On Monday, Clark Gregg -- who is a busy man these days promoting "The Avengers" -- stopped by the Huffington Post offices to discuss, well, a lot of things. Like his lunch with George Lucas at Hooters -- something that has now seared the image of George Lucas at Hooters forever in my mind.
Right now, however, Gregg is (mostly) all about "The Avengers" -- which might as well be a metaphor for life because everything seems to be about "The Avengers" these days.
In "The Avengers," Gregg reprises his role as the now-quite-popular Agent Coulson -- a S.H.I.E.L.D. representative that we first met as far back as "Iron Man." Here, Gregg discusses why Coulson is just so darn beloved and the burst of fame that Coulson has created for Gregg himself -- an actor, writer and director who has been working for well over 20 years (which includes writing the blockbuster movie "What Lies Beneath"). Also, Gregg explains why he hates the Los Angeles Lakers so much.
Coulson's first name gets a lot of attention this time around.
My memory is shot, but I have a feeling if you go back and watch "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2," they definitely say, "Phil Coulson." But it seems to have escaped Tony Stark's narcissistic attention up until this point.
Are you surprised how popular Coulson has become? I think it has a lot do do with the fact that people like you as an actor.
You know, I'm all too willing to take credit for it [laughs]. But, honestly, I don't think it's really true. It was a couple of factors. One was the way Marvel was building this new kind of machine. I remember that I was in London and we had just come from this insane premiere and having people freaking out, "Coulson! Coulson! Clark!" And I had to turn around and make sure somebody wasn't standing behind me with a sign that said who I was -- because they know now -- and it wasn't there.
It really could have been a throwaway role.
I was talking to Kevin Feige from Marvel and I just said, "Come on now, I'm pretty sure when I got that first script it was just a guy who came in and gave Stark some papers." And he said, "No, you're right. It was." The writers came in and said, "Can this be the guy who says, 'Strategic Homeland et cetera ... S.H.I.E.L.D.'?" And we realized, Of course this how we're going to set up the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D.! And, even then, I don't think they realized they were going to use me to do it.
You've been around a while. I mean, you wrote "What Lies Beneath." But now, with the Marvel movies, are you getting recognized on the street?
A little bit, yeah. I mean, certainly, I was on a sitcom for a while ["The New Adventures of Old Christine"] that played on a lot of airplanes. There were certainly divorced women who recognized me. This is a very different, younger crew. Coulson's people are young. The quadrants have become bigger in the terms of the way Marvel has managed to make these land for a lot of people -- people who grew up with the comics and people who grew up with these movies. It works, what they did. I mean, the short answer is, "Yes, absolutely." Coulson has people. Everywhere.
As an actor, it had to be nice that you got to create a character. It's not like, "OK, you're Thor and here is what Thor does."
Yeah, you're right. But definitely some of the fanboys and fangirls were a little bit like, "Wait, wait wait..."
"This guy is not from the comics." They didn't have the same type of ownership and I thought that was going to spell my doom kind of quickly after "Iron Man." I mean, there are so many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents from the comics -- Agent Sitwell! -- but there was also a counter-wave of, "This guy is our guy." It was always there, but Joss Whedon picked up on it and made it part of Coulson and "The Avengers" -- like, "Oh, he's a fanboy." He's a little bit of a badass, but he grew up reading the "Captain America" comics. For all of his snarkiness toward Tony Stark and his blasé attitude when a super-alien shows up, he buys the whole hero mythos.
You're almost in all of these movies up to this point. Is there any part of you who wishes George Lucas could digitally insert you into "The Incredible Hulk"?
No. I mean, "The Incredible Hulk" filmed around the same as "Iron Man." Though, "Captain America" is the one. It took place in World War II, but then they had a scene in the present and I think I was working somewhere else for Marvel that day. I do, honestly, hope someday -- hopefully not after I'm gone -- they find a way to superimpose some extra Coulson footage into that scene.
Is the hype fun? I could see it being fun at times, not at other times. When you do publicity for the upcoming "The To-Do List" ...
Originally entitled "The Hand Job." A title I'm still pushing for.
OK, that's a much better title. But is it weird when the hype goes away? Will you be like, "Where are all the screaming fans?"
Oh yeah, no. I deal with stark juxtapositions. I go from the gigantic trailer and the kind of super-cast of superstars to, you know, a trailer the size of a Volkswagen, doing some indie film that a friend of mine is shooting on one of these new cameras. And, you know, for the most part, that's where people have given me characters that did more than kind of come through and give the president some instructions. And I love those movies. And I love the chance that they take. And I love Joss Whedon because when I knew that he was going to bring all of these characters into "The Avengers," I thought, Well, there's definitely a case that I'll be lucky if I come by and bring the Hulk a protein shake, or something. When I found out that he really made Agent Coulson a main character in the thing -- and gave me stuff to push and do -- I was grateful.
I thought you were from Boston.
I lived there for four months. That's where I was born -- I love Boston -- but we moved around all of the time. I lived in seven cities by the time I was 17. High school and most of junior high were in Chapel Hill, NC, because my dad taught at Duke, but we lived in Chapel Hill -- now there's a confusing basketball scenario right there. I had a lot of family in New York and I rooted for the Knicks. And rooted for the Knicks when I moved to New York when I was 19, for a long time. Then when I moved to L.A., ten or eleven years ago, I love basketball and I can't root for the Lakers.
A lot of people move to L.A. and adopt the Clippers. They can't get themselves to root for the Lakers.
And the Clippers have always been a fun team and, until lately, you could really afford really good seats. And if you grew up watching the Lakers beat your teams, you could never root for the Lakers. Ever. So I rooted for the Clippers, which meant for the last eight or nine years, between the Knicks and the Clippers, it's just been ... pain. Now, this year, somehow they're both in the playoffs. It's very confusing. And then they played each other at the end of the season! And the Knicks beat the Clippers, making them lose the home field advantage to the Grizzlies. [Laughs] We can use this for our side spot with ESPN Magazine.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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