In the better late than never department, we present to you the just-released trailer for next April’s Captain America: The Winter Solider. In the trailer, you will find Black Widow, Nick Fury, the Falcon, and the Winter Soldier. Not glimpsed is Sharon Carter but she’s in this stuffed tale as well. It looks pretty darn cool.
U.S. Release date: April 4, 2014
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Producer: Kevin Feige
Executive Producers: Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Alan Fine, Stan Lee
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (credit not final)
After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.
Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
In Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers teams up with Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, to battle a powerful yet shadowy enemy in present-day Washington, D.C.
I’ve always been a fan of musicals and have seen a fair few on Broadway – from the musical that was an actual yearly field trip for eight graders in my New Jersey school, Cats, to that great production of Les Miserables with the rotating stage. I’ve also been a fan of the TV show Chuck from its debut all the way through the final season. So when Zachary Levi mentioned during the Nerd HQ panel I attended at SDCCthat he was going to be starring in a musical on Broadway, First Date, I knew I had to see it.
Fortunately, the New York Comic Con was already on my calendar, so before the con I went to see First Date – and boy, am I glad I did! I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard throughout a live show in… well, maybe ever. And yet there was also substance and seriousness to the plot and characterization that balanced out the humor, a perfect blend of entertainment and wry and wise observations about life, human nature, and the modern dating world.
The premise of the show is pretty simple – it’s about a blind first date, and all of the things that might go wrong or right in that situation. But it’s not just about the couple on the blind date, Aaron and Casey. As the website says, during the date “Casey and Aaron’s inner critics take on a life of their own when other restaurant patrons transform into supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents, who sing and dance them through ice-breakers, appetizers and potential conversational land mines.” Is that as awesome and hilarious as it sounds? Yes, yes it is; and the cast portraying those characters, from Zac Levi and Krysta Rodriguez as the main couple, to the other five actors who are often playing more than one character, is stellar, and gave an energetic and engaging performance.
The main couple are a hoot to watch, being quirky and many-faceted all on their own; but the supporting cast is what really allows this musical to explore so many perspectives. From the “perfect” older sister who has the married life that Casey says she wants, to Aaron’s manipulative ex, to Casey’s flamboyant best friend who is also her designated “bail out call” person for if the date isn’t going well. The other characters in the main couple’s life do a great job embodying the pressures and influences people can experience while they’re out dating and trying to find “The One.” And while the premise is simple, the territory explored by the plot is broad, and ranges over everything from potential religious differences to how our online footprint might affect us in real life.
Broad as it may be, though, the plot flows easily and the production is well-designed and choreographed. Overall, the musical is clever, witty, and frequently hilarious. It’s insightful and endearing; if you’ve ever been a single person trying to do the dating thing, it’s also very easy to identify with… and maybe even learn from. The only other thing I can say about it is: Go see it! You won’t regret it.
You also won’t regret reading on, because after seeing First Date, I was fortunate to also be able to talk to Zac Levi about it and the rest of his career at The Nerd Machine booth at NYCC. Here’s the interview!
• • • • •
Let’s first talk about the Broadway musical you’re currently starring in, First Date, because I just saw it, and I loved it – especially the song about the ex; you knocked that out of the park.
Thank you! Yeah, that’s a fun song.
So how did you get involved in that production, and can you talk about your previous stage experience?
Well, I grew up doing a lot of theater when I was a kid. The last show I did was about twelve years ago; and I always dreamt about doing Broadway one day. Fortunately, I’ve been really blessed, and I’ve been able to do film and television for the last dozen years; but I was just kind of waiting for the right opportunity, and then this show came along and I just felt like, “you know, this could be really fun.” It’s an hour and a half, no intermission, it’s a comedy, there are only seven people in the cast – it’s lean and mean and I thought “I think people might really enjoy this.” And people have, and so it’s been great.
Great; and I know it’s running now. For people who want to see it, how long will it run?
Well, the idea is for the show to run indefinitely. My contract for the show is up the first week of January. There’s a possibility that I could extend, but I don’t know that for sure – it just depends on what work looks like at that time. So I would say that if you really want to see me in the show, you should come before the beginning of January. But I would tell anybody – you never know with Broadway stuff, the show could close so fast. So if you want to come see the show, come see the show now!
Yes! It looked like you were having a lot of fun in the show, and I know you’ve done TV, movies, voice acting and stage. Do you have any thoughts about those different experiences?
They’re all very different. I don’t know that I like any one more than the others. They all have their unique set of challenges and fun that can be had.
Did you come to the stage first?
Yes; I mean, as a kid, that’s what you do. There are not a lot of kids doing, like, community voiceover work. You have community theater and school theater. So stage was definitely where I started.
What was your first ever role?
Of an actual production? I think it was Sonny, one of the T-Birds in Grease. I think I was about eleven.
That’s pretty cool! So I have to ask, with First Date – do you identify with the musical at all? Because I was watching it and thinking, “I’ve so been there.” Or, “My friend has been there.”
Sure, yeah. I think that’s part of the reason why I wanted to do it, and why I think a lot of people enjoy it, is because it’s very relatable. So definitely I do. In fact, in some ways I almost didn’t do the show, because I felt like the character was so similar to Chuck, and I was like, “I’ve already played that character” but then I thought, “Well, yeah, but it’s just a fun way to do it – on stage, with some music.”
I was actually thinking that – it’s a little bit like Chuck, but I think you brought enough to the character that they had written that it wasn’t Chuck – it was Aaron.
Right, it’s not – it was similar, but they’re not the same.
Well I really enjoyed it! Now, I know that you are in Thor: The Dark World, which is coming out really soon, and I’m super excited. Every time I see the trailer on TV I clap. So tell us about being Fandral the Dashing.
Well, Fandral is this Errol Flynn-Lothario type who’s a ladies man, but also arguably the best swordsman in Asgard – or the Nine Realms, I think he would argue. And I mean, the movie is really still Thor and Jane; it’s their movie.
How much do we get of you and the other Warriors Three and Sif?
I really don’t know, because you never know how much of what you shot ends up in it; but I hope there are at least a few cool moments where people go, “Yeah! That kicked ass!” That’s all I’m hoping.
You were originally cast in that and then you were replaced by Josh Dallas due to your schedule; and now you’ve replaced him due to his schedule.
Yeah, it was very, very strange how that all worked. We’ve definitely joked about it – I’ve met Josh before, and he’s just a sweetheart of a guy and super talented, and it was very funny how all of that ended up panning out. But I was grateful that ultimately – after having completely let go of the job, because I thought “this is never happening” – then it came back around. That was kind of like, “Wow, this is very strange.”
Totally. Now I know you’re a comics fan; are you a fan of Thor comics? Had you read about your character before the movie role?
I was definitely familiar with Fandral to an extent, but I really got to know him actually when the first movie came around and I was getting cast; and then a little bit more for this one. But honestly, there’s not that much to find in the comics. The Warriors Three are definitely within Thor mythology, but there’s not that much.
Yes – they help with things but aren’t really the focus.
Yes; but in some ways that’s kind of fun, because it allows you to put your own mark on something, where fanboys and fangirls aren’t like, “Waitaminute! That’s not Fandral!”
Definitely! Do you think it’s still true to the character that you’ve seen in the comics?
I think so. It’s funny, Thor was never really my steez, necessarily. Like, I had Thor comics, and particularly with the Avengers.
I have to admit, I’m the same way. I love the movie, but Thor was always the guy I was sort of reading about on the side, because he was on the periphery of a story or part of a team.
Yeah, and I don’t know, for me – because everybody’s got their flavor of what entices them the most in the comic world –I really liked the mutant world probably the most.
Yeah! The X-Men and all that.
And X-Factor, and X-Force.
And actually, on that note, my favorite character is Deadpool; and I heard you mention that he’s your favorite character.
He’s my favorite villain, yeah.
Well he’s not always a villain! He did save the world…
Well – when I grew up reading him, in the beginning, he was a villain, through and through.
Yeah, in the beginning he was. So do you have a favorite writer or storyline or anything?
Oh, gosh! I don’t know that I could speak to that. I’m mostly nerdy about video games and technology…
What are you playing right now, video game-wise?
I’m actually not really playing anything right now. I left my Xbox back in L.A., because I really wanted to focus on doing the play, and I knew that the new Xbox was coming out in November, so I was like, “I’m just going to wait for that.” And then I’ll probably get lost in Call of Duty: Ghosts. I’ll be lost in that for months and months and months and months.
I bet. So we talked a bit about your voiceover work. You were one of the leads in Tangled. What was your experience like, doing that? Was that your first real big voiceover work?
