do some shorts about Agent Coulson,” I was like “This is amazing!” And he said, “Yeah, you bring The Avengers together, because you know them all” and I was like “Cool.” “Yeah, well you know what happens to you is what brings The Avengers together” and I was like “Hold it now… What you talkin’ about, Willis?” (laughs)
I think I just said, “Is this my last Marvel movie, Kevin?” and he said, “I’m not going to say anything else, just look at the script” and then I don’t know probably a month later the script came in an armored car and a swat team around my house while I read it.
Quint: Wait a minute, they dropped that on you and then didn’t give you the script for a month?
Clark Gregg: Well, the script wasn’t done.
Quint: Well still, damn. That’s something to let live inside your brain for a while. (Laughs)
Clark Gregg: No, they just… I think they were preparing me a little bit, because I think they know how much fun I’ve had playing the guy. I got it and I just… First off, I never know how they are going to do this. I never knew how anyone was going to pull all of these characters and tie all of these movies together in a story that didn’t just feel like a patchwork quilt, you know?
Clark Gregg: So I was just going through the script going “Oh man, he’s got Tony Stark’s voice. He’s got it!” And “Oh my god, here’s Coulson. That’s right, Coulson doesn’t know Cap and of course he’s a fanboy. Fantastic!” When I knew that I was in trouble I felt like “Oh man, I’m going to be out of there by the Act One break…” and to really have him be such a big part of the story and to kind of read the scene... I had definitely a pang of “Oh god, this makes me so sad and I’m so… I’m mostly kind of much more prevalently just so thrilled to get to act that stuff.” It really felt perfect to me.
Quint: It’s weird, so many movies, especially big movies these days, kind of throw out those character moments in favor of a big spectacle and THE AVENGERS definitely gets to the spectacle, whether it’s the forest fight with Iron Man and Thor or the big invasion at the end, but I’ve seen a lot of movies where they would have just thrown away that moment. You would have shown up, you would have done your thing and then they would have moved on, but I liked that they kind of massage it a little, that you get to go out with…
Clark Gregg: They come back to it! You know what I mean? You do the big shocking thing and then they come back to it just to have the character moments between him and Loki and to give Coulson a chance to strike back. You’re right, I mean so many movies that have this much kind of action and effects, they don’t take that time with the characters. They don’t put as much work as Joss did into the characters, to their dynamics. They never would spend the amount of time that he spends getting into the dynamics of Natasha Romanoff or to her relationship with Clint (Barton, Hawkeye), which is so fascinating and ambiguous to me what their relationship is. It never goes down any obvious paths and I think it’s one of the reasons why when the action starts people care about who is fighting.
Quint: And the moment when you fire the gun and you actually get to see what it gets to do, that moment got cheers every single time I’ve seen it, so it’s like those moments are important and they do work for the audience. I don’t know if filmmakers worry about it being masturbatory or worried of losing the interest of the audience or whatever. I don’t know what their thought process is in usually skimming over that stuff, but it works.
Clark Gregg: I feel like the fact that some of those moments have seemed to have gotten that kind of reaction in a movie like that where it’s really pretty simple and old school, you know there’s no big effects and you know those are ranked up there, some of the other character moments are ranked up there, in terms of satisfaction, right where some of the amazing stuff with Hulk.
They did… (laughs) I kept making jokes as it got closer to the day when they were doing that scene where I was like “Okay, did any rewrites come? I’m looking for some pink pages here.” You know, like looking into the camera even between takes, like “I’m looking for a rewrite from the Governor. Is there any rewrite?” (Laughs) Then there’s this big emotional scene and I was kind of a wreck and my pal Jeremy Latcham from Marvel goes “Can I show you one thing that might make this feel better to you?” and I said, “Yeah.” And he brings over his iPad and he’s got the animatics version of Hulk final showdown with Loki.
Clark Gregg: And he showed it to me and it was fantastic. I was like “You’re right. That really took the edge off.”
Quint: Now speaking of Jeremy and Kevin and those guys, Joss mentioned I believe in his recent AMA on Reddit that the order for Coulson’s demise came down from Marvel and didn’t come from him, which I think is another thing that’s getting a lot of the conspiracy theory fanboys like me all in a thither. So, I guess my question to you is will Vision just be your regular name or will it be an acronym like S.H.E.I.L.D.?
Clark Gregg: (Laughs) I have no idea. I love all of those theories. To me I just enjoy it so much that these guys have a Tumblr thing where they’ve got all of these pictures of people like writing “#CoulsonLives, “Coulson Lives” in sand… someone painted it on a bridge, another person arranged library books.
I just love all of that stuff, but you know I think I really am trying to kind of… And I never know what Marvel is going to do, but I have to kind of feel like I’m trying to do my own business with “I probably won’t get to play this guy again.” I love it, who knows? Who knows what the fans can make happen, you know what I mean? That would be hilarious to me if the fans somehow managed… It would be the fans who brought Coulson back to life, but I don’t think there’s any plans. They’ve got enough superheroes to now bring in to take his place, you know? I think people would rather see Wasp than me come back.
Quint: I don’t know about that, but I think that’s why a lot of people are grabbing on to these Vision rumors and they are grasping at straws admittedly like “Wanda was a cellist in one of the books, so maybe that’s the in” or all of that stuff.
Clark Gregg: Scarlet Witch?
Quint: Yeah. I don’t know, I think it could be done well…
Clark Gregg: If they can come up with a scenario where it isn’t lame, I’m sure they will be open to it. They would have to kind of field that kind of swell from the fans and they’d have to come up with a scenario where it didn’t undercut what happened in THE AVENGERS and it ended up being another moment in a theater that was really thrilling.
