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What It Really Takes To Become Director Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Exclusive

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s second season started, Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie was just a regular S.H.I.E.L.D. engineer trying to make sense of the post-HYDRA world. Now, as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s seventh and final season rolls on, Mack is in a much bigger role: He's the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.

Agent Coulson made Mack S.H.I.E.L.D.'s head honcho just before his death (no, not that one – the other one) during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s season 5 finale, and he's held the position ever since. Actor Henry Simmons, who plays Mack on the series, couldn't be happier about his character's big promotion — even though nobody warned him first.

"When I read the final episode of season five, that's when I found out, and I was just amazed," Simmons tells Looper in an exclusive interview. "I mean, I was really shocked. No one talked to me about it. No one said anything to me about it."

At the time, Simmons was proud of the character he'd been playing for the past three seasons. "There's a difference between being the director and being an agent. The director gives the orders. So, there's an authority that you have to have, a leadership quality," he explains.

But Mack's ascent to the top of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a more personal meaning for Simmons, too. "From an actor's point of view, as the director, you're driving the scene. You're no longer just turning up," he says. "So, it was so flattering to me because the writers and the producers saw qualities in me as an actor and as a human being that could fill those shoes. And that meant a lot to me, I'm not going to lie. It meant a lot to me."

Simmons says he's learned something from Mack's time as director as well, especially the way the character has grown into the role. "When Mack became director, he would weigh his decisions so heavily. The cause and effect, what the consequences were going to be, the right thing, the wrong thing," notes the actor.

"But eventually, you learn that you just have to make the decision," Simmons continues. "Do what you think is best. You can't always sit there and try to figure out whether it's right or wrong, if it is good or bad. [...] You just have to live life and just make the decision and move on."

How Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Mack is different from the comics' iteration of the character

Mack's role as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is particularly striking given his history. Mack wasn't part of the show's original line-up — Simmons joined S.H.I.E.L.D. during season 2 — and he was initially introduced as a foil to the series' heroes, not part of the team. Simmons had no idea what he was getting into when he signed up for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D — and as he quickly learned, turning to the source material didn't help.

See, unlike most of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s main cast, Mack is actually based on a character from the comics. Al MacKenzie, who was originally the CIA's liaison to S.H.I.E.L.D., debuted in 1988's Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. #3, and went on to have a number of adventures alongside Nick Fury before ultimately retiring and publishing a tell-all book about the clandestine spy agency.

It's a very, very different take on the character, and one that Simmons noted right away. "When I first came on I took a gamble. I was like, 'I can look him up,'" he says. So, Simmons did — and after a quick Google search, he ended up more confused than ever.

"I turned to my wife and I said, 'I looked him up,' and I was like, 'Huh, well, what the hell are they doing?' In the comic books, Mack is a white guy with white hair. I was like, 'What are they doing? What is going on?'" Simmons says. "I didn't know what elements of that character were going to be in my character. [...] I just had to trust whatever they were writing."

As we've seen, that trust was well-placed. Not only are Mack and his signature shotgun-axe favorites among S.H.I.E.L.D. fans, but the one-time agent is also now running the whole thing. For a regular and unassuming guy like Mack, that's not bad at all.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., now in its final season, can be seen at 10 PM on Wednesdays on ABC.