Hanging Up the S.H.I.E.L.D.: The 'Agents of SHIELD' Cast Reflect on 7 Seasons of Adventures (Exclusive)
By Meredith B. Kile
After seven seasons of adventures across the Marvel Comics canon, theAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are saying goodbye on Wednesday -- with an epic battle against an advanced alien race, their omnipresent, time-bending Predictor and a few trenchcoat-clad Inhumans hell-bent on destroying S.H.I.E.L.D. and bringing anarchy to a shattered Earth.
It's a series finale showdown that's been a long time coming -- the culmination of seven seasons and 136 episodes, more screen time than any other Marvel team has spent together. From its premiere in 2013, S.H.I.E.L.D. has staked its claim, not just as Marvel Television's flagship show, but as a unique corner of the comic universe with loyal fans who have followed them to space, throughout time, into the Framework and so much more.
Created by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon and Joss Whedon, the series has explored a variety of comic storylines with the MCU's signature wit and epic action sequences, while also diving deeper into character dynamics and interpersonal bonds than any movie or limited series could hope to. These Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aren't just a team of professionals constantly striving to save the world -- they're also a family.
ET had the opportunity to speak with each cast member over the course of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final season and hear their thoughts on their characters, storylines and the emotions of saying goodbye after seven epic years. Read on to hear more from each member of the team.
Clark Gregg - Agent Phil Coulson
Agent Phil Coulson was most Marvel fans' entry point into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. After his introduction in Iron Man and Iron Man 2 and shocking death at the hands of Loki in the 2012 Avengers film, the fan-favorite character found new life -- literally, and several times over -- on the ABC series. Initially leading a team to investigate unusual cases that popped up on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s radar, Coulson became the director of the organization, tasked with rebuilding from the ground up following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and led the team through battles against HYDRA and Hive, the Inhumans' uprising, the Framework and more, returning time and time again with a motivational speech at the ready. While the final season saw Coulson struggling with his mortality -- or lack thereof -- as a Chronicom Life-Model Decoy, he's been there for his team until the very end.
"We had a hell of a ride. I think we never knew [what it would be]," Gregg told ET of the show's seven-season run. "We kind of got thrown into, 'Oh, we're the Marvel show on network'... I think it was really important to things to come."
"Our writers kept taking more and more chances and using whatever pieces of the Marvel Universe we got to play with, whether it was Ghost Rider or LMDs or Inhumans, and really making it our own. I feel like the show evolved in some really interesting directions. There's stuff in every season that I'm really, really proud of."
While the actor says he's had a "great run" as Coulson, the final season's looming meta joke rings true: It may not be that easy to say goodbye to a character who has thwarted death so many times already. A younger version appeared in 2019's Captain Marvel, and whether past, present or future, human or less so, it's difficult to imagine not seeing the iconic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent onscreen again.
"The connection that this character has with people and fans, that he's kind of their avatar in the Marvel Universe, and one [who] is a regular person, it's really meaningful to me," Gregg explained.
"It's a deep honor when I'm in other places in the country, or the world, and people come up -- especially people in uniform, who kind of feel like they are the unappreciated heroes who really do work just for the sake of the work and the principle behind it... It would be really hard to say no to anything that kept that relationship alive."
Ming-Na Wen - Agent Melinda May
Bolstering the team’s fight and flight responses, Melinda May is an ace pilot with combat skills to rival almost any mortal in the MCU — but truly, she could take you out with little more than a withering glare. After a traumatic mission caused her to step away from S.H.I.E.L.D. years ago, it was Coulson who brought her back into the fold, where she quickly became much more than his right-hand agent, braving battles against HYDRA, the Framework and death itself to protect the team and their mission. She’s a combat instructor, reluctant maternal figure and, in the final season, unexpected emotional conduit. Just don't call her "The Cavalry."
The real-world opposite of her usually stalwart character, Wen joked with ET of the show's final season, "I tell you, every year it gets more difficult because I get older and these characters don't. These characters are pretty invincible.”
