Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Clark Gregg explains his 'ruthless' new character Sarge
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the season 6 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!
Phil Coulson is dead. Long live Sarge?
In the season 6 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., viewers were introduced to Clark Gregg’s mysterious new character, who made his grand entrance in a huge truck that barreled into our world via a breach in space and time that destroyed an entire museum.
Yes, Sarge looks exactly like our dearly departed Coulson, except with more stubble and a buzz cut, but the similarities appear to end there. Not only does Sarge have a cold, murderous vibe to him that Coulson didn’t, but he also doesn’t know what S.H.I.E.L.D. is and shot one of the agents before driving off with the rest of his team, who spent the episode causing all kinds of trouble Coulson wouldn’t approve of. (Read our full episode recap and postmortem with the showrunners.)
Although we know this isn’t Coulson, the premiere doesn’t tell us who Sarge is, what he wants, or where he came from. Luckily, EW visited the set of the ABC drama in September and spoke to Gregg and costar Ming-Na Wen (who plays Coulson’s love Melinda May) about Sarge’s arrival, May’s reaction to Coulson’s doppelgänger, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you’re back after dying in the finale…
MING-NA WEN: Again…
CLARK GREGG: It was enough that I came back after dying the first time. Apparently, I’m hard to kill.
Are you used to it by now?
GREGG: I’m the Marvel cockroach.
WEN: No, no, you’re the cat. You have nine lives.
GREGG: Oh, I like that better.
So how are you back, and is Coulson back?
GREGG: Well, Coulson is not back, as far as we can tell. And I have to qualify this by saying we’re shooting episode 5 right now, and they’re very comfortable that there [are] still a lot questions, so we only know a little bit. We’re putting this mystery together ourselves. But the story seems to be that Phil Coulson himself expired magnificently in Tahiti.
WEN: We’re not being coy here. They’re really not telling us anything.
GREGG: No, but I’m led to believe that the character I spent 10 years playing, that guy died.
WEN: And I refuse to believe it. May believes it.
GREGG: And then very quickly in the intro of season 6, some mysterious humanoid creatures start showing up from God knows where. And one of them is a dead ringer for Phil Coulson. But other than these spectacular features, that seems to be where the similarity ends. He seems to be part of a very ruthless non-Earth-based beings, who are tearing sh— up.
How does he differ from Coulson?
GREGG: That’s part of the mystery, but he seems to be on a mission. It’s not clear what’s involved, but they’re hunting something, and they don’t care who or what they have to kill to find whatever they’re hunting. He’s the anti-Coulson in that way. Phil Coulson was never comfortable much with collateral [damage]. This guy, as the kids say, he has no sh—s to give.
As you mentioned, you played Coulson for 10 years. Was it weird saying goodbye to him?
GREGG: It’s weird to say goodbye to him every time. So much of our experience on this show is art and life fusing. I’ve been playing this guy, and in different iterations, this somewhat peripheral player in the early phase of the Marvel movies, just geeking out at who he was getting to interact with, which was very much my experience as well on those films. Then he was dead, and that was very sad. And then all of a sudden he was back with a new team of strangers under tremendous pressure, which is very much was our experience of season 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And then we came to a moment when we didn’t know if the show was going to… we had no news of a pickup. So we shot the finale of season 5, titled “The End,” as if that was the end of the show. And his tab had come due in terms of how he’d been brought back from Tahiti, and he had burned through whatever life-rejuvenating serum had saved him by becoming the Ghost Rider to save his friends at the end of season 4, and it looked fatal.
- The season 5 finale functioned as both a season and series finale. Did you guys feel a sense of closure on the story up to that point?
- WEN: Well, as Clark says, you work on a character for this many years and you build this incredible family, and you fall in love with your character. So there was a sense of, “Okay, if this is truly the series finale…” It’s emotional, it’s sad, and you’re saying goodbye, not to just these fictional characters, but real people that you’ve enjoyed working endless hours with. And so, I don’t know if it was a closure, because we didn’t know…
- GREGG: It was weird when we got the pickup [for season 6].
- WEN: We live very gypsy lives, and we get used to it, but it’s never easy. So there wasn’t a true sense of closure because there was still that lingering, well, possibility that we would go into a season 6.
- GREGG: I would say, though, that Coulson and May run a close second to Fitz [Iain de Caestecker] and Simmons [Elizabeth Henstridge] in terms of how many obstacles had been thrown between them and how much dancing they had been doing around what’s the right moment to take a friendship to a different place? And there was something really nice about finally snapping through those walls and having it become a full-blown romance even it was —
- WEN: Very quick, on the beach scene.
Ming-Na, how is May handling Coulson’s doppelgänger?
WEN: When she sees this face —
GREGG: Girl, I can’t even imagine [Laughs]
WEN: [Laughs] — and she’s already said goodbye to the love of her life and had this wonderful last moment in Tahiti (that’s what I’m imagining and the writers keep telling us), she’s pissed. Absolutely pissed. Like, “I’ve gone through the grieving! It’s a year later! What the f—? You show up to tear up my heart again? No way, I’m going to kill it.” I want to beat it up! “No LMDs! No aliens! No imposters!” She doesn’t believe that this is happening.
GREGG: It’s definitely interfering with your grieving process.
WEN: Absolutely. It’s been fun because she gets to be a little bit more emotional.
With each season, the show has leveled up: from Inhumans, to magic and LMDs in season 4, to space in season 5. What’s the next frontier for the show this season?
GREGG: Every time I think I know when I’m interviewed during episode 5 or 7 or whatever we’re doing it for, the writers haven’t told me what the last [will be]. So I don’t even know what the second half of this is. What I dig about what we’re doing so far is other than Sarge and his team of people wreaking havoc for a reason we don’t know yet, it’s not like, “Oh, it’s Inhumans. Oh, it’s the Kree. Oh, it’s space.” It’s different. It’s hard to say. They’re after something more subtle in the sci-fi realm.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) assembles a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle strange new cases.