Comic-Con: Jeph Loeb and Jeffrey Bell Talk MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., How It Plays with the Marvel Universe, and the Importance of a Diverse Cast

     July 20, 2013

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One of the most highly anticipated shows of the upcoming fall TV season is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Phil Coulson from Marvel’s feature films, as he assembles a small, highly select group of Agents, who together will investigate the new, the strange and the unknown, across the globe, in order to protect the ordinary from the extraordinary.  The show also stars Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge and Chloe Bennet.  While at Comic-Con to debut the show’s pilot for fans, executive producers Jeph Loeb and Jeffrey Bell talked about how familiar audiences of the show will have to be with the Marvel universe, in order to enjoy it, how important it was to have a diverse cast to represent the diverse world that they’re representing, how and when Agent Coulson’s existence will be explained, and how the show will continue to entwine not only with the Marvel movies, but also all of the various Marvel mediums.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

Question:  How familiar do you have to be with the Marvel universe to enjoy this show?

agents-of-shield-clark-gregg-brett-dalton-chloe-bennetJEPH LOEB:  Hopefully not at all.  Addressing, first, the idea of the secrecy of it all, one of the things that was really important to us was to be able to make [Comic-Con] into something that was special, unique and wonderful.  Knock wood, it came off without a hitch.  There were some surprises that we wanted to keep as surprises.  Marvel gets asked all the time, “What is it about you guys and your secrecy?,” and our answer really is, “If you’ve ever told a story, and then someone yells out the punchline before you get to the end of it, you [get mad].”  I know we call them spoilers, but really, that is not a compliment, at the end of the day.  Spoiled food is not something that you really want to eat.  But, the idea is that we’re on ABC and ABC is really well known for some very cool shows like Lost, but by the same token, it has a very strong female demographic that may or may not be Marvel fans.  And then, on the other side of it, Marvel has a huge audience from the movies, and we’d love to be able to bring all of them in.  And then, there’s Mr. Whedon.

JEFFREY BELL:  ABC tends to be more female than male, and Marvel is kind of the other way.  And Joss is the perfect Venn diagram of emotional storytelling against big, cool Marvel world stuff.  He’s the sweet spot for Marvel on ABC.  They want emotional stories, and that’s the kind of stories we’re interested in telling.  We can bring the big, epic Marvel scope, and the interesting and unusual world and characters from that, but tell emotional stories.  It’s Joss, so I expect a puppy will die, at some point.

agents-of-shield-joss-whedon-set-photoLOEB:  But, it will be an evil puppy!  You take that chance, with any television show.  You want the audience to become invested in the characters, in a way that is wholly their own.  We obviously have a very large legacy to live up to.  We’re well aware that there are ads that have already been made that say, “The saga that began in Marvel’s The Avengers continues on television.” 

BELL:  Without Tony Stark.

LOEB:  Or without 30 Iron Men in suits.  So, how do we do that?  Let’s say there are four people who didn’t go see The Avengers.  How are they going to be able to grasp onto this show?  The idea is that it’s a pretty simple concept.  There are weird and unusual and unexpected things that are out there in the Marvel universe/real world because the Marvel universe is the real world.  This is a group of individuals who work for a good organization, which is out there.  Their intent is to be able to find out whether this item, person, phenomenon, or whatever is a threat, and if it is, what is the best way of dealing with that threat, or is it a good thing that needs to be protected from an outside threat.  As you can probably tell, there’s like 100 stories that you can come up with, that have that sort of thing, but that you don’t necessarily have to know anything about the Marvel universe for.  You just need to go, “These are really cool people that I want to hang out with.”

agents-of-shield-clark-gregg-1BELL:  When we went into ABC initially, one of their requests was to make sure that the way we launch it is so that people who have not seen The Avengers could still find their way into the story.  So, we think the way it begins sets up enough of that world that you understand it, and then you can just jump in.  

The original Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic was a multi-cultural cast.  How important and central was that to the casting and making this show diverse?

BELL:  It was huge!  We had casting offices in L.A., New York, Toronto, Vancouver, London and Sydney.  All roles were open to all diversities.  So, it was important, in terms of the whole world and who we cast for the show.  But, they have to be funny and smart, and do all of the things they do.  It will be great.  It will be a very interesting, diverse world.

Will fans learn quickly about how Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is able to be in the show, as a whole, or is that going to be drawn out, over the course of the season?

BELL:  There is a crumb in the pilot that is a tasty crumb.  It’s not just, “Oh, we lied.”  Agent Coulson’s story and the price that was paid and all of the stuff in The Avengers wasn’t a lie.  To say that something didn’t happen, or we were all just pretending would do a disservice to the movie and to that whole Marvel universe.  So, we’ve come up with what we think is a really intriguing story for Agent Coulson, and over time, we will let people try to guess, and then we will reveal certain things about that.

marvels-agents-of-shieldLOEB:  If that’s what you get out of the show, great.  But, we’re hoping that sometimes that’s important to you, and sometimes that’s not important to you.  What he’s not is the island.  That’s the easiest way that I can explain it to you. 

Will the show continue to entwine with the Marvel movies?

LOEB:  I think the safest thing to say is that it is all a shared universe, and I don’t just mean that in the movies and the television division.  It also means that publishing, animation, games and all of those things are shared things.  Whether or not something comes from one place and goes to another, absolutely!  Agent Coulson is the cookie.  The biggest thing is that Agent Phil Coulson came from the movies.  He’s not something that was in publishing, games or animation.  And then, for the last two years, he has been living in Ultimate Spider-Man land, which is an animated series, without any explanation as to what happened to him.  He’s just there.  But it’s a cartoon, so people in cartoons have stuff happen to them.  Our hope is that this show deals with real people, in a real world situation, that feels very much like a Marvel movie or a Marvel comic, or whatever.  It is epic adventure on a very human level, with humor.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres on ABC on September 24th.

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