Since the first Iron Man movie, Marvel has been slowly building towards The Avengers, with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) acting as the lynchpin the ties all the films together. What started out as a bit part for this versatile actor has turned into a great role that the fans love. In fact, due to the fan reception to his character, Agent Coulson got his own moments to shine in the short films A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (which was a great extra on the Captain America Blu-ray) and The Consultant. Both shorts help bridge the gap between Thor, Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.
Anyway, last June I traveled to New Mexico where Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers was shooting in Albuquerque. Shortly before going to set on the second day, I participated in a group interview with Gregg. He talked about making The Avengers, what Agent Coulson’s day to day life is like, whether or not he get to kick some ass in The Avengers, what it’s like working for so many different directors but playing the same character, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below. The Avengers opens May 4.
CLARK GREGG: I liked it. I liked it. I like anything Jennifer Lawrence is in. She’s so beautiful. It’s amazing.
What did you like about it?
GREGG: A lot of stuff, a lot of cool stuff like, “Call me Magneto!” Yeah, you do! I haven’t seen a coin go through somebody’s head as a means of killing in a while. That was innovative – a Nazi coin.
In slow motion?
GREGG: That was hot. In slo-mo, right. I was hoping that it was going to start slo-mo and then just explode out the back of his head.
As it’s PG-13, I guess it’s got to be like that.
We need to get this music turned off.
GREGG: Really? Because I kind of thought it was a cool soundtrack to go on.
What was the first movie you saw in a theatre that was not a Disney movie?
GREGG: In a movie theater?
GREGG: I only remember the first movie I saw was Georgy Girl in a drive-in when I was really little, but I have Oliver! memories. Was that Disney?
GREGG: I don’t think so.
GREGG: I would say it’s a bunch of blur, like Oliver! and Flubber movies, and you know, The World’s Greatest Athlete and then there was Enter the Dragon and it all changed for me.
Where’s Coulson in this movie as opposed to the last movie? He obviously had big role in Thor, dealing with Thor on Earth, so where is he now when we first meet him here?
GREGG: I forgot what a tightrope walk this is… I need more coffee! Well, now that he’s come out as a skrull…(laughs) No, no, not really… what do we know? We know that he’s had to deal with the arrival of this rather large fellow from Asgard, in Thor. I don’t think they know much. Coulson doesn’t have a lot of exposure to Loki. He just gets to see the Destroyer – do you know what I mean? He learns a little bit about Thor and where he comes from, but I think a lot of it still remains mysterious. I guess what we know about the Avengers is there’s a reason why all of the heroes that we’ve been meeting, from Thor to Captain America – everybody – they need to work together.
Because Coulson is, in my mind, a kind of a cross between the world’s most persistent bureaucrat, a secret ninja assassin and really the guy who wrangles the rock stars at Lollapalooza, is mostly what it feels like. His job is definitely to get all the rock stars onto the stage at the right moment. It’s kind of like a very muscular version of sci-fi Woodstock, I think is what The Avengers is, but that’s really from my point of view. You know what I mean? Like they say to the gravedigger, what’s “Hamlet” about? He says, “It’s about this guy who digs graves.” And I think very much that’s how I look at The Avengers from Coulson’s role. It’s about how do you bring this very disparate personalities together. They’re from different worlds you know. One is a god, who isn’t always so god-like. It’s really kind of about wrangling. I think of Phil Jackson a lot, because I think the way you coach Kobe (Bryant) is probably really different than the way you coach Pau (Gasol).
Do you have a sense of what this guy’s day-to-day life is when he’s not popping up in these movies, briefly interacting with?
GREGG: You know as a fanboy myself, one of the fun things about the gig has been every time I get a new script, I get to find out more about his day–to-day life and what goes on and what his relationships are. In the early days of Iron Man, I think at first he really just seemed to be this guy who really wanted to have a meeting with Tony Stark and was getting blown off all the time. I kind of love that about him that he was this kind of – I don’t know – just a bureaucrat hiding in plain sight, who had ended up having some real game and a secret.
