In Part 2 of our exclusive telephone interview with MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD writer/executive producer Drew Z. Greenberg, he talks about adding characters, working with Elizabeth Henstridge on her directorial debut on tonight’s episode, and more. AGENTS OF SHIELD, now in its seventh and final season, airs Wednesdays on ABC.
ASSIGNMENT X: Super-fast Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez, played by Natalia Cordova-Buckley, first showed up as a recurring character in the middle of Season 3; socially awkward tech whiz from the future Deke Shaw, played by Jeff Ward, was added at the start of Season 5. Was it decided to make Yoyo and Deke regular characters because it was felt that there were gaps that needed filling, or because those characters popped?
DREW Z. GREENBERG: No, it was strictly because the actors who played them were great, and we were like, “Let’s write more for them.” And at a certain point, you’re writing for them so much, you go, “We should make them a regular.” So it was strictly because of that.
AX: Enver Gjokaj had been a regular on Joss Whedon’s DOLLHOUSE, where he also worked with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who all created AGENTS OF SHIELD together. Then he played Daniel Sousa for two years on MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER. When the Agents of SHIELD stopped in the ‘50s, they picked up Sousa, who now has a big presence in Season 7. Is this because everybody at AGENTS OF SHIELD liked the Sousa character from AGENT CARTER, or because of everybody’s affection for Enver Gjokaj?
GREENBERG: We knew that we wanted to bring in somebody from the past, and Sousa just seemed like the best guy to bring along. He brings a certain Everyman quality. What that character went through on AGENT CARTER brought him a little further along in terms of seeing the crazy stuff in the world. But that real groundedness of that character from [AGENT CARTER] was always present for him, no matter what crazy stuff, no matter what fantastical things he witnessed. That groundedness was a quality that we could definitely use. It didn’t hurt at all that our show runners knew him and had worked with him before, and we all knew his work, and what he as an actor could bring. But it always starts from character, and it started from knowing that Sousa could bring something to this time-travel journey that would enrich the experience of all the characters involved in it.
AX: Tamara Taylor, who was in SERENITY, also has an arc as Chronocom leader Sibyl. You don’t need to name names, but will we be seeing any other people from other corners of the Whedon-verse, or the Marvel-verse, or the intersection of the two?
GREENBERG: That’s a good question. I will say we’ve not seen the last of characters from our own show’s history. There are other people who we will be revisiting, people that we’ve said goodbye to in the past, so that’s definitely coming.
AX: With all of the visits to different decades in AGENTS OF SHIELD Season 7, was there a writers’ room discussion of, “What are our favorite periods in American history? What has the production designer been yearning to do?” Or how did you all decide which eras you’d be visiting?
GREENBERG: I know this is going to sound crazy, but it really did come from story. It was like, “What points do we need to hit?” There was a little element of, “It would be fun if we could do a ‘50s noir. That would be really fun, if we could do a ‘30s bootleg adventure.” All that stuff. I think we were just excited to try out as many different genres as we could, and as many different time periods as we could. I’m sure there are lots of things that we all would have enjoyed getting to do, that there just wasn’t enough time in the thirteen-episode season to do. We did the stuff that we thought would be fun.
AX: Whose idea was that beard that Henry Simmons as Mack is rocking in the ‘80s?
GREENBERG: I can’t speak to whose idea that was. I can only tell you that the episode was written by Brent Fletcher and directed by Jesse Bochco, and they are mad men, lower-case “m,” lower-case “m,” and Brent has been wanting to do this episode for a very long time. It’s Brent Fletcher’s brilliant brain all over the screen.
AX: Which episodes have you written this season?
GREENBERG: I wrote Episode 9 this season.
AX: That episode, “As I Have Always Been,” marks the directorial debut of Elizabeth Henstridge, who has been a series regular from the beginning as Dr. Jemma Simmons. How was working with her as the director on your episode?
GREENBERG: Working with Elizabeth was a dream. If you had dropped in on set during our shoot, and you didn’t know anything about anyone there, you would have thought Elizabeth was a seasoned veteran, not someone directing her first episode. Elizabeth was very confident about what she wanted to do, and at the same time, collaborative and open. She was unflappable, she was fun, but, more than anything else, she had a vision for what she wanted this episode to be – it was not an uncomplicated episode, and she not only got it, she elevated it with her direction. I should also say that she did all this while still having a few tough scenes of her own in which to act as well. I can say with a great deal of assuredness that I would have run off set with a migraine every day – she dove in and basically said, “Bring it.” I have so much respect for Elizabeth, and also she’s one of my favorite people to be around, too, so it worked out well for me.
