Who would have thought, in a world teeming with billionaires in high-tech war suits, rampaging green juggernauts, and living gods, the most recognizable face in the Marvel Comics movie universe would belong to a suit-wearing government agent with no superpowers beyond deftly-delivered quips?
As S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) man-on-the-ground "Agent Coulson," Clark Gregg is not only the glue that binds "Iron Man," Thor," "The Incredible Hulk" and others, he's also the man responsible for shepherding them all into next summer's massive superhero team-up "The Avengers." With "Thor" arriving on DVD and Blu-ray September 13th, we had a chance to talk to the man about the evolution of Coulson, and what's ahead for Marvel's busiest working stiff.
Back when you appeared in the first "Iron Man" movie, was there any indication your character would become so important to the Marvel movie universe?
Zero. I loved Jon [Favreau] and I loved the cast they were putting together and I loved Iron Man, as a kid, so I was excited to do it. But there was only a little bit of stuff to do…but I just couldn't possibly resist it, so I showed up. And it turned into all the things that I never dreamed it would. They just kept adding more fun stuff for him to do, and I got really lucky. One of the things that they wanted to do was set up S.H.I.E.L.D. as the group that would eventually be bringing these superheroes and Tony Stark, kind of, into line and together for the Avengers. So there was definitely some right place, right time stuff going on. And with Coulson, they continually roll out more skills and cool stuff that he's able to do. But he's definitely a little bit of an Everyman. He's us in this universe amongst all the superbeings. He's kind of the guy who's not so super, other than his commitment to S.H.I.E.L.D. and to being a guardian.
Coulson could easily come across like the student manager of the football team, but you bring a lot more to it….
Thank you. I'd be so sad if he came across like that guy. [laughs] He could be carrying Thor's water bottle, very easily. They don't write him that way, from that scene in "Iron Man 2" where he comes in and he goes, "No, that's over, Pal. Tony Stark, you've got to snap into line or we're going to taze you and watch Super Nanny." I was like, "OK, good…good."
Or the part in "Thor" where Coulson complains that Stark "never tells me anything." You get a sense that he's just a guy grumbling about his job.
Exactly. That's definitely why I was excited about "The Avengers," just because that's very much who he is. He's the guy who's tasked - a very disciplined guy in my opinion who possesses secrets that would turn your hair white - but at the same time he's tasked with handling these kind of diva superheroes, you know? "Oh, really, Asgard? Dude, just get in the car." [laughs]
Are you the official Marvel U ambassador? Do they send you to Natalie Portman's house with a fruit basket to introduce her to the world?
Natalie Portman needs no introducing from me. [laughs] But, yeah, sometimes I feel like Coulson represents S.H.I.E.L.D. and he also represents Marvel a little bit. And I'm happy to do that. They've been very, very good to me.
There have been lots of amateur videos and photos leaking from the Avengers set - do you worry that people are seeing too much, too soon or is it just an accepted by-product of the internet age?
The funny part is that so much of the stuff when I was shooting - they literally had people walking from the soundstage to the trailers in cloaks, so nobody could see their costumes, you know? I guess once they got into the battle scenes they were shooting in Cleveland, there just was no way to kind of block it. And there's definitely some stuff that I was like, "Wow, look at that! I can't believe that's on YouTube." But on the other hand, there's just so much more - so much more that no one has a clue about. I think they're pretty safe. It's pretty spectacular, the world that [director] Joss [Whedon] and Marvel have come up with and the way they've brought these stories together. It's going to have a thrill value that no amount of raw, leaked footage I think will touch.
Now, as I complain about leaks - is there ANYTHING you can tell me at all?
I'm trying to think….I can tell you there's been some leaked footage. [laughs] I can tell you I'm in the movie. Anything else that I tell you, there'd be German shepherds - you'd hear me murdered while we were talking.
Will there be an Agent Coulson action figure?
I don't know yet - but I think so! There's been talk. At this point, I'm such a grizzled veteran that, on one hand Marvel keeps doing things that I never thought would happen for me, and on the other hand, I just…really would like an action figure! But I have a feeling he's pretty low on the list of superheroes and Avengers to get action figures. What's a kid going to do, straighten his tie? What's his secret weapon? You press a button on his back and he says something kind of sarcastic and snide? I would buy that…I just don't know if kids would…
The Thor DVD debuts the first "Marvel One Shot" starring Coulson - short films that are meant to link "The Incredible Hulk" and "Iron Man" and "Thor." Were those always in the plan, or was it a case of having extra time in the schedule so why not shoot these on the fly?
No, no, it was very planned out. I got this call and they were like, "Look, we really want to do this, it's something we've been talking about.." And they were getting people kind of wanting more Agent Coulson - I don't think they were ready to commit to a Coulson movie for next summer, but they were interested in exploring that idea and they were really interested in trying to connect these films in a kind of time and space continuum so you understand how and when Hulk relates to this…and I think there are things you see in "The Consultant" that, while you may not realize it now, will make more sense, what purpose they serve, once you see "The Avengers." HA! That's as close to a scoop as you're going to get! [laughs]
Is it true that you're going to voice an animated Coulson in the upcoming "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series? If so, that's kind of a big deal, since the rights to the Spider-Man movies rest with Sony Pictures and he hasn't been able to cross over into this larger Marvel movie universe...
Yes, it's true. They're doing, as I'm told, this groundbreaking animation with "Ultimate Spider-Man" and some young superheroes hiding out in a high school in New York City and they need a watcher. They need a diva wrangler, and that would be Principal Coulson. And it's been so fun - I was like, "Yeah, sure - I don't want anyone else being Coulson. That's me!" And I went down there and I've been doing it for a couple of months and the scripts are so funny. I've really had a blast.
Finally, who is the biggest Avengers diva?
The biggest Avengers diva, sadly, is me. [laughs] Unless I get the Dolce suit with a latte next to it - I think they're all pretty pained by the fact that, of all the superheroes, Scarlett, everybody - Clark is the biggest diva. I can't tell a lie.
"Thor" arrives on DVD and Blu-ray September 13th. "The Avengers" hits theaters summer 2012