I think in The Avengers and, to a certain extent, in Thor when Nick Fury details him to go handle this mysterious hammer that shows up in the desert, and I think the way he see him deal with the arrival of the Destroyer, it doesn’t seem like it’s his first clambake, if he’s willing to walk out to that giant monstrosity with the spiky shoulders and the tight fitting suit and no face with flames, and kind of be like, “Excuse me, you’re using unregistered weapons technology,” it made me think, “God, what the hell else has this guy seen this month that he’s just casual about that guy?” I think that really gets extended here, that some of kind of mind-bending stuff starts to go down… I guess one of the cool things about The Avengers is it feels like maybe no-one’s ever seen anything like what’s about to go down here, but Coulson is deliciously hard to ruffle.
GREGG: I’m not in Captain America because it takes place in the ‘40s. Both he and Bruce Banner are relationships that evolve during this – two more rock stars that I got to get on stage, ready to play ball.
There’s obviously Nick Fury asking for everyone to come to be in the Avengers, but does he send you to recruit everybody or does he do it himself?
GREGG: I think there’s a different scenario for different people, but certainly because of having done Iron Man, 1 and 2, and Thor, I have a relationship already with those two characters, and I’m a logical choice to kind of help integrate some of the other ones.
Are you put in a lot more dangerous situations here? Do you have any kind of action sequences? Do you kick ass at all for this film?
Oh, without spoiling anything, you know.
GREGG: Do I get to kick ass at all? … Oh yeah.
Is there some stuff that you haven’t done in previous films that you get to do here?
GREGG: Yes, definitely. As you can imagine when you have to summon a force like that together, the opposing elements are pretty freaking gnarly. I would think of those pioneer movies where they’ve got the cook and the ladies loading the guns and firing at the surrounded wagons. I don’t put Coulson in that category, I think he is on the upper tier of people who come to scrap at situations like that but everybody’s involved.
Where do you rank in the hierarchy, because there are other new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that we will be meeting in this movie? Where is Coulson on the chart below Fury?
GREGG: Speaking as Coulson, it’s unclear. I feel like that are other formidable S.H.I.E.L.D. elements and they don’t have Coulson’s connection to some of these people. I think what I like about what seems to be going on is there are differing opinions about who’s where on the hierarchy and I think that’s some of what goes on in the movie.
Does Maria Hill have very specific duties? Because on the other three movies, you’ve been called upon to approach Tony Stark, you’ve taken care of the hammer, and she hasn’t been seen. Is she doing other things that we’ll see in this movie?
GREGG: Yeah. I would say that our job descriptions are slightly different within S.H.I.E.L.D.
Can you elaborate on that? Are you on the Helicarrier a lot or are you more out in the field still?
GREGG: There’s a Helicarrier? (laughs) Yes, both.
What was your reaction walking on that set? We were told yesterday there were 75 extras in one of the scenes on the Helicarrier and you guys have filmed there for a few weeks. That obviously must be a lot of shit going down on the set. Are you involved in that stuff?
GREGG: For me, one of the really cool things about this is that throughout these movies, there have been – and I enjoyed it this way – hints at what S.H.I.E.L.D. is and how they function within this Marvel movie universe which, as you know, is deeply based in the comic books. But what I’ve also really liked about it is that it not only has Marvel set about… if they just were slavishly trying to bring the comic books to life, literally, I don’t the movies would work, because it’s different to see something on screen in three dimensions with actors, and they kind of, I believe, are constantly trying to find a way to absolutely respect the source material and at the same time, transform it into something that works and that you believe on screen.
I think that’s got to be a big task in a movie like this where you got a guy from Asgard with a cape, and you know Tony Stark has always been a little more grounded and his technology is actually oddly close to what’s possible. What got me going on this? S.H.I.E.L.D., it has been hinted at what they do, who they are, and I think what’s cool about this movie is that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a much bigger part of this, that you start to really understand who S.H.I.E.L.D. is, this kind of genesis from Howard Stark, that I think will be revealed a lot in Captain America and how it functions. I think S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for quite a while and its real purpose becomes very clear in this movie.