The actress admitted that, while some of May’s impressive stunts could be “very rigorous and very hard work,” the role itself was an empowering experience. “It definitely made me realize that I was more capable than I thought I could be.”
"For me, it was just an incredible joy to be challenged that way and to make friends and have had a chance to be in the Marvel world. I don't think any of us will ever experience this kind of luxury to play such bada** characters and to be able to try so many different things. Every single year, we had other things that were more than just our characters that we had to play, and it was a lot of fun."
Chloe Bennet - Agent Daisy Johnson
Perhaps the agent who's gone through the most dramatic evolution from the series' start — including a full name change — Daisy transformed not only from human to Inhuman, but from a conspiracy-minded hacker out to expose S.H.I.E.L.D. to the dangerous and powerful "Quake," finally settling somewhere in the middle: a bonafide superhero with control of her powers, a found family of fellow agents and a noble sense of purpose.
"She's really had quite the journey,” Bennet said of her character, noting that one of her favorite parts of the final season was bringing some of the early “lightness” back to the role. “She’s been through so much, whether it was trying to find her parents, getting powers, not wanting them, dealing with them, feeling guilty about it, then dealing with Coulson dying… all these things that she's dealt with. And what I wanted to bring to her in the final season was a sense of groundedness in who she was, in kind of accepting all versions of her that we've kind of seen and been through.”
The relationship between Daisy and Coulson became one of the show’s most pivotal bonds throughout the seven-season run, and Bennet said her real-life dynamic with Gregg was one of the "most rewarding" parts of the series for her as an actress.
"There's so much growth and there's so much openness," she explained. "I don't think most people get the privilege of having such a dynamic relationship that you can't quite put into any sort of box. And it's only something that you would get in an environment like S.H.I.E.L.D."
The show may be ending, but there's plenty more on the horizon in the Marvel Universe, and Bennet said she would “definitely be interested” in reprising her character in a future project. “I just love her,” she said of Daisy. “She's a very comfortable place for me. And I'll never say never.”
“It's such an incredible world to be a part of, and it's so magical... I grew up with six brothers. I never wanted to be a princess. I always wanted to be a superhero. So it was fun to have that come true.”
Henry Simmons - Director Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie
A softie with a shotgun axe, Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie initially joined the S.H.I.E.L.D. team as an infiltrator, spying on Coulson's crew for another commanding officer. When the teams joined ranks to fight together against HYDRA, Mack became an integral part of the group and eventually returned to stay on for good. An ace mechanic with an unshakable sense of justice -- which has brought him back into the fold time and time again despite personal tragedy and organizational disagreements -- Mack rightfully inherited the mantle of director following Coulson's death and has proven to be an honorable leader, steadfast teammate and irreplaceable member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. family.
Simmons admitted to ET that playing Mack has been "my favorite character of anything I've ever done," thanks in part to the multitude of storylines the characters got to embody over the years -- flexing muscles both physical and emotional.
"This one is different, because it has allowed me to play levity, drama, action, whatever it may be. Whatever it is, they've put it in my lap and they've allowed me to do it," he said. "Honestly, this has been the best experience that I've had on anything I've done."
Another blessing from the show, Simmons noted, was getting the chance to interact with the "strong, vocal, active" Marvel fan base.
"Through it all, they've always supported us. I can't say it enough, how grateful I am for all the fans, for the support that they've given us through the years. Because without them we'd be nothing."
Elizabeth Henstridge - Agent Jemma Simmons
One half of the S.H.I.E.L.D. research team known affectionately as "Fitzsimmons," Jemma Simmons was introduced in the show's first season as a brilliant biochemist who joined the organization after earning two PhDs by age 17. However, the character was instantly so much more than mere tech support. Simmons braved her own adventures and faced some of the most heartbreaking battles -- in particular, the near-constant forces that tried to tear her and Fitz apart -- while always watching out for her team, both empirically and emotionally.
"As an actor, I've just grown so much," Henstridge said, reflecting on the series' run. "I've done things that were in my wildest dreams of being able to do in a career -- never mind just on one job. In the end it was one audition, three scenes, and it's turned into six years of just total joy."
