In the Disney XD animated action-adventure series Ultimate Spider-Man, premiering from Marvel Animation on April 1st, 16-year-old Peter Parker (voiced by Drake Bell) has been saving New York City from villains as his alter-ego Spider-Man for the past year while juggling his life at Midtown High School with best friends Mary-Jane Watson (voiced by Tara Strong) and Harry Osborn (voiced by Matt Lanter), who are both unaware of his secret identity. Still in need of the discipline to best utilize his gifts, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (voiced by Chi McBride) offers Spidey the chance to train with the best and plants Agent Coulson (voiced by Clark Gregg) as the school principal to keep a watchful eye and him and four other teenage superheroes – Nova, White Tiger, Power Man and Iron Fist.
During this recent interview to promote the new Marvel Universe series, actor Clark Gregg talked about how his relationship with Marvel started, getting to explore this side of the Agent Coulson character, the transition in going from playing this character in live-action films to only having his voice to bring the character to life, how Agent Coulson is a man who takes his work very seriously, and how he sees the tone of this show. He also talked about having recently seen a cut of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, and how he thinks audiences will be as impressed with the film as he was. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
CLARK GREGG: Yeah, absolutely. I can now reveal that. No. If that is the case, I wouldn’t reveal it. But, this is a separate thing. The Ultimate Spider-Man universe has some young superheroes, including Spider-Man and Iron Fist (voiced by Greg Cipes) and some exciting characters, being trained, to a certain extent, and hiding out at a high school in Manhattan. S.H.I.E.L.D. decides that the person to keep on an eye them will be Principal Coulson, and that was just something I could not pass up.
What is your relationship with Marvel? Is it a coincidence that you’re in the movies and you’re in the series, or do they like to use their talent in various mediums?
GREGG: It’s a weird, fortuitous thing that happened, in that I knew Jon Favreau a little bit and he had this very small role in Iron Man. The script was evolving, and I think they were trying to figure out how to introduce the concept of S.H.I.E.L.D. and start to lay the groundwork for this epic, five-movie thing that they were going to try to do. I think I was very right place, right time. As it evolved, they liked the idea of this guy who seemed like an annoying bureaucrat, pestering Tony Stark for an interview, who turned out to be the keeper of vast secrets. They just kept finding more and more uses. I’d be just another Marvel fan, only with a little bit bigger smile, when I would get the script and be like, “Oh, my gosh, Agent Coulson knows that? He’s capable of that.” There’s a different set of writers and a different director for the films, but Marvel has turned it into a pretty spectacular job. When I was backstage at Comic-Con, about to go out and do the panel for Thor, and Joss Whedon ran up and introduced himself, I already almost passed out, right then. And then, he said, “I’ve been meaning to call you. You have a big part in The Avengers. Can we introduce you as part of the cast?” It was pretty Make-A-Wish Foundation. I was pretty sure I was dying and nobody had told me yet.
GREGG: I’m not secretly on the board of Marvel. Although, if I was, this is the ultimate coup that I would have tried to pull off. I’m just an actor who happened to love these comics when I was a kid, and got to rediscover them. There was a day on the set of Iron Man where I said, “I remember some of this stuff. I definitely had some Iron Man books. But, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a little bit of a weak spot for me.” And then, the next day, the tremendous Jeremy Latcham from Marvel showed up with this one-of-a-kind animated encyclopedia about S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers. Coulson wasn’t a part of the comic books, which is a singular thing about him that I thought would get me killed off very quickly, but luckily, it didn’t. It just became a thing that I fit into, and they kept finding new and better uses for me. And then, when they put together Ultimate Spider-Man and someone came up with the idea of having Principal Coulson, they said, “Do you want to do the voice?” I thought, “I have to do the voice!” Because I have a daughter and we watch some cartoons, I couldn’t bear the idea of tuning in and hearing somebody else’s voice. It’s like when I go to Mexico and see myself on the sitcom (The New Adventures of Old Christine) with someone else’s voice.
How was the transition from playing Coulson in live-action to only having your voice to play him in the animated series?
GREGG: That’s a good question. It’s something that I was prepared for because each of the movies was different. To go from Jon Favreau for Iron Man 1 and 2 to Kenneth Branagh for Thor and the very different world of Thor, it’s about how to adapt to Coulson in a different setting and a different world while, at the same time, still have him be a part of the same world. The world of Ultimate Spider-Man is funny. I can’t imagine a live-action film where he’s Principal Coulson and dealing with some of the pranks from these guys. It just feels sillier then that. But, they wrote really good stuff. When I got the episode where he meets Aunt May (voiced by Misty Lee), it was another one of those things where I was like, “I can’t believe I have a scene with Aunt May. That’s just amazing to me.” And they drew her a lot younger and hotter then the Aunt May that I remember.
Does your daughter recognize your voice in the show?
GREGG: She hasn’t seen it yet. She’s not as excited as I am, to be honest. But, yeah, she will. Especially because I’m stern and scolding [the characters] sometimes, I’m sure I’ll get a ton of grief.
How micro-managing is he, of the kids in the school?
GREGG: Agent Coulson takes the work very seriously. He certainly has some fun with Spider-Man and the others, but he takes each of their tasks, including when they get involved with the drama club, way too seriously. The adventures that they come up with are really exciting. It was cool to me, as a fan of the comics, to see some of the villains that end up finding them there, and the way that they abuse Coulson before the superheroes come. I’m always, in the movies or in the animated series, getting into trouble that a superhero has to bail me out of.
How distracted does Principal Coulson get with being the principal to everyone else, aside from just the superheroes?
GREGG: I worry about the other kids in that school because he really seems mostly just focused on his super-pupils. One of the things they wrote that I love is that any task you hand him, he’s a little bit of a manic over-achiever. Whether it’s being involved with the school musical or making sure that their test scores are S.H.I.E.L.D. level, he takes it all a little too seriously.
How would you describe the tone of this show?
GREGG: With the tone of the show, like a lot of the films, the Marvel creative team has found a way to bridge really exciting stuff that has real stakes. They balance some of the action stuff that the fans of the comics really want to see with characters that people can relate to and who are very human. They keep a thread of humor and tongue-and-cheek attitude toward it, throughout. That really carries through in Ultimate Spider-Man.
Can you give a quick overview of who Coulson is?
GREGG: The great thing about Coulson is that he’s a little bit like a party game, where the next person who gets ahold of him gets to write another sentence. I’m constantly learning more and more about the guy. What’s clear is that he’s a guy who really buys into the concept of heroes and the Faustian deal that any member of S.H.I.E.L.D. undergoes, which is that they have to be aware of some really dark stuff and carry it around and be prepared to protect people from it. What I love about Coulson is that he manages to do that and he manages to wrangle the diva superheroes, and really keep a sense of humor about it. And, you can tell that he really loves his job.
GREGG: It’s pretty fun. It’s a little strange, after all these years of working on camera, but once you start to watch the other people who do this a lot and realize how much of what you’re doing has to just come through your voice, I found it really interesting.
Have you been able to see a cut yet of The Avengers?
GREGG: I will say yes to that. I’m not going to lie. I have seen a cut.
What did you think of it? How impressed were you with the film?
GREGG: I’m very excited for people to see this movie. I think the fans, like me, will be as excited as I was, when I saw it. From the minute I read Joss Whedon’s script, I thought, “Oh, man, this is going to be fun to do!” The hardest thing to get right is to figure out how to bring all those characters together, and to fulfill the promise of The Avengers. They really set a very high bar for themselves because you’ve been setting this coalition up, for these five movies, and they better deliver. And in my opinion, they thoroughly deliver.