What were you told that your character was going to become, this sort of continuity throughout the entire sort of Marvel franchise?
GREGG: You know it’s been an ongoing thing. I’ve told a couple of people this so forgive if it’s redundant: it was definitely, I think, something that evolved during Iron Man. It was not a big role, but there just was a purpose, I think, that it served. So by the end of Iron Man and it turned into this tremendously fun, big role and nobody was more shocked than me. They called and said, “Listen, we want this guy in Iron Man 2 as well,” and during one of the scenes in Iron Man 2, they said, “Tell him you have to go, tell him you’re going to New Mexico.” At the end of it, I said, “Oh, what’s in New Mexico? Where am I going?” And they said, “Oh shit, Thor! Didn’t anybody tell you? Thor. You’re in Thor.” I was, “That’s sweet!” Then all of a sudden I was here, in Santa Fe, in the desert with the Destroyer and I thought, “This is amazing!”
There is some excitement to the need-to-know basis of Marvel and that I never know what’s going to happen next. Then, I was at Comic-Con getting ready to go on stage to do the panel for Thor and Joss Whedon comes over and says, “Oh crap, you’re in The Avengers. You have a really good part. You have a big part in Avengers. Can we introduce you as part of the cast?” I was, “Dude, yes.” You know, that was one of the highlights of my life, was walking out with that cast in giant Hall H, where someone has just been stabbed with a pencil to get a seat, you know. I started to hear whisperings about Iron Man 3 this week and I thought, “Oh, maybe I might be in another one.” They don’t tell me much until… usually, it slips out when they say, “Oh, this is one of your costumes for Iron Man 3.”
GREGG: I can’t confirm or deny that.
You’ve obviously had a part to play in inventing this character, because Coulson was in the first Iron Man but obviously he’s not in the comics. Do you know who invented him?
GREGG: I don’t. Jon Favreau was the one who called me up, and I think he was a function of those writers and Jon. I don’t know. You never know, especially in the first movie when they were really kind of figuring it out on the fly and Robert was very involved.
Nick Fury wasn’t in the movie until the very, very end, either. They could have had Nick Fury earlier, but they had you instead.
GREGG: You know I’d always liked Iron Man. I didn’t know a ton about S.H.I.E.L.D., and, at a certain point, I turned to Jeremy Latcham from Marvel and said, “I work for Nick Fury, is that right? “Yeah, oh yeah.” I said, “I need to know a little more about S.H.I.E.L.D. just so I can seem to know what I’m talking about.” This is one of the beauties of it – the next day, I walked in and he had this thing that was like this big, it was fantastic: you can’t get your hands on it, artwork of the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury, and it was amazing. And I just sold it on eBay. No. (laughs)
Can you talk a little about the script?
GREGG: Which? Of this one?
GREGG: It’s a really good script. After Joss had said that to me and introduced me, I hadn’t heard much for a while and they said, “Listen, we’re sending an armored car with the script.” I knew there were a lot of superheroes in it, and it felt to me that what may have felt like a big part before all the superheroes got involved… I knew my lines would be the first to go, so I was very anxious to read the script. First of all, it was one of the best superhero scripts I’ve ever read, and somehow Coulson still had a predominant place in this all-star team. I was very, very pleasantly surprised.
GREGG: You know you can never discount the pleasure of showing up to work with Scarlett Johansson and now Cobie Smulders. That’s just a day that’s easy on your eyes. What I think is incredible about what Marvel has done and with Jon Favreau I think really maybe helped come up with, is what the template is. You know I grew up on the Batman movies, and they had some terrific actors in, but you know a lot of the other ones – it wasn’t always the case that you had people the caliber of Jeff Bridges or Robert Downey, so to kind of show up and work with Jeremy Renner or Robert or with Mark Ruffalo, any of them, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, the caliber of people you’re acting with, to me, is really fun. From the first day I started doing scenes with Robert, it’s been one of the funnest experiences I’ve ever had.
What’s the experience has been working with Joss Whedon as opposed to Branagh or Jon Favreau? Do they approach things differently in the way you get into your scenes?