Oh, yeah! Pretty much my first and only voiceover work. It was amazing. Ever since I was a little kid, I was a giant Disney fan, so to be able to get to do a Disney animated musical – what I’d dreamt about doing my whole life – was like, “Wow, this is really happening.” And singing Alan Menken’s music and everything.
Do you want to do more voiceover?
Oh, totally; I’d love to.
And some of the voice acting greats were in Tangled – like Frank Welker… did you get to work directly with Frank, or John DiMaggio, or some of the other career voice actors?
No; in fact, I didn’t get to work with any of them! I didn’t even get to work with Mandy (Moore). The only time Mandy and I ever worked together is when we recorded the song. But all of the dialogue is all recorded totally separately.
Let’s talk about The Nerd Machine, now, because we’re standing here in your awesome place with phone chargers and photo ops and everything–
In mah booth!
Yeah! Now when did you start The Nerd Machine?
The Nerd Machine started… I think maybe it was 2011. We started the company about a year before we had the first actual Nerd HQ. We launched with just one t-shirt. With just the classic “NERD.” And the idea was just, “I wanted to make a Nike for nerds.” Because there are so many different nerd-doms, right? And if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you can get a Doctor Who shirt. And if you’re a Star Wars fan, you can get a Star Wars shirt; and that’s great. But I really wanted to have one brand that unified all of them, so no matter what you’re nerdy about, you can just represent it very simply, very clearly: “I’m a nerd; that’s what I’m about.” So that’s what we’ve built on through the years, and our branding is simple, and it’s straight. It’s like “We’re a brand for you.”
Yes – so I have to ask, why “nerd” and not “geek”?
A couple of reasons. One, phonetically I like how nerd sounds more than I like geek. Geek is a little too hard consonant. And there was just a lot of wordplay that I was thinking about, like “Nerd is the word” and all that kind of stuff. But honestly, one of the biggest was, the first shirt that I had ever thought of was the original NERD shirt; and the reason why it works so well is because it’s the Nintendo sort of font… so it’s funny, the reason why you end up deciding what something is going to ultimately be. And the other reason, too, was that I felt like “geek” was being used a lot online with Geekology and Geek Chic, and all that, and I wanted to get away from that and do my own thing. By the way – I was totally unaware of Nerdist at the time! I knew Chris (Hardwick), but I wasn’t even thinking about it.
Well, and his brand has gotten exponentially bigger since then.
Oh, yeah. He’s a friggin’ empire!
Yeah. Now, The Nerd Machine benefits Operation Smile, which I think is great. What drew you to that particular charity?
I really think God kind of spoke to me. I was trying to find a charity that I could be an ambassador for. You know, as a celebrity, you do a lot of non-profit stuff, and you’re always asked, “What’s your charity of choice?” and I never really had one. So I was about to do another singing engagement/charity benefit thing, and I was like, “What could be a cool charity to benefit?” and I was praying about it, and thinking about it, and then in one week I saw about five commercials and five billboards. And I was like, “Oh – I believe this is what I’m supposed to cling to.”
That’s great. So tell me, what is the future of The Nerd Machine? I know that it’s gotten a little bigger since 2011, and I like the fact that it’s still being kept to a smaller scale.
Yeah, we’re always going to maintain the intimacy of our activations. The company will continue to grow, and we’ll continue to do more things, but the idea is to always keep those events as things that are special.
Are you planning to do what you did at San Diego at one of the future New York cons?
Yeah, in fact the original idea was that we were going to do a Nerd HQ out here in New York. It’s difficult. San Diego Comic Con brings every star in the world. And so it’s easy then to be like, “Hey, would you mind popping by for an hour and doing a panel?” NYCC is getting there. NYCC has a lot of talent now, and is growing more and more every year… But it doesn’t quite have the same; so in order for us to get the sponsorship money to put on our own little con like that – you really need to be able to bring the talent. So maybe in the future.
Great! Well I look forward to that future, and thank you so much for your time.
Hope you all enjoyed the interview! And if you’re a New Yorker or heading to New York City sometime soon, don’t forget to get tickets to First Date. Trust me, you’ll love it.
Captain America returns! Here’s the official first trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier — in US theaters April 4, 2014. The sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.
Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The executive producers are Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Alan Fine and Stan Lee. The film releases April 4, 2014, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Evidently it’s teevee week here at ComicMix, with Martha,John and Mindy weighing in on their thoughts regarding the new season. Well, you build a bandwagon and sooner or later, I’ll jump on it.
I’m not much of a broadcast television fan. Most of the shows I enjoy are made-for-cable, with their 12 episode (give or take) seasons that create an environment for better writing. Justified, Doctor Who, Sons Of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire, Louie… that’s my idea of Must See TeeVee. But I start each fall season checking out a few broadcast shows, and this season I found four that were worthy of my limited attention span.
I, too, share the prevailing opinion that The Blacklist is a wonderfully entertaining show. Of course, it’s really the James Spader Show, and if you don’t like him you most certainly won’t like the show. Or, most likely, the upcoming Avengers 2 movie. In fact, even if you do like Spader you might not care for The Blacklist if you like your lead characters to be rooted in ethical behavior. But if you like evil anti-heroes screwing around with the government – and, let’s face it, a whole lot of us do – then this is probably your go-to show of the season.
I also follow the dominating opinion in these precincts that I’m slightly disappointed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was looking for a contemporary version of the first season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and this comes close. But they gave us too many agents and it’s hard to develop any strong feelings for or against any of them. Dropping one or two would help us get to know the others and make for smoother plotting and action sequences. Nonetheless, I find it entertaining enough to maintain on my TiVo season’s pass list.
If I’m not all that interested in broadcast television, I’m even less interested in sit-coms. They are as predictable as a courtroom transcript, and they often star a stand-up comic who is far, far more entertaining doing stand-up. I checked out two: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Crazy Ones. I checked out Brooklyn Nine-Nine because I’m a huge Terry Crews fan; he’s one of those guys who could he reading the Yellow Pages and I’d probably give it a try.
I really had no expectations for Andy Samberg: it’s been so long since Saturday Night Live had adequate writing that I can’t get a feel for the quality of the performers. Given the extreme broadness of his character on this show, he’s fine and almost endearing. It was clear to me that Andre Braugher was going to be the tight-ass police captain who could not possibly co-exist with a person as free-spirited as Samberg, and that’s pretty much the case. And, similarly, his nurturing of Samberg is no surprise. But Braugher transcends his own stereotype, aided by an interesting character bit: he’s gay, one of the first gay men to achieve such an exalted position in the NYPD. And he worked hard for it.
The bottom line on Brooklyn Nine-Nine: each episode, I found myself laughing out loud several times. That’s the highest praise one can offer a sit-com, particularly a jaundiced cynic such as me.
I landed on The Crazy Ones for two reasons: I enjoy Robin Williams’ insanity-with-heart act (there’s been no one better at it since Buster Keaton), and I really like David E. Kelley’s work… which gets us back to James Spader. I’ve enjoyed this series thus far and it has a fine supporting cast, although sooner or later I’m probably going to want to see it evolve a bit and its characters grow – including Williams’. But after three or four episodes, it still entertains me and that, for better and worse, is the purpose of broadcast television.
I can’t imagine watching three broadcast sit-coms once Community returns in January, but who knows. This season might be the exception.
If you haven’t given the current TMNT a shot yet (maybe because you were loyal to the original; or you’ve never watched TMNT before; or you’re an adult so why would you be watching a kids’ show…) you are totally missing out. I’m a fan of the original series (having watched from the very first episode at the age of maybe six or seven), and until this series, haven’t really been interested in any of the ones following that, because they just didn’t grab my attention (and, honestly, the live-action versions just plain freaked me out). But when I learned that Rob Paulsen, voice of the original Raphael, was going to be voicing Donatello, I knew I had to give this show a try.
The first couple of minutes of watching were spent getting used to the unique animation style; and then the rest of the time was spent completely falling in love with the new visual style, the storyline and humor, and the new voices and quirks of the characters. The current show is full of humor, warmth, action, and adventure, and pays homage to the original animated and comic book series’ without being in the least bit stale or unoriginal. It’s also grown over the course of the first season along with the Turtles, who have begun exploring the world outside of the sewers and encountering serious problems and responsibilities. By the end of Season 1 and first episode of Season 2, the show has entered some pretty dark and serious territory; but happily, appears to be holding on to the humor and sense of fun that made the show so appealing in the first place. I can’t wait to see where they go with it from here.
So without further ado, let’s see what a couple of the folks involved had to say about that and the show in general! Read on for the interview transcripts, or head on over to YouTube and watch the video interviews there!
