Is he a good guy doing bad things or a bad guy doing good things? Executive Producer Jeff Bell told us that’s the fun of Agent Ward on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. right now - that fans are asking themselves those kinds of questions. But when we asked Brett Dalton, the actor playing Grant Ward week in and week out, he had a different point of view.
It’s telling that Dalton looks at his character in a heroic light – and his arguments during our interview, which focused greatly on how he and fans perceive the character – might just convince you. After all, he already has backers, with the #StandWithWard hashtag on twitter, a group of fans who support the character even to the point of rubber wristbands asking “What Would Ward Do?” Meanwhile, Dalton is trying to play the character sympathetically, but admits to his ruthlessness, too, all the while planting the seeds for the future.
Now, after a shocking end to Season 1 and plenty of slow-burning plot for the first few episodes of Season 2, Ward (and Dalton) is ready to break out all over again. See what Dalton means when he says he’s still playing a hero, what teases he has for you for the final two episodes of 2014 and where the story will go when it returns for the second half of season two. You’ll also see how clearly Dalton identifies with Ward, as he shifts back and forth between “I” and “He” when discussing the character.
Newsarama: Well Brett, I want to start by asking you a question I asked Jeff Bell.
Brett Dalton: Oh boy, let’s see if our answers match up! [laughs]
Nrama: Because your character has become so interesting, so hard to figure out right now, do you think fans should be looking at Grant Ward as a good guy doing bad things, or as a bad guy doing good things?
Dalton: Oo… well, you’re asking the guy who’s playing him, so I’m never going to say, “He’s a terrible guy!” I think that he is a very good guy, doing some possibly bad things.
You know, I just think fans got an opportunity to see where he’s coming from. He had a terrible childhood, negligent parents, and an insanely cruel brother who tormented him! Then he went to Juvenile Hall! He had a lot of cards stacked against him. Garrett comes along and offers him a way out, and he follows the man. You know, he happened to be working for this organization, and they happened to be against S.H.I.E.L.D. But really, I was following Garret and trying to deal with the circumstances of my childhood.
So I think fans get a chance to be sympathetic to Ward. I hope that they’re on board with me as well. There’s a whole #StandWithWard campaign out there; I don’t know how big it is, but I like to think that it involved everyone who watches the show. (laughs)
Nrama: So it’s just Agents of WARD, really?
Dalton: Exactly! So you have been talking to Jeff Bell! [laughs]
Nrama: I found it interesting, Ward having the “B Story” for the first few episodes, then episode 8, again (after Season 1’s 8th episode likewise did), really was your big coming out party, with some pretty emotional stuff and again all these scenes that are very duplicitous, can be looked at many different ways. How do you approach that? Are you coming from just one direction, or looking at it from all sides?
Dalton: I think as it comes down the pipe, it’s genuine. It’s a perfect example in episode 8 of season one, you see this well and you think “oh my God, that’s him in the well!” So you’re sympathetic to that, then further on you realize “Oh no, that’s his little brother, and he’s up top! How terrible to be watching that poor kid!” Then even further on, his older brother is next to him and threatening him – it continues to play with your expectations.
So I think that’s what’s happening with all these things as well. So in episode 8 I took all those things as really genuine. Then this season, he has all these really personal revelations to Skye and further on down the line when they’re in the bunker, you have those confessions and it’s “Wow, he’s finally opening up to Skye!” This is why he is who he is, we’re getting a glimpse into his character. And then you get what we had in episode 8 of this year [The Things We Bury] with Ward’s brother, and you get his side of the story. Suddenly you have to look back and realize, “wait a minute, that was just his account. That was just one side of the story.” Now you’re getting another side of the story. The writers are really smart in not answering that question. They may give you the question, but they won’t give you that answer.
I think for me, playing the character, I have to decide, and naturally I am going to go with the most sympathetic version of things. So that’s where I’m coming from, certainly. But I think it’s just really smart TV to be continually forcing the audience to question this guy’s story. As soon as you think you’ve figured him out, something comes along like his older brother’s version of the story and completely blows it out of the water.
Nrama: You say you play the most sympathetic version, but there’s some real ruthlessness there, especially in these last couple of episodes. Where does that ruthlessness come from?
Dalton: Yeah, definitely. I mean, he may be a puppy dog at times, but also a bulldog when he needs to be. He definitely has teeth still, and he’s good at what he does. He is absolutely good at what he does. Garrett led him down a path, and saw some potential. I think that in terms of skills, all of his stuff is through the charts. In the pilot they said that I had the best scores since Romanoff! So this guy is a force to be reckoned with in terms of skill.
His backstory may be questionable, but his skills are unquestionable!
Nrama: So Ward got recruited by Garrett and worked for him, then worked on the team ostensibly for Coulson while still trying to further Garrett’s agenda. Who is Ward working for right now?
Dalton: [laughs] Oh… oh… himself, and his own code. I think that he is trying to fulfill his promise to Skye, which he has been good on since we picked up in his storyline in Season 2. Yeah, every man has his own code, and he seems to be completely living by that. He has a single-minded pursuit this season of fulfilling his promise, and honestly, I think that the words “promise” and “Skye” have been in every episode he’s been in this season. And “Skye’s Father.”
So he seems pretty single-minded in his pursuit this season. So that’s who he’s working for, he’s working for himself!
