While the casts of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter were in San Diego for Comic-Con, Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy made their way over to NerdHQ for a panel in which they talked about all things Marvel and what being a part of their respective series means to them.
During the conversation, they talked about how soon a gay character could (and should) show up in the Marvel television universe, who pulls the best pranks on set, how Atwell and Gregg wanted their characters to evolve when they moved from the big to the small screen, being a part of programming that families can enjoy together, who inspires them, and whether Agent Coulson could show back up in the films soon. Here are the highlights from the panel.
HAYLEY ATWELL: I hope so. I think it’s completely possible. Are you up for it, babe?
CHLOE BENNET: I’m more concerned with the time travel. I think that would be the harder part.
CLARK GREGG: If there’s anything that justifies the time travel . . . I’m just saying.
BENNET: Yeah, I definitely think that’s possible, and I hope it happens. I’m the captain of the Skimmons ‘ship because I’m obsessed with Elizabeth Henstridge.
GREGG: One of the exciting things about having Inhumans come onto the part of the story that we’re telling is that it represents people who evolved differently than what is considered normal, up until that point. There are those people who think that’s a problem, and they should be separated or exterminated. And there are those who think that’s an exciting development in who we are. I think that’s when comic book stuff and our show starts to be topical. That’s what’s happening in the world. At a certain point, when that’s our story, to not have different parts of the LGBT community represented within our team is gonna be weird. So, it needs to happen soon. And that’s not just because I have a crush on Iain De Caestecker.
On who pulls the best pranks on set:
ATWELL: We prank each other quite a bit.
JAMES D’ARCY: By “we,” we mean you. And by “each other,” we mean me. Hayley did hide in my trailer on Halloween for about half an hour, waiting for me to show up, and she jumped out and scared the shit out of me.
ATWELL: It was a lovely reaction. He fell on the floor.
GREGG: Somebody might have filled Iain De Caestecker’s trailer with snow during a snow episode, and thought that she’d escaped retribution until she discovered that the many looks she’d been getting as she drove around town had to do with the perfect California vanity plate that said, “Ballz Deep.”
BENNET: I was driving around town with “Ballz Deep” as my license plate for like a month.
GREGG: She thought, “I must look hot today! Everybody is waving to me!”
BENNET: It was my front plate, so I didn’t see it. He got the props department to make it, and it’s a full-on legitimate license plate that says “Ballz Deep,” and I didn’t notice. I still haven’t actually gotten Iain back for that. It’s so good.
GREGG: Weirdly, no on had that plate. It let us know that Iain is adapting very well to American culture.
BENNET: We were doing a scene, that I think is on the blooper reel, where I was having an intense moment, waking up from a nightmare. Clark was supposed to be gently waking me up like a father, but instead he was wearing a murderer clown mask. He scared the fuck out of me. It was good. I screamed and fell off the chair. It was no fun.
Whether their approach to their characters changed when they transitioned from the big screen to the small screen:
ATWELL: It did, in the sense that she didn’t get much time on screen in the first Avengers movie. It was a great collaboration with Marvel, when we started thinking about making a show. I got to sit in the writers’ room and sit with the producers and really discuss what we wanted to talk about. My main thing was that we’d seen this strong, capable woman who kicks ass, and I felt that wasn’t enough. There must be a psychological and emotional cost to having to be that, every day, all the time. I felt like I wanted to make her a lot more relatable, so I wanted to show her vulnerability, and what it really, truly meant to grieve the love of her life, and to be stuck in this male-dominated world where she’s working twice as hard to get half as far as the guys. For me, that gave the character nuance on depth, and it was something the writers jumped on board with and really explored, in the script. It just gave me so much more to get my teeth into, really.
GREGG: Coulson was a guy who showed up to wrangle diva superheroes in various films, and to do the bidding as an obedient company man who had seen a little too much. Suddenly he and I were awake after a very close call in The Avengers, and commanding a small rapid response team in the ever-changing world, post-Avengers. Then, he and I both found out that it was all more complicated than I thought. He and I felt like the walking dead, essentially, with a great team, and exploring what it means to be that person on a much deeper level than almost anybody has gotten to do, which was really exciting. I had this mirror experience of having a team who I had to learn very quickly to work with under intense pressure, and to come to care about very, very much. It’s been one of the great joys of my life to evolve this show and to be the first one through the door, in terms of Marvel television. We’re telling different parts of the one big story that Marvel is telling in this world. The funnest part about it is that it’s deepened our connection with the fans.
Being a part of programming that families can watch together, as an event, and that have great portrayals of strong, independent women:
ATWELL: One of the most extraordinary things about this whole process is being able to engage with the fans. I’ve been going to a lot of conventions in the last few weeks, and there are two stories that I want to share. A lady from the Middle East came up to me and she was crazy. She said, “Can you write on the photograph that women can be heroes too?” I just felt so humbled by that, thinking that this incredible by-product of doing a show that we all love and we all have a great time doing and that’s our job can connect with people on a very human level. It just gave my work more meaning. And there was this other lady who had had an accident ten years ago. She was in a wheelchair and she asked me to sign her leg, and she got it tattooed and showed me, the next day. She also had tattoos of other strong, independent women on her legs, and she said that it was her way of, in her words, claiming back her broken body. That, to me, takes the meaning of my work up to a whole new level. Being able to engage with fans and seeing the effect it has on them has changed my life. So, thank you, too.