Greg, you are known as the voice of Michelangelo on the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show, which is fantastic.
Yes, I am Mikey.
I know that, like me, you were a fan of the original show, because I’ve heard you talk about it on Rob’s Talkin’ Toons podcast. When you were a kid, what else did you watch?
Only the Turtles. Do you mean now, or back then?
Really back then, it was all about the Turtles; and back then I didn’t watch too much TV other than the Turtles because I wanted to go outside and play. I wanted to go outside and skateboard like the Turtles. I wanted to go to karate class and learn martial arts like the Turtles. So it really influenced me a lot.
That’s really cool. How old were you when you first started watching it?
Eight years old.
And was Michelangelo always your favorite?
Yeah, Mikey was always my favorite. Although I probably dressed up as a Turtle for Halloween many, many times; and I’ve probably been all the Turtles.
Have you ever been Splinter?
No, not yet! This Halloween.
Yeah, maybe this Halloween! It’s coming up. So of course you’ve done a lot of voiceover; but as a huge Turtles fan, what was it like getting the role of Michelangelo?
Oh my gosh, when Ciro Nieli told me he was making the new show; I’ve worked with Ciro on Teen Titans, and his show called Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! that he created. It’s a great show. So he said, I’m doing Turtles, and I want you to be a Turtle, and I was like, “What?” It just seemed like a dream, right? I was like, “Really?” And of course I had to go through the casting process, which took like, a year. And then when I got the phone call, and the contract, the deal came through, it was really maybe one of the best days of my life.
That’s really cool. Did you call everybody you knew, like, “Guess what??”
Yeah: “I’m a Turtle!!”
And did they all say, “We knew it would happen someday?”
I guess so, yeah. It just made sense. You know, Nickelodeon hired me because they felt like I really am the real life Mikey.
It sounds like it, from your hobbies and everything. Now of course Rob Paulsen was on the original (1987) series, and is on the new one. What’s it like working with someone who was in the original franchise?
Well, it’s cool. I honestly don’t remember what any of the Turtles sound like from the original show at all; nor did I listen to them – so what I brought to Mikey was just me.
Did you do that on purpose, so you could bring your own spin?
Yeah; well I don’t watch much of anything these days, because I’m still very active. I like to be doing things rather than watching TV; unless the Turtles are on! But I didn’t do any kind of research to go back and listen to anything; I just brought myself to it, and what I felt Mikey would be; which is ultimately me; a dimension of myself.
With the new Turtles, what do you think about the direction of the show, and the look of the show, which is so different?
Oh, it’s so cool. So cool. I think it’s the hottest thing on TV right now; better than any live-action show. It’s set a new standard in the animation world, as far as TV animation goes. Every episode’s a stand-alone movie. Like, a feature film quality animated CG thing; but it’s not just CG, it’s this new mix of…Ciro’s notorious for creating new, groundbreaking styles of animation like he did with Teen Titans. It’s got the anime thing mixed with the comic book thing and the CG thing; and there’s all kinds of…
It looks a little bit like a video game sometimes.
Yes, and that too! It’s just got everything going on. It’s like candy for your eyes.
It is! I actually went into it unsure if I’d like it because I really loved the old one; but then I started watching it and I was like, “This is the best thing!” So with the storylines, do you like where that’s going? Do you know anything about what’s in store for Mikey?
I know everything that’s in store, but I can’t tell you anything! I mean, Mikey’s growing up a little bit; he’s got more experience; he’s wiser. But he really hasn’t changed – he’s still very free-spirited. He’s a “now-ist.” He’s just wild; and it’s really fun to play someone like that. He brings that out in me. But he does become more intelligent based on experience, as we all do; so he kind of maybe steps into the leader roll more.
Cool! I enjoy that it started with them not being so sure of themselves and growing. So do you have a favorite episode from the last season?
My favorite episode from Season 1? Oh my gosh, it’s so hard to go back. I really am a now-ist; I don’t think about the future, I don’t think about the past; so once I’ve experienced it, and I’ve done it, I don’t think about it again. So for me to go back is difficult. Also because we’ve done so many episodes; and I do eight other cartoons; all these different worlds mesh together.
That’s fair! I personally loved the one where he had the tPod.
The tPod, of course! It’s always so fun to play Mikey, that every episode’s really cool; very fun. And they always give me fun situations to be in.
Yes. I’ve heard that recording with everybody can be a lot of fun. Do you have any good stories about that?
Actually, you know what, I do have a good story – working with Roseanne Barr. She plays Kraang Prime; and she’s awesome. She’s so funny. And she’s a friend of mine, and before she got the role, they were like, “Who’s going to play Kraang Prime?” And I was like, “It should be Roseanne.” And it was such a so-far-out-there casting choice, but Ciro was into it, and we made it happen. So it was really cool to have her on the show and work with her.
That’s really neat. So as you said, you’re working on eight other shows. Tell me a bit about what else you’re doing now.
Well, I’m on a show called Teen Titans Go!, which is a wild, crazy, funny, goofy show, that keeps getting crazier. I’m on Ultimate Spider-Man; I play Iron Fist, Danny Rand. And I can’t say much, but I’ve been hired on [The Legend of] Korra. I’m on The Middle on ABC; they keep having me back; and recently I just finished a big arc on Anger Management with Charlie Sheen – these are live-action shows. I’ve got a couple of movies coming out; and I’m also producing and directing my own TV stuff now. I have a company that I just started with Rose McGowan; a television/film production company, called RMGC Productions, and we’re creating our own original content and going around and pitching it, and making these things happen ourselves.
That’s awesome. So are you in the pitching process? Has something been picked up?
I can’t say, but we are pitching a lot of original things that we’ve created.
That’s really cool; and do you have a place where people can keep up on some of that?
Great. Now talking about live-action versus voice over work, what’s the difference in those experiences? Do you prefer one or the other, or have any insights for people who are aspiring to be one or the other?
Well, everyone’s always asked me, “How can you do all of it?” Because not only am I an actor – I’m a musician, I’m a director, I’m a surfer, I’m a painter; but ultimately where I make money is in the entertainment world in general, and specifically acting. And a lot of it’s from animation. But – just do what you love. I do it all. I do movies, TV shows, animation, music, all of it. Just do it. Because if you love it, that’s all that matters. So you just do it, if you love it, and you’ll get better and better at it – and then people will want to hire you.
Excellent advice. Now with music, I know you play guitar and had a CD out. Are you working on something new with that?
Yeah, I’m putting out a solo album, entitled Cipes. That’s coming out soon, and I’m going to start releasing singles, and funny, wild music videos. And I also put a music video out recently; a side project called Super Space Fighters, which is based on a comic book that I’ve created. And there’s a music video right now called “International Kid Notorious” on YouTube. But really I’m focusing on my solo career now. Oh, and I put an album out in 2007, with my band called Cipes and the People, and that was called “The Conscious Revolution.”
That’s really cool; and thank you so much for the interview, Greg.
I know you were a fan of TMNT as a child, as was I. Coming into this project as someone who was a fan of the franchise, what was your experience getting into the new show?
Well, the one thing about Turtles was that I worked on a lot of projects, and Turtles would always be happening, somewhere, somehow, and I would not be a part of it. And I would just watch it go by and be like, “Damn! I missed Turtles again.” And then I would be like, “Eh, whatever. I did something cool instead, and that’s not myTurtles.” So to be able to finally get to do myTurtles? I mean when I went in to pitch it, it was so exciting to be able to just go, “This is my version of it” and for them to say, “Hey, that sounds good. Let’s try it.”
And a lot of it was just love for the original series. The original comic series; that Mirage Volume One.
Right; and the original animated series was also great. I know that there are some references to the original animated series, as well as, of course, the same mythology. I loved when they had Michelangelo with the 1987 Mikey face over his own [the “tattoo of my face…on my face!” bit]. So is that something that you do, or that everyone does together, or how does that work out?
It depends. Back then, it was more me doing it, because the writers were just kind of more focused on the story. Now I have a little bit of a different relationship with my story editor; so we’ll do things now…where it used to be just the board artists were adding things like what you’re talking about, which is way more visual, now it’s a little more tied in. Like we watch the old series sometimes, and we’ll actually re-use lines and stuff like that. We find ways to slip it in that’s not even overt. It just starts to feel like the brand.
So super-fans might notice, but not everybody.
Yeah, I mean, people will call it out. They’ll be like, “Oh my God, that was like, this episode, where Mikey said this,” and you’ll be like, “Wow, that’s so weird, that you remember that.” Because we’ll watch it, and go, “Oh, let’s write that down.” And then we put it up on the wall.
