Marvel's The Avengers — which, as you surely are aware of by now, is out in theaters this Friday — is Clark Gregg's fourth Marvel Studios production as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Agent Coulson, following 2008's Iron Man, 2010's Iron Man 2 and 2011's Thor.
Though Gregg himself seems surprised by the character's rise to fan-favorite status — calling it "incredible" — it appears that Marvel had at least an inkling of bigger things to come for Coulson following his relatively minor Iron Man role.
"My understanding is if you do craft service for Marvel, you have to sign a multi-picture deal," Gregg said to reporters at a press junket in March for the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. "Because I think they knew that they were going to try to do something like this epic, multi-picture, multi-chapter adventure, and they didn't quite know exactly how they were going to do it."
Praising the business model of Marvel Studios, Gregg said that he was always contracted for multiple features, like many main players in the films."I signed up for a couple of pictures, which I thought was laughable and annoying, given the fact that in the script I agreed to do I had like six lines," Gregg said. "And I was doing it because I love the comics so much, and I love that cast, and the six lines were all with [Robert Downey Jr.]."
As Gregg continues, it's clear that his proclamation of love for comic books isn't just for publicity purposes, as he's able to cite specific creators and some relatively obscure characters from Marvel lore.
"I was really into this stuff when I was younger," Gregg said. "I loved Marvel Comics. I would draw them in class when I should have been trying to learn stuff — that's why I had to be an actor, because I spent all of my time drawing Iron Fist, and Warlock, and trying to be like Jim Starlin. Then I let it go and did other stuff. To come back to it was amazing."Not only has Gregg come back to Marvel Comics, he's essentially become part of them — Agent Coulson has extended beyond the movies and into the recently debuted Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, where he serves as the undercover principal of Midtown High, voiced by Gregg. Coulson also was recently introduced to the classic Marvel Universe of the comic books in last month's Battle Scars #6, with both versions clearly visually shaped by the actor.
Gregg says Coulson's appeal is relatively simple; that he's the view of the common man as fantastic things are happening — albeit a common man that's also a highly trained secret agent.
"He's a little bit our eyes on the ground," Gregg said. "He doesn't have superpowers. I would imagine a large segment of the people watching the movie feel comfortable that they could beat him in a fight — although they would be wrong. I think it gives people a real link to this stuff. You don't have to have a trillion dollar iron suit or be a Norse god to really connect to the world.
"He's kind of a normal guy who really believes in this stuff," Gregg continues. "The fun part is, with each movie they reveal, 'maybe he's not quite so normal.'"
Coulson takes more of an active role in Avengers than in past Marvel movies, and Gregg has already worked with writer/director Joss Whedon again, in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator's self-financed adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
"If you know Joss, and you know his work, from the minute I got the script, I thought, 'Wow, this of course makes perfect sense,'" Gregg said of Avengers. "There's some of the funniest stuff from any of the movies, for my money." At the same time, Gregg said, the characters still feel "right," with each individual voice distinct and authentic.Principal Coulson is now seen keeping an eye on Peter Parker and his fellow superpowered teens weekly Sunday mornings on Disney XD, and Gregg says that the qualities that make the Marvel Studios films work carry over into the televised Ultimate Spider-Man.
"The animated world is different than any of the movies, but each of the movies have been different. Marvel still does the thing they do so well, there's action, and there's characters you care about, with problems that are real, and at the same time it's funny, and it's tongue-and-cheek," Gregg said. "I've been really impressed with the writing."
Working in animation is new to the actor, but he's enjoyed the experience thus far.
"I've never done an animated show before, and I've always wanted to," Gregg told Newsarama. "I just never thought it would be as cool as being Principal Coulson, and getting to hang out with Aunt May — who's kind of hot in Ultimate Spider-Man."Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!