Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton in Marvel's AGENTS OF SHIELD | ©2013 ABC/Justin Lubin

Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton in Marvel's AGENTS OF SHIELD | ©2013 ABC/Justin Lubin

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD, ABC Tuesday nights at 8 PM, deals with the team of non-superpowered folks who assist, investigate and otherwise deal with things pertaining to superheroes in the universe of THE AVENGERS. The series, created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, brings back Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), somehow resurrected – we don’t know quite how yet, but it’s clear Coulson himself has been misled – after his death in AVENGERS as the team leader. Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is the most experienced agent after Coulson, Ward (Brett Dalton) is muscle, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are the tech and bio scientists who work with one another, and Skye (Chloe Bennet) is a newly-recruited hacker.

Jeffrey Bell is an executive producer/show runner on AGENTS, alongside Jed Whedon and Tancharoen; his previous credits include ANGEL, ALIAS, DAY BREAK, HARPER’S ISLAND, THE PROTECTOR and WAR OF THE DAMNED. Jeph Loeb, another of AGENTS’ exec producers, is Marvel’s head of television, who is also a comic book author. He worked with Joss Whedon on the animated BUFFY series and has written/produced many Marvel animated series. His live-action TV work includes SMALLVILLE, LOST and HEROES.

Both Bell and Loeb are present at a party ABC throws for the Television Critics Association at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The conversation begins with Bell; Loeb joins in shortly thereafter.

ASSIGNMENT X: Is this your first time working with Joss since …

JEFFREY BELL: Since ANGEL? Yeah. I worked with Jed and Maurissa on SPARTACUS. And I knew Loeb back in the day, and I’ve been at ABC – I’m the circle thing that overlaps.

AX: Speaking of SPARTACUS, were you happy with the way that series ended?

BELL: Oh, over the moon. I thought it ended really well. I thought it was great. I thought the last season was terrific. Very happy.

AX: Did you have any particular feelings about Marvel before joining AGENTS OF SHIELD?

BELL: Oh, yeah. Big fan. Loved all the movies, read the comics.

AX: Did you have a Marvel/D.C. preference?

BELL: I don’t know a guy who doesn’t love Batman, but most of the stuff I love has been in the Marvel world.

AX: What is the division of responsibility among the producers on AGENTS OF SHIELD?

BELL: Joss is our overlord who sets the compass direction north; Jed and Maurissa co-created it with him – they haven’t done this [been show runners] before, I’m brought on to help them run the show, avoid the cliffs and whatever and get that going and write with them, Jeph is our Marvel producer – not writing, but very involved. He’s head of Marvel TV and he’s our “non-writing” producer in quotes, but as a guy who’s written plenty, he can pitch stories and give notes and stuff like that.

AX: Are Coulson and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) the only characters who existed in the Marvel universe prior to this series?

BELL: Yes.

AX: In deciding who the new characters should be, do you know what the philosophy was of, “We need a this and we need a that”?

BELL: That was Jed, Maurissa and Joss and them finding the people they were interested in. Being on ABC, having a strong young female voice was very important, and being the audience’s eyes and ears was also very important, and the rest was finding the people you needed for the right kind of conflict.

AX: There seems to be a slight David Boreanaz vibe to Brett Dalton as Ward and a slight Eliza Dushku vibe to Chloe Bennet as Skye …

BELL: Honestly, we just cast all over the world and those are the people – here’s what you need for Joss thing. You need somebody who’s attractive, somebody who can be funny, somebody who can talk fast and make turns, someone who’s smart, and to find young people who can be funny and emotional and smart, we looked at a whole lot of people. And Brett and Chloe really emerged. I mean, there are lots of attractive people, but that’s how they came about.

AX: Iain De Caestecker as Fitz speaks with his real-life Scottish accent and Elizabeth Henstridge as Simmons uses her real life English accent. Were you looking for Scottish and English people originally for those characters?

BELL: We were so charmed by their accents, we thought, “What if we let them do that?” They could do American, but –

JEPH LOEB: We tested them as American, and we tested them in their natural thing.

AX: Did you test them together?

