SPOILERS ahead for this week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, 'Fun & Games'
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Clark Gregg discussed directing this week's episode 'Fun & Games' in a new interview with Screen Rant. Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson has been part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man. In the decade since Gregg made his first appearance as Coulson, the character has evolved a great deal - even dying in The Avengers and being revived to lead his own team in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC.
Now in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5, Coulson and his fellow agents have found themselves stranded in space in the future and they're expected to save the human race from extinction. This year also marks two major milestones for the ABC Marvel series: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s 100th episode will air in March, and tonight's episode, 'Fun & Games', marked Gregg's first time directing on the show.
In an interview with Screen Rant ahead of 'Fun & Games' airing on ABC, Gregg spoke about the challenge of stepping behind the camera and who he turned to for advice about directing an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode. Plus, Gregg broke down some of the episode's bigger moments and offers a tease about how 'Fun & Games' sets the stage for the series' 100th episode.
Screen Rant: You’ve worked with a number of directors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not just on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but on Iron Man and The Avengers - how did you draw on those experiences for your first episode directing?
Clark Gregg: The number one lesson that all those directors tend to follow is: Don’t start shooting until you have a really good script. I really felt like the script they handed me by Brent Fletcher was really big and fun and followed the template that I feel like all those directors, from Joss [Whedon] and [Jon] Favreau to Kenneth Branagh, adhere to and created, which is great action, heartbreaking drama, and then something funny. That episode really had all of that.
I actually reached out to - it’s such a specific beast to shoot the little, I called it a mini-Marvel movie that we do, and this one really felt like that. To do that in eight days with big visual effects, fights with people with powers, and invisible balls of destiny, it’s its own specific beast so I was taking Kevin Tancharoen and Jesse Bochco and a lot of the directors we work with - Billy Gierhart - out to lunch just stoking them for tips of how to get that done and what makes the fight scenes work so well.
SR: What would you say was the biggest challenge of stepping behind the camera?
Gregg: I thought, at first it was, ‘OK how am I going to do this big fight scene with all these special effects, I don’t have any experience doing that in the two little indie films that I made.’ I think when it got closer to the day we started, I was much more nervous about shifting out of my normal role to an unfamiliar role where I was going to attempt to direct the actors who play these characters all the time and work with the camera crew and try to get a compelling, kinetically driven sequence done in the amount of time we had. It was silly because it was really the thing I needed to worry about the least because everybody brought so much enthusiasm actually and they seemed excited about the idea of supporting me doing this shot and it really made it just a great experience.
SR: How did you decide that now was the right time to direct an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Gregg: Because they’ve been really generous, my bosses Jeff [Bell], Jed [Whedon], and Mo [Tancharoen]. They kind of suggested it to me a couple of times in the past and we all knew it was pretty daunting to try to add that to also playing Coulson. I think I knew that I was shying away from it because I was nervous and didn’t know how I would add that to my other duties. I may dodge something for a minute because it scares me but my deeper instinct is to run toward it. Luckily Jeff Bell really pushed me and I said, ‘Yep, let’s do it, let’s try.’ And it ended up being a really fun experience.
SR: We’ve got so many great moments in this episode, what was your favorite to direct?
Gregg: I mean it’s hard, I really felt like they gave me an embarrassment of riches between the big showdown between the incredibly compelling - for my money - Sinara and Daisy; the two proposals between Fitz and Simmons, which just as a fan of those characters I’ve waited for for so long, and then a whole bunch of supporting characters. I found the relationship between Kasius and Sinara weirdly compelling. And the love story that started to be brewing between Daisy and Ben. It’s hard to pick.
SR: Yeah, Kasius’ brother coming in is awesome. Can you talk a little bit about how that might affect this season going forward?
Gregg: [Kasius is] such a wounded - he’s such a lonesome sadist, but Dominic [Rains] just kills this character and it’s so interesting to see at a certain point where his - the abuse in his own family that turned him into this creature and getting a sense of how he’s under their thumb and willing to do almost anything to get back, even if it means destroying everything that is left of Earth, I think that is going to be a factor going forward.
SR: Were there any moments going in where you had an idea of how the scene should play out, but when you talked it over with your cast and they suggested something different, you ended up going with their ideas?
Gregg: Oh yeah, in every scene. The great thing about our show and I think all the strongest directors we work with get this, is it’s a really smart bunch of actors and they’ve spent now five years in the skins of these people. Ninety percent of the time, if they have an idea about something, it’s going to help the scene. Every once and a while, this was a big trust exercise, I might have an idea about, 'Well let’s try this even if it feels weird, let’s push this outside the envelope and if it doesn’t work, we won’t use it.' They were really amazing and they gave me stuff that I get to use. The cool thing about directing is whatever cool thing works in the scene it’s still making the episode be a great story, and everyone’s working toward that goal so it doesn’t much matter where it’s coming from.
SR: We’ve got the 100th episode coming up, is there any kind of hint you can give fans for what to expect?
Gregg: See I really want to, but I can’t remember which one that one was. It all becomes a blur, especially [because] it was right before the holiday. I know that something really big happens. I’m not being oblique, it’s honestly just such a blur of trying to edit my episode and act in the next couple. Oh yes! I just remembered. Some big things. A very big thing. A very big thing that has been hinted at in my episode that will - if you’re like me, it will destroy any longterm fans of the show.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 5 continues next Friday with 'Together or Not At All' at 9pm on ABC.