That’s fantastic. Now of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not your first project. Can you tell me a little about your background in all of this?
I started in animation years ago. When I first got to L.A., my first job was on Family Guy. I was a board artist; actually a revisionist storyboard artist. And then I did a bunch of other stuff online; and then eventually I found my way, in terms of bigger jobs, to Warner Bros. Eventually there I became a director on Teen Titans. That’s where I met Cipes for the first time. He was Beast Boy, Garfield Logan; and then after that…I moved around a lot. I went to Disney; I had my own show there, called Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! Which Cipes was in as well. He was a boy who found a giant robot that was inhabited by cyborg chimps, and he learned the power of Monkey Fu, and fought demons from hell, basically. It was awesome. We did that in Japan; that was a great period in my life.
Were you actually in Japan, doing that? How long were you there?
Yes. We did that project for about four years. And during that time I was back and forth a lot, sometimes months at a time. I learned some Japanese. After that, I bumped back around to the studios. I did some stuff for Warner Bros., some Batman stuff. I was the showrunner on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the first season, which was great, getting to do the Marvel thing. And then I think that kind of segued right into Turtles. I didn’t really have any time off in between those gigs, so…Turtles just kept rolling. Like, that’s what you do, you work – while you’re on one project, you try and get the next one going.
Sure! So as I said, I watched the original, and I hadn’t watched any of the ones between that and this, because they just never appealed to me. But I watched this one, in part because Rob [Paulsen] is on it, and I love Rob as a voice actor; and I just love the new show. It’s fantastic. It has a lot of humor and a lot of heart. Was that part of your vision, that you wanted to bring to it?
I mean, the whole thing that we always wanted to do was to make the fighting more accurate; make the funny funny, and then actually have a strong sense of drama. I’m one of those kids – like, the first movie that kind of blew my mind was Empire Strikes Back, and the thing that you could say about Empire is that that’s the show where the heroes get their ass kicked, and lick their wounds a lot. And there’s something about that – to actually have that sense of gravity and loss and stakes means a lot. So to balance that against humor is perfect. And I work with funny guys. I think we genuinely try to be really funny, and scary, all the time.
I heard that the original 1987 cast is coming back. How is that going to work?
Well, not to blow it out of proportion – it’s just a big cameo. But it’s great. Without giving too much away – the Turtles get lost in some dimensional portals, and they kind of look into the Eighties a little bit.
That’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see it, and thank you so much!
• • • • •
Well, I hope you guys got as big a kick out of these interviews as I did! Thanks again to Ciro and Greg for their time, and the folks at Nickelodeon for setting this up, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
After a quick li’l jaunt across the lovely Midwest, Unshaven Comics has arrived in fabulous New York City. Well, technically, we’re in New Jersey. Is it as fabulous? Time will tell. At very least, our swell hosts have shown us nothing but the finest hospitality. Is it New Jersey tradition to spit in your guests faces and declare “Welcome to Jersey, fuck face!”?
So why the long trip? Well, we’re about to embark on the second largest convention in North America. The New York Comic Con boasts an audience five times the size of the largest con we’ve attended to date. While we’ve been conning for over five years now, NYCC will perhaps show us what an audience of serious mass will look like. Our game plan isn’t any different; we stand, we pitch, we smile, we sell. And we’ll be doing it alongside our ComicMix cohorts. Suffice to say, we’re excited.
New York is not just a city. It’s the city. Marvel has built its entire comic continuity around the damned city. Except the West Coast Avengers, and well, who cares about them? They don’t even care about themselves. And why not?
What I saw on our trip, in-between bouts of getting lost on one of the 7,986 turnpikes in the area, is beautiful. The NYC skyline is a thing of beauty. It’s no Chicago mind you, but hey… this is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. So says Jay Z. Chicago only has R. Kelly and Kanye, and well, I’ll take Hova over them any day. But I digress. (note: I’m taking complete credit for ComicMixers coining this phrase. I stole it from my choir director in high school, and in turn they stole it from me. Nyah nyah boo boo.)
New York’s Comic Con is run by Reed, the same company who brought us (Unshaven that is) to C2E2. That convention, held in downtown Chicago, has been the toast of the town for three years running. While we’ve seen more production on our sales goals at Wizard World, to be frank, C2E2 gives us both decent sales and amazing exposure. Whilst here in the city that never sleeps (which makes sense, since the drivers are far more cranky than we friendly and amazing Chicagoans), we expect to see the best of both worlds. With expected attendance that dwarves R2D2, and a guest list that reads more like the old Wizard Top Ten lists of yesteryear, Unshaven Comics is getting access to the best fans we could ask for; people there to meet their favorite creators, with an open mind to find something new. Given that our east coast exposure has been limited to a pair of Baltimore Comic-Cons, we’re basically brand new to the biggest city in the world. And Unshaven Comics does well with being new.
By the time you read this, we’ll be in the thick of it. A four-day show is a major undertaking. We’ll be behind our table, hurling books left and right. If you’re still in the area, make sure you come out and say hello. Or you know… “Hello, fuck face!”
I’ve been down with what is either an incredibly horrible cold or what technically would be considered a mild flu since last Tuesday, although “mild” is definitely not in the eyes of the sufferer – achy and sore, exhausted just doing nothing but unable to sleep enough to wake up feeling like I slept, coughing up disgusting stuff from inside my chest, a nose that is either stuffed or running depending on the time of day, alternately hungry and nauseous in the same minute…
Anyway, my brain is definitely not completely “there” this week, but here are some thoughts.
So far not terrifically excited by Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. I thought the pilot episode was basically meh and if it wasn’t for the involvement of the combined powerhouse of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Joss Whedon it would never have been picked up by ABC, much less been given a full season of episodes. For one thing the new agents (meaning those we haven’t seen in the MCU) are too homogenously Hollywood; everybody is the same pretty face and body, as though the casting office went to the Paris and New York fashion shows instead of the theaters in their search for new talent. Note to ABC: Marvel’s universe is not DC’s universe. It’s built around imperfect people having imperfect lives, super powered or not. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea to hire a Melissa McCarthy or Kevin James as agents. Y’know, some imperfect people. Imperfect people who can… act.
But maybe I’m being too hard on a new show that has had the weight of high expectations around its neck like the proverbial albatross. Isn’t there anything I’ve liked about AOS?
Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson. Oh, and Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson. And then there’s Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson.
I also like Lola, Phil Coulson’s 1961 red Chevrolet Corvette C1. (Phil Coulson is played by Clark Gregg.)
I like that Lola has a little bit of DeLorean in her.
I like Sam Jackson showing up as Nick Fury and dressing down Phil Coulson (who is played by Clark Gregg.)
I liked seeing J. August Richards – Charles Gunn on Angel – on TV again, playing the manipulated and man-made superhero/supervillain of the pilot. Whedon has a good, no, great, eye for talent and he often hires and rehires actors he has worked with and brought to stardom…maybe we’ll be seeing other Wheedon “school” alumni on AOS? Alexis Denisoff – yes, I know he played “the Other” in The Avengers, but so what? – Elisha Dushku, Tom Lenk, Amy Acker, Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion….
Actually, those are the kind of actors I would have liked to see making up the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC, Tuesdays at 8 PM, EDT.
Still, the pretty faces of Hollywood might grow on me.
James Spader is a master at creating riveting and intense characters. There is no better proof than on his new NBC series, THE BLACKLIST. James talks about why he came back to TV, how he gets into a role and the reason why he wanted to be in the next AVENGERS film. Plus SHIELD takes a dive and SLEEPY HOLLOW is the first winner.
BURBANK, CA – October 1, 2013 – SEEKING THE NEXT JANE FOSTER! In MARVEL’S THOR: THE DARK WORLD, Academy Award® winner Natalie Portman portrays astrophysicist Jane Foster, an independent spirit who follows her heart and journeys to a new world.
Marvel Studios, UL (Underwriters Laboratories), Dolby Laboratories, National Academy of Science, Girl Scouts USA along with the famous El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, are proud to team up to sponsor a nationwide MARVEL’S THOR: THE DARK WORLD ULTIMATE MENTOR ADVENTURE in conjunction with the November 8th release of the film starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman.
MARVEL’S THOR: THE DARK WORLD ULTIMATE MENTOR ADVENTURE aims to empower girls 14 years and up, in grades 9 – 12 nationwide, to embark on a journey to discover their potential and future in the world of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Through the collaborative efforts of Marvel, UL (Underwriters Laboratories), Dolby Laboratories, National Academy of Sciences and Girl Scouts USA, girls will have a chance to go out into the real world and ask successful women in STEM fields about what they do, how they got where they are…and how others can follow in their footsteps. The process is designed to help students to understand who they are, and why this experience can be impactful on their futures. For more information, rules and how to apply, visit www.ultimatementoradventure.com.