Henstridge also made her directorial debut in the final season, helming the incredibly complex "As I Have Always Been," a Groundhog Day–style time loop episode with moving parts that included the death of a pivotal character and the advancement of the increasingly complicated time-jumping throughline.
While certainly a daunting undertaking, the actress said the S.H.I.E.L.D. creative team was incredibly supportive of her going behind the scenes and "soaking up every single bit that goes into making a TV show… To get to experience all the different parts of that was just truly life changing."
Admitting that wrapping filming on the final season felt like "life, as I knew it, would never be the same," Henstridge said she's taken heart in the knowledge that the relationships she formed on S.H.I.E.L.D. will last for life.
"It's been the most incredible journey, and it's one that carries on," she noted. "We're still going to have these big moments in our lives and we'll still be there for those moments. And it's lovely to reflect now on that, having had almost a year since finishing filming, that we're still in each other's lives all the time. It's not the same, but it's still really special."
"I say this without any exaggeration: I enjoyed every single second. And I just feel so lucky to have gotten to do that and to be able to have experienced so much.”
Iain De Caestecker - Agent Leopold Fitz
Recruited alongside his friend, rival classmate and future wife, Simmons, Leo Fitz joined S.H.I.E.L.D. as a brilliant young engineer and quickly proved invaluable to the team, having masterminded many of the team's world-saving solutions. However, throughout the seasons, he's also suffered some of the most traumatic consequences -- from brain damage after sacrificing himself for Simmons when the pair were trapped at the bottom of the ocean, to his overwhelming guilt at his actions in the Framework, to being isolated and frozen in space for decades in order to save the team at the perfect moment.
The final season has seen Fitz MIA once again, leading up to the series finale, though as Henstridge explained, "as Simmons, I spent all season searching for him, [so it was like] he was in every scene with me."
Reflecting on the series' run, De Caestecker told ET, "When you're in the middle of it, you maybe don't appreciate how much you had a great situation, and how much you're enjoying it. Maybe you do, I don't know, but when you're looking back, you feel a bit more sentimental, I suppose."
"In that way I think the thing that I'll take with me are so many memories -- which is cool, if you've also got them on film, you can go back and watch -- and also really just some really close friends that I'll be friends with forever, I think. And that's more than you could really ask for."
Natalia Cordova-Buckley - Agent Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez
Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez was recruited as part of the Secret Warriors after gaining super speed powers during the Inhuman Outbreak and using them to fight corruption in her native Colombia. First teaming up with Quake on vigilante missions, Yo-Yo stayed with the team throughout their battles against the LMDs, the Watchdogs and the Framework -- where her relationship with Mack helped convince him to leave before they were permanently deleted -- and became an invaluable agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In later seasons, Mack and Yo-Yo found a comfortable dynamic as partners and teammates -- their devotion to each other mirroring their commitment to the cause -- and supported each other through major traumas and near-death experiences, always coming out stronger on the other side.
"It's rare to get to play characters with bigger stakes all the time," Cordova-Buckley told ET of embodying her onscreen superhero. "These kinds of storylines where you fight monsters, then you travel time and you go to other galaxies and meet other beings, to really be able to, as an actor, experience those heightened expectations in storylines is truly a gift. So I take that with immense gratitude."
The actress explained that, throughout the seasons, she learned a lot from her character, in particular how Yo-Yo sees her super speed as a gift she's been given to use in service of others.
"She gets these powers and the first reaction she has to it is -- she's religious, so she says, these were God-sent, meaning, these are of a bigger force and I can only use them for good. They are not of me, they are not mine," she noted. "They are tools that I've been given to put in the service of others."
"That really taught me a lot about fame and platform. I saw her superpower in terms of the superhero and the character that we as public personas can use with a famous platform. That's given to us. We don't buy it. We don't work for it. It's given to us if people decide to follow us, and that's what being a leader is. If people decide to follow you and empower you, then you don't really own that power. You can only put it in the service of others, and I believe fame and having a platform is only worthy of being had by an individual if it's used in the service of the rest of us and for the greater good. And that was something that Yo-Yo taught me."