Quint: Are you contracted for more movies should they decide to go that way or would they have to do a new deal with you?
Clark Gregg: Um, I don’t know. I never know. I have to go back and look. There were so many movies at first and then some counted and others didn’t. I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’ve got to call my lawyer!
I’m not worried about it. Do you know what I mean? If it comes up, I’ll call them, but I have a feeling… I’m just trying to do my own grieving.
Quint: Yeah. We are in the denial stage and maybe we will come to accept it later.
Clark Gregg: Look, I’ve been keeping the secret and doing my sobbing for quite a while now.
Quint: So you have had significantly more time than us to put this to bed. Well before I let you go, you mentioned the mood on the set when you shot your scene… the days leading up to you were even kind of shaking. That was your mood, but what was the mood of everybody else on the set?
Clark Gregg: I don’t know. I don’t know what other people felt. It mainly was a big deal to me, you know? I know it seemed like it was a little uncomfortable for Tom Hiddleston, you know, but we had a job to do and you know we all knew it was a beautiful scene or we thought so anyway and I think most of it was just kind of like an excitement and a desire to really do it justice. There’s a lot of stuff where people are flying around in kind of little Vespa spaceships with the aliens and this was a scene where you really got to kind of push it out with some stakes and really go for something, so I think like a lot of stuff the feelings really come after and it really was about “How do we do this justice?”
Quint: Yeah and what’s great about how Joss handled the scene to me wasn’t just that “It’s a shocking moment,” but if you realize… I think that we only really see Loki take out one guy. Right when he comes in he evaporates a guy and it’s kind of a background thing, another agent gets vaporized by the staff… We see him do the eyeball thing, but we don’t know that guy and we hear about him killing 80 people or whatever, but the only one that we really see that they make a big deal of that happens at all in the forefront is Coulson. To me, that feels like a very specific choice and I think that that is one of the reasons why the scene is so effective. It really isn’t until that moment that everything is kind of on the table.
Clark Gregg: Yeah, I agree. I mean I do think that that’s all very carefully done. They walk a fine line. They try to make something that can be as exciting and as fun for kids as STAR WARS, you know? STAR WARS wasn’t gory and there’s only a limited amount of that that they can do and yet I think they found a way to get the maximum amount of… What is it? It’s kind of like grounding it in reality. There is a toll to this stuff.
One of the things I told Joss was like “Obviously I’m sad about it, but I really feel like it’s important in a movie like this for it to work,” because you’ve got to feel like something is at stake. If everybody is just shot in the arm and healing themselves with their superpowers and everything’s fine, but “Let’s sweep up all the dead aliens in Manhattan,” it just doesn’t land the same I don’t think.
Quint: Yeah, well I mean you also approach it not only as an actor, but as a storyteller yourself, so I’m sure you saw the value in it.
Clark Gregg: It’s true and that’s a lot of the reason why I was thrilled about it, which is more than anything else I would just like to be part of something that really works and to have what I’m doing help to make it work.
Quint: I’m just sorry that audiences aren’t flocking to see the movie and that it’s doing so poorly….
Clark Gregg: It’s too bad. Maybe we’ll get into a festival.
Quint: You were working on a noir type film, right?
Clark Gregg: Yeah. It kind of got side tracked with all of this. I ended up kind of going all over the place doing press for this and I’m just kind of glad I was free to do that, but now it seems to be ramping back up again. It’s hard to get an independent movie financed these days, but it seems a little easier after THE AVENGERS.
Quint: For some reason…
Clark Gregg: I’m getting a few phone calls, like “Maybe we are interested in financing it.” (Laughs)
Quint What’s the title again?
Clark Gregg: It’s called TRUST ME.
Quint: Good title.
Clark Gregg: Thank you.
Quint: Can you talk a little bit about what the story is?
Clark Gregg: (Thinks for a bit) It’s called of a neo noir, a contemporary neo noir about a loser agent for child actors who is always dumped by these kids, when they start to make it, for his nemesis. It’s really kind of about the moment when he stumbles on a prodigy and they really connect, but you know the most dangerous thing that can happen to you in Hollywood is a lot of success all of a sudden. It’s kind of a dark comedy and we’ve got some terrific people involved and we will put it together and shoot it this summer.
Quint: Awesome. Are you going to act as well as direct?
Clark Gregg: Yeah, I’m playing one of the main roles this time. It’s a world that I really kind of wrote and was like “Yeah, I want to play a bigger role in this one.” I don’t think I always will, but in this one I really want to.
Quint: That’s cool.
Clark Gregg: Then I’m going to go do a part in Jason Reitman’s new movie, LABOR DAY, with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin that starts up in June.
Quint: Nice. Jason is good people. I like that guy. I haven’t been to any of his readings. I would actually really like to go to one.
Clark Gregg: I know. I’ve done a couple private ones, but I haven’t done one of his ones where he like reads classic movies.
Quint: That sounds like a lot of fun, but listen I won’t take up any more of your time.
Clark Gregg: Well, thanks and thanks for the cool stuff you’ve been writing. I really appreciate it. It’s good to have someone smart writing about this stuff. I like it.
Quint: I appreciate that, man. Yeah, well hopefully everybody gets what they want and you will figure out a non-bullshit way of returning to the Marvel universe and all of the fans will rejoice.
Clark Gregg: If that happens great, but I couldn’t be more satisfied with the run I had.
Quint: I appreciate you again taking the time.
Clark Gregg: Okay, thanks man.
Hope you guys dug the chat. Thanks a lot to Clark Gregg for not only being so open, but volunteering in the first place. He’s a super nice guy and I wish him the best in life, career, happiness and his future phase-shifting android body. Now I get a few hours of sleep before heading to France!