Starting with a small role in 2008′s “Iron Man,” Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson has become the connective tissue of the cinematic Marvel Universe.
After being tasked with keeping an eye on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the first two “Iron Man” films, he’ll join the cast of Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” in 2011, then move on to Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” in 2012, which will join Iron Man, Thor and Captain America in one film. “Captain America: The First Avenger” will be set in the European theater of World War II in the 1940s (and thus isn’t expected to feature Agent Coulson); “Thor” explores the alternate realm of the Norse Gods and its intersection with modern New Mexico; and Iron Man is a technologically advanced real-world environment. All of these worlds will collide in “The Avengers,” which is set to begin filming in March.
“I was trying to remember what there could be that was quite like this, because there are very few things you can’t find a precedent for, in life or in movies,” Gregg said in a recent phone interview promoting “Iron Man 2,” out Tuesday on DVD. “There’s just something about this that I don’t feel has been done before. … These are kind of pop culture, American hero legends. And what’s interesting about this is they really span a wide range of styles.”
Coulson is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which in the films stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. It’s stood for a couple of other things in the comics, but it’s generally been an espionage agency dealing with high-level threats. S.H.I.E.L.D. was likely at least in part inspired by the James Bond films of the early 1960s; Gregg said he was also inspired by 007.
“I’m a huge Bond fan; I’m a huge (Sean) Connery fan. I grew up, I remember very clearly the day my dad was like, ‘All right, listen, I think you’re old enough — well, I’m not sure I think you’re old enough, (but) I’m going to let you watch “Goldfinger” on TV,’” he said. “And just being like, ‘Whoa, this is the greatest thing I have ever seen.’”
Gregg also enjoyed the humorous takes on spydom.
“There were so many of these things when I was a kid,” he said. “There were the James Coburn ones, ‘In Like Flint,’ which were very funny and tongue-in-cheek and spoofy, and also there were the drunken, horny Dean Martin ones, ‘Matt Helm,’ and I loved ‘em all,” Gregg said.
His role as Coulson allows for both serious and humorous moments.
“It really is the funnest part of the gig, is to be able to be the deadpan guy with a lot of secrets, kind of masquerading as a generic suit,” Gregg said. “And then also to get to roll some punch lines along with Robert Downey (Jr.)”
Gregg, who also writes (“What Lies Beneath”) and directs (“Choke”), is working on a new project. After being thrilled to see Agent Coulson in comic book form, Gregg said his new project might first see the light of day as a graphic novel.
“The new thing that I’m writing, I’m actually interested in exploring the idea of doing it as a graphic novel before the film comes out,” Gregg said. “It’s called ‘Trust Me.’ It’s a dark, noir-ish comedy about an agent for child actors in Los Angeles.”
Gregg said he’s trying to determine if his raised profile from “Iron Man 2” will make it easier to get new writing and directing projects off the ground. And he’d like to see further development of Agent Coulson as a character, perhaps with a love interest or fight scene. But he’s enjoying the ride regardless.
“I would love to scrap with somebody at some point,” he said. “I think Coulson has probably got more game than we realize. But I’m just happy to be there.”
- By Matthew Price
From Friday’s The Oklahoman