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, Collider got on the phone to chat 1-on-1 with actor Jeff Ward about what it was like to join such a wild show, his love of anything time travel related, injecting a bit of a Marty McFly vibe into his character, the funniest memory he has from the set, why this feels like a new chapter for Deke, the character dynamics he most enjoyed in Season 7, having fun with the wardrobe from the different eras, the mementos he got to have from the set, whether he feels like fans will be satisfied with the series finale, and how the family vibe on S.H.I.E.L.D. compared to joining his new TV project, the Netflix series Brand New Cherry Flavor.
Collider: This started as a seemingly straightforward show about agents working in a world where superheroes exist, and then it added time-travel and robots and space, and a variety of crazy fun things. What’s most surprised you about where things have ended up, from where they began?
JEFF WARD: It’s interesting because, by the time I came into it, time travel and space travel with aliens had already been introduced, to get to my storyline. It was more interesting for me to look back, from where I had started, and saw where they had come from. It was much more, I don’t want to say pedestrian, but less fantastical. The sci-fi tropes were not as heavily leaned into, at first, and then it started to find those, more and more. To me, I feel like the more they lean into those, the more successful the show is. Personally, I feel like they do such a good job at mixing those realities, in a fun way that feels different than how the MCU does it because they do feel more pedestrian. They’re not the superheroes. They’re just the people. I think it’s really cool. I was shocked that Season 7 was gonna be all time travel, and going through all of these different decades and getting to do all of these different things. That was not only surprising, but genuinely thrilling to me ‘cause I’m a big fan of Back to the Future, and I love Looper. Anything time travel, I’m a big fan of, so I was all in on this, right away.
It definitely feels like your character has a bit of a Marty McFly vibe to him sometimes.
WARD: That’s very high praise. In the very beginning, we thought of him as a mix between Star-Lord, Iron Man, and The Rocketeer. And then, as it kept going, we began to feel more and more like Marty McFly. And when we got to the storyline where I knew that FitzSimmons were my grandparents without them knowing, that was some of my favorite stuff that I’ve ever gotten to do because it was exactly like Marty in 1955. We even picked my clothes and my sneakers. I was always trying to copy Marty. That was my thing.
What was the funniest thing that happened to you, while shooting this show? Was there ever a mishap that you caused yourself, or something that someone else did that you were there for?
WARD: Gosh, there’s a lot. Chloe [Bennet] and I did a scene where Deke gets drunk and he gets arrested, and Daisy has to come bail him out of jail. When we filmed that scene, I asked them if I could go off script and do some stuff, which I was wont to do, as Deke. We kept going off, and then Chloe and I found ourselves off the beaten path of what we were supposed to be doing, but we were cracking each other up so much that we just kept saying to the director and the writer, “Just trust us. This is funny. It’s gonna be good.” And literally none of it is in the show. Somewhere on the cutting room floor, there is a hilarious scene between Chloe and I, of all made-up stuff, but it was probably not appropriate for the telling of that episode. That one always stands out because there’s a scene that I wanna edit, from that scene.
Your character has grown up a lot at this point, and he’s stepping into the role as the team’s tech guy, with Fitz gone. Does he feel like, at least at the beginning of the season, he has more of a purpose and he fits in more with the team?
WARD: Definitely. I think so. He was such an outsider before, but now everything’s been reset and everybody’s on the same page as him, and he sees an opportunity in that, to really figure out who he is without having to play catch up. It feels like it’s a new chapter for Deke to be able to maybe leave some of the other stuff behind. But at the same time, it is who he is, so he’s going to find a way to stir the pot, at times.
What were the character dynamics that you most enjoyed exploring, in this last season? Were there relationships that you got to dig into a little bit more, that you hadn’t before?
WARD: Yeah, there was. Obviously, Deke and Daisy is always something that’s at the forefront of Deke’s mind and is something that we’ll get to see a little bit more of, with who they are, individually and with everyone. Simmons is in a very specific situation with Fitz, and you’ll learn more and more about that, as the next few episodes go on. Simmons and Deke got to cover some new ground together, in a way that I had so much fun doing, as an actor and that I think it will be fun as a character, too.
What did you think of the wardrobe, this season, and getting a chance to play with the style in different eras?
WARD: It was so awesome. So many of the clothes that we got to wear were real vintage. They felt like antiques because they were really from the time period. In those first few of episodes, I was wearing a vest that was really from 1937, and my jacket was from the late ‘30s. Putting on those clothes that really were from that time, it felt so transportive and was such an exciting new toy in our sandbox. For all of us, as cast, we got to put on these clothes and let the characters play as though they were in those eras. And the fun continues, throughout the season. I loved it. It was very cool.
Did you get a chance to take home any props or mementos or anything from the set that you feel represented the character to you?
WARD: Yeah, there were a few things. I got to keep a few pairs of his sneakers. Deke had the most incredible footwear, so I was excited. Also, I did get to keep the leather jacket from my first season. To me, that’s so iconically where he came from, in my own mind. I love that jacket. For me, it was the beginning of the show and the beginning of the character. It meant a lot to me, so it was cool that I got to have that.
When you have stuff like that, what do you do with it? Do you keep it to wear it? Do you frame it?
WARD: That’s a good question because it’s mostly just useless. It’s just in my closet. I don’t know. That’s a really good question. What I really wanted, and Marvel was like, “Absolutely not!,” was the space helmet that Deke first arrived in. To me, it looked like this amazing combination of Iron Man and The Rocketeer, and I very much wanted to keep and display that. They said, “No, absolutely not. Please stop calling us. How did you get this number?”
One of the things that has been very evident, throughout the run of this show, is just how much everybody loves each other and what a family this cast is. What was it like to leave that behind and go work on another show, with the new Netflix series, Brand New Cherry Flavor?
WARD: It’s interesting that you ask that because it was super different. S.H.I.E.L.D. is the longest that I’ve ever worked on one project, and it was a little over three years. When I went to the Netflix show that I did and am technically still doing — we shot for five months and we’re two weeks shy of finishing — it made me realize that everything is very different, that every job is gonna be very different, every group of people is gonna be very different, and the dynamics are gonna be different. There were things about that Netflix show that were awesome and very creatively exciting. It’s a completely different vibe of a show. But I also missed the comradery on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the familiarity and the familial feeling. Every day, you’d walk in and see these people that you’ve spent so much time with. By the end, S.H.I.E.L.D. felt like college because it was so comfortable and loving and fun. I don’t know how many more times, in my career, I’ll get to experience something that feels that close and that feels as much like a family, as that show did. The Netflix show had all kinds of other positives that were amazing and totally different from what S.H.I.E.L.D. had to offer. But for what it is, it made the experience of S.H.I.E.L.D. feel that much more nostalgic and heartfelt. S.H.I.E.L.D. is always gonna have such a special place in my heart.
Since it’s impossible to make everyone happy with the ending of a TV series, especially one that’s been on for so many seasons, do you feel like fans will at least be satisfied with where things are left, in the series finale?
WARD: I do. Yeah, I think so. I think they stuck the landing because I feel like there is the trademark intelligence, humor and heart, in spades, that you would expect from the finale. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker. As Jed [Whedon], Maurissa [Tancharoen], Jeff Bell and Jeph Loeb have said, many times, it was really exciting that the show got to end on its own terms, and that it got to guide itself into a landing, after seven years. To me, I think they did a really great job, and I’m hoping fans think so, too.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.