Clark Gregg on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Final Season and Closing This Chapter of the MCU
In the final season of the ABC series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. find themselves stranded in 1931 New York City, where they must work together to discover and fully understand their mission. If they fail that mission, at any point, not only could it affect their present, but it could also mean disaster for the past and future of the world.
While the actors are saying goodbye to their characters, after seven seasons, Collider got on the phone to chat 1-on-1 with actor Clark Gregg about what it’s been like to go on this journey with Phil Coulson, from the beginning of the MCU to the early days of Marvel TV to now closing this chapter, the best thing about getting to play this character, how important the cast relationships have been to him, the most surprising storyline he had to pull off, getting to explore the style of different time periods, getting to see some familiar faces, and whether he thinks fans will be satisfied with the series finale.
Collider: What’s it been like to take this journey, from the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to the early days of Marvel TV, and now you’re closing this whole chapter?
CLARK GREGG: I can’t believe it. You turn around and, all of a sudden, it’s over. Iron Man was in 2008, so it’s been 12 years. There was a lot of stuff in between, especially during the movie years. I wouldn’t trade any of it. It’s been an amazing ride. I’ve made some really great friends. I’ve gotten to play so many different versions of this really fun, cool character that I love, and interact and meet so many fans around the world. I’ve got nothing but gratitude.
What’s been the best thing for you, in getting to play Coulson?
GREGG: Honestly, it’s the relationships and the people that I was in those early MCU movies with. When I see them, there’s a brotherhood or sisterhood. We did something together that really was special and became part of a different kind of storytelling, in my view, of movies that were each a chapter in a bigger story. And I feel the same way, and in some ways even deeper, with my S.H.I.E.L.D. team, from Chloe [Bennet] and Iain [De Caestecker] and Elizabeth [Henstridge] and Ming [Na Wen], and then later Henry [Simmons], and a lot of the other people who have come along, and the amazing guest stars, the ones that I miss so much, like Bill Paxton and Ruth Negga. The people that I got to meet and work, and were improved by working with, and the writers and directors, really just made my life richer, so I’m really grateful to all of them. And also, the other big relationship is that there are fans around the world, who have a connection to Coulson. When I meet them, it’s an honor.
When I spoke to Chloe Bennet, she spoke about how much of a mentor you were to her and how important your relationship, on screen and off, is to her. What was your first impression of her and what was it like for you to see her journey, over the seasons?
GREGG: Funny, in some ways Chloe is young, but at the same time, she’s also a very old soul. So, there are some days where she feels like a daughter to me, and there are other days where I honestly look up to her and reach out to her for advice. It’s just a deep friendship. To see the way those actors, some of whom hadn’t done a lot, at that point, showed up for every challenge, at that incredible pace, and knocked it out of the park. My favorite moments were seeing Iain and Elizabeth and Chloe, and the other people who came on, each getting these new challenges, knowing why they were cast, and seeing what they were capable of. It wasn’t always in an environment where we felt like we were being supported or believed in. You have those moments, especially in the vacuum of making it. And people just focused on the work and got it done, and they made me better.
This show started out as a seemingly straightforward show about human agents in a world where superheroes exist, but then you added time travel and robots and space. Was there anything storyline wise that most surprised you about the direction things took and that you weren’t sure if you’d actually be able to pull off?
GREGG: The thing that was hardest was, after playing Phil Coulson, for all of those years, to show up looking like myself and, according to them, sounding like myself and even saying some lines that are Phil Coulson’s, but to be a very different personality, as this Sarge character from another multi-verse. To show up and be this cold-blooded, really driven, seemingly sociopath, every day, I showed up not quite sure how it was gonna work out.
The team has realized that, to save S.H.I.E.L.D., they have to save HYDRA, which is a pretty wild concept. What can you say to tease how that will play out, this season?
GREGG: It’s such an interesting idea that, without the evil that you’re fighting against, the goodness doesn’t manifest and the heroism doesn’t rise. Removing the challenge that makes S.H.I.E.L.D. become what it is, does put us in a funny position, but I think it’s a great idea and I’m excited too for people to see the way it plays out.
I love the period clothing that everyone is in, at the start of the season. What did you think of the 1930s clothes and can we expect more fun style, throughout the season?
GREGG: Yes. The ‘30s were just crazy. It was so fun to show up and see all of the old cars and everybody in that garb. But then, we’re going to some other decades and we’ll make the most of that style. I found myself bringing a little Bluetooth speaker around and playing my favorite music from whatever decade it was, to keep us in the spirit and have fun between takes.
What did you specifically enjoy about this last season, in particular?
GREGG: It was one of those seasons where they weren’t waiting to see if we were getting picked up again. We just got to focus on the work, and we really had so much fun. It was the amount of fun that was had in Season 7. It’s a thriller and gets dark, but we had so much fun together, doing our last dance of our own.
You’ve played quite an evolution with Coulson. What was it like to explore his new super enhancements?
GREGG: I think it’s fun for fanboy Phil Coulson, after all of these years, to finally get to have some abilities. He had his hand, which could do some stuff, and he had his cool holographic shield, but this is a whole different level, so it’s fun for him to get to do that. Even though he did not want to be brought back this way, I think he likes having the opportunity to show up in a very strong and powerful form, for his friends.
This was the show that kicked of what Marvel TV would become and nobody really knew what to make of it, in the beginning. How did your first day on the show compare to how things felt by the last day?
GREGG: I had never done one of these. I’m just freaked out by the people who do these ultra triathlons or marathons, where they bike for a hundred miles, and then they swim for 10 miles, and then they run 50 miles. It felt like that. There’s what you look like, after the first couple of steps, and then there’s what you look like, at the end of this thing, where you’ve just been through so much, and yet you look feral and empowered. We walked away from this like it was a prize fight and really joyful, but we were still standing at the end of it, when the final bell rang, and were proud of it.
Did you get to take home any props or mementos or anything from set, that you feel represented the character to you?
GREGG: I would never, and I’m appalled you would even suggest such a thing. But if I did, there would be a couple of really fun objects in my closet, that I will keep with me forever.
It’s fun that, in this least season, we’ll get to have some previous characters and actors back, this season. What was it like to have some of those familiar faces return?
GREGG: It wouldn’t have been a good final season unless Patton [Oswalt] was there. He was the secret weapon that showed up and made our show better, all the time, like he does, and is a pleasure to be around. And I loved Agent Carter, so I was really excited to have Enver [Gjokaj] around, playing Agent Souza. We loved him. It was great to have him around. And there are a few other surprises and interesting versions of past people. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Since it’s impossible to make everyone happy with the ending of a TV series, especially after it’s been on for so many seasons, do you feel like fans will at least be satisfied with how things wrap up?
GREGG: I think so. I think fans are so savvy about the way stories go and most people understand that our show, to a certain extent, had its emotional series ending, at the end of Season 5, in many ways. That’s not to say that there isn’t similar stuff in this last season, but then they gave us two more. What I love about what our writers did, was that they went, “Okay, then let’s have the most fun possible. Let’s go full sci-fi with space demons and an evil alter-ego for Coulson. And then, in the last season, we’ll go popping through different decades, and we’ll make the most out of what those decades represent, in style and tone. And we’ll put our very diverse cast in different time periods, where diversity is a challenge for people, and really make the most out of that and have fun with it.” We’re going out with a, we have nothing to prove to anybody but ourselves, bang.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.