Clark Gregg talks returning to Marvel in What If...? — and Phil Coulson's new crush on Thor
"It's very true to life in that the guy who plays Agent Coulson has certainly spent his fair amount of time marveling at [Chris] Hemsworth in all his glory," Gregg tells EW.
Agent Phil Coulson is back and reporting for duty in Marvel's What If...? And after playing the loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-director-turned-Life-Model-Decoy (with a short stint as Ghost Rider) on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for seven seasons, Clark Gregg is more excited than ever to return to the MCU as Coulson again in Disney+'s animated series.
Gregg voices a new version of Coulson in this Wednesday's episode as another alternate version of events from the MCU films unfolds, this time bringing Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Earth a lot sooner than when he arrived in The Avengers. "This particular episode takes some really big swings and has big changes to what happens with the Avengers Initiative," Gregg teases. "Because the fans are so flexible or limber from all the multiverse stuff that they've been wrestling with for a couple years, I think you'll really get a kick out of it."
Below, EW got Gregg to dive deep on what fans can expect from Coulson's return in What If...?, his character's new crush on Thor (Chris Hemsworth)... and those recent rumors that Coulson could return again in the upcoming Disney+ series Secret Invasion. Plus, check out an exclusive first look at this week's episode in the video above now.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been a while since we've seen Coulson on our TV screens.
CLARK GREGG: [Laughs] It has!
When did you find out you were getting to bring him back for What If...?
It was before COVID, kind of late fall. They called and gave me the script, and I went, "Oh, wow. Okay, this is going to be really cool." [Laughs] I had a blast doing it, and since then, there's been an awful lot of chatter about what's canon and what's real and what's the MCU and what's not. It's really weird because there's so much multiverse, and actually, we did multiverse stuff on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I'm mostly confused, but I have a feeling people are really going to like this episode.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was definitely ahead of the curve when it came to bringing the multiverse to the MCU.
You said it; I didn't!
What was your reaction when you learned that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't be the end for Coulson?
It's not just a platitude — honestly, I felt pretty grateful at the end of The Avengers, even though it didn't turn out so well for my guy. And then the calls just kept on coming: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then another season, another season... seven seasons. And then Captain Marvel and then What If...? and oh my gosh — I don't know how much I'm allowed to say but to enjoy familiar faces, it's nice to see them. Things didn't work out so well for some of them in this particular universe. So I'm really grateful for what we've had — who's we? Me and my character. Oh my gosh, I've lost it. It's finally happened. [Laughs] I snapped. Anytime they call, and they've come up with some other way for him to be back involved, I'm thrilled. And I have to say, having kind of been first commandos through the door trying to bring this world to something like television, it's really a thrill to watch Loki and WandaVision and Falcon and Winter Soldier, just to see old friends and people I've worked with for years doing these beautiful, expanded universes on TV.
It was also nice seeing little flashes of Coulson in an episode of Loki, even though it was just showing old footage from The Avengers.
Oh yeah, people were like, "I saw you on Loki!" And I was like, "I don't remember doing that." But I think so; I'm glad you think so. I always think people are going to be like, "This guy again?" Although this is a slightly different animated version where I think they were very generous.
Tell me more about this animated version of Coulson. How is he different from what fans may be expecting?
I found him to be pretty darn true to the Coulson I know, just in a very alternate scenario.
Although it seems like this version of Coulson loves to fangirl over Thor's "gorgeous" appearance.
Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, look, it's very true to life in that the guy who plays Agent Coulson has certainly spent his fair amount of time marveling at Hemsworth in all his glory. [Laughs] So apparently, there is no Chris that I don't have a huge crush on.
How much fun were you having in the recording booth saying some of those lines?
The most. [Laughs] Earlier days, there was a little more like, "Hey, just riff a little." And I remember when I first was interrogating Thor, I think they finally told me to stop. There was definitely some improv I was doing that was, "Who are you? Where are you from, you beautiful WWF wrestler Viking god?" It's just hard not to. That's also always been one of the funnest things about Coulson is that he might be having the most fun of anybody — unless he's being shanked by the god of mischief.
What was it like bringing Coulson back in animation after playing him in live-action for so long?
It is different now when I see it. At the time, it was very much like when I do post-production audio, like when a line got chewed up by the wind. I wasn't looking at anything yet. I remember having a lot of fun, but I don't think I was looking at anything. Maybe a few frames here and there. I was excited by the whole thing.
What did you think when you finally got to see Coulson in animation?
The minute I saw stuff from What If...? and this one in particular, I was really blown away by the animation and how great it all looks. I liked comic books a lot when I was a kid, so every time I see a version of me in anything like comic book form, never mind a full-on cartoon (although this is quite a bit more evolved than cartoon), the 10-year-old me just freaks out.
What did you get to do with Coulson in What If...? that you never got to do with him before?
Other than marveling at the beauty of Thor, I think that it's a little bit more just a really frightening mission with a lot going wrong in an alternate universe. And then there's the not being dead part, that was pretty cool.
This episode reimagines moments from the first Thor and The Avengers. What did you love about this What If...? story?
There's something about seeing — and they seem to have carved a little age off us because I think it was 12 or 13 years ago — just some of those early days making Thor, making the first Avengers. It felt almost like that slightly more innocent time before Thanos [Josh Brolin] or any of that stuff, where it's really Nick Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] and Natasha Romanoff [Scarlett Johansson] on the ground as agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It's the thrill of seeing the band back together again.
Was this episode giving you major flashbacks to when you were filming Thor and The Avengers?
It really did feel like I was looking at frames from The Avengers and some of those days in Albuquerque, just as Loki first shows up and is wreaking havoc.
What are you excited for fans to see from the episode?
Some of the surprises that are coming, some of the people who show up, some of the ways a team comes together, and who puts it together. On top of the true appreciation of the beauty of Thor by many people, I think that people are going to be thrilled by that.
What do you hope to see in the future for Coulson, either on What If…? or any other Marvel project?
I'm so grateful for just the chance to show up every once in a while to do this stuff. I can't wait to see The Eternals; I can't wait to see Shang-Chi. I just love the way they're expanding [the MCU]. If there's ever a moment when me or my alter ego can be of use and participate in any of that, I would be thrilled but right now I'm just enjoying it as a fan.
Coulson had such an amazing end on S.H.I.E.L.D. What do you think he's up to now?
He's no doubt cruising around in his newly upgraded Lola. In my fantasy world, he has reunited with some people from that team and they're back at work. And maybe that show will be announced! [Laughs] No, I'm just kidding. There's no show. Let's just break the internet.
If any show could come back from the dead like that, it would be Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
No show ever came back from the dead more than us. Fittingly, I would say.
And no character has come back from the dead more times than Coulson.
I mean, other than Kenny on South Park? [Laughs] It's him or me.
Speaking of, there's been rumors recently going around that Coulson may be getting yet another second chance at life in the MCU in a future Marvel project… have you been reading those theories on the internet?
Yes, I do. I follow it like an avid fan.
Is that something you can comment on at this time?
I've heard those rumors, that's the comment I can make. I've heard those rumors.
What If...? debuts new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.
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