“MARVEL’S THOR: THE DARK WORLD ULTIMATE MENTOR ADVENTURE is a chance to inspire a generation and by doing so, to change their future –and ours – for the better,” said Victoria Alonso, EVP, Visual Effects & Post Production, Marvel Studios.
Finalists of MARVEL’S thor: the dark world ultimate mentor adventure will win
a week’s trip to Southern California, provided by UL (Underwriters Laboratories) and Dolby Laboratories. The Ultimate Mentor Adventure will allow the girls to meet some of the most incredible Women in Science such as Dolby Laboratory Senior Scientists, conducting interviews and be challenged to participate in experiments. It will also include interactive events and go behind-the-scenes where the general public is not normally invited – all while having their adventure filmed. On Friday, November 8th, the winners will conclude their excursion and be recognized at the Premiere Screening of their Ultimate Mentor Adventure documentary short. The video short will be shown at the El Capitan Theatre prior to a screening of MARVEL’S THOR: THE DARK WORLD in Dolby® Atmos™ on opening day.
About the Movie
Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of Marvel’s Thor and Marvel’s The Avengers, Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos…but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. To defeat an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor sets upon his most dangerous and personal journey yet, forced into an alliance with the treacherous Loki to save not only his people and those he loves…but our universe itself.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano and Jaimie Alexander with Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World is directed by Alan Taylor, produced by Kevin Feige, p.g.a., from a story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat and screenplay by Christopher L. Yost and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and is based on Marvel’s classic Super Hero Thor, who first appeared in the comic book Journey into Mystery #83 in August, 1962.
Thor: The Dark World is presented by Marvel Studios. The executive producers are Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Craig Kyle, Alan Fine, Nigel Gostelow and Stan Lee. The film releases November 8, 2013, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
It’s stating the obvious to say that the modern Marvel movie machine has managed both to churn out a slew of awesome, successful movies, and to not fall into the trap of assembly-line production – in other words, that the movies, while they’ve built on each other beautifully and gained momentum with each new release, are all pretty unique and true to the characters and storylines they draw from. But how does that translate when Marvel tries to move such epic stories, in both scope and character, to the small screen? Pretty well, it turns out, with Joss Whedon and co. running the show.
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot aired Tuesday the 24th, and proved that it is possible to tell small screen stories against the background of the current Marvel cinematic series. In fact, it gives the opportunity to tell larger stories with less – as in the pilot, where the plot builds on the fallout from The Avengers and the Battle of New York. Without showing the grand, epic event, the show is able to easily reference the new state of the world for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and ordinary citizens. Watchers who have seen the movie will instantly understand the world-building at work; and even those who somehow missed the movie will easily pick up on it and understand why as the series begins, S.H.I.E.L.D. is finding its place as “the line between the world and the weirder world.”
That weirder world could not be in better hands than those of Joss Whedon and his team. The pilot is an excellent blend of Whedon show elements that we know and love – witty banter, engaging characters (including women!) kicking ass and taking names, cameos of actors from previous Whedon projects (Ron Glass! J. August Richards!), and a mixture of action, adventure, wonder, mystery, and heart; and the Marvel canon and characterization that Marvel fans live for. The S.H.I.E.L.D. character we’ve come to love from the movies, Coulson, continues to be characterized as an endearingly geeky guy, and yet is now developing into a leader as well; and the new characters, like Skye, Ward, Fitz, Simmons, and May, are already, in one episode, fleshed out enough for viewers to care about what happens to them next.
We also get to see glimpses of the Marvel cinematic universe in elements such as Maria Hill’s appearance, and the involvement of the Extremis virus. There are little Easter eggs for Marvel fans (like the almost-but-subverted-at-the-last-second Spider-Man quote); and references to people cosplaying as their newly discovered in-world superheroes, the Avengers. And most interestingly, from the very first, we are introduced to a take on S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s not entirely heroic – a S.H.I.E.L.D. that exists in the gray area of trying to protect Earth’s inhabitants from danger, and running the risk of becoming the invasive danger that people may have to fear. There’s an obvious analogue to the real world’s decreasing respect for privacy, and it’s accompanied by a serious (and seriously depressing) take on the current real-world economy and our displaced, unanchored work force of unemployed or marginally employed adults. Despite those themes being pretty darned depressing, I was happy to see them tackled head-on, and will be interested to see where the writers go with that next.
Speaking of the writers, at SDCC this year I sat down to chat with the writers and cast of the show, and now, I get to share those chats with you! (And although sadly my battery died too soon, I can also share a couple of short video clips of Joss Whedon and Clark Gregg, along with newly-uploaded clips from the Psych press room, I Know That Voice panel, and more.) Enjoy!
Jeff Bell (executive producer, showrunner, and writer) and Jeph Loeb (head of Marvel Television and executive producer)
The characters feel like broad archetypes at this point – the loner who doesn’t play well with others; the badass woman; the geeky pair…how quickly will we see them be fleshed out, or see other sides of them?
Bell: That’s the whole point of the TV show. We can’t do what a Marvel movie does every week, because we don’t have 250 million dollars a week. We’ve got good chunks of money to tell stories, but most of the stories are going to be about the characters. And arcing those characters out; finding relationships – who likes who, who doesn’t like whom, and why; secrets between all of them. So…I think no one’s exactly who you think they are, and we’re building that, hopefully for a long period of time.
Loeb: I also think that one of the things that makes our show different from the movies but still within the Marvel universe is that it’s about the intimacy of the characters on a television show. Television once upon a time was ‘being invited into your living room.’ It’s gone to the next level. It’s now on your laptop, on your tablet; and guess what, now it’s on your phone, which is the most intimate thing; it’s touching your face. So let’s hope that those people, when they touch your face, actually are people that you love and are complex and have all the richness that you know from shows that Joss has done in the past, and that all the people who are involved with this have done in the past. It’s the fun of it.
With the movies and all, when did this show start coming into production? What was the process?
Loeb: We started Marvel Television three years ago, with our partnership with ABC Studios and ABC; we knew we wanted to have a show that would make a lot of noise; and obviously there were some things we hadn’t developed, because that’s a process – but it was really right after The Avengers that Marvel had a conversation with ABC, and we had this idea for a show about S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bell: Wait, whose idea was it?
Loeb: (pointing to Clark Gregg) It was that man’s idea.
Bell: He said, “You know what would be cool? If I’m not really dead.”
Loeb: True story – Clark and I were at a signing, because Clark actually appears in our animated series, Ultimate Spider-Man, as Agent Coulson, and he turned to me at one point and said, “I have a secret: Coulson lives.” And I said, “Yes.” And he goes, “On television.” And I said, “Yeah I know. But people don’t know you’re dead yet, so we need to do that part first; and then I think we can probably talk to the network about it afterwards.” And Clark said, “Okay, as long as that’s the plan.” But to give credit where credit’s due, none of this would have started without Joss, Jed, Maurissa, and Jeff, who came up with a spectacular pilot, and an arc out for literally about 100 episodes, that enabled everyone at Marvel to get incredibly excited about it, and produce a show that is worthy of the pedigree of the movies and everything else that we do at Marvel.
Since the rights to some Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men are with other studios, will we be seeing any of that on TV at all?
Loeb: Only in animation. Obviously the Marvel universe is a vast expanse of characters, but I think the fun of this show in particular is that Jeff and Jed and Maurissa and Joss have created, in Coulson and Ward and May and Fitz and Simmons and Skye, really memorable characters who will now join the Marvel universe in a very major way.
In the development, were there ever any elements that Marvel wanted that ABC was not excited about?
Loeb: This has been an incredible partnership. I know it always sounds like, “Ooh, silver clouds…” but Jeff, talk about that first day, when you guys came in and told the story to the network.
Bell: Well here’s what’s nice, because traditionally, Marvel skews to a lot of guys. And ABC kind of skews more female. And then there’s Joss, who’s like the perfect Venn diagram of what you want in a show. So it’s great to see Joss’s version of a Marvel series – because ABC’s interested in emotion, and Joss is interested in emotion, and so it’s really about keeping that as our bulls-eye, and then finding different stories around that. But ABC loves that part of our storytelling. And then if we can do that against the giant, epic scope of a Marvel canvas, with superheroes and things from other places, and cool gadgets from S.H.I.E.L.D. and stuff like that, it’s just a different way to tell emotional stories. And so it’s been a great fit.
How much of the first season is planned out? Are there overarching themes we should know about?
