With the exception of Nick Fury, no one cares about The Avenger Initiative more than Agent Phil Coulson. He’s been there since the beginning collecting team members like Easter eggs in a scavenger hunt. After four years and five films, this week, we’ll finally see The Avengers puzzle solved. Shortly after the movie’s Hollywood premiere (on April 11), ScreenCrave spoke with actor Clark Gregg about his pivotal role in the superhero mash-up. Not only is Gregg a talented actor, but he’s also a huge comic book fan. This journey to The Avengers has meant just as much to him as it has to us.
Check out our interview…
Agent Phil Coulson has been a work in progress. In 2007, when Gregg signed on to play the character, he had no idea how important he’d become to the Marvel Universe. What began as a bit part in Iron Man, became a through-line for several blockbusters to come.
I don’t think they really knew who he was. The first script I got of Iron Man, I had like five lines. My ego was hesitant, but I was such an Iron Man fan, and a Jon Favreau fan, a Robert Downey, Gwyneth [Paltrow] and a Jeff Bridges fan. My wife was like, ‘Really? Even if you have one line, how are you going to feel when you’re not in that?’ I was like, ‘You’re right. You’re right.’ I signed up and they made everybody who spoke a word sign up for a couple of movies.
When the Iron Man shoot was winding down, Gregg realized something had changed. The character was getting legs. He was becoming more than just a mysterious authority figure.
Something just clicked and they started adding more scenes. When I got to the scenes where we were shooting at the end of the movie where she says, ‘Thank you Agent Coulson for all you’ve done.’ I thought, ‘Wow, this has really evolved into something.’ And then when I got to explain what the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division meant, that was the first kind of Marvel moment. Watching the early screening when I saw those scenes I went, ‘Wow. This turned into a really cool character.’
By Iron Man 2, Coulson’s position and objective was made clear. He was an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. looking for a few good heroes. But Gregg still had no idea what would happen next. He kept hearing whispers about going to New Mexico on official S.H.I.E.L.D. business. At first, he didn’t understand but he quickly realized something big was happening. And he was right in the middle of it.
The nature of the beast is so secretive. I’ll be doing a scene — like I was doing in Iron Man 2, where I kept saying, ‘I’ve gotta go. I’m going to New Mexico.’ And then finally I said, ‘What’s in New Mexico? Why am I going to New Mexico? I want to stay and be here.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, because you found the hammer [Mjölnir]. You’re going to New Mexico because you’re really kind of in charge in Thor.’ I was like, ‘Shut up. Really? When does that go?’ They were like, ‘It starts in a couple months.’ Nobody told me.
Coulson went from (almost) having five lines in Iron Man to being a major character in Thor. That’s quite a feat. It only made sense that the powers that be decided to keep him around for the long haul. Gregg is just one of many actors brought together for the cinematic event known as The Avengers. But the road to this place wasn’t easy.
I think all it would have taken was for Thor and/or Captain America to not work as well as they did. And I don’t think we would have ever seen an Avengers movie. But these guys, they’ve really delivered enough every time to get us to this place.
As fans, we’ve watched The Avengers develop from a distance, but Gregg has been in the thick of it. Everyday he walked on set, he couldn’t believe it. The Avengers was really happening.
Everyday of it was like that for me. As an actor I walk on there, and it’s like six or seven of my favorite actors sitting around at a conference table in the Helicarrier. And then, the fanboy part of me goes, ‘I’m on the Helicarrier! And I’m going to go strive to talk and give some kind of bossy orders to Captain America and Nick Fury and Tony Stark.’
Speaking of Tony Stark, Gregg cites Downey as one of the reasons, Coulson’s become such a huge part of The Avengers storyline.
He was always so great to me from the first movie. I always felt, whether directly or indirectly, that Robert was one of the reasons Coulson became more of a factor. There’s a lot that felt like a circle. A lot of it felt like a journey. And Tony Stark’s a real big part of the Coulson journey. And I’m always happy, I’m always excited when I see on the call sheet that I get to go work with him.
When Gregg read The Avengers script for the first time, he was amazed by Joss Whedon‘s writing. He managed to do the impossible, which was make all these moving parts function as a well-oiled machine.
From the minute I read the script — I literally, I put it down and I was pale. I was like, ‘Oh my God. He did it.’ Not only does every character exist and have their moment, but they all progress. They all move forward in their personal journeys. Any one of these characters in their next movie is coming from a very different place now.
So between Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye, does Gregg have a favorite amongst the group? There are so many Avengers to choose from.
You know, it’s a dysfunctional family. But it is a family. I wouldn’t say Coulson’s the dad, but he’s kind of the weird uncle. The one who gets left in charge sometimes. I love them each in their different ways. Some more than others on certain days.
Clark Gregg has accomplished something that most actors only dream of. He’s created and embodied a character that’s been woven into film and pop culture history. To go from a small supporting role, to full-fledged member of an elite superhero squad with a comic book counterpart is a huge accomplishment.
I’ve been doing this a while, and I’ve certainly been part of some cool movies. I’ve had some great times. I don’t know how it happened to me. But it doesn’t happen to a lot of people who are 50. I’d be geeking out even if I wasn’t a geek. But I am, so it’s a little bit like I won the lottery.
The Avengers opens in theaters nationwide May 4.