For more than 30 years, PaleyFest has held panel sessions and screenings that connect the worldwide community of television fans with the casts and creators of their favorite TV shows. One of the panels was to celebrate the ABC television series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with its cast and creative team. Collider was there to attend the panel, and we’ve compiled some of the highlights.
During the presentation, executive producers Jeph Loeb, Jeffrey Bell, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, along with actors Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, talked about how this show originally evolved, how they conceived the characters that make up this team, already knowing how Season 2 and Season 3 will end, how Agent Coulson on the TV show is different from Agent Coulson in the movies, the show’s jaw-dropping surprises, that there are seven episodes left, that the events in Captain America: The Winter Solider will affect things in the April 8th episode, that Rocket Racoon and Scarlett Witch are welcome on the plane, that Bill Paxton’s Agent Garrett will return this season, whether some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast could appear in the upcoming Netflix series, and how there’s still no official pick-up yet for Season 2. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Jeph, how did you originally get the idea to bring Agent Coulson from the big screen to the small screen?
JEPH LOEB: Luck had a great deal to do with it. All of this started largely because of [Clark Gregg]. Clark Gregg so embodied, and continues to embody, what makes the Marvel Universe special. It is a place grounded in reality. We don’t come from another planet, although some of us do. And what Clark brought to Agent Coulson was a humanity that these gigantic feature films not only needed, but were elevated by. His performance was something that everybody fell in love with. So, when the opportunity arose for us to talk about how we were going to do Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., my first conversation was with Joss Whedon and we talked about one thing, which was, “How do we get Clark?” And it was really hard. We asked him.
CLARK GREGG: I found myself suddenly free.
Jed and Maurissa, how did you conceive of the characters that make up this team?
JED WHEDON: In our first sit-down with Joss, it was only about an hour and a half before we had a general map of who the characters would be.
MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: We had the general map of the six characters, or at least the five that surround Coulson. Just as far as how things have changed, originally Agent May was Agent Rice, and then we cast Ming-Na Wen, and I was like, “Maybe not so much with the Agent Rice anymore.” Or we could have just leaned in to all of that and made it the running joke. That would have been great. As far as Fitz-Simmons go, they were based on Casey Affleck and Scott Caan in Ocean’s Eleven. We wanted the pair of friends who grew up together and bicker all the time, but there’s a pure bro-love there. And then, before we knew it, Ms. Henstridge came in and stole it away.
WHEDON: They both took their parts. They both came in and said, “I’ll have this, thank you very much.” And there wasn’t much discussion amongst all of us, once we saw them both play it. That’s actually true of everybody. There was no arguing amongst us, in terms of casting.
TANCHAROEN: And we scoured the globe. We looked everywhere, and looked at everyone.
JEFFREY BELL: The characters were there, the bus was there, and everything was there. Anytime you arc out a show, whether it’s super-serialized or just a little bit, we all sit around for as long as they will pay us to do so, and we bring in other smart writers to help us, and we build tentpoles. We knew where we wanted to go with this season. We know where we’d like Season 2 to end. And we know where we’d like Season 3 to end. But, that’s ambitious. And we know which character will still be alive. This is, in fact, a Joss Whedon Joint. And we know who will be kissing, too.
Clark, is playing Agent Coulson on the show different from playing him in the films?
GREGG: He’s a little different. When he was in the movies, he was alive, and then he was dead. And then, suddenly, he was alive again. When I was dying, I was like, “Hey, this sucks! I really liked being this guy. He gets fun stuff to do.” And then, I was dead, and I was really dead. It was very clear. There was a lot of blood. And I was like, “But you can bring me back. It’s the comics!” So, Joss and Jeff called and said, “Look, you might not be so dead.” Joss’ pitch was simply the pilot, which was, “Coulson went to Tahiti. It was a close call. He had a massage therapist and some Mai Tais and he got better, but it has to be a secret. And then, he walks away and they say, ‘He can never know the truth.’” And I was in. Being a fan of Joss, I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing!” And that really fantastic set-up has been evolved by this amazing collection of writers, all season. The real dilemma has been Coulson starting to feel both physically, the way that a lot of trauma survivors do, and experientially in the world around him, that he doesn’t feel that same. It raises a lot of questions. I only know so much about Agent Coulson from his life before this. There were tidbits revealed when each new writer/director team got him for a different movie. And then, Joss came in and I was like, “I knew I was a fanboy.” So, there’s definitely been a deeper exploration of that kind of existential crisis for this guy. I love it. How can you work for an organization that traffics in secrets and not have secrets kept from you? The experience of doing the show has been the strangest, most intense and really beautiful life imitating art experience. Suddenly, I was alive again, surrounded by a new team of people that I didn’t have a lot of experience with, and that was true of both Coulson and Clark. This season has been this incredible journey of that, and of getting to know these incredible actors, and watching them step up at different moments and shine. Our life has become this wild adventure where everything is up for grabs. We went to see a certain movie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) together recently and went, “Woah!”