BELL: We matched them. It wasn’t just them that we matched. There were several people, and we thought it was one of the most insane days, because we did, “Okay, Elizabeth, you read with A, B and C. Iain, you read with C, D and E.” It was like math, and none of us are good at math. But Sara [Finn, the casting director]  somehow managed to make it all come together and at the end of the day, we just looked at it and went, “Them two.”

LOEB: They were good individually, but when they came together, it got that warm spot – my favorite part of THE AVENGERS is when Banner and Stark are talking in the lab. And just the way they connect, the way they’re enthralled with each other, those kind of scenes, and that’s what we hope to do here, because we can’t do the other, the bigger [feature film budget] stuff. But Iain and Elizabeth brought this really surprising tenderness to a couple of scientific minds that we love.

AX: When did Clark Gregg as Coulson become part of the show?

LOEB: It was the second call. The first call was getting Joss, and deciding that this was something that really interested him. Interestingly enough, he sort of gave me one better and said, “What do you think of Jed and Maurissa and Jeff?” And I said, “Let’s get ‘em all. If we’re going to have a party, let’s make it a party.” And the fact that it all came together, everyone was as passionate as they were and it was where we were going to go and what we were going to do, and then, again, I know that often they don’t get enough credit, ABC Studios and ABC Network, from the first time that we came in and said, “This is what it is” to today, have been there as our partners and have said, “That’s the show. Go make that show.”

AX: Coulson of course very visibly died in THE AVENGERS, so you’re dealing with how he’s back now …

LOEB: Yes. It’s kind of like playing with gamma radiation. Sometimes you wind up with the Hulk and sometimes you wind up with the Abomination. It’s not a perfect thing. You also have a very vocal fan base out there, going, “But he’s dead. Don’t you dare. This is what happens all the time. We want our deaths to be real and count.” And so all of that had to be weighed into what’s going on. But he’s such an extraordinarily gifted actor and, on top of that, human being. That’s the part that we had a sort of a rule, which was, “Look, if Clark’s going to be sort of the leader of the team, we’d better make sure that everybody else falls in that same kind of, ‘Oh, we love them.’”

AX: Do you have any idea, when they were making AVENGERS, if they knew they were going to make AGENTS OF SHIELD, if they would have killed Coulson off in the first place?

LOEB: That’s not what happened, so I can’t go back in time and figure it all out.

AX: “If there hadn’t been a meteor, would we still have dinosaurs?”

LOEB: Exactly.

AX: AGENTS OF SHIELD is a little unusual in that, in a group show, there’s usually somebody who’s “Ah, I don’t like you because …” and this group of characters seems somewhat copacetic.

BELL: Personally, I find I like when they go out in public, they’re a family and they present themselves as a family, but inside there will be lots of bickering and disagreements. And so there will be disagreements on the bus between our characters, but when they’re out in the field, when they’re out in public, they’ll always be cool.

AX: But even in private among the characters, there doesn’t seem to be any sincere, “I think you’re a jerk.”

BELL: There’s not any Spike/Angel dialectic going on. But then again, we don’t have two boys in love with the same girl. If that happens, it could become different.

AX: What did you learn on HEROES, for good or ill, that can be applied to SHIELD?

LOEB: First of all, not get wrapped up too much in your own mythology – basically, stories that are about the stories. I’ve been very open about this. When HEROES first started, it was a story about ordinary people who had something extraordinary happen to them. And they then had to deal with that. And that’s very Marvel in its thinking. Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, but everyone around him stays absolutely normal. What happened as time went by, everybody was extraordinary. They became extraordinary people in an extraordinary world, and it fell apart, in my humble opinion.

The trick with this is to always remember, not all heroes are super. As long as our core group is continually reacting and proactive toward an extraordinary world that is the Marvel universe, the show can run as long as it wants to run. Because the audience is ready for it. The audience wants to see what it is. And when you look at the charm of Agent Coulson as a character, the reason, at least we think, that he works in the movie was because with all this, “Gee golly whiz bang,” here was this one guy who was standing around going, “Look, all I know is, we’ve got to get the top dog.” He was just a regular guy. For me, one of the most wonderful moments with Clark was in THOR, when the Destroyer is standing there, and he comes out, and he’s got the megaphone and the guy says to him, “Is this one of Stark’s?” and it’s what Clark does better than anybody. He just threw it away, he just said, “I dunno, he doesn’t tell me anything.” And then went right back to work. And just the idea that here was a guy that was in the center of the Marvel universe, who knew all the secrets of the Marvel universe, who was essentially Fury’s right-hand man, who could honestly say, “Stark doesn’t tell me anything.”