AX: Do you have a favorite episode that you’ve written for AGENTS OF SHIELD?
GREENBERG: Honestly, I love all of the episodes I got to do. I’ve had some really fun ones with Jesse [Bochco]. He’s a great director to work with. If I had to pick a favorite, honestly, it’s Episode 9 of this season. And right up there with it, my very first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD was Clark [Gregg as Coulson] and Ming-na Wen [as Agent Melinda May] dancing while they were out on a mission, and then May fighting May in the same episode. So I really won the lottery with my first episode, and I always have a very special place in my heart for what we got to do there. Plus, my first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD was Kevin Tancharoen’s first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD, and getting to start out with him, and watch him do his amazing work –he’s just an incredibly gifted director, and watching what he did was an education for me, and a relief at the same time, like saying, “Okay, the words are in really good hands.” Not just in really good hands, but he elevated it all so much. So I have a very fond place in my heart for that episode, and for what he did, and what the actors did. It was really very special to me. There are things that happen in the episode that hasn’t aired yet from this season that delight me, and there are also some things that I have never gotten to do before. So I have a great affection for that.
AX: Has Internet fandom affected your view of the work, or fans, or anything else, the changing way that people are able to respond to what they watch?
GREENBERG: My knee-jerk reaction is, no, it hasn’t changed. But I tend to be, when it comes time to do the work, I don’t have the time to be focusing on other things anyway, so I’m a little bit oblivious to a lot of the stuff that happens. Some of the fan reaction stuff is really rewarding, and what I’ve seen of it is very gratifying, when I do venture out of my shell, and I get to see some of what’s out there, and you see the people who are really enjoying the work that’s going up on screen – that’s why we do it, so that’s really nice.
But there is a downside. I’ve heard about it – I don’t see it as much myself, but I’ve heard about it from other people. There are people who don’t like certain story turns, certain character turns, and they will, say, threaten my show runners, because they don’t like a decision that was made about a character. And they don’t know any of the reasons that went into that decision, and you get these really scary things on the Internet. Those people are few and far between, and I choose not to dwell on that, but it certainly does make you be wary. You have to know that the Internet can be a little bit of a scary place in that way.
But I find, overall, for all intents and purposes, the overwhelming majority of people who interact with the show online do so with a sense of joy, and fun, and they are respectful, and kind. Even when they don’t like stuff they’re seeing, they’re respectful about it. And to me, that’s what I choose to focus on. It’s the bulk of the audience who interacts that way. And I like to think of those people as the Internet as much as I can.
AX: Was everybody happy with the two-season renewal that AGENTS OF SHIELD got at the end of Season 5? Did you and/or other people wish you could potentially have had longer, or was everybody like, “Two seasons is about all we think we can do here”?
GREENBERG: When I said before that we got the two extra seasons, our first response was like, “Yay. We get to work together some more.” I can’t speak for everybody else. I know that I would follow this group anywhere, and they are a joy to spend time with. I do also think that, by the time we get to the end of Season 7, I think that we’ve reached a conclusion. And I think it makes sense to end it at that point. I’m sad for me, because I would like to keep working with this group of people, but I think story-wise, when you see it, you’ll say, “Yes. This is the stopping point for these characters.” And I think it’s the right one. So I’m also happy that the story got to end on its own terms, that we got to end it on our own terms, and that it’s a satisfying conclusion.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about AGENTS OF SHIELD?
GREENBERG: The show in general, or this season?
AX: Either or both.
GREENBERG: I think this season is so much fun. Especially given that we thought the show was over a couple of years ago, everything else is already going to be kind of icing on the cake. This season in particular is just a celebration of everything that made the show fun for us, we hope everything that made the show fun for the fans who enjoyed it, and stuck with it. Just watch and feel good, and feel emotions. It’s not always light – there are some moments that are serious and moving – but even in doing that, it is a celebration of everything that this show has been, and a special place that I hope it holds in the hearts of the fans who have been enjoying it for all these years. And certainly it’s been a joy to be a part of it, so I’m enjoying that part of it as much as any fan.
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Article: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD Exclusive Interview with writer/executive producer Drew Z. Greenberg on Elizabeth Henstridge’s directorial debut – Part 2