Skye’s transition to Daisy, as an identity going forward:
BENNET: I feel like Skye was an identity she was never fully comfortable in. I feel like she was searching the whole time. Everything she did in her life was to try to find out about her parents and her family, and to learn more about who she is and where she came from. And she did, in Season 2. As fucked up as it was and as intense as the reunion with her parents ended up to be – and her mom tried to kill her, which was not great – she has this weirdly odd, beautiful relationship with Cal. In my mind, changing her name is a nod to him because he did save her life. I think her searching is now over and she’s turning a new chapter. I guess she’s gonna start to search for the Secret Warriors.
Approaching the physicality of having powers:
BENNET: If I’m going to be completely honest, my approach was, “What looks less dumb?” I’m not even kidding. Nothing feels more stupid, and then you have to take that completely serious and be really torn up about it. She was in denial about her transition for quite some time. She really, genuinely did not want it, and didn’t want any part of it. Basically, it was just about what looks less dumb. I talked with (showrunners) Maurissa [Tancharoen] and Jed [Whedon], and we looked at the comics to get the mannerisms down that they’ve drawn for her.
GREGG: I don’t believe anybody has ever done this amount of visual effects in this amount of time, 22 times in a season, and our visual effects guy has just upped the game with every episode. So often, you see the effects later and go, “Oh, thank god!”
How it feels to be a part of the larger Marvel universe, and be in the comics, have fan art done, and have people cosplay you:
GREGG: I’ve always wanted to be cool. My mother sent me some notebooks of mine ‘cause she was sick of storing them in her garage, especially since I was past 50. There was one that said “Algebra” on the front. I said, “I don’t know any Algebra. I wonder what’s in here?” It was nothing but me trying to draw Jim Starlin’s Warlock, and my own edition of Iron Fist. It wasn’t something I necessarily kept up with, to the level of real ballers that I’ve met [at Comic-Con]. But I loved it so much that when they called and said, “We’ve got a couple of lines in Iron Man. He doesn’t have a name. It’s just Agent,” I was like, “In! In! In! In!” I still haven’t really come up with a suitable gift for Jon Favreau because I haven’t earned enough money yet. But honestly, the whole thing has just been, “Are you kidding me?!” It’s just really amazing. I also feel really fortunate about it because in the world of alternate reality, sci-fi and fantasy, there’s a different, slightly askew prism through which you can look at the world and project us forward that’s always been really powerful to me. I love the fact that that love seems to be spreading. To have Phil Coulson be somebody that people know is just a really big deal to me. I really thank you because if it wasn’t for people doing #CoulsonLives, I wouldn’t be here.
D’ARCY: I don’t really read newspapers very often because I find what I read in them to be deeply affecting and usually pretty negative. Maybe it’s an age thing. I don’t know. But, I am oddly inspired by small acts of kindness that will never be reported on in a newspaper. When I see somebody helping somebody else across the street, I find myself almost moved to tears by that. That’s not someone who’s going to win an award for doing that. I see people doing things that go unnoticed. And not all the time. Most of the time I miss it. But when my eyes are open and I manage to catch it, those are the moments that really floor me. I think that is 98% of what the world looks like. I feel like I read the 2% all the time, and that 2% is very frightening. So, every time I see somebody do something that is genuinely beautiful and human, I feel inspired by that.
GREGG: I have found the last three weeks in the national media incredibly painful and inspiring. The congregation in Charleston and the way they reacted to that hatred, and the way the nation rallied around that part of that issue, and the passage of the Marriage Equality bill, and some of the policies that are going on, it just makes it feel like we’re a part of a more compassionate open nation and it just makes me feel really good about living here. I always do, but it’s even better lately.
BENNET: When it comes to who inspires me, it is 100% Clark Gregg. Not only is he the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s truly the leader on set. He’s so kind, he cares about everyone so deeply on set, and he’s so sweet. He has been so good to me throughout the whole series. We have that bond, on and off screen, and I think you can see it on camera. He has really taken me under his wing, and he cares about everyone on set, so deeply. Attitude reflects leadership. He is our leader, and we love him.
In regard to whether Coulson might be back for Avengers 3:
GREGG: I feel like this is a good place to announce that Marvel doesn’t tell me shit. The membrane between myself and Phil Coulson gets more and more porous as every minute goes by, and both of us would really like to explain that we didn’t con anybody. It was a close call. The great thing about Marvel is that it is this giant story, and if there’s a possibility for something that the fans want, or for something that’s got a huge pay-off, they don’t leave that on the table. So, I think that when the time is right, at some point, that pay-off will show up. In the meantime, I’m having an awfully good time with this amazing team that we’ve put together, and we’ve got some Secret Warriors to look for.