Clark Gregg on 'Captain Marvel' and Assembling the Avengers of the '90s (Exclusive)

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney

Clark Gregg has had the unique experience of playing the same character, Agent Phil Coulson, on the big screen (in Thor and The Avengers) and on television (ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), in an animated series and a video game, alive and dead and alive again via an alien blood transfusion, in deep space and possessed by the spirit of Ghost Rider. Now, he's playing Coulson a decade before any of that.

The 1995-set Captain Marvel unravels the intergalactic origin story of Brie Larson's Carol Danvers, but it also shows Phil Coulson's early days at S.H.I.E.L.D., as a lowly agent trying to find his way in the world of covert espionage. "It's the moment when he's figuring out this is really what he wants to dedicate his life to," Gregg explained during the film's press day. "That's an amazing moment for a person."

"I always think of that thing, you know, find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life. I think that's Phil Coulson," he added. "He loves this stuff. And like me, he shows up to do a job and it just keeps getting better and more interesting and then incredible people show up and it's beyond his wildest dreams." In a chat with ET, Gregg discusses seeing himself digitally de-aged 20 years and the Avenger "duds" that may have assembled in the '90s.

ET: Where did filming this fit into your schedule shooting Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Clark Gregg: I definitely overlapped some. They had to get me out of S.H.I.E.L.D. for some of the shooting, especially some of the re-shoots. It's remarkably seamless. It's different people. The movie, they have a little more luxurious timeframe in which to shoot. And, you know, nobody's going to make me look any younger on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [Laughs] I don't think we have the budget for that. But other than that, the technology and the work on the show, it's evolved so far in the six or seven years that it's similar. It's a very similar process, just kind of compressed.

Did you find that going back to the past affected how you played Coulson in the present?

I would say it was more the other way around, in that the guy who exists on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been lucky enough to do a hundred and twenty episodes and that many missions and adventures, you know what I mean? It was about trying to kind of wipe all those traumatic memories away and go back to a guy who's not as cynical and jaded as either Clark or Phil.

You shoot with all the little dots on your face, so what was it like the first time you saw the finalized version of yourself de-aged back to the '90s?

In all candor, I've only seen some stills and maybe a scene, because I haven't seen the film yet. But it was cool. I thought, "Wow. I never looked this good in the '90s, so I'm glad to have the geniuses doing that." And it's a weird trust exercise, because usually the only thing you really have control of is you and what you're doing. I had some of that control, but then at a certain point, I was turning it over to a kind of digital representation of me. That's what I'm going to go see, is something that's mostly me and something else. So, that'll be a first. As an actor, I'm nervous about it, you know? Can they take all this technology and then go do some other movie with me after I'm dead? I hope not.

Carol Danvers is the first superhero that Coulson and Nick Fury meet, and meeting her is what inspires them to set out and start assembling Avengers. Do you think it took them 10 years, the decade between this and Iron Man, to find that next hero? Or do you think there are heroes that Coulson and Fury found in the intervening years that we just don't know abut yet?

I like to think it was like S.H.I.E.L.D. Tinder, where we went on a bunch of dates but there was-- Which way do you swipe when you don't like somebody?


I think there was a lot of swiping left on some potential heroes. I think there's a funny short to be made of, like, the people we thought were maybe heroes and were such duds. "What's his power?" "He's just really gassy." "Yeah, I'll see you in the car. I'll be in the car."

I was going to ask, Do you think there could have been another lineup of Avengers in the '90s that we just haven't heard about? But now I would be scared to see what that lineup looks like.

I mean, I don't know. I always feel like Kevin [Feige] and Sam, Nick Fury, they have secrets. They know when other people may have come to visit and gone away. I certainly feel like they were very-- I don't think anyone could be too relieved when Tony Stark showed up, because he was such a hot mess, but I definitely think when they saw Thor, they were like, "OK, OK. Theoretically this could work."

"This is what we were imagining."

And he's so dreamy.

What would you like to see Coulson get up to next? You have more S.H.I.E.L.D. coming up, but where would you like to pop up next on the movie-side? We've seen so much of his life, but there are still so many opportunities now that we can go back in time, too.

I'm tired. [Laughs] I'm tired. I think it would be great if there was a kind of, like, Riverdale-esque teen S.H.I.E.L.D. and I could pick some young guy to go do all the stuff and I just would be visiting him from the future every once in a while.

You should get into one of those Ant-Man movies and go to Michelle Pfeiffer's beach house.

That's what I want! Anything involving a beach house is what I want.

Your daughter has seen you do this superhero thing a number of times on the big and small screen. If you haven't seen this one yet, I doubt she has. But what does she think of Captain Marvel and her dad being a part of this?

She goes to a really wonderful all-girls school where they, they're all about training girls to excel, academically and in leadership roles, and to think of themselves as leaders and not partners. So this is tailor-made for them and her. On that count, she's excited to see it because that's the world she's trying to build. I think she's probably psyched to do some Instagram pictures on the red carpet too, if I'm honest.

What does it mean to you, then, to be in Marvel's first film with a female lead?

I'm a huge fan of Brie's. I'm a huge fan of almost everyone in this. I mean, not "almost." Everyone in this. "There's one guy I don't really like." [Laughs] But on the one hand, I look at it as she's not just awesome because she's a woman. It's just one more amazing character that Marvel has introduced. I loved T'Challa. I loved Star-Lord. I loved Drax. I love all of 'em that they've done so far, but the fact is, it wasn't going to feel complete without T'Challa. And it wouldn't have felt complete to me without Captain Marvel.


'Captain Marvel' Review: An Avenger Origin Story Like No Other

'Captain Marvel': Everything We Learned on the Set of Brie Larson's Intergalactic Origin Story

'Agents of SHIELD': Clark Gregg on His 'Disturbing' New Character & What's to Come in Season 6 (Exclusive)