Ming-Na, are you surprised about where Melinda May is going?
MING-NA WEN: This whole season has been one of jaw-dropping surprises. The writers don’t tell us anything. Marvel is S.H.I.E.L.D. We’re living this life in our fantasy pretend world, and in the real world. They know stuff that we try to get out of them, and they won’t tell us until we get the next script. I want Skye to be the love child of May and Thor, and then they have to flashback to those scenes. But the secrets are constantly a major surprise for me, and I’m sure all of us. We call each other and text each other and go, “Did you just read that?!” It’s nice because we’re all such geeks at heart that, if we’re reacting this way to the script, we just feel our audience is going to react that way, as well. That excites us because that is the world these characters live in. If you don’t have these twists and turns, I don’t think it makes for the same type of show that we’re trying to evolve and become. I just love how it all ties in with the bigger Marvel universe.
How many episodes are left in the season?
LOEB: There are seven. We start on April 1st. Then on April 4th, in theaters near you, is a movie called Captain America: The Winter Solider. And then, we’re back again on April 8th, for an episode we wouldn’t want you to miss. And then, it’s a bullet shot, all the way to the season finale. There will be seven episodes in a row, where the seventh is the season finale.
LOEB: It’s the Marvel universe. We started out in the Marvel universe. We would not have a show unless Agent Coulson was the gift that was given to us through Marvel’s The Avengers. We had Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif on the show. We had an episode after Thor: The Dark World, where they were cleaning up in London, after what happened in that movie. So, it would certainly not surprise anyone, if things that happened in that movie were to suddenly happen in the show that we’re talking about.
BELL: The truth is that there are hundreds of people who make this show. We have a tremendous production crew, and a tremendous post team and visual effects team. Whenever you see planes flying and landing, that’s all magic that they do. We’re a team, and that’s the only way we can make the show.
GREGG: One of the funnest things about working for Marvel, in the films, on the TV show, and in the new thing that’s in the middle somewhere, is the fans. Marvel has this really unique relationship with the fans, and it’s a great part of it.
What other Marvel universe stories would you like to see woven into the series?
GREGG: As a fan, I wouldn’t mind opening the door to the plane and seeing Rocket Raccoon on there, or Scarlett Witch. I’m not picky.
WHEDON: Whatever they let us play with, we’ll play with.
We know that the movies affect the universe of the show, but could we ever see Melinda May kicking ass with Tony Stark?
WEN: I’ll take that!
TANCHAROEN: We like the way you think.
LOEB: You will be seeing him more, this season.
And you have Patton Oswalt coming on, too.
LOEB: There are still a few more surprises that we have yet to shake out of our sleeves. Stay tuned.
In terms of mutants, is there any chance that you’ll introduce the idea of mutants in the show?
LOEB: There’s no proof, at the moment, that in the Marvel cinematic universe there are mutants. That’s all I can say.
What is the official word on the pick-up for Season 2, and beyond?
TANCHAROEN: There is no word yet.
How long does it take to do each episode of the show?
BELL: We have a few weeks to write it. Then, we shoot it in eight day. And then, we edit it and finish it anywhere between 20 and 30 days. It’s fast. Every eight days, there’s doing a new one.
How long do the fighting scenes take?
WEN: A long time. They have to show us the choreography. Our stunt team is amazing. They’re very, very meticulous about teaching us the choreography, and then making sure that we can do a lot of the stuff. It takes awhile. But then, once we get into it, it’s so much fun.
GREGG: The fight choreographers are really amazing, in that they really work with you and figure out what your strengths are and your athletic background is, if any, and they gradually push you. There are a lot more fights coming, and a lot of people get pushed out into that territory. We have an amazing team, in that way, because everything we do is about a tenth the time that the same thing would happen in a film. They rehearse it, they give you a video and you’re learning it at home at night, so that you can go in and shoot it in a couple of hours, whereas it would be two days on a movie.
Will we see some of the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast in some of the shows you’re going to have on Netflix? Will that all intertwine?
LOEB: I think we have to get all of that done, and then we’ll see. But it’s all one universe, so we’ll see what happens.
Would you like to see that happen
LOEB: Anything that makes the fans happy, I’m in favor of.
GREGG: I’m not in the same hot seat that Jeph is in, answering that. As someone who’s been around, in the building of this, if they were assembling a universe, it’s been amazing, having grown up reading some of those comics, to see the way that Marvel doesn’t leave a lot on the table. If there’s some way to really make the most out of what the fans want and expect, in my experience, there’s a lot of listening to that.