Clark Gregg talks about the surprise rise of Agent Coulson in ‘Thor’

by W. Andrew Powell
Chris Hemsworth and Clark Gregg in Thor

Clark Gregg has a fantastic sense of humour, which should be pretty obvious if you’ve seen him in one of Marvel’s recent films, including Iron Man and now Thor, which comes out on Blu-ray on September 13, 2011.

Speaking with Gregg during filming of the upcoming Avengers film, one journalist asked him who was the biggest diva on that set.

“The biggest Avengers diva sadly is me. Unless I get the Dolce suit, with a latte next to it, perfectly pressed,” Gregg joked. “I think they’re all pretty pained by the fact that, of all the superheroes, Scarlett [Johansson], everybody, Coulson/Clark is the biggest diva, and I can’t tell a lie.”

For me, the bigger question was the fact that Gregg and the character of Agent Coulson, have been called the ‘super glue’ of the Avengers films.

“I don’t hate that,” he said.

However it was not what he expected.

“It was a huge surprise,” Gregg said. “Very, sort of, walk through, drop something off–you know, running an errand for Nick Fury kind of guy in Iron Man one, and what’s smart about Marvel is that something seemed to be working–the role seemed to be serving a purpose in setting up S.H.I.E.L.D. and you know there was a kind of banter between Coulson and Stark, and Coulson and Pepper Potts, that was bringing some levity they maybe needed and they just kept adding stuff. I just never expected them to keep adding more films.”

At the point when Thor arrived in theatres, it seemed natural to fans and the media that of course Agent Coulson would be making another appearance.

“I’m humbled,” he said, “but the reaction has been kind of amazing. It’s certainly been amazing to me. I mean I went to Comic-Con a couple of years ago and, I don’t know, I walked around the hall, and I bought comics and it was really fun and maybe a couple of people knew me from this or that.”

“This year I had to have security–I had to have a security escort and there were a lot of people dressed there as Coulson, like that was their costume,” Gregg said. “It’s one of the greatest things and I honestly feel like everybody ought to have that, like one day of the year where they go somewhere and they’re like a rock star and then they go back to their life and they’re not. Because it’s really the only way to truly enjoy it without becoming a giant douchebag. But, it’s been really such a fantastic ride–I’m just loving it and they keep adding more pictures and every one of them is a different filmmaker and a different dimension to Coulson. I couldn’t be more happy about it.”

As I said to Gregg on the phone, for any fans, it has come to the point where you expect to see two cameos in any Marvel film: creator Stan Lee, and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.

“The fact that my name ever ends up in the same sentence as Stan Lee makes me so happy,” Gregg said.

As each new film arrives, we seem to get a little more of a reveal about who Coulson is and what he is all about, which Gregg called “a kind of gradual reveal.”

Gregg pointed out that this ongoing reveal of Coulson is also a reveal for S.H.I.E.L.D. as well. “He’s definitely got a distinctive personality that each of these writers and directors has developed, but I’m another fan who kind of gets the script and goes, ‘Oh, no way. You’re kidding. That’s what I do? That’s who I am? Oh, wow.'”

“When I got the Thor script I kind of figured, ‘Well, I’ll be there getting coffee for Nick Fury,’ and then I realized, no, Nick Fury sends Coulson and then I was kind of managing the hammer scenario and finding out what it was about,” Gregg said. “And then, ‘Oh, gosh, then the Norse god shows up. Party on.’ It’s very integral to what it has been revealed the Avengers is, which is the bringing together of all these very different superhero types to manage a monstrous threat and that’s really what S.H.I.E.L.D. has been in existence for, and preparing for since its inception basically around World War II.”

Talking about Thor, I asked Gregg if he had a favourite moment for Coulson in the film.

Gregg said, “I guess my favourite is that I love the fact that Coulson shows up with his guys and when the Destroyer arrives in the desert and looks at this giant kind of S&M-looking creature as just unregistered weapons technology. And then I love the whole moment, ‘Is it Stark’s?’ and he’s like, ‘I don’t know, the guy doesn’t tell me anything,’ just ’cause it captured the whole ‘Okay, here we go, another giant creature’–the work-a-day Coulson element that I love.”

As a fan of what Gregg has done with the character throughout the films, I told him that I loved Coulson’s laissez-faire concept of reality. He said, “Which to me speaks to the stuff this guy has seen would just turn your hair white. That’s his blasé reaction to the Destroyer–it just makes me laugh.”

Beyond the character, as an actor I ask Gregg what he though of working with famed-actor-turned-director Kenneth Branagh.

“You know, to any actor he’s one of your legends,” Gregg said. “Certainly he’s an actor who I’ve always admired just because I came up to in theatre, I believe in trying to do a lot of other stuff beyond just acting–it makes me feel like you’re telling stories from a lot of different vantage points and that’s certainly what he’s done since I saw Henry V years ago. He did this incredible performance and directed and I think rewrote Shakespeare a few places. I couldn’t have been a bigger fan.”

“And then to find out he was one of the funniest people and the most fun to be directed by, which was really just a bonus,” Gregg added.

Now, as Gregg works on the Avengers movie, he has had the opportunity to work with Joss Whedon, who apparently is also a fan of Gregg.

“I’m just geeky enough to be a really big Joss Whedon fan,” Gregg said, “so when he kind of came over to me right before we went out and did the Thor panel at Comic-Con the year before this one, and said, ‘Hey, listen, you’re going to have a substantial part in the Avengers–we’d like to introduce you as part of the cast.’ I could have just dropped dead right there and it would have been okay.”

“It’s funny, he really carries it on. He’s completely different in a lot of ways than [Jon] Favreau and Branagh–the other two guys I’ve played this character with–and yet he’s very much like them in that he’s so passionately absorbed in the world and sees it as not like, ‘Oh, it’s just a comic book movie,’ you know? These are real humans and I think he sees the stakes just as high and Shakespearean as Kenneth Branagh did. The different thing here is that he really is the writer of the script and as such he really has an encyclopedic knowledge of this world and stepping forward into the huge epic version that the Avengers is.”

Considering the expectation that exists for the Avengers movie already, I asked Gregg what he thought fans should get excited about.

“Well, I would just say that I imagine that fans of these movies and the Marvel universe could have kind of seen the way Iron Man was introduced, Black Widow was introduced, then, oh, here’s Thor and Loki and a whole new world, and then Captain America and you start to create a hope or an expectation in your mind like, ‘Oh, these are chapters. These are chapters and they’re leading up to this gigantic culminating epic, and you think, ‘How could you possibly put that into one movie?’ And that’s what I felt and then I read Joss Whedon’s script and saw the cast and I just think, from everything I saw, all those expectations are about to be met.”

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