Though offering little in the way of revelations about upcoming events in the Marvel Universe, Sunday's PaleyFest panel for ABC's comic-book drama "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was a great chance to see how the cast of the show interacts with fans. In a word: loving.
As soon as it ended, they were mobbed by audience members hoping to speak with them and get things signed, which they seemed more than willing to do. Actor and producer Felicia Day hosted the festivities, and the panel featured executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell as well as cast members Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons), Iain De Caestecker (Fitz), Chloe Bennet (Skye), Brett Dalton (Ward), Ming-Na Wen (May), Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson), and the head of Marvel TV, Jeph Loeb.
Will "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." lead into the new Captain America movie?
Though Loeb wouldn't let anything slip about how "Agents" would tie in to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," he all but explicitly stated that it would tie in. "Check us out when we come back on April the 1st. Then go see ['The Winter Soldier'] on the 4th. And then on..." He paused to let the crowd shout, "April 8th!" "Thank God someone got it right," he said, reminding the crowd of the episode that will presumably deal with repercussions from the film. Loeb then brought the date up repeatedly afterward to correct himself.
If you'd like it stated a little more openly, Loeb offered, "It would certainly not surprise anyone if things that happened on that movie that you were mentioning ['Winter Soldier'] were to suddenly happen in the show that we're talking about ['Agents']. How clear was that?"
On how the show had changed since the first meeting
The first sit-down with executive producers Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen took about an hour and a half, and when they were done, Coulson's six-person team was pretty well mapped out, apart from some small changes. For example, said Tancharoen, "Agent May was Agent Rice, and then we cast Ming-Na Wen and I was like, 'Maybe not so much with the Agent Rice anymore.'"
And she said, "As far as Fitz/Simmons go, they were sort of based on Casey Affleck and Scott Caan in 'Ocean's Eleven.'" They were thinking bromance, but then "Miss Henstridge came in and stole it away."
How far ahead has the show been planned out?
"We know where we'd like Season 2 to end, and we know where we'd like Season 3 to end, but that's ambitious,” said Bell, to raucous applause. He then continued on a bit more ominously, "And we know which characters will still be alive, because this is, in fact, a Joss Whedon joint."
Day, of course, knows better than anyone else on stage about that; her character in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" also met an untimely demise. ("Dr. Horrible," like "Agents," was created and co-written by Joss, Jed, and Maurissa.)
So is it May/Ward or Skye/Ward?
The recent revelation that Agent Ward has the hots for someone on the Bus who's not Agent May has set fans abuzz. But the cast is unimpressed. "We ship Skimmons!" crowed Bennet after high-fiving Henstridge, coining a name for a possible Skye-and-Simmons pairing. Later, Day quipped, "That's the cable version of it."
The difference between movie Coulson and TV Coulson
"The real dilemma," said Gregg, "has been Coulson starting to feel both physically the way that a lot of trauma survivors do, and experientially in the world around him, that he doesn't feel the same." Feeling lost and in the dark about his situation isn't hard to play, he added, because the writers don't tell him anything, so he knows as much as Coulson.
But he also has faith. When Joss pitched the pilot to him, he told Gregg about Tahiti and the massage therapist and that he recovered from his injuries. "And then he walks away and goes, 'He can never know the truth.' And I was in. Knowing Joss, being a fan of Joss, I thought, 'Wow, that's amazing.'"
How life imitates art
Gregg said, "Our life is so much like the show that one of our writers," and he pointed to Bell, “"crashed on his bicycle Friday, got a bunch of staples in his head, and now they call him Jefflok," a nod to the soon-to-be-introduced comic-book cyborg Deathlok.
Number of times Clark Gregg hopped offstage to hug members of the audience: 2.
How art imitates life
Marvel likes to keep the actors as in the dark as the audience. "Marvel is S.H.I.E.L.D.," said Wen. "We're living this life in our fantasy pretend world and in the real world, because they know stuff that we try to get out of them and they won't tell us until we get the next script."
But like the audience, the cast also speculates on those secrets — even if, sometimes, it's just wishful thinking. "I want Skye to be the lovechild of May and Thor. And they have to flash back to those scenes," said Wen to a loudly approving crowd. "I was going to say Coulson and Sif," countered Gregg.
Not that they're against a little secrecy, said Wen. "The secrets are constantly a major surprise for me, and I'm sure for all of us, because we call each other, we text each other: 'Did you just read... ?!' We freak out, and it's kind of nice because we're all such geeks at heart that if we're reacting this way to the script, we just feel our audience is going to react this way as well, and that excites us.”
How is S.H.I.E.L.D. a secret organization if they have their logo all over everything?
This is a common complaint among the sort of people with too much time to think about this sort of thing, and Gregg answered this way: "The organization is not a secret. What we do is." Bell jumped in to add, "I will say that there's an espresso machine on the plane that has a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on it." "And a trash can!" shouted someone else. Gregg capped it with, "And Fitz can make you a latte where the foam is a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo."
What other Marvel stories would they like woven into "Agents"?
"You know what I want," said Wen, referring to her May/Thor shipping. "Just a whole flashback season?" offered Bell. Gregg suggested the equally absurd idea of Rocket Raccoon; it would probably take the entire season just to animate a few minutes of that interaction. "Or Scarlet Witch. I'm not picky."
If they could only take one thing with them on a desert island, what would it be?
Bennet: "I'd bring Brett Dalton's abs. Not him; just his abs. Then I could wash my clothes on them!" Henstridge would bring tea bags, and Wen a bottle of scotch.
Watch a scene from "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." right here:
Who would the cast like to play or be in a scene with from the movies?
"Coulson. I would go with Coulson," said Gregg immediately. Henstridge would like to do a scene with Loki: "Just sit him down, have a cup of tea, chat about his dad issues." De Caestecker said, "Probably the Hulk, because I've always been, growing up, the small guy of the group. The idea to be suddenly really big appeals to me."
And Bennet, a bit more salaciously, went with "Captain America, right? Chris Evans and... both Chrises would be nice. And Scarlett. And Loki. I would just like to watch that happen, too. Not like that, perverts! But maybe."
On the difficulty of fight choreography
The tight schedule (they shoot each episode in eight days) is especially punishing when filming fights, which have to be learned and executed quickly and safely. But, says Tancharoen, they knew that Dalton in particular could do it. "We knew that he would adapt to fight choreography because one of his skills on his résumé was clown school."
Plans for any other kinds of choreography?
Though it's not really a secret, not everybody is aware that Chloe Bennet's actual name is Chloe Wang, and that she used to be a Chinese pop star.
Less well-known is that Tancharoen was also once part of a girl group in the '90s called Pretty in Pink.
And of course, the Whedons and Tancharoen created "Dr. Horrible," which is a musical. So while the idea of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents singing and dancing may seem outlandish now, don't discount the idea completely.
Plans to cross over "Agents" into any of the Netflix series?
The four original "Defenders" series announced for Netflix last year aren't close enough to completion to answer the question, but Loeb is optimistic. "It's all one universe, so we'll see what happens. Anything that makes the fans happy, I'm in favor of."
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.