That’s what the show needs to be about. It needs to be about a group of people who are out there running around in this extraordinary world and who can tell the audience, “Yeah, this is weird.” And it all comes from different perspectives. You’ve got Coulson and May, who have been there and who have seen this stuff and who are going to be able to look at the rest of the team and go, “Look, this is how it’s got to get done.” You’ve got in Ward a guy who absolutely knows how to deliver, how to make it happen, but has worked by himself. So he now suddenly has to acknowledge people, and then you balance that off of Skye, who is the character who knows people better than anybody, but doesn’t really understand the schematics of how the world works – doesn’t really care to understand the schematics of how the world works. So you’ve got that going on and then, as we like to say, the two mice on the ship, FitzSimmons, who are down below, making sure that everything runs properly. That’s magic. It’s a great group.

AX: As writers/producers, do you feel like there’s any analogy between the way the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. interact with the superheroes and, “Okay, these are the actors, everybody is looking at them, and we as the writers/producers are putting them up there and making sure they have things to do?”

LOEB: I don’t ever think like that. [to Bell] Do you?

BELL: I haven’t. But now [laughs], now that we’re sending them on missions … No, look. The idea is to tell the best story that you can, get the best cast, the best crew, and you just go out there and hope people like what you’re doing. That’s really what it comes down to. If there are any metaphors that are going on out there – it’s sort of extraordinary that the [real] world is helping us. Like what’s going on at the NSA right now. I don’t know that a year ago, people cared that much about secrets and who had them and who didn’t have them. When we first started talking about this show at the beginning, there’s a movie that we all love called SNEAKERS. And that movie, it’s all about too many secrets and all about how the world should have information and that that’s really going to be the currency of tomorrow. And when people saw that movie back then, they were like, “What are you talking about?” And here we are, living it.

AX: With S.H.I.E.L.D.’s possession of secrets, is there going to be a question of, “Is there too much secrecy?”

BELL: The character of Skye, that’s her role. She works for the Rising Tide, freedom of information – she’s very much in the WikiLeaks tradition. She feels all information should be free and open to all, and S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks we should control all information and then that’s ever-shifting – where she realizes she let something out that hurts people, or S.H.I.E.L.D. kept something secret that hurt people – that’s where the interesting tension lies, and so we’ll explore that.

LOEB: And there really is no right answer, and at the end of the day, when you look at it from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s point of view, there probably shouldn’t be certain things that people know. And then when you look at it from the public’s point of view, no, we should know everything. Why should the government ever have any control over it? So that’s really the fun that we get to have, is making both arguments absolutely clear.

AX: What is Marvel Television’s game plan going forward?

LOEB: The plain truth is, we took our cue from the movie studio. What Kevin [Feige] and the gang over there managed to do extraordinarily well, and I don’t think anyone could make an argument about it, was, they made IRON MAN and got it right. IRON MAN 2, THOR, CAP, AVENGERS. So no one started out by making AVENGERS. They took each thing, they made sure they had the right people, the right casting, the right directors, the right script – that’s our job. Right now, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD feels great. Jeff and Jed and Maurissa running the day-to-day show, making that happen, is exactly what we’re looking for. So as we grow, when we grow, we’re going to need to have that same level of confidence. We’re going to need to have that same kind of, who is the next voice, the next vision, the next Joss Whedon who’s out there, so that when we do announce what we’re going to do, everyone goes, “Okay, that makes sense,” because I do believe that when you look at the shows that are successful, particularly in genre, you can always point down to Joss Whedon on BUFFY, Damon Lindelof on LOST, Ron Moore on BATTLESTAR. There is a vision that has carried those shows all the way through. And when they don’t, and they don’t have that person, they come wildly off the rails.

AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about AGENTS OF SHIELD?

LOEB: Just Tuesday nights, eight o’clock on ABC.


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Related:Exclusive interview with AGENTS OF SHIELD actors Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge

Related:Exclusive interview with Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD actor Brett Dalton


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Article: Exclusive interview with Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD producers Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Loeb

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