GREGG: Well, Whedon is a big diva! I feel a little silly because there’s not a lot that sucks about this for me. The Branagh and Favreau thing was kind of hilarious just because they’re both incredibly funny, they’re both actors and other than that, they could not be more different and yet I really dug… both of them have something to bring that they kind of felt like weird cousins, brothers from another mother, from very different mothers. I really liked coming into a new world and trying to… it felt appropriate because the Coulson in Thor had different stuff to do and I was learning more about him from the Coulson in the two Iron Man movies, so it felt right to have a different director, who’s giving a different kind of direction, and then to show up here and have this very different kind of movie, in a way – much more of a kind of ensemble movie with a very different kind of director, who may be the most geeked out of any of them with the most encyclopedic knowledge, and at the same time really takes it seriously. I think what he’s written, to me, feels very… ironically there’s a continuum. It feels very Shakespearean, which I thought I had gotten in spades with Kenneth Branagh, now, it’s very much grounded in those kinds of stakes here.
Marvel seems to be signing people to these five- or nine-picture deals or whatever it is; have they approached you about the eight-picture contract or are you one-by-one?
GREGG: You know the funny thing about that is that even when Agent Coulson was basically a guy who walked through a couple of scenes and be like, “I need to have a meeting with you,” they still signed me up for a lot of pictures just to do that. I think I’m still working that one off.
Do you get to do what Sam does where he shows up for two minutes, does a little bit at the end and that’s one picture right there?
In this picture, is there a particular Avenger that Coulson has more of a relationship with, more of an affinity for than the others?
GREGG: Well, I think it’s clear that there’s a history with Tony Stark. They have a relationship that’s contentious and to me they get each other a little bit and there is that history there, there’s definitely a history with Mr. Thor, although I don’t think he likes it if I call him that. At the same time, Captain America is a very famous figure even within the world of the Marvel universe. Do you know what I mean? Everybody, including Coulson, grew up idolizing him. It’s quite a big day in Coulson’s life when Captain America shows up.
Is Coulson us? Is he like the every man?
GREGG: I think so.
GREGG: I mean, for the most part, and then there’ll be a scene where you go, “Wow, Coulson’s got something that’s not normal!” but for the most part, yeah. I think that’s one of the coolest things about him in this universe and to play him, is not just because I love these comics and this world so much, is that he doesn’t have anything… you know, he’s not from Asgard, he doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s just there kind of representing, I think, the people in the theatre.
I would imagine that S.H.I.E.L.D. has some fun weapons. Do we get to see some new weapons we haven’t seen the previous films and do you get to play with any of them?
GREGG: It seems like with a foe like that, that they’d have to come out with some new hardware, right? But we haven’t shot that yet.
I know this film is taken from the P.O.V. of S.H.I.E.L.D., so do you get a sense that after this film that there could be separate S.H.I.E.L.D. movies and have you guys talked about that at all?
GREGG: I certainly have talked about it a couple of times. I think so. I mean I’d love to see a S.H.I.E.L.D. series, to me, because S.H.I.E.L.D., while it has these superheroes involved with, is run by some people who don’t fly all the time, it feels like a great idea for a series, whether it’s a series of a couple of movies or a TV series.
Have you done a scene yet with all the Avengers, with everyone in consume on set? I get the impression that there are a lot of smaller scenes being pieced together now and all the actions are going to be like later in the shoot?
GREGG: I’m nodding. Yes.
What was that like? It’s just like very odd for you to be in a suit with all these costumes and everything?
GREGG: You know it was a lot like my experience in general which was on the one hand, you kind of walk in and just go this is absurd – there’s Scarlett Johansson in a catsuit, and you know the biggest biceps in the history of the world right there. It’s a little bit like walking in to do a scene, you go through the door and there’s the Jedi council, and you have to keep a straight face. All I do I start to kind of check myself to see if I’m in the Make a Wish Foundation, you know, like am I dying and nobody told me they just got me in this scene somehow, because, you know, you’re looking around at all these superheroes. You want to laugh but Coulson is meant to do something really very important and serious. I usually have to burn one take of just going, (laughing) “There they all are! Sorry, it’s the Avengers. Okay, I’m going to start over.”