Loeb: We know where we’re going. When you go in to talk about a television show, your initial order is the pilot plus twelve episodes. So you always have to have a plan for that, and so we go in and talk about what we will do for that; and then if successful and there is a back nine, you should have ideas for that as well. So we went in with that, and also a sense of what a second season would be, and right now we’re shooting episode two, and prepping episodes three and four. That’s where we are in the cycle.
How much of a procedural is this going to be?
Loeb: The show is about investigating the weird, the unusual, the strange, and the phenomenal that are in the Marvel universe. It is about a team that assesses that threat. Sometimes that threat is something that they’re going to have to take care of; and sometimes that threat is something that needs to be protected from somebody else that wants to exploit that sort of thing. The show enables us to tell stories that are in straight-ahead procedurals; but also there are all different kinds of things that you’ve come to know from your Whedon shows.
In the movie, S.H.I.E.L.D. responds to several disembodied voices that happen to be a real menace; are you addressing that here?
Loeb: Our plane is a mobile command unit that Director Fury has sort of allowed Coulson to do; and so we tell those stories. There are times when we will connect with big S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m not saying that we will connect with Director Fury; but we will tell stories within the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. universe. They’ll be international, and go all over the planet. Sometimes it’s just us; sometimes it’s big. But going back to your procedural question – it’s not a body of the week story; but we are trying to do standalone episodes the way we did on Angel and Buffy, that had an emotional element to it, and you find metaphors within it that allow you to tell the stories that reflect who your characters are. Sometimes that’s procedural, yes, but the way we break them, really, is about the emotional lives and what kind of story we want to tell.
What’s really important about the show at the end of the day is that you have that feeling of epic adventure and at the same time, the human spirit. You want to be able to be invested in these people and the show. I think that what is so remarkable about the pilot, and then it’s carried over, is that there are moments of great humor, moments where you’ll get teary-eyed, and then there are moments of like, “Wow.” If you can capture that at 8:00 on a Tuesday night, you’re doing kinda okay!
Bell: Coming up with stories, the words we have up on the wall are: funny; sad; wondrous; beautiful – and if we can get all four of those into an episode? We’re really happy. But Marvel is very aspirational; it is optimistic – our characters are enthusiasts; they’re not cynics. They’re excited about science, about history, about the world – and so we try and show that.
Are you going to pull from the canon stories; for example, something like Civil Warwhere S.H.I.E.L.D. played a big part?
Loeb: The Marvel universe is the Marvel universe – and it’s like with everything else that we do, whether it’s publishing; games; the animation world; the cinematic universe; and now the television universe – it’s all one world. Sometimes certain things aren’t going to line up exactly along the way. This is obviously one that is tied in more to the cinematic universe. But there is nothing that would stop us from doing any kinds of stories, as long as it is something compelling, and emotional, and fun.
Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon (executive producers and writers)
It’s clear in the pilot that Agent Coulson is in charge of things, and a key character; is that something you’re going to explore more?
Tancharoen: Yes; we’re highlighting someone you’ve only seen glimpses of in the Marvel cinematic universe, so I think yes, we’re giving him some authority, some swagger. He already had that, naturally. Now we’re just able to display it.
Jed Whedon: We feel like he’s a great company man; he’s the face of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Now we get to reveal more about that character. In every film, Coulson was expanded on a little bit. In Avengers he got some real meat. So now we get to dig in even further. And Clark is the perfect person to do that with. We love him very much.
It was great to kind of see Cobie Smulders in it for a second; do you envision her appearing now and then?
Jed Whedon: There are certain rules that we have to obey; but we are open to anything.
Tancharoen: Right – I mean, it is a goal to be able to pull people from what’s already been established, and bob and weave them throughout our series.
What’s the split of new characters created in the show, and people we might have seen in the comics, either in passing or as main characters? How much will be canon versus new material?
Jed Whedon: It’s a little of both. Right now we’re working from story first, and then there’s so much in the comic world, that a lot of the ideas we come up with, we can say, “Is there a guy that does that?”
Tancharoen: And the answer is yes. Always. That’s a good and a bad thing.
Jed Whedon: It works both ways; that makes it easy and fun.
When you’re writing stories for the season, how mindful do you have to be about weaving in stuff from Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: Winter Soldier, and the cinematic universe?
Tancharoen: We’re always communicating with what’s happening in the feature universe; and our goal is to complement one another, and weave our storylines in there, or maybe there will just be a little kernel that you see over there and vice-versa.
Jed Whedon: There’s lots of fallout from the films that we can play with, and we can lead into them in a way. We want to make it so that it’s more rewarding to watch both, on both ends. So if you’re watching the TV show you’ll get something in the movie or be like, “I know what that means.”
Who from the Marvel universe would you most like to weave in to the story?
Jed Whedon: Every Avenger.
Tancharoen: If we could.
Jed Whedon: We’re open to all those people.
Tancharoen: We joke about having an episode where the whole thing is like, “Oh, you just missed Iron Man. Aw man, Thor was just here! He had his shirt off.”
Jed Whedon: But we don’t want the show to become that, where you feel like you’re missing something. We want to exist on our own.
Tancharoen: And we’re hoping that people will fall in love with our cast of characters, and maybe not even have that expectation.
Jed Whedon: And then if it does happen, it will be rewarding, and not disappointing if it doesn’t.
How familiar are you with the comics – have you been readers for years? Are you still doing research by reading back issues?
Jed Whedon: There’s so much reading that we have to do; when we’re not working on the show, we’re reading.
How unreliable an authority figure is Coulson going to be? Is he going to be lying a lot? Will we see people challenge his right to be in charge?
Jed Whedon: I think we’ll figure that out as we go along; at this point, we can’t say much. …It will be cool, and stuff will happen.
What are you most excited about for the pilot, and how would you describe if to someone who hasn’t seen it?
Jed Whedon: Fun is what we’re going for.
Tancharoen: I think something that exists in all the Marvel movies is their humor. There’s tons of action and humor. That’s something that’s existed in a lot of Joss’s work as well. It always comes back to the humor, or there’s a really poignant emotional moment. We’re trying to do that on our show. Our cast of characters are all real human people. We’re dealing with the world post-what happened in The Avengers, so the entire population is going through this transition period of realizing that there are aliens, there are gods, there are monsters, and so I think a big part of our team’s job is going to be helping those people through it.
What’s your experience writing Coulson and the newer characters?
Jed Whedon: Coulson is really fun to write for. Fitz / Simmons is great – when you write a Fitz / Simmons scene, it ends up being too long.
Tancharoen: Because you just want to go on forever; even though it’s all science talk. The way they bicker and banter is fun.
Jed Whedon: And one of the things that’s very fun about this process is discovering the characters as we go. We just started shooting the second episode. Seeing all the things we’ve been discussing for months come to life is very rewarding.
Tancharoen: And we have a fantastic cast. They all embody everything we picture so well. We’re really excited for everyone to get to see them.
What are the greatest challenges of introducing new characters?
Tancharoen: We feel the pressure.
Jed Whedon: And when we don’t feel the pressure, people say, “How are you doing with all that pressure?” We have a duty to a lot of fans. But our approach is always to try to have fun, and try to make something that we would enjoy. We want to make something for everyone; but also something that, if we sat down and watched it, we would have to watch the next one.
Tancharoen: I think our goal is much like what Joss accomplished in Buffy – it will have stand-alones, with the mythology woven throughout. And every week there was a monster of the week or challenge of the week that was a metaphor for the emotional journeys our characters were going on. So hopefully if we do that successfully, and there’s humor, and there’s action, and there’s Marvel in there; hopefully the Marvel fans will be satisfied.
How challenging was the casting process?
Tancharoen: Very. We swept the world. We had casting offices in Australia, the UK, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles, going at the same time. And Brett Dalton, who plays Ward, he read in New York, on tape, and we saw him on the tape and brought him in for a screen test. Chloe is somebody who we brought back several times.
Jed Whedon: The other thing I’ll say that was great is, we didn’t compromise. And we got our first choices in every category. That’s rare and you’ll see it when you see the show.
Tancharoen: And Clark at the center of them really works.
How hands-on will Joss be moving forwards?
Jed Whedon: He’ll be involved a lot in shaping stories. We’re in constant contact. But he does have other things on his plate that people are excited about right now…
Does he read every script?
Jed Whedon: Oh yes, and every idea is run by him, and so I’m sure he’ll come in at some point and write some more…
Tancharoen: Everyone will definitely feel his presence, even when he’s not right there.
Chloe Bennet (Skye) & Brett Dalton (Grant Ward)
Skye starts out not trusting the people in S.H.I.E.L.D.; and it seems like by the end she’s on board. Do you think that’s it?
