Visiting the set of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of the most awesome experiences of my life, and I mean “awesome” literally: I was awed by it. I hope I’ve managed to get across some of what it was like in my previous articles on the subject. For the final article on the subject, I’d like to tell you about the interviews with Clark Gregg (“Phil Coulson”) and Ming-Na Wen (“Melinda May”), and with show co-creator and executive producer Jed Whedon and executive producer Jeff Bell that my fellow bloggers and I had the privilege of participating in.
Also, don’t forget to tune in tonight for the two-hour second season finale of the show, at 9:00pm ET/PT on ABC. DVR it to watch later if you must, but I recommend viewing it as soon as possible, because it’s going to be pretty momentous, and it may be hard to avoid spoilers.
Here are some of the highlights from the interview with Gregg and Wen:
Early in the interview, Gregg and Wen were asked about scenes that were particularly emotional for them to shoot.
- In Season 1, episode 11, [which] was called “[The] Magical Place.” And it was when Coulson was put in the memory machine by Raina and the people we did not yet know were Hydra, and forced to confront the fact that he had been dead, that he’d been through this tremendously excruciating experience. And also that stuff about the cellist and the things he had lost. And that part of the journey of someone who’d been a kind of no-questions-asked company man realizing that he too had been lied to by all kinds of people.
- I think for me it was this episode about this kind of ghostly figure that May had to fight with. And it really brought back her own personal issues about having to let go. So it had a reference to Bahrain, and I think [in] that particular episode, she was struggling with various things: just not wanting to engage but having to take care of a situation…
- [The show is about] people who don’t get to have real families [be]cause they work too hard. … And how they become a family. And at the times when the trust is questioned when people are hurt; we lose people on this show. We lost B.J. Britt [“Agent ‘Trip’ Triplett”]. And most of us are still recovering. You know, even some of the bad guys, we love them so much off-screen. This is a really good set. There’s others. This is a really good one. We have fun, and we take care of each other. And when we have to say goodbye to people it really is painful. And a lot of times you feel it in the scenes. And it’s just dark around here for a little while. We loved B.J. so much. And he was such a discovery and such a buoyant person. I think we had five different goodbye parties just to keep him coming back around.
A bit later on, Wen was asked how much of her own personality goes into playing May.
- Oh! 100%! [LAUGHS]
- For us it’s hilarious to watch the taciturn and lethal Melinda May and then hang out with the giggly and hilarious super-sweet Ming. I mean, you don’t want to mess with Ming either.
- Yeah, if I’m hungry.
- But there’s a difference; there’s a difference.
After talking with Gregg and Wen, we were able to sit down with Whedon and Bell to talk about the difficulties they’ve had to overcome in integrating the show with the movies set in the same universe.
- We have the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the TV shows. Are you limited to what you can and can’t do?
- We definitely have free rein, but it does limit us in that we can’t kill Captain America like we plan to each week. No, obviously there [are] guidelines. … But in terms, we don’t feel limited by it. It’s sort of a fun puzzle for us, and we get big toys to play with because of it. So it’s sort of a privilege to live in that universe and the fact that when something happens on our show it is canon.
- The only challenge, really, was when we first launched we knew that Hydra was the big bad guy in [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] and there was one word we were not allowed to say on [the show]. We called it “The ‘H’ Word,” and so we knew that was coming, and we knew we were building to that, and we knew we were gonna reward that way, and we knew it was gonna blow apart the team. But it might have been helpful to have said The ‘H’ Word earlier for big comic fans. They’re going “Who are these bad guys?”
If we said, “Well, he works for Hydra, he works for Hydra, she’s with Hydra,” people would have been “Oh, they’re doing Hydra, that’s cool,” but we couldn’t say that. That was really the only limit, but the upside was it just exploded in our show and having the world turn like that and letting Brett [Dalton, “Grant Ward”] [turn out to be Hydra], that was awesome. And then it really depends on each movie: Like, Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have much for us to tie in with.
- And you can consider it a limitation to have a film that literally destroys the organization that your show is named after.
- [Be]cause when we first wrote it, it’s like episode seventeen, do we still exist? “Agents of Hmm???”
- We took it and saw it as an opportunity, and I think that us working around that and finding a way to make that our show came up with some of the best stories that we had. It generated things that we never would have thought of, and put us in a tight corner that we had to ride our way out.
Whedon and Bell were then asked about their writing schedule for the show, since each season has 22 episodes, each of which shoots in eight days.
- So we start on June 1, and we start prepping six weeks later, so that’s how much lead time we have, so that buffer…
- There’s a train track. They say go and you start running down the train track, and six weeks later they let a train behind you. All this and you try to stay ahead of that train until next week, and you’re trying not to get run over by the train.
- Also, you can plan, you can generate all the story you want, but there’s always a bump in the road. You know, schedules: there [are] a lot of actors. There’s rain. There [are] things that you can’t anticipate [and] when those bumps in the road come you just have to…
- Evidently every show on TV has Patton Oswalt at least twice a week. Have you noticed this? And so us trying to get a Koenig on this show, it’s like getting Elijah. You set a chair, you hope he shows up, and that’s it.
- We’re like, “We’ll come to you with a camera. Just tell us where you are.”
Remember, the two-part, two-hour-long second season finale of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs tonight on ABC at 9:00pm ET/PT. The episodes, titled “S.O.S. Parts One and Two” are officially described:
S.H.I.E.L.D. puts everything on the line to survive a war that blurs the line between friend and foe. Coulson and his team will be forced to make shocking sacrifices that will leave their relationships and their world changed forever.
I’ve seen most of one scene from the finale, while it was being filmed. I won’t spoil the scene by telling you what happens, but it’s pretty earth-shattering.
My press trip to L.A. was paid for by Marvel/Disney. All opinions expressed here are my own.