Inside AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.'s New Dark Season

New York Comic Con Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. press room
Credit: Lan Pitts
Credit: Lan Pitts

The fourth season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H. I. E. L. D. premiered right before this year’s New York Comic Con, which gave fans their first look at the show’s newest addition: Robbie Reyes and his flaming Hellcharger, the Spirit of Vengeance Ghost Rider. At New York Comic Con, Newsarama was invited to a press event with stars of the show Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, and Gabriel Luna. They were joined by head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb, who gave insight on the future of the season and what fans can expect this time around.

Gabriel Luna, who joined this season as Robbie Reyes, Marvel’s newest bearer of Ghost Rider, was playing around with a remote control car that beared a strong resemblance to Reyes’ Dodge Charger. He even added a S. H. I. E. L. D. logo on the control. On top of that, Luna was sporting a S. H. I. E. L. D. sigil ring.

Credit: Lan Pitts

“Last time I was here,” referencing to New York Comic Con, “I was shooting a movie called Freeheld and I had no idea this was going on. I didn’t even go in, but I was just marveling at everybody’s creations. So to now to be in the middle of it, it’s pretty wild.”

Luna mentioned he’s been in contact with one of Robbie’s creators, Felipe Smith, and had read a little about the character after he was cast in the role.

“The funny thing about that was they called me and said they wanted me for Ghost Rider. I was like 'Sweet, I can put my motorcycle skills to use as I just came off a mini-series called Harley and the Davidsons.' They were like 'Nah, look it up.; So I was thinking that they were going another direction with Dan Ketch or something, and just being a part of it was cool. I didn’t realize how cool Robbie actually was until I did some research and read Felipe’s story and what him and Tradd [Moore] had actually done.”

The actor stated that there were a lot of synchronicities of his life with Reyes’ and that helped him find the character.

“The fact that there was a character who looked like me, acted like me, and had this amazing family dynamic with this brother it was just too good to be true. They Skyped me while I was in the desert as I was filming and we talked about it and did all my research. We were talking about it, but also not really talking about it. I think at the time, they didn’t even use the name 'Ghost Rider' as they were talking about the character.” He said they were speaking in a code, but he understood what was going on. “I just think this is fantastic.”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 poster
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 poster
Credit: ABC

Luna was asked about what it was like initially coming onto a show that is so immersed in mythos and being the new kid on the block so to speak.

“If they hadn’t been so welcoming, it would have been more difficult, but it wasn’t. Each and everyone of them came up and gave me a hug and said let’s do this. The show itself is so strong. I watched all of season three to catch up and they just keep raising the stakes.”

He talked about how they watched the season premiere in a movie theater in Los Angeles and how it felt right being on the big screen.

“Yeah, it’s a TV show, but it fit, ya know? It fit because it’s so big. I’ve been having a lot of work.”

Luna talked about his stunt work on the show and how much the studio lets him do his own stunts.

“We all do a lot of our stunts. Clark does a lot, Ming does a lot, Chloe...I mean, everybody does a lot of our own work. I was a football player before I was an actor so the physicality is right in my wheelhouse, but as much as I do, I couldn’t thank Morgan Benoit enough, who was my second call after I Jeph gave me the job. I called my mother, and Morgan Benoit, who has been like a brother to me and he’s been doing my stunt work for ages now. This is our fifth character together. Eric Norris, Chuck Norris’ son, is my stunt driver. I do as much as I can, but if you need me to run into a wall, I don’t mind seeing Chuck Norris’ son do this thing. That T-boning a car in the first episode? That’s Eric going wild.”

The actor credits the fight coordinator, stunt director,  and special effects team as the whole package of what brings Ghost Rider together.

Luna was asked about how he would feel when a toy comes out of Robbie in his likeness.

“I would flip my shit, man. I’ve seen all the fan art so far and the talent a lot of these kids have, but once they draw Robbie in the comic with my likeness, I don’t even know, man. I love it.”

Credit: Lan Pitts

Next up was Jeph Loeb and he talked about if he regrets using the phrase and subsequent hashtag “it’s all connected."

“I don’t know if I regret it as much as I didn’t realize it was something that was going to be on my headstone,” he joked. “I can appreciate the fact that our fans care that much about our characters and the connection between our characters is something that goes all the way back to the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Marvel Universe was the idea that the Fantastic Four would hire Matt Murdock and it would take place in a Daredevil comic. I, myself, the way I got into comics was a Sub-Mariner comic that talked about Iron Man and had a little footnote that said Iron Man #35 and went back to the spinner rack and that had Tony saying how he just back with the Avengers. So pretty soon, you have every Marvel comic ever published. When we started out with S.H.I.E.L.D. it was something born out of the movies, because our lead was in the movies. It just became how can we keep going on because it’s different when you make a movie every two or three years, but we have to make 22 hours of S. H. I. E. L. D. and after four seasons, we have essentially made 44 movies.”

Loeb talked about how fan reaction has been at times and how they ask for more characters to be introduced, but it’s a complicated process that involves producers, studios, and so much more, but he’s happy with what they’ve been able to do thus far.

