Clark Gregg, 51, was Agent Coulson in the Marvel superhero films. Despite being killed off in The Avengers, he’s the lead in TV series Agents Of SHIELD.
Why isn’t your character dead? That’s a good question. In a universe that isn’t based on comic books I wouldn’t be here but because it isn’t unprecedented in that world, I received a call saying they had an idea for what might have happened to him. I enjoyed what they did with Coulson in The Avengers; his story was an important part of that movie, and when [director] Joss Whedon explained that the question of what Coulson is doing alive has far reaching implications for the series and that there’s a mystery involved, I signed up immediately.
Were you surprised to be offered this spin-off series? I was. Agent Coulson was a supporting player, he didn’t have super powers, no flying suit, he didn’t turn into a rage monster but when they explained to me how much the way Coulson and what he represented in that world – a person working a job, trying to protect the ordinary from the extraordinary – registered with them it made sense to me.
The character has a cult following – have you received any unusual gifts? I’ve received bottles of Coulson hot sauce, a lot of art, a handmade plush Coulson toy and I’m told there’s erotic fiction involving him and various members of the Avengers.
Isn’t that a bit disturbing? It is disturbing but it’s also flattering.
Did you expect him to last longer than the first Iron Man film? There was much less to him in the script than there was in the final movie. I was happy to do a couple of days and expected to get cut out. Then this thing that never happens to ageing character actors happened – the part got bigger and Marvel made him a SHIELD agent. I don’t think that was what they were originally thinking, and they kept adding scenes. By the end of the movie, he’s explaining what SHIELD means; then they called and said: ‘Now you’re the one who puts the Avengers together.’ The fan boy part of me can’t get over it.
Did you read the comics as a child? I was really into a character called Warlock, who was drawn by Jim Starlin. It was also the heyday of Bruce Lee and there was a martial arts character called Iron Fist I really liked.
Are you hoping they’ll appear in the series?If Iron Fist was there, it would make me happy. Even if the show is focused on this team tracking villains and alien technology it seems to be an open game with the Marvel universe, so I don’t know if an Avenger or other characters will show up. I’ve been very vocal about my fandom for Warlock and Iron Fist, so I hope they’ll appear.
Why did you want to become an actor? I’d done comedy variety shows in high school and liked making people laugh but I wasn’t thinking about doing it seriously. I was a football player at college and dislocated my thumb. I was out for a bit and passed the theatre and saw some lovely drama students walking into an audition for Much Ado About Nothing and thought: ‘That’s what I’ll do when I recover.’ I joined that production and was hooked.
What was your first professional role? I ended up in a workshop at New York University with David Mamet and William H Macy. We formed a company and my first professional role was in a play I did with them. I got very lucky and I probably wouldn’t be doing this now if I hadn’t met them.
What lessons has your career taught you? To quote Galaxy Quest: ‘Never give up, never surrender.’
Your own independent film, Trust Me, is coming out – what is it about? I wrote, directed and appeared in it. It’s about a loser agent for child actors who everyone leaves when they start to make it. I got an amazing cast – William H Macy, Felicity Huffman – who was in the class with me at NYU, Sam Rockwell, a terrific bunch of my friends. It’s a strange movie but I’m very proud of it.
Will the SHIELD series stop you doing that sort of thing? I’ve never been busier in my life than playing this role. It’s like making an action movie with laughs every eight days. My favourite thing is making independent films with my friends so I’ll keep doing that on my breaks.
Who have you learned the most from working with? David Mamet. He was a mentor in college, then I was part of that company and I did several of his films. He’s generous and funny and one of the best teachers you could ever have.
What did you learn from him? A work ethic. We didn’t wait for people to hire us; we made a theatre company and, by the time we started working professionally, we’d done 30 plays. I took that to LA. When there wasn’t a lot of work, I wrote a screenplay, What Lies Beneath, which got noticed and got me more acting jobs. As I got more jobs, I was able to make my own films. That ethos of making my own work has provided me with a lot of opportunities. Andrew Williams
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