Bennet: No! I don’t think that’s it. I think one of Skye’s biggest assets is being able to…she has really good people skills. She can fool people; she hides stuff very well. She’s a people person, she can get her way and manipulate things. I’m not saying she’s doing that – but what you see is not all you’re going to get with Skye.
How would you introduce your characters?
Dalton: Agent Grant Ward is a specialist. He’s highly trained in espionage, hand-to-hand combat, tactical operations, weapons…I could go on. This is a looong list. But he’s a lone wolf. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be part of a team. He’s used to being the solution; the entire solution. So I think what you’ll see is him figuring out what to do now.
Bennet: Skye is a computer hacker. Very good with computers. But she’s that rare case of computer hacker where she’s not Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and kind of weird. She’s a people person; she’s outgoing and she knows how to work both computers and people. She kind of stumbles into the S.H.I.E.L.D. world and mixes things up a bit. I think she’s like the last piece of this puzzle that Coulson’s putting together as a team. Everyone complements each other in their own little way.
Dalton: You have skills that none of us do.
Bennet: And you have skills that Skye doesn’t have. Skye and Ward balance each other really well, I think. They’re polar opposites, yet both really talented. He’s a lone wolf; Skye is an activist. She’s about bringing the people together; people uprising against something that may not be fair or just. I think they’re going to learn from each other, maybe. …Maybe a little more than learn…? I dunno…
How much do you know about the Marvel universe? Do you recognize the references and Easter eggs?
Bennet: I’ve always been a fan of the movies. And then being cast, you’re like, “I gotta go read everything, now!” It’s really interesting. I’ve re-watched all the movies; and I get why fans are so loyal to the brand.
Dalton: And it’s an ongoing universe, too. The Battle of New York, that happens, doesn’t just disappear, like, “New York is just fine again!” in the next movie. It’s an ongoing, continuing universe, which is really interesting.
Bennet: With the movies and the show. The Battle of New York really does affect the pilot, and our characters in the show.
Dalton: There’s continuity between them.
Brett; in the show, you’re kind of the straight man. Do you hope you get to do more comedy?
Dalton: Well here’s the thing: I actually always thought Ward was hilarious. You know, he has little lines in there.
Bennet: And Ward thinks he’s hilarious.
Do you guys improv at all?
Bennet: You don’t have to with writing like this. Joss writes words; I speak them. You know, you improv the way you say things.
Dalton: The writing is just that good, honestly. And I’ve worked on other things where they give you that opportunity to riff, but they’ve just done such a good job with the writing.
Bennet: There’s a flow in what Joss writes, and the way the characters speak. It’s just easy, and it’s different, and it’s funny; and the timing – you can just read it when you see it. It makes it so enjoyable.
How much do your characters get to kick ass?
Bennet: Skye not so much, yet, uh…
Are you looking forward to that?
Bennet: Yes. I’m always saying, “You can let me do it! I’m fine; I’ve got six brothers! I won’t be worried about getting hurt!” I’m really looking forward to hopefully Skye being taught by Ward.
Dalton: Yeah, you know, I could see that happening.
Do you have a favorite Marvel character you’d like to see come into the show? Or a specific Marvel actor you’d like to work with?
Bennet: My favorite Marvel character is Jean Grey, and Jean as the Phoenix; I don’t know if that would be such a good thing if she came into S.H.I.E.L.D., unless it was as Jean Grey; but that won’t happen. But I think I wouldn’t mind Thor coming back. Not to do anything; just to come by and see me.
Dalton: I’m the hugest Robert Downey Jr. fan. He’s so good. Even if he was just on the intercom or something. Even if it was just his voice; anything. I’d love, love, love to work with him.
Bennet: If he was working, and I wasn’t working that day, I’d just come to set anyway.
Dalton: Yeah, it’d just be like, “Why is everyone on set today…?” And I’d say my favorite Marvel character is The Punisher. Good ol’ Frank Castle. Because he’s just a guy with a ton of skills; he doesn’t really have a superpower – he just has guns. And vengeance.
Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz) & Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons)
The writers just said you are their favorite characters to write; do you think your characters have a long history together, and have you been told about that?
Henstridge: We know that we’ve come up together, and trained together. It’s wonderful to play with that dynamic, and know that your character has a relationship like that to explore. That’s really exciting and fun.
De Caestecker: They’ve kind of got that weird dynamic like a brother and sister, where they argue furiously about things, and at the same time, they really depend on each other; especially when they’re out of their comfort zones. I think they see each other as a source of security.
How were the characters described to you when you first got involved?
De Caestecker: Well, we were only given a scene to audition with at first.
Henstridge: And I think because the script was kind of written, but not locked, my audition was very much like, “Come to us with your version of what these lines mean to you, or what you envision for the character, and then play with them. And at my audition they got me to do the character, just to kind of see what that would be like; so it was wonderful to be in a process that was still so fluid and flexible.
Science nerds in Joss Whedon shows have a tendency to turn evil. Do you see that happening for you?
De Caestecker: I don’t know what’s going to happen there.
Would you want to play a villain?
Henstridge: There’s such a fine line between good and evil; and so, you can be one or the other with the same intentions, the same common motivation to do what you think is right. So I think that anyone could do good or evil.
What’s your impression of their relationship with Coulson?
De Caestecker: I think there’s probably a side of him that really scares them. I think they’d probably try to avoid him as much as possible; but, at the same time, I think they are very conscious of what they do and how good they are at it. So when they achieve something that they think is really great, they’re really quick to tell everyone, and they’d be very quick to let Coulson know.
Henstridge: Yeah; and I mean, he’s sort of the father to us all; they desperately want to impress him, but he keeps raising the bar. So it’s that kind of, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t get up there,” and then they work together, and they come back and are like, “We made it!” and he’ll go, “Okay, well now it’s here!” It’s that kind of back and forth.
I think the thing about the team that Coulson’s tried to pick is that on the surface they already specialize in what they do, but one of the main focal points is them overcoming things that scare them, and situations that they’ve never found themselves in, which is kind of the biggest challenge for them.
How would you describe the characters to those who don’t know them?
Henstridge: I would say that Simmons is a biochemist. She’s incredible at what she does, with lab work, and figuring out samples, and she’s come up very quickly at a very young age, and hasn’t really had much social interaction, other than with science.
De Caestecker: Fitz specializes in engineering. I suppose he’s responsible for all the gadgets and things you see in the show; the technology. But yeah, he’s similar. I think they’ve both found themselves being locked away too long in the lab, so when they’re actually put in these situations, a lot of their insecurities and fears come out.
Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson)
In the movies, especially Avengers, it felt like Coulson was the audience surrogate. And in the TV show, you’re the one who kind of controls the ball. Does that change how you see the character?
Gregg: Well, I was pretty sure I was dead. I was really sad. Because I really dug being this guy. Especially as every different writing and directing team came along and added to the chain letter of who this guy was, and I got to find out. And that’s been kind of the weird, funny acting game that goes with this guy, is, “Oh! Oh, I’m that.” And that was never more fully realized then when Joss kind of took what was clearly there, and of course he’s got the trading cards; of course he’s got a monstrous embarrassing man-crush on Captain America. It all makes sense – of course he does. And so I loved being the fan avatar there; because I love this stuff. I loved it when was a kid. I’m a huge sci-fi nerd. I was a bit of a Marvel nerd when I was young; and to get to be that guy meant everything to me. So I was really sad the day I had to go in there and get shanked by that Asgardian bastard!
So when I got a call saying, “Listen, you may not be 100% dead”? I was well and truly stoked. But I had to make sure that it didn’t undermine The Avengers, and once Joss explained to me where he thought he was going on that, and it was so ridiculously cool and dark, I was in. That said, I had to kind of take the writers out to dinner – although I made them pay – and say, this is the deal: when I’m playing this guy, I always have to sit down with whoever it is and go, “Who am I now? What am I doing here?” And to go from bleeding out on the floor of the Helicarrier to putting together a fast-response S.H.I.E.L.D. team in this pilot – that’s a different Phil Coulson.
To a certain extent, I think he’s pretty limber, in terms of his ability to do stuff; and Director Fury has tasked him to what I think is probably the most pressing concern. It’s an interesting choice by Director Fury. He’s going to take this guy who’s been the kind of diva-wrangler; the guy who is, like, managing the green room at Coachella for the Avengers, and put him in charge of this very fast-response team that he gets to pick himself, using really weird instincts of his own. To deal with a world after The Avengers, where we’ve gone from knowing about Tony Stark and his bitchin’ suits, and maybe a little Hulk and Abomination in New York, to wormholes and Chitauri invasions; and everybody wants a piece of that. So it makes perfect sense; you get to keep the spectacle of those movies but put it in a smaller human context, as represented by Coulson in the movies – the people who can bleed. And that’s a perfect recipe for a TV show.
When I got the second script, I thought it was going to be a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trapped in an elevator, because there wouldn’t be any money left after the pilot. So when I got that, and it’s more spectacle – if I survive a season of this, it’s going to be really amazing to see.
How much are we going to see of Coulson’s personal versus professional life?
Gregg: He’s a wonderful dancer. We’re going to see a lot of his dancing. And if know Joss, there will be a musical episode. But I’ve seen the episode I’m shooting now; I’ve seen the pilot. Other than that, I don’t know. I’m so impressed by how Marvel takes what happens, and then exploits it right the way all the fans would want them to – Joss being a key part of that. The fans wanted Coulson back to life – it happened. As a fan, I saw The Avengers, and I thought, “Man, they’re going to be pissed that he’s still alive, and he’s going to be pissed about his cards!” We’re going to probably have to find out about this cellist; so I’d be shocked if we didn’t go down those roads. But I’m just speaking as a fan now.
Seeing your likeness in the Spider-Man cartoon, does that amuse you?
Gregg: It amuses me to no end. To see him in the comics; and the fact that they so politely make me fitter and better-looking in all of my comic appearances; it’s really nice of them. I can’t compete with a lot of people I know at the San Diego Comic-Con, but I was into comics. So to see myself get drawn by various people kind of kills me. If I could get Jim Starlin to draw me someday, I would die.
Is Coulson going to be a little bit evil, or compromised?
Gregg: Evil’s very relative. There are people who thought he was evil at times in the movies, and I never thought so. I thought it was pragmatism.
Do you think the situation makes Fury look more manipulative?
Gregg: Yes; Coulson being alive makes Nick Fury more manipulative; but I’m not sure we know the whole picture yet. I wouldn’t leap to judgment on Director Fury. A lot of people have gotten into trouble rushing to judgment on Director Fury’s motives. I know there’s an answer to what Coulson’s doing here, after we saw him in such bad shape in The Avengers. We certainly get one hit of information in the pilot, but I think it opens a whole different can of questions.
What can you tell us about the relationship between Coulson and the team? Does he have a favorite?
Gregg: All I know is what I know from the pilot – he picks them, and some of them make perfect sense; others are really surprising. And just as it’s up to you to guess which of the Avengers he liked most; I think he’s going to be like a good crazy uncle – you’ll never know which kid he likes the best.
It seems like Coulson’s relationship to authority is changing. How does that affect how you play the character?
Gregg: I think you can’t have happen to you what happens to him in The Avengers and not have it change you on a very deep if not cellular level. I think he’s in a state of flux. I think everything’s up for grabs at the moment.
Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May)
Did you read Marvel comics as a kid?
Wen: I read some; I read a lot of fluffy comics, and the newspaper; but for me it was later, as I matured, that I got really into it. Because all of the stories – you realize it’s fantastical, but at the same time, it always dealt with the human emotions – the vulnerabilities. Especially with Marvel characters. They’re always struggling with something; they’re always in pain. And weren’t we all in pain, growing up? We can identify.
What’s your favorite trait or characteristic of your character?
Wen: I just love how Melinda May is always kind of cool. It’s nice to be that. It’s nice to be able to walk and feel confident and strong and just feel like at any second, if anybody messes with her, she’ll be able to handle the situation. Me, in the meantime…no, no, I do the same! That’s right! …When I’m in my garden.
You obviously get to kick some ass in the pilot.
Wen: Well, you know, when they showed the trailer, and they showed my fight scene, I was like, “Oh, okay – I think the bar’s been raised quite a bit now.” I love it. It’s a great way to stay in shape, and it’s a great way to kind of flex the guns every so often. I see how guys like to do that.
Given that your character is such a badass, why does she not want to be in the field?
Wen: I think that’s what’s so mysterious about her. There’s some sort of history in her character that is making her reluctant; and it will slowly be revealed. I think she has a history that I can’t wait to have revealed, and I believe she has history with Coulson. You know, they’re both vets; they both worked hard to get to Level Seven, and I can’t imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. being such a huge, huge force, so I’m sure their paths crossed. I mean, there’s a reason why he’s recruited her, and I think it’s because he wants somebody there who’s got the experience.
What’s the coolest thing about playing a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?
Wen: Wearing that badge! That’s pretty badass, just to walk around with that badge. And this whole experience has been amazing. Every day, I’m really thankful.
So which relationship that your character has are you most interested in seeing developed?
Wen: I think because it’s such a new team, her reaction to the young kids is going to be interesting. I think that’s probably very new for her; and what her role is. Because right now, I sense that her role is to sort of be a protector of them. But then again, not knowing what kind of missions they’re going into, it could just be that they’re really annoying to her. There might not be these life and death situations; so it’s going to be interesting to see. But for me – definitely her relationship with Coulson, and how that develops.
How aware were you of Joss’s previous work, and specifically his penchant for badass warrior women?
Wen: Don’t you love him for that? How can you not watch any Joss Whedon, as a woman, and as a geek girl? You know – the Buffys – he taps into that, and I don’t know why, but God bless him. He’s a geek god, and every day I went to work for the pilot, I was just like, “I’m speaking Joss’s words! He’s in the same room with me!” He’s like a rock star to me. So – yeah – I had to stay very professional.
What’s your favorite of his past shows or characters?
Wen: Buffy definitely is one of my top favorites. I grew up with that; and that was such an amazing ensemble of actors. And he always had the humor, mixed with everything. And how cool is it to have J. August Richards in the pilot?
This character is so mysterious that it’s a bit different than some of his other characters. I think over time, that will bleed in, where you start to really understand her, or warm up to her. She becomes more humanized, with the experience; that’s how I feel. I don’t know where it can go, because there are some other shows where if a character is this way, they stay that way for the duration; it’s expected of them. And I think with her, she starts off being really tough and not very talkative, and hopefully over time when she starts making connections with people, she’ll develop more.
Joss Whedon (executive producer, director, and writer)
These guys are a lot more like Wolfram & Hart than they are like Angel Investigations; how do you turn guys like that into the underdogs?
Joss Whedon: That’s something we’ve been joking about since the beginning – they’re a ragtag group of faceless bureaucrats who control your every move! And that’s honestly a conflict that we open with, by making Skye a member of the team. On some level, we’ll be having our cake and eating it too – which is a delightful phrase for hypocrisy! And on some level, hopefully we’ll be able to broach the issue in a way that’s not trivializing – but if we’re dealing with it as writers, and the audience is dealing with it, then the characters need to as well. You know, sometimes S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the thing that makes it better, and sometimes S.H.I.E.L.D. will be the thing that makes it worse. It’s a very gray area; and that’s part of what makes it exciting.
Who’s your favorite new character of the series?
Joss Whedon: Well, I love all my children equally! Honestly, I really do love all my children; it’s a great show. But Fitz / Simmons, because of my boarding school days, I have particular feeling about. We did not write them to be British – but they sure ended up being that way! I guess it’s okay to call them my favorites because there are two of them; so they have double power.
As you’re working on the show, how much does you helping on the show impact your work on Avengers II, or how much do you keep that separate?
Joss Whedon: When it’s movie time, it’s movie time, and everything else has to fall by the wayside. It will require enormous focus, and always does, to do both. The good news is sometimes when you’ve been thinking about one thing all day, the way I relax is to think about something else. “Oh, a different puzzle!” Sometimes you’re like, “Uhh, more work;” and sometimes you’re like, “Oh thank God! A completely different set of problems.” So I will do as much as I can, but I have surrounded myself with people who are extraordinary at doing it when I’m not around.
Will we see the Hulk?
Joss Whedon: Yeah, we will totally see the Hulk, because it’s super cheap. We could do that on a television budget; if you don’t mind that he’s South Park Hulk.
Speaking of the budget, how will you be able to sustain the level of spectacle?
Joss Whedon: We’re not really about the level of spectacle. Obviously we want to have some big episodes, and for me, it’s like you’re opening a comic book – “I want to see something cool!” But you’re opening it because you love the people who were in it last month. It’s about these six characters. One of the things that I loved about Avengers was that Marvel’s very dedicated to building spectacle from character. And they weren’t afraid to have two people sit around and talk; for a while. And for the show, I want there to be episodes that are very intimate, where very little happens; because the emotional consequences are ultimately the only thing that ever matter, no matter how much shit you blow up.
And on that note, hope you enjoyed these awesome interviews, and until next time, Servo Lectio!