In the (so-far) two-season history of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD, ABC Tuesdays at 9 PM, just about all of the characters have gone through massive changes. Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, has learned that he was actually brought back from the dead courtesy of alien technology; not only that, he’s been appointed Director of the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, courtesy of secretly-alive former Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Chloe Bennet’s orphan computer hacker Skye has discovered she’s an Inhuman, with the ability to bring buildings down; she’s also found that her father Kal (Kyle MachLachlan) is alive and homicidally schizophrenic, though he’d like nothing better than a reunion with his reluctant daughter.
However, it can be argued that no SHIELD character has undergone a more profound transformation than Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward. Showing reluctance when Coulson first brought him onto the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Ward saved his teammates many times, with an especially spectacular mid-air rescue of Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Ward had a physical affair with fellow specialist Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), but he was falling in love with Skye. Then, after the evil Nazi-originated organization H.Y.D.R.A. all but destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D. in the big-screen feature CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, it turned out that Ward was really a H.Y.D.R.A. double agent, playing Coulson et al, the better to betray them. Only his fondness for Skye was true, which hasn’t prevented her from shooting Ward.
Ward has escaped from S.H.I.E.L.D. and broken with H.Y.D.R.A. The situation is so desperate that Coulson is contemplating reaching out to the turncoat for assistance. Stay tuned for how that turns out.
Meanwhile, we got to talk with Dalton about what’s happened with Ward so far.
AX: When you found out Ward was H.Y.D.R.A., did you think, “Oh, no, I’m off the show,” or did you think, “Great, I get to do a one-eighty turn with the character”?
BRETT DALTON: When they first told me, the way in which they told me was, “Hey, the executive producers would like to see you in the office.” This was on a Friday. I’d watched UP IN THE AIR, and I know that’s when you fire people, on Friday. I really did think, “Wow, I’ve had a good run, this is over.” So once they finally told me that I was going to be H.Y.D.R.A., it took a few seconds for me to realize I wasn’t being fired, and then as soon as I did, it was this huge opportunity. The character completely opened up for me from there on. So I became really excited about the future and the opportunity to play somebody who’s dangerous.
AX: How much of a sense of the character do you feel like you had when you started playing him and how much sense of Ward do you have now?
DALTON: Well, I think that we’ve all become more comfortable in our characters. I’m not typecast in this role, I’ve never been cast in this hulking leading man [or villain] role before.
AX: How are you usually cast?
DALTON: I’m not a song and dance guy, but definitely in funnier roles. I think Ward is actually super-funny, and there are a lot of scenes in there where I take myself so seriously that I become funny, but I often have supporting roles where I get to be really funny and goofy, actually, and I don’t think anybody knows that, because their introduction to me is as this ultra-serious character and I think people are surprised. I don’t even get recognized in public, because people are like, “Well, he’s not the guy!” [laughs] I’m way too goofy for that. So I guess it was harder for me to get into character when we first started out, but now it’s like, we’re so familiar with our characters. Ming, too – I think there’s a big difference between Ming in real life and Agent May. There’s a huge distance between the two points, and that’s a lot to travel in the beginning, but now it feels like we can make that change on a dime. So we can still be our goofy selves, but then when the cameras roll, we can be our characters.
AX: There’s a scene in Season 1, while Ward is still ostensibly part of the team, where he catches everybody imitating him, and you had to imitate Elizabeth Henstridge as Simmons imitating Ward. How did that feel?
DALTON: It felt like a Tuesday on set. That’s kind of our dynamic here anyway. The more I try and be funny, I’m just not. There is that kind of dynamic off-stage, where we’re joking around with each other, poking fun at each other, and I’m a younger brother and they know I can take it, so sometimes I get the brunt of it.
AX: Can you talk about how you shot the scene where you jump out of the plane to save Simmons and you catch her?
DALTON: We shot that on a four-point harness, and it was a full day of shooting. There was a giant green screen and a giant fan involved, and take after take of trying to make that perfect. And there was somebody there on set, making sure that our formations were perfect. So it was a lot of action and a lot of pressure with that, because I wanted people who skydive to think this is quite accurate.
AX: How high up were you?
DALTON: Twenty feet.
AX: Executive producer Jeph Loeb has said that the first time you saw yourself in a special effects sequence that was all cut together, you were very pleased with the way it turned out. How did you feel about taking the leap into working with a green screen?
DALTON: Well, now I’ve jumped so often that I know that there’s going to be a net there to catch me, but before that, there’s no training for that in school – [there’s no] having a green screen behind you and doing these stunts, or having a visual effects editor there saying, “No, no, no, it’s going to be great, trust me, it’s going to look totally real.” Because we shot that in a barn, it was outdoors with this really weird thing, this giant green screen and it was overcast that day and it was like, “Is this really going to work?” You do it and you kind of feel silly sometimes. But, as I said, now I’m so used to jumping and trusting that there’s going to be a net there.
