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Elizabeth Henstridge Dishes On What She's Learned From Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Exclusive

Not only has Dr. Jemma Simmons grown immeasurably over the course of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s run, but the actress who plays her, Elizabeth Henstridge, has gotten much better as well. Not that Henstridge ever turned in a bad performance — her lighthearted banter with Jemma's partner, Iain De Caestecker's Leo Fitz, was one of season 1's highlights — but as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s writers gave Simmons storylines with more meat on their bones, Henstridge really got to flex her muscles and show fans what she could do.

Seven seasons is a long time to play a single character, and it's not surprising that Henstridge learned a few tricks along the way. The actress tells Looper that the show's quick turnaround made her figure out how to build a character in more or less real time – S.H.I.E.L.D.'s cast wasn't told ahead of time where the story was going. "We knew episode to episode. We read the scripts week to week," Henstridge says.

She admits, "At first, I found that a bit disconcerting, but then it became such a wonderful way to work, because there's a freedom in the writers being able to see what you do with something, and then write to those skill sets. You have a magical moment, and a theme with another character, and that can then become something else later down the line."

That lack of foreknowledge also helped Henstridge get into her character's head. "Let's say, like the start of season six, I didn't know what had happened to Fitz or where he was," she explains, "but I was in the same head space as Simmons, assuming [that] she can't know what's going on." That helped bring Henstridge and Simmons closer together, and aided her performance.

Henstridge also picked up some physical skills from her time on S.H.I.E.L.D. "At the very start, we went through how we would hold weapons, and that was really fun. I did really enjoy that," she says. Other stunt work came as needed; because of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s tight schedule, its actors were taught how to do things only when they were necessary. As Henstridge tells us, "We got into a routine of learning stuff as needed for specific scenes, because there's just not enough hours in the day."

Still, Henstridge did get to do some stunt work, including stuff that's not quite as flashy as you'd expect. "A lot of just stunts that you wouldn't really think of as stunts, that were just falls or something experienced, I'm doing quite a lot," she says. "You need to train to know how to fall properly. And then, the next day that you wake up, you may be regretting that decision."

How Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made Elizabeth Henstridge a better person

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't just make Henstridge a better actress. The character of Jemma Simmons also taught Henstridge a few important lessons, which she's sure to take with her going forward.

"I think to not apologize is a huge one," Henstridge says, when asked to reflect on the biggest lesson she learned from Jemma. "She seemed to have been like that from the start. She's never apologized for her intelligence, never apologized for thinking she was right when she wasn't."

Henstridge continues, "She constantly surprised me with that. Even in  I think it was the first season, when she was aware that she was attractive and didn't see her being a geeky scientist to be any deterrent to men. I mean, it shouldn't be a revelation as a woman to feel like, 'Yes, I'm attractive, and what?'"

The actress also notes that she also respects Simmons' intelligence and drive, but comes back to her unwillingness to apologize for who she is as the biggest takeaway. "She doesn't really think to — which, as a British person, is so alien," Henstridge says, laughing.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs at 10 PM on Wednesdays on ABC. It's currently in its seventh and final season.