When asked about if he would ever go back to comics, Loeb said that he’d never say never to going back, but this responsibilities now would make it difficult.

“These characters, both Marvel and DC, have been good to me for me and my family. When I get asked what I do for a living, I say I’m a storyteller. I’ve been at this now for 35 years, but I can’t do what I do if the audience doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. So I’m always flattered when people bring me their comics or tell me a story about how they appreciate my work. That’s the gift.”

Talking about the use of characters and how Deathlok was considered hit or miss with fans, but how Ghost Rider has been seen as more of a success, and why this version of Ghost Rider seems to fit the show so seamlessly.

“If I knew how to make only hits, I would just make those. Everybody at Marvel believes in story. If it’s not on the page, it’s not going to work on the screen. So being able to tell stories and tell them well, starts with a stellar writing staff. It’s a challenging show to not just write, but to produce. It’s one of the biggest shows on broadcast TV so when a character connects, it’s the casting and how we’re telling his story and where that’s taking us.”

Credit: Lan Pitts

Joining next was actor Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Phil Coulson and former Director of S. H. I. E. L. D. who acted as the original glue between the first phase of the MCU. This past season had been extremely harsh for Coulson as he lost his girlfriend Rosalind Price as well as lost a hand and had to kill a former ally, Grant Ward.

“Yeah, our lives make our Tinder profiles very rough,” Gregg said jokingly. “I loved all the stuff with the Inhumans and found the last episode really moving. It makes sense that everybody’s a mess right now. We’re all hurting, but we can’t take a break as there’s this guy with a flaming skull riding around.”

Gregg talked about his motivations behind playing Coulson this time around without his Director title and how he felt it was challenging and relieving at the same time.

“I’ve been doing this for so long that I walk into a scene in my office and there’s another guy there with a bunch of people and he’s making all the decisions now. I was asked why I was so crabby that day and I was just ‘that’s my office!’ and so yeah, I’m sure they thought I had lost it by now.”

Talking about his film Choke, based off the Chuck Palahniuk novel, which he directed, he was asked if he ever thought about directing an episode of the show.

“It seems really fun. Both of the films I’ve directed it nearly killed me as they were done very fast. I look at what we’re doing on the show and how they add fight choreography and visual effects and they still do an episode in eight days. It always seems daunting. If Coulson was in a brick like Han Solo for an episode, that might be the one to direct.”

Gregg then discussed how he keeps the role of Phil Coulson fresh after all this time, evolving from a small side role to being the star of his own show.

“I remain grateful. As a comic book fan, as a nerd, to have been to able to do this guy who just showed up for a couple of scenes in the early script to watch him expand and eventually get a surrogate family. He’s explored so much of the Marvel Universe, I never thought I’d be able to see. I feel so lucky to being able to play in this sandbox.”

Credit: Lan Pitts

As for the remaining season, the actor talked about what’s in store for Coulson, but he couldn’t say too much.

“For all my street cred in Marvel, they still don’t tell me much. I can tell you everything I know, which isn’t much. I’m about five more episodes ahead of you so what I know is what I’ve seen. We’re in this magical world now with Robbie Reyes and I know Doctor Strange is coming out soon, so I expect some elements of that is something we’ll explore on our show. I don’t think you’ll Benedict Cumberbatch making out with Daisy, but that’s not for Chloe’s lack of asking.”

He continued with former connections to the MCU including the origins of Hydra and how Hive came about and the addition of Jeffrey Mace, the golden age character the Patriot, to the show as the new Director.

“I’ve seen Robbie Reyes’ bad ass Hellcharger. I think Coulson would love to see a matchup between Lola and the Hellcharger. They’ll reinvent the show two more times by the time the season is up.”

Lastly, Gregg mentioned that it would be hard to keep the secret of Coulson’s death to all the Avengers. He said he even told Sif to keep it from Thor as he wanted to tell him himself, but at this point in time he feels like it would have gotten out.

Credit: Lan Pitts

Chloe Bennet was up next and the actress started with how this season is the biggest yet, but also the most different from any of the previous ones.

“It’s much darker and grittier. I mean, we filmed til 2 in the morning, hopped on a plane and headed here and I still had blood on my face as we took off. It’s going to be a different season. [Daisy] is mourning a lot.”

She was asked about Daisy’s evolution from hacker to fighter and how she’s taken on the role within each season. “I have to pinch myself because it’s so insane. For them to trust me this much and it’s such a meaningful opportunity and it’s been awesome to see six different girls dressed like Quake who were all Asian-American. All of them telling me how important this character is to them.”

Bennet talked about how difficult it’s been transitioning from Daisy’s usually bright demeanor to something more morose. “I was like 19, 20 when I auditioned for the show and I feel like there’s this organic change that happens. You’re bright eyed and excited but then realize how much actual work is going into the show. For Daisy,” she said, “the first episode there’s a mention about her cosplaying at Stark Towers, but now she’s an actual superhero. There’s this awakening she’s had and I think you see that on screen.”

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