AX: For the entirety of the series, we thought that Ward had been tortured into being the person he is by his evil older brother Christian, but when we meet Christian as an adult, played by Tim DeKay, and Ward kidnaps him, Christian insists that Ward was the violent one.
DALTON: That was a weird, twisted episode, wasn’t it? People really liked that, because when I was watching it, even I couldn’t tell who I believed more. Every time Christian Ward was up there, I was like, “I believe the guy.” And then it would cut back to me, telling my version of the story, believing in it wholeheartedly, and then I was like, “No, no, I actually believe me.” And then by the end, [Christian] is dead, so we can’t ask him again, and really, that question mark is left. I thought the writers did a great job with that, actually, because for a season and a half, you’re getting Ward’s version of the story, and you believe that as true. And they didn’t really zip that up, so I thought that was good on the writers’ part, because they just continue to leave this guy as a live wire.
AX: With Ward’s relationship with May, although the relationship is now completely antagonistic, when Ward was pretending to be S.H.I.E.L.D., do you think he was having sex with May to mislead her, or because there was actual attraction there?
DALTON: There’s that monologue that I give to Raina [Ruth Negga], when she asks, “How’d you do this thing? How’d you pull this off, or why’d you do it?” And the reason is to keep tabs on [May]. She was the main threat and this made her less of a threat. So I’m going to trust the writers that that was true when he was saying that.
AX: Does Ward think he actually has a shot with Skye?
DALTON: Of course. I don’t think he would do any of this stuff if he didn’t believe he was playing to win. Now, after [she shot him], that’s another question. But the first ten episodes [of Season 2], she didn’t put any lead into Ward, so as far as he knew, he was on the right track.
AX: How does Ward view Skye’s dad Kal, played by Kyle MacLachlan?
DALTON: I think they became strange allies in a way. The father is the way to Skye, so in a way, he was a means to an end, but also, if Ward had feelings towards Skye, then therefore there’s got to be a certain respect there as well. And I think that the Doctor is somebody who believes in his own code. He’s not H.Y.D.R.A. or S.H.I.E.L.D. He plays one side against the other in order to accomplish his goals, so that’s what Ward is doing this entire season as well. So there’s got to be a certain appreciation for the same kind of tactics.
AX: Were you excited to work with Bill Paxton, who played Ward’s H.Y.D.R.A. mentor Garrett, and Jaimie Alexander, who has guest-starred both seasons as Lady Sif of Asgard, and Kyle MacLachlan?
DALTON: Yes. I feel like I should just bake cookies for the writers on a daily basis or something. I mean, the fact that [these actors are] on the show, cool, but the fact that I get to work with them, that’s incredible. On a personal level, it’s great having them on set, because we’ve all seen them literally larger than life on these giant screens, doing really fantastic work.
Bill Paxton’s character is an actual character in the Marvel mythology and part of S.H.I.E.L.D., so that’s really cool, to see something that you’ve read and seen on a page actually there in front of you. Bill Paxton’s a fantastic actor, too, so to see him actually bring that kind of life to it is pretty amazing. So it’s great to be in the presence of a great actor who can bring all of that gravitas and depth that that particular role needs, because it is an important character. Paxton and I are still good friends. I email him all the time. So it’s a really good connection. We both became giant mutual fans of each other and we had all of our scenes together, so we got close. I love him.
Jaimie Alexander, she totally gets it, she totally is that role, she plays this Asgardian warrior princess and an Asgardian is larger than life. If you do research on them, they’re like five-ten height but the weight is three hundred and fifty pounds, because of the density of muscle. They’re demigods in a way. I think that she’s a very beautiful woman and she has a kind of otherworldly presence to her.
The thing about [MacLachlan] is, he goes there in his work, but when he’s not working, he’s one of the most polite individuals I have ever met. Every time I see Daniel Day-Lewis give a speech or [an interview], he is one of the most articulate, charming, funny, professional men you’ve ever met. In his work, he really goes there. I feel like it’s something similar with Kyle. He goes there in his work, but that’s just his work, and he’s really there listening every time you’re there with him. I love the guy.
AX: Do you have any other projects we should know about?
DALTON: There’s a movie that I shot last summer during the hiatus, in Florence. The working title is THE TOURIST. Evan Oppenheimer’s the director, Stana Katic was my co-lead in that and I think it’s a wonderful movie that I can’t wait to see and have everybody experience.
AX: And what would you most like us to know about AGENTS OF SHIELD right now?
DALTON: We’re back with a vengeance.
This interview was conducted at ABC’s party for the Television Critics Association press tour at Pasadena’s Langham-Huntington Hotel.
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Article: Exclusive interview with Brett Dalton on Season 2 of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD