“We keep thinking we’re going to get back from New York, and they’ll say, ’Just kidding!’ ”
That’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” producer Jeph Loeb referring to the then 48-hour-old news that the show had been picked up a for a full season when MTV News sat down with him, as well as series stars Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons) and Iain De Caestecker (Leo Fitz) at New York Comic Con.
“People think that because we got Joss Whedon, and we got Clark Gregg, and because ’Avengers’ was the third-highest grossing film of all time that it was a given we were going to get on the air,” Loeb continued. “And that’s not what happened. While probably to the outside world it seemed like it was a forgone conclusion, it’s never been a forgone conclusion for anyone who worked on the show. And particularly for those of us at Marvel, it’s a brand-new experience.”
With the added episodes — the show went from 13 episodes to 22 — comes greater freedom to explore the characters, noted De Caestecker and Henstridge. “There’s a reason that these people have been put together,” Henstridge said. “There’s a reason [Clark Gregg’s Agent] Coulson has picked these individuals. And we’ll find out exactly what that is, even the characters don’t know. But they’ve all had interesting paths to get that point, and that’s now definitely something we have the luxury of exploring.”
It also means we’ll get to see the characters out of their comfort zones, as De Caestecker added that Fitz and Simmons — the show’s resident lab rats — will end up working in the field and far out of their element in the additional episodes. “When they are to be separated, or away from their home… That’s when you see a very different side to them that you haven’t seen before,” De Caestecker said.
Part of that journey, particularly for Fitz and Simmons, will be determined by the open attitude on set for actor feedback. They told us that not only are the producers very open to suggestions, calling the set extremely “collaborative,” but that it’s a bit easier for actors to change the story arcs of newer characters (unlike, say, an Iron Man or a Captain America), as their paths aren’t yet set.
“Oftentimes, particularly in the writers’ room, you see a dynamic on a set, you see the way people are interacting with one another,” Loeb said. “And you have the opportunity to go, oh, that’s an interesting pairing, that’s something we haven’t thought about before. And in watching the personal dynamics with the actors, saying, oh what would happen if we turned those two people loose on each other and see where that takes us.”
And with only three episodes on the air so far, there hasn’t yet been a ton of room to play, something the extra episodes will provide. Loeb noted that while the pilot was all about setting up the show, the second episode went through a process he called “repiloting.”
“It’s, ’How do you get people to understand the show once again if they didn’t see the pilot?’ ” Loeb asked rhetorically. “From the writers’ perspective, it’s setting things up. It’s setting the table, and letting us see what happens. And when people see what happens in four, five, and six… We get to dig in deeper on some of the secrets that are going on, and some of the backgrounds of those characters.”
Viewers shouldn’t expect things to be hunky-dory from there on out, though. Loeb mentioned that as avid fans of creator Joss Whedon know, “just when you think things are going to gel properly, that’s the time to shake things up. And when you’re on a plane set at 30,000 feet, the danger is just inherent with what’s going on.”
“So which one of you is the traitor?” we asked, pointing at De Caestecker and Henstridge… Which was followed by noticeably nervous laughter.
Most important to the continued longevity of the show, though, is the timeslot. “We absolutely know we’re an 8 o’clock show on ABC,” Loeb said. “Which is very much a family network, and 8 o’clock is very much a family hour. Marvel did not get to be the dominant force that we are in motion pictures by excluding the possibility of opening up our audience to more than just what people consider the traditional fanboy.”
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. on ABC.