As for the show as a whole, Cordova-Buckley is signing off with immense appreciation for her onscreen team and work family, as well as the powers that be that helped her become Marvel's first live-action Latina superhero.
“I'm taking incredible friendships, incredible experiences," she said, praising the entire Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. crew from the top down for their professionalism. "But mainly just enormous gratitude to the people that gave me this opportunity. That's the biggest thing I will carry in my heart."
Jeff Ward - Agent Deke Shaw
The S.H.I.E.L.D. team first encountered Deke Shaw in 2091, where he was a rogue scavenger in the enslaved Lighthouse. While he initially sold them out to the Kree overlords, Deke soon realized that the group of agents were the family he had been searching for his whole life -- quite literally, he is Fitzsimmons' grandson -- and after a stint on his own, rejoined them for their final battles against Izel and the Chronicoms, proving himself to be a major asset in both tech knowledge and moral support.
Ward told ET that the final season was a particular joy for him, not only as an actor, but as a lover of time-travel -- something he inherited from his real-life family.
"So much of the stuff that I love has come from my dad, and getting to talk to him after that first episode, he was so excited. And my grandfather is 95 and he loves Star Trek and time travel stuff also," he shared. "It was such an amazing thing to get to talk to him about what he was seeing in 1931 in New York."
"It's a genuine childhood dream come true to be able to be part of a time travel story on this scale and in a Marvel thing, no less," Ward added. "With a character that has been, for better or worse, tailored to a lot of the stuff that the writers wanted to do for me, the whole experience has been a dream come true."
Saying goodbye to the show and a professional family he holds such a "great, deep affection" for was difficult, Ward admitted, but he said he's been enjoying looking back with a new appreciation as the final season airs.
"As artists and creators and people, it does start to mirror how much this team has been through," he said, paralleling the S.H.I.E.L.D. teams' journeys on and off screen. "We have not had to fight a supernatural flaming skull or the Matrix or blue future Lighthouse men. We haven't had to face any of that in our real lives, but we were all together, up at 4:30 in the morning, every day for 12, 14 hour days."
"It is a sense of going into battle together... I don't want to be misconstrued, it's the greatest kind of battle there is, and we are some of the luckiest people alive to be able to pay our bills doing what we get to do, but it's long and it's tiring and it can be difficult. And it just feels like emerging from the trenches with those people. Now that the show is on, looking back and talking to those people, those relationships, that is amazing."
Enver Gjokaj - Agent Daniel Sousa
A new addition to the team in the final season, Agent Carter transplant Daniel Sousa already had plenty of experience with S.H.I.E.L.D.-caliber hijinks from his time working alongside Peggy Carter, but got a crash course in space, time travel and the galactic threats of the future when the agents helped him fake his death and brought him along for the ride after their stop in the 1950s. While he's struggled to keep up with the technology and anachronisms, Sousa is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent through and through, and has fit in well with the team -- developing a particular bond with Daisy that has shipper hearts aflutter in the final episodes.
"It's been a gift," Gjokaj told ET of reprising his character in the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. "It's been an absolute and unexpected surprise and gift for me. You so rarely get to play these characters again, and I didn't see it coming."
The role picked up a few years after Agent Carter'stwo-season run, meaning Gjokaj got a chance to evolve his character a bit. "One of the really cool things about joining the cast was Jed and Maurissa made it clear that they didn't want to just reprise Sousa from the moment that he left," he noted. "They wanted to go ahead and see that some time had passed, and he had continued to advance in the ranks and with his skills. They wanted to see more of a super agent."
For the actor, joining a new show in familiar shoes ended up being "the best of both worlds."
"I got to continue that character in the way that his trajectory would have gone on if Agent Carter had gone on. And then also, when I collected Marvels when I was a kid, I loved the 'What If…?' comics... This felt like such an amazing 'what if,' like what if Daniel Sousa joined the cast? I thought it was just a blast."
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s two-part finale airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. PT/ET on ABC.