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How Jeff Ward really became Deke on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Exclusive

Jeff Ward wasn't supposed to become a series regular on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, originally, he wasn't supposed to live beyond the show's season 5 premiere ... and he wasn't supposed to be Deke Shaw, the rascally time-traveler who's been S.H.I.E.L.D.'s go-to source for comic relief and timey-wimey technobabble over the past three years, at all.

"I originally auditioned for Deke. I auditioned for that, didn't get it. They gave me a different part, which was Virgil," Ward tells Looper in an exclusive interview. "He's the guy that, when Coulson wakes up, he's trying to explain what happened to them in the Lighthouse, and then he gets claws put through his face and dies. That was who I was cast as."

But at the episode's table read, Ward's performance was so good that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s producers changed their mind. As Ward recalls, "There were people from Marvel and ABC and all these extra people, and I immediately got terrified because I was like, 'Oh no. Now I'm going to get fired.' So I was like, 'I've got to do a good job.'"

Apparently, he did. Ward read his lines and headed back to his car — but by the time he got there, S.H.I.E.L.D. showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen had already called and asked Ward to re-audition. That went well, too. "I found out that night — at 11:30 at night — that I was going to be playing Deke," Ward says. "It was something that, as an actor, you always dream about stuff like that happening, but it never actually does."

How Jeff Ward went from guest star to a regular member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast

Landing a role on S.H.I.E.L.D. was one thing; keeping it was another. According to Ward, he meshed with the existing cast almost immediately. Ward thanks Deke's role in the story for that. "I came into the show in a storyline where, at the beginning of the season, none of them knew where they were, where they were, what they were, or why they were. I knew all of those things," he explains.

"As far as Deke was concerned, this was his show," continues Ward. "I drew on that as an actor, and I was able to kind of force myself to feel very comfortable because I was like, 'None of these people know what they're doing and I do.'"

Still, while Ward had great chemistry with the cast — "They wanted me to have fun and do my thing and bring something to it, so we immediately just clicked," he remembers — Deke's fate remained uncertain. "When I first started, I didn't know if I was doing more than three [episodes], and then I was doing more and more and more," says Ward. As fans know, there's a big explosion about halfway through S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fifth season, and Ward assumed that was the end for the character: "I thought that Deke died."

Ward's experiences on set did nothing to dissuade him of that notion, either. "One of the assistant directors walked me into his office and showed me a wall of headshots, and there were X's on a bunch of the headshots," he says. "It was Edward James Olmos, Bill Paxton – all these great, amazing actors. He goes, 'Don't worry. Look at all the great people that've been killed off this show.' I was like, 'Oh my God, I guess I'm dying.'"

But fate (and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s executive producers) had other plans. Later that day, Ward received word that Deke would survive until the end of the season, and that he would become a regular cast member if the show got picked up for season 6, which wasn't guaranteed at the time. "It was so crazy," Ward says. "I was supposed to be there for one day, and I ended up there for a little over three years."

Still, all good things must come to an end. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final season is airing now, and you can catch it on Wednesdays at 10 PM on ABC.