‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 4: Ming-Na Wen & Mallory Jansen on Aida, Darkhold, and Trusting Androids

     January 6, 2017

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Now that we’ve reached the turning point of the season on the ABC series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where the focus shifts from the Ghost Rider storyline to that of the Life Model Decoys, things are going to get a lot more interesting with Aida (Mallory Jansen), as she attempts to get her hands on the Darkhold. And though Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) are growing closer, Coulson remains unaware of the dark secret May is hiding beneath the surface.

During a recent press junket held on the top-secret set, Collider (along with a handful of other outlets) spoke to co-stars Ming-Na Wen and Mallory Jansen about differentiating an android from a human, the growing threat of Aida, how you should never trust an android, how the Darkhold will affect things, Aida’s motivations, Philinda and officially bringing Daisy (Chloe Bennet) back to the team. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.

Question: How did you find L.M.D. May, as a character, and differentiate her from the real Agent May?

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Image via ABC

MING-NA WEN: I think that discovery will add a new level of interest, in how this character is going to be part of the storyline and what purpose she serves. But as far as how I’m playing it, Radcliffe downloaded information about May when she was dead or dying, so there’s a lot of May in the L.M.D. That’s all I can say.

Is L.M.D. May aware of the fact that the real May is around, and is that threatening to her?

WEN: Good question. If I answer that question, I’ll give away certain things about the storyline, and it’s such an interesting twist and interesting situation that this particular new May adds. I don’t want to spoil it for our fans, but I can say it’ll be fun for the audience to try to figure out, “Wait, is this the real May, or is this the L.M.D. May?” I know we broached that storyline in Season 2 with the nano-mask, but what was interesting about playing that character was that it was actually another character trying to be May without really knowing who May is. It was just somebody in disguise. But with the L.M.D. May, it’s May.

Why do you think people keep impersonating May?

WEN: I think they heard that I, Ming, wanted to have clones of herself, so that I could multi-task more. I wish this was a situation for real, and that we could clone ourselves.

Mallory, what’s it’s like to step out of the shadows and become the main threat of the show?

MALLORY JANSEN: It’s really cool. Her character arc has been so interesting to me because she did start off bubbling in the background, and nobody really knew what she was doing or what her role was. And now, as she progresses, for me as an actor, it’s really fun to play someone who’s not human, but is learning human mannerisms, and is processing things and understanding what’s going on around her. That evolution of her character is really fun to play. I’m having a great time.

How did you come at your android? What did you draw upon?

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Image via ABC

JANSEN: I focused on the movement because everything is very fluid. There’s no itching or tossing of hair, or anything like that, which I usually do. I have very human responses to things, so I had to learn to just be still. If she’s looking towards someone or moving, it’s a very direct movement. That’s where I started. I had to try to figure out what it would be like to do things for the first time, almost as if you’re a child.

How’s the emotional growth going to impact her and the people around her?

JANSEN: I’m not sure, to be honest. That’s gonna be interesting. She does definitely have growth, over the series, but I’m not sure where that ends up. It’ll be interesting to see, emotionally, where that leads.

Episode 408 ended with Aida killing a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and we found out that L.M.D. May is the secret that she’s protecting. What can you say about that?

JANSEN: Never trust an android! Anything could happen, really, from here on in.

WEN: She did something not too good.

How are Aida and L.M.D. May different?

WEN: L.M.D. May is a more human version. She acts more like May because of the download.

JANSEN: She’s been programmed to be May, but Aida was created out of nowhere. That’s the difference between us.

Does taking a life have an effect on Aida?

WEN: The big question in the episodes is, what was in the Darkhold and how it will that affect things? The information that’s in there is still a big question mark, as far as what it’s capable of doing. The mystery of this particular book really ties into the whole Marvel universe.

Aida stepped in front of a bullet for Fitz. Was that based on an emotional response to save him, or a logical one? Can these L.M.D.s care about people?

JANSEN: I do think they can care, and I honestly think that Aida, at the time, knows the people closest to her and who she trusts, but I do think she was programmed to protect people. From the beginning, she says “I’m your shield. I’m here to protect you and take a bullet.” That’s what she does. She did that, and it was a very heroic moment for her.

She also feels pain.

JANSEN: Yeah, and that was an interesting scene to play because it’s feeling pain, for the first time, and her response to that. I think everyone’s kind of shocked, at first, because it’s like, “A robot feels pain?!” It’s awful that they chose to do that.

WEN: I think it was Radcliffe’s goal to make her appear as human as possible, so that was part of the programming.

Fans have been rooting for Philinda (the ‘shipping name for Phil Coulson and Melinda May) for awhile now. How did you approach that and figure out how you wanted to play that?

WEN: I think it’s really lovely that the writers pay attention to what the fans are interested in. I remember in Season 1, when this whole shipping name started and I was like, “What are they talking about?!” That was never something that I envisioned, and it’s really grown a lot. I think what’s great is that because they have such a close relationship with each other, with such loyalty and devotion, there have been moments where you’ve seen that they have affection for each other, but they don’t allow themselves to go there because they’re professionals. So, it will be interesting to explore that path.

Can you talk about Aida’s relationship with Radcliffe, her creator, and with Fitz, who’s probably the closest thing she has to a friend?

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Image via ABC/Marvel

JANSEN: Radcliffe is her creator and anything he says, she does. She’s his assistant, but really a product of what he’s created, so they’re definitely the closest. It’s been really fun to work with John [Hannah] very closely, and explore that friendship/partnership thing. And with Fitz, he also had a lot of impact on creating her and bringing her up to speed. Definitely, they’re probably the two closest people around her.

Will those relationships become less stable?

JANSEN: I guess you’ll just have to see about that. I don’t want to give away too much.

What is Aida’s motivation for swapping May?

JANSEN: Aida was made a specific way, and anything she does is really what she thinks is right, or what she’s programmed to do.

WEN: I think the big question is, what is Radcliffe’s motivation, and not so much what Aida’s motivation is. He’s the taskmaster in this whole scheme of changing out May for L.M.D. May. What is his agenda? Is it for something good or something bad? Is he the mad scientist that’s hoping to advance science? That’s a big, naughty thing to do. I don’t think he went through all that trouble for shits and giggles.

Daisy has come back into the fold at S.H.I.E.L.D. Assuming that she and real May get back together, how is that relationship going to progress?

WEN: May can be very forgiving, and she is still very maternal and wants to continue to guide Daisy. They had that scene together where May was telling Daisy, “What you’re doing, I wrote the book on it. I know what you’re doing, shutting down your feelings and wanting to be alone. Not being a part of the team isn’t the way to go.” So, I think there’s still the tough love that May always dishes out, and yet she’s very happy that Daisy is back in the fold because she really is a part of the family. Being her S.O. and knowing what she’s gone through and the losses that she’s suffered, May can empathize with all that. It’s always fun to be the two bad-ass women out there, fighting. She’s got the superpowers, and I just get hurt. I’m always like, “I want some superpowers!,” so that I can have Mark Kolpack and his visual effects people come in. Instead, I have to do a 10-hour fight scene. 

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to ABC on January 10th.

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