In its fifth season, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is making some bold moves, having transported Coulson (Clark Gregg) and team S.H.I.E.L.D. to space, where they are under the rule of the Kree. And with Daisy’s (Chloe Bennet) life on the line, an unexpected friend attempts to rescue her, as Gregg takes his place at the helm of this episode.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Clark Gregg talked about learning that Season 5 would relocate the team to space, why it took until Season 5 for him to direct an episode, the tips he got from speaking to some of the show’s directors before taking the helm himself, feeling like he was making a mini Marvel movie, balancing the emotion with the action, and how directing the show made him appreciate it in a different way.
Collider: When movie franchises or TV series say that they’re going to go to space next, it’s typically just joking around, but you guys actually went there. When it comes to a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., were you surprised when you found out that you’d be going to space for Season 5, or did you wonder what took you so long to get there?
CLARK GREGG: I was surprised, at the end of Season 4, when they said, “There’s one more scene you have to film,” and I woke up in this bunk and was staring out at an asteroid belt in space. So, I had a hint when we left, but I didn’t quite know how we got there. I guess I knew that we’d been kidnapped and frozen from this diner, but it wasn’t until we came back and started Season 5 that they started to unravel how we got there and where we were. They wouldn’t tell us. It was a game between us and the bosses. When they sent the first script and we got to the end and everyone saw the shattered pieces of Earth, I was like, “Oh, Daisy, you’re going to your room, girl!”
So, why did it take until Season 5 for you to direct an episode of the show? Why did you keep declining the opportunity before now, and what finally got you to do it?
GREGG: Season 1 was very much like Season 5, in that we were suddenly thrown through a monolith into the brand new world of Marvel Television and had to figure out how to bring that world to TV. And by the way, we couldn’t say that these various entities we were dealing with were all really Hydra, until the end of the season. Season 1 was its own very full plate. And then, Season 2 was when they started mentioning it, but the work load, normally, is beautiful, but a lot. It’s intense. You’re either learning a fight, learning pages of dialogue, shooting a fight or shooting a big vfx sequence.
One thing I love about the show is that they just tear it all apart and push the envelope, to see what we can get away with technology and within the deeper world of Marvel. They do the deep dives to get us LMDs or Ghost Rider, or whoever they can grab. So, I was scared. I just didn’t know how I could possibly do it because it seemed so different than anything I’d ever done. By the end of the third season, I was watching it going, “Maybe I might want to try this someday.” And honestly, (executive producer) Jeff Bell came and said, “I really think it’s time. I think you’d be surprised how much you know.” That’s what made me say yes.
Before Season 5, at the end of Season 4, they said, “We want to set you up to do one. There is an episode where you would be light, as we’re planning it, and you could do all of the prep.” The problem is that you’re preparing for one episode, and you’re directing an episode and acting, and then you’re editing for another episode. It’s a big bite, but they ended up being much wiser than I, in that they really have a spectacular system for bringing people who haven’t done anything exactly like this in and making it visual effects Marvel boot camp.
You’ve said that you spoke to some previous episode directors, prior to shooting your episode, to get tips from them. What were the most useful tips that they gave you?
GREGG: They gave me really good stuff. I went to the directors we were working with, at that time, who direct our show a lot – Billy Gierhart, Kevin Tancharoen, Maurissa’s brother and an amazing action director, and Jesse Bochco – and each one of them had different things to say about how you can trust the camera crew to take your ideas of how you want to shoot the scene and find a way to execute it, in a way that you’ll get your day done ‘cause there’s so much you want to cover and shoot. Kevin Tancharoen had an amazing thing to say about when there’s a lot of visual effects in a scene, to find the earthy elements – the blood, the dirt, the dust – to ground that stuff and connect it, so that it doesn’t feel digital.
This is a big episode where a lot of stuff happens, relationship wise and action wise, for a number of the characters. Did it feel, at all, like you were making a mini Marvel movie, instead of just an episode of TV?
GREGG: It did to me. I’ve directed two relatively small features that were indie features that didn’t have much in the way of fight scenes, nevermind giant gladiator death matches and superpowered Quake, of the Secret Warriors. I said to them, “I’ll direct one, but I feel like people are gonna take notice when I do, so just make sure you serve me up one where there’s some big, fun stuff to do, if you don’t mind.” And they took me at my word and served up what I thought was a spectacular episode by Brent Fletcher, with huge fights and some very big moments, in terms of characters we’ve been with since the beginning and their relationships.