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Clark Gregg Opens Up About Phil Coulson And Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Exclusive Interview

With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s series finale coming up, Clark Gregg's 12-year journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe is over, at least for now — and what a ride it's been. From helping kick off the MCU in Iron Man and getting a big-screen death scene in The Avengers to leading the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. for seven seasons on ABC, Gregg's Phil Coulson has pretty much seen and done it all, and managed to become one of the most popular characters in the MCU along the way.

It's easy to see why. In his very first appearance as Agent Coulson, Gregg exudes the same warmth, playfulness, and sense of humor that would go on to define the character, creating a foundation that the actor was able to build on in the following movies and TV shows. Still, it was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that really let Gregg show off his chops. Over his time on the series, Coulson has fallen in love, died (again), saved the world numerous times, become a robot, and found a surrogate family among his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and Gregg's sold each and every moment like the superstar he is.

While it seems unlikely that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final episode will actually be the last time that we see Coulson — hey, he's survived worse — we took the time to chat with Gregg as he reflected on his time in the MCU, and discussed a little bit about what he's doing next. Here's what he had to say.

What Agent Coulson and Michael Jordan have in common, according to Clark Gregg

At this point, you've been living with Coulson for a decade and a half.

[Laughs] It's more like 12 years. I'm laughing, because at every interview, everybody adds a year or two. I think it's 11, maybe 12 years. It just seems like a decade and a half. "For 300 years, you have been playing Phil Coulson."

You have been doing this since the dawn of time.

Since the time travel season, that's kind of how it feels. I've been playing Phil Coulson since 1931.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from Coulson? What has he taught you?

There's an episode at the end of season one when Nick Fury shows up. We were dealing with psychotic Garrett, and Nick Fury was trying to remind Coulson that people can accomplish anything, as long as they're working as a team. And Garrett has perverted it into something else. I really feel like that's the theory of Phil Coulson.

When we met him, he was really a guy that believed in what S.H.I.E.L.D. stood for, but he also wasn't afraid to make fun of people who were taking themselves too seriously. I love basketball. We'd just been watching the Michael Jordan documentary, and he couldn't win a championship until he managed to make everyone on his team their very best self. And there's two kinds of huge key wins in his championship run where he was double-teamed and he passed the ball to John Paxson or Steve Kerr.

And I think that's so Coulson, because he picks these people against everyone's recommendation, including Skye, Chloe Bennet's character, who's a hacker who hates S.H.I.E.L.D., and elevates them and puts them in positions of responsibility, and turns things over to Mack and Fitz-Simmons. I feel like I really examined the way that he trusts the people around him and lets go of trying to control too much so that they can rise. It's been a great lesson that he has passed on to me. And I think one that's appropriate for his kind of not trying to be the ultimate superhero character.

You've played different versions of this character. There's young Coulson in Captain Marvel, there's fanboy in The Avengers, there's team leader in S.H.I.E.L.D. There's Sarge, who's not even Coulson. Do you have a favorite?

There's even undercover Coulson in The West Wing, according to many people. Agent Mike Casper, the FBI agent who works with President Bartlett.

Yes, I have a favorite. You know what I love about it is really... From being this guy, who's kind of posing as a pesky bureaucrat in Iron Man and riffing with Tony Stark, to the guy in the Avengers with this great heroic death scene to evil, alter-ego Sarge and now super advanced-AI android Coulson — or, as you said, hanging-out-in-a-Blockbuster, a-shocking-amount-of-hair Phil Coulson. The fun thing is to get to keep the vision. Just the fact that it kept giving different, exciting challenges for so many years, that's been really, really fun.

Clark Gregg shares his thoughts on the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe

You've been in a fair number of Marvel projects at this point, but you haven't been in all of them. Is there a Marvel actor or actress that you would particularly like to work with that you haven't gotten a chance to yet?

I was blown away by Black Panther. I really wish Phil Coulson could've had a chance to visit Wakanda. I mean, there's just been so much great stuff they've done. And, oh man, the Guardians stuff. And I would have killed to have been in Thor: Ragnarok because it was so funny. I just wanted to interact with Taika's stone guy.

They're all huge hits, obviously, but are there any Marvel movies that you think are underrated?

I was going to say that I really loved the irreverence of Ragnarok. I thought that was incredible. I don't know if that's underrated. I think a lot of people feel that way.

And I don't know that it really maybe qualifies in your question, but I am a huge fan of Into the Spider-Verse. I thought that was as fun as anything in the Marvel Universe.

There are always rumors about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. getting spinoffs or appearing in the movies. Is there a character in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that you think really deserves their own solo project?

I like seeing Ming in — it's more of a Disney+ Universe — The Mandalorian. I think at some point they really ought to have Daisy Johnson quake her way into one of these movies. Fitz-Simmons really, too. I think they're really vital Marvel characters at this point. And I think there's a lot of freedom.

I know that there have been a lot of divisions because of different corporate entities, but it's all seems like it's under one roof now and Kevin's brilliant and he can do whatever he wants. And in the world of Disney+, you never know. You never know what you're going to see. It sounds like a tease. I don't know anything.

With S.H.I.E.L.D. ending and this chapter wrapping up, what's next for you?

Man. Apparently, a lot of Zoom calls.

It's really hard to say. We're not really working right now. So, it's a little unsettling and the truth is, for a lot of people in our business, like a lot of businesses, I think people have this kind of glorified idea of what Hollywood people, people who work in the film business, what their life is like. And no doubt during seven seasons, most of us were able to kind of make a little bit of a cushion so we could survive a little bit of this quarantine. But, nine-tenths of all actors and crew members, the people who make this stuff, they're like a lot of the working people. Tabloid nonsense aside, there are people that don't have the savings. They make a choice to work in this field because they love it.

I'm one of those people. I hope we get to get back to work soon. In the meantime, I've always worked as a writer. I have a couple of projects I'm developing, hopefully, that I'll be able to make when this is over.