Nrama: Well that also falls in line with what Jeff said, so he’ll give you a gold star [laughs].
Dalton: Yes! I’m telling you, Marvel’s Agents of WARD is back on track! [laughs]
Nrama: Let me ask you this, then, now that your storyline is running head first back into the main mystery, how involved will we see Ward in the next couple episodes, before the break?
Dalton: [laughs] Well that’s a good question! I would like to see him in every single episode, doing all of the cool stuff, but I understand that other people have to do some cool stuff as well. There are other people in the cast!
Ward has not been in every episode. There have been times when his storyline, while incredibly intriguing, has not been front-and-center. So, you know, there’s that, but I know that fans want to see that… there have been a lot of seeds that have been planted in his storyline that fans want to see… um… watered and growing? How else do you say this? [laughs] Plant the seeds… fulfilled… But no, if you plant the seeds, then you have to water them, but that’s kind of, you know… watering? Weird. [laughs]
There are a lot of things that we’ve introduced that fans want to see fulfilled. There’s SkyeWard, Skye’s father, etc. So he definitely won’t be forgotten about.
Ahhhhh….sooooo… we’ll see! Yeah.
Nrama: I’m going to present a little theory on Ward.
Dalton: Oh, I’d love to hear it!
Nrama: My theory is that because he wasn’t given much as a child, all he does is take. He tried to take away May’s power and preparedness by sleeping with her. He takes away Coulson’s certainty and unwavering faith when he turns against him. Even Skye, who he’s seemingly trying to give something to, it’s like he’s taking away her identity. He took away Fitz’s intelligence. Do you think that pattern is something that fits with how you look at the character?
Dalton: All of these examples are true. Right. I mean, those are the facts, and that is one way of looking at each particular thing.
Another way of looking at every single one of those is that he has made every single one of those people stronger and wiser because of it.
You know, you said I took away May’s power, but at the same time (I mean, I don’t know if sleeping with someone takes away their power), I kept her in check for a time – but it seems like she’s stronger and wiser afterward. Same with Skye, we see her in season two and she’s badass! Something happened! After this betrayal, she has completely turned.
Same with Coulson as well. It’s not the Coulson that we found in episode one, all tongue-in-cheek and happy to have this little rag tag group together fighting crime. This is, all of these people I think have been challenged and tested, but I don’t know if I’ve necessarily taken from them. I have challenged.
And same with Fitz, too! He’s a different person now because of it, and we’ll just have to see what the future holds.
Nrama: He’s certainly more independent.
Dalton: [laughs] Yeah, exactly! It’s not FitzSimmons anymore, it’s Fitz, or FitzMack.
Nrama: So what are you having the most fun with playing Ward this season. After the Hydra reveal happened, and the way things are playing out, what are you having the most fun with?
Dalton: You know, I have fun with a lot of things for different reasons. The stuff in the cage was really cool, because it was just about two people in a room and their relationship together. When Fitz was in the room, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s alive in that room: all the missions that we went on, all the sandwiches we made and tossed out of tunnels – all that stuff is in the room with us, and it’s really just about two people. Those were really fun to act, because it wasn’t about, “okay, the explosion is going to happen on this line, and then you’re going to come in and do all of that.” It was really just about the relationship, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Those scenes, everybody was quiet on set, and those were really emotional turning points for the characters involved. So those were fun, those are fun to act!
But it was also fun to just be out there in the woods with Tim DeKay and throwing him around, talking about our brother and our mother and all this past. It’s funny, we didn’t, as actors, do a lot of talking or anything like that. We just went there, and by the end of the day we were real buds! There’s a kind of intimacy that you get, especially when you have those really emotional moments. It’s great, I felt like I knew him, without really talking to him and saying, “oh, where are you from?” I felt like I knew him even better through the work. So that was fun, too! Just two guys going there.
It’s also really fun right now, too. I think the last thing we saw of Ward was him all dressed in black in a Burberry suit, sitting down with the biggest, baddest players at the poker table, and there’s that smirk on his face, man. There’s something really [laughs] … the smirk. The smirk is what’s really fun to play, because he knows something that really other people don’t.
Nrama: Well since you focus so much on the relationships, to close us out, give us one tease of one relationship or conversation that Ward has with a character in episode 9 or 10 of this season that you’re excited for fans to see.
Dalton: Hmm, one interaction… Yeah. Well, there are some funny moments in 10 for Ward, I will say.
Every time that Kyle McLaughlin is on screen, I can’t look away. I think he brings something so, so good to that character, something unhinged that is completely scary but also heartfelt. I get torn – I don’t know, that’s probably more just a comment on his acting!
10 is our midseason finale, and everything has really been amplified this season. They’ve said this before, but it’s a game-changer, and our show will never quite be the same. That’s an exciting thing. We leave people with something to think about over Christmas [and during the Agent Carter hiatus], that’s for sure, and a reason that you have to tune back in come March. So that’s cool, we end throwing down our ace in the hole.
Nrama: The plants have been watered.
Dalton: [laughs] The plants have been watered! And Cultivated! And Pruned! However else we can take this metaphor. [laughs] #StandWithWard! #ThePlantsHaveBeenWatered!
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesday nights at 9pm ET/PT. December 2 and December 9 are the final episodes before a planned three-month mid-season break.