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 moving through different eras, as they work together to succeed at their latest mission. If they fail on 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 actress Ming-Na Wen about how the show has evolved over seven seasons, what made the Season 7 version of Agent May a challenge, what she loves about MaYo (the May/Yo-Yo team-up), the May-Coulson relationship, saying goodbye to working with this cast, the mementos that she got to take home from the set, and whether she thinks fans will be satisfied with the series finale. She also talked about why it’s a childhood dream come true to join the Star Wars universe with her role in The Mandalorian, and how much she knew about her character’s backstory.
Collider: This started as a seemingly straightforward show about agents working in a world where superheroes exist, and now there’s time travel and robots and space. What’s most surprised you about where things have ended up, from where they began?
MING-NA WEN: Pretty much everything. We have had the opportunity to see our fellow actors play other characters and go through incredible dramatic experiences, and it’s been really challenging and fun because it’s not just a regular action show. There are so many stories about family and loyalty and distrust. I don’t think we’ll ever have another opportunity to be on a show, where we’ll get to play so many different parts and work with our fellow actors, playing different parts.
May is a little bit extra right now, and she’s even been referred to as “an unfeeling killbot.” What did you enjoy about getting to play this side of her?
WEN: It was difficult because, as an actor, you want to be able to emote and do things. Instead, for the final season, they made me even more stoic, which I didn’t even think was possible. It was a really difficult challenge. I actually had to have Joel [Stoffer] help me because he plays Enoch so beautifully. But even Enoch has more expressions and emotions than the current May does, so it was really challenging to try to convey either slight humor or something scary about her while not showing an ounce of emotion through the eyes or how she speaks. I hope I rose to that challenge. Our writers and producers are really clever and amazing, to keep things interesting, so it’s not the same boring, fight the bad guys plot point that could have happened. We definitely get to dress differently and go through different time-traveling experiences. It’s been a lot of fun
When I recently spoke to Natalia Cordova-Buckley, she told me that she loves the May and Yo-Yo moments — the team-up that is MaYo. What do you most enjoy about those dynamics and about getting to work with her?
WEN: I love Natalia. She is such a dynamic, fun person and so talented. We call ourselves MaYo because that’s our shipping name. It’s great because we’re two women of color, and to exist in a big franchise and be able to play these beloved characters, and then be able to be together and just kick ass, it’s so much fun. They’re women that support each other and know where their strengths are. I love that about those two women.
Because it was such an important dynamic to the show, what did you most enjoy about getting to work with Clark Gregg over the run of the series, and getting to explore that May-Coulson relationship?
WEN: It was surprising. Because it was Coulson that recruited May, in the beginning, and you only later found out that it was actually the opposite and that Nick Fury was the one that set it up and wanted May to keep an eye on Coulson. And they were at the Academy together. They’ve always had this incredible history together and friendship. It was ever-evolving, and the fans actually had a say in instigating the Philinda movement. It was such a fun synergy. Clark is great. He knows this world so well, and he’s such a fanboy about it, like I am. We share that nerd love for what we do. It was just so much fun, discovering more and more layers of our relationship as time went on.
One of the things that has been very clear from the beginning is that this cast is very close with each other and are really just as much of a family as their characters are. What was it like to be a part of that, as it evolved and developed, and what was the last day on set like, when you all had to say goodbye?
WEN: It was tough. We know that we’ll still stay in touch and keep informed about what’s going on with each other, but at the same time, I’ve been around the block a few times. For Chloe [Bennet], Elizabeth [Henstridge] and Iain [De Caestecker], this was their first major series that was ongoing, for so many years, but I’ve been on a few, so I know what to expect. It’s never going to be the same, coming to work every day. It’s like school. You’ll never have that energy and be able to say hello to those same people [again], but it’s okay. It’s part of life. We’ve all graduated, and we have a lot of fun and wonderful memories. I can’t really talk about the last day and what happened because it will give stuff away, but it was wonderful. People came out and applauded, and it was a celebration.
Were you able to take home any props or mementos from the set of S.H.I.E.L.D., that you personally feel represented your character and that live with you now?
WEN: I have May’s sunglasses because she’ll always be a pilot. I got her badge, which was also really important for me. And I got a couple of her iconic outfits.
Where do you keep stuff like that? Do you have any of it hung up, in some way, or do you have a special place for it?
WEN: That’s a good question. We’re about to remodel, so that’s a really good question. I know some actors put their mementos into a framed environment. I just have to see if I have enough walls. It just hangs in the closet right now. It’s not like I’ll ever like put it on, unless I’m going to cosplay myself. For me, it’s just that I have lived and breathed in a couple of these outfits for years, and sweated in them and fought in them. I just feel like there’s a lot of energy in the material, after all of those years, working on the show. For me, that’s a really great keepsake.
Since it’s clearly impossible to make everybody 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, at the end of the season?
WEN: Yeah. It’s sad because, at the end of Season 5, we really thought that was the end. We hadn’t gotten a pick-up yet, and so, we had this very emotional scene where we were basically saying goodbye to each other and really thinking that that was it. And then, when we got Season 6 and 7, and 13 episodes each, it was a big surprise and a bonus. We already had our cathartic goodbyes in Season 5. Season 7 was sad and emotional, but many of us were also ready to try something else. The way the storylines end, I think the fans will love it because they end, but they don’t really end. I think it will be very satisfying.
I love that you’re also getting to be a part of all these different aspects of the Disney family, from animation to live-action, to Marvel, to Star Wars. What was the coolest aspect for you, personally, getting to be a part of the world of Star Wars now?
WEN: When your childhood dream comes true, where do you go from there? That was a real big one for me. It as amazing to be in the Marvel universe, but for me, I was really a Star Wars kid. The Force was my religion, besides Buddhism. I would pray to God, Buddha, and the Force, when I was a kid. I actually still do, whenever I get on a plane. So, to be a part of that universe, I’m just a happy kid in a candy store. It’s been quite a whirlwind, and I’m still pinching myself about it.
When it came to your character in The Mandalorian, what kind of backstory were you given? Was it similar to S.H.I.E.L.D., where you didn’t know where things would go? Did you have to invent your own backstory?
WEN: Well, because she was only in the one episode, and she comes in towards the middle of the episode, it was important that I knew more about why she became an assassin and what kind of an assassin she was. Is she heartless? Is she a mercenary? Well, she’s a bit of both. It was really great to talk with John Favreau and Dave Filoni, and get to the core of who she was. And so, even if you might not have seen it, and it wasn’t shown or divulged, for me, as an actor, it was really important to know where she was coming from.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.