But when you’re doing a scene like that… we’ve all heard that Robert likes to possibly change dialogue or improv – maybe some of the other actors do – so does a scene like that a little bit longer to put together with everyone making sure the dialogue is perfect and they want to really make it perfect?
GREGG: You know I think it varies. It’s kind of a superhero chain letter, these movies in a way… no, it’s not, it’s like that’s game. What’s that game? Telephone? There’s another game we used to play. Someone will help me figure out what this is… but Jon wrote the first two chapters and then they turned it over and Kenneth with other writers did the next chapter and now Joe Johnston and his writers, they’re doing the next chapter and they’re all part of this serialized novel; each one has its own process. In the middle of it, it always feels like, “Oh, this is exactly the process this chapter required.” Certainly, a chapter where Tony Stark is in the middle of it and he’s this reckless, eccentric, genius, I feel like Robert makes sure that the way the scenes evolve, reflects Tony Stark in that kind of reckless improvisatory way.
I don’t know if it’s that this movie is from a S.H.I.E.L.D. point of view but it definitely has a different process. To me, there’s less of that improvising in terms of the words, and more improvising in terms of the dynamic and how the people are interacting, that seems exactly right for this. At least the chapters that we’ve written so far, when I say written in terms of performed, this section of it seems to be less like that, and yet that might be a function of this particular kind of phase of the story. It may change when things get a little crazier.
As an actor who also does writing and directing on your own, have you ever talked to Marvel about doing some of that work on any of their properties whether it be writing a script for something, or pitching them an idea for something that you could work on not just as an actor?
GREGG: I have talked to them a little bit about it. I mean one of the things that’s been really fun is that the writing has been so good for Coulson. They let him be funny. They kind of get who he is and expand him. At the same time, they’re always, in a really cool way, to the different directors, they’re like, “Do you have any ideas about this or are there any things you might think he might say differently?” We’ve talked about some things: the stuff I’ve done and this thing I’m about to do is very kind of small scale independent. I have this movie that I’m going to try to make in October, it has one special effect, and I’ve been just shamelessly hitting up the poor, poor bastards in the visual effects department who are so busy, for contacts and help like, “How can I do my one special effects for almost nothing on my indie film budget?” It’s definitely something I would love to do and I’m just going to lean on them until they give me a shot.
What’s the title of the movie?
GREGG: It’s called, Trust Me.
GREGG: We’re going to start shooting on October 3rd in L.A.
You want to tell us a little bit about it?
GREGG: It’s a kind of neo-noir that’s very loosely about the underbelly of show business. I wrote it and I’m going to act in it with a young girl named Madeline Carroll who is in Mr. Popper’s Penguins with me, who was in this movie Flipped, and the rest of it is just now casting.
Don Cheadle said yesterday that Iron Man 3 may shoot in February. Is that what you’ve heard?
GREGG: As always, I’m one beat behind on the information. That’s slightly different than what I had heard, but that works for me.
What had you heard?
GREGG: I heard it just in the New Year. I didn’t know. I kind of thought it was earlier.
GREGG: I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I’m a huge fan. I have not met with Shane Black.
Coulson, at least from the superhero’s point of view, I don’t think they respect him too much, in his part so far. He’s been kind of a bumbling character like trying to chase them and trying to stop them, does that change in this or do they think more seriously?
GREGG: That’s so funny. I guess this goes back to the gravedigger thing. I so don’t… from my point of view, they must respect him. (laughs) He will kick their ass. No, he won’t. I think if anyone is viewing him that way, I think that’s bound to change.
Did you have any scene with Hawkeye in this because you had a scene with him in Thor? Is there any kind of like a little more connection between you and Hawkeye in this one?
GREGG: Coulson interacts with everybody substantially in this.
Hawkeye’s like an employee. I thought he might be more…
GREGG: They all work for me. Is that what you mean? (laughs) Nick Fury is my puppet government.
For more from our Avengers set visit: