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Did Clark Gregg have any idea that -- when he signed on to do in "Iron Man" back in 2007 -- that playing Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. would eventually become a full-time gig?
"Not at all," Clark remarked at a Disney XD press conference last week which heralded this Sunday's debut of the new "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series / this cable channel's Marvel Universe programming block. "I knew (the director Jon) Favreau a little bit and he had this very small role for me. The script that I was initially shown had -- I think -- six lines total for Agent Coulson. But since I was such a fan of the Marvel characters & comic books when I was growing up -- more importantly, because all six of my lines were with Robert Downey Jr. Someone else who I was a big, big fan of -- I agreed to do the movie."
But then a funny thing happened. Gregg's Agent Coulson character began popping up in other films that were set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2010's "Iron Man 2" and 2011's "Thor," to be specific). Not to mention having this S.H.I.E.L.D. agent appear in those terrific little "Marvel One-Shot" direct-to-video production, "The Consultant" (which was released on the "Thor" Blu-ray & Blu-ray DVD) and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer ... " (which was included as a Special Feature on the "Captain America: The First Avenger" Blu-ray).
Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and Chris Hemsworth as Thorin "Marvel's The Avengers." Photo by Zade Rosenthal. Copyright 2001MMLFFLLC. All right reserved
"Which was great unto itself," Clark remembered. "But then I was backstage at Comic-Con, about to go out and do the panel for 'Thor.' And Joss Whedon ran up and introduced himself, I already almost passed out right then. And then he said, 'I've been meaning to call you. You have a big part in 'The Avengers.' Can we introduce you as part of the cast today?' That was almost more than this longtime Marvel fan could take."
Which is why it's particularly surreal for Gregg (who grew up watching the original "Spider-Man" animated series on TV. "I can sing you the theme song right now, if you like," Clark proudly proclaimed) to now find himself voicing the character of Agent Coulson for Disney XD's soon-to-debut "Ultimate Spider-Man" show.
"Marvel Television called and said that they were going to do this new animated series where Spider-Man and several other teenaged superheroes would be in high school. And these characters were all going to be monitored by Agent Coulson, who'd now be posing as the principal of this school," Clark laughed. "And then they said 'Would you be comfortable with hearing someone else's voice coming out of Agent Coulson's mouth while you and your daughter were watching 'Ultimate Spider-Man' on TV?" Those fiendish bastards. Of course I wouldn't. Which is why I immediately signed up to do this show."
Clark Gregg voices Principal Coulson in Disney XD's new animated series, "Ultimate Spider-Man." Copyright Marvel / Disney XD. All rights reserved
Mind you, even though Gregg is an accomplished stage actor (Aaron Sorkin cast him in the original Broadway production of "A Few Good Men"), an acclaimed screenwriter (Clark wrote the script for Robert Zemeckis' 2000 thriller, "What Lies Beneath") as well as a television veteran (You've seen his work on "The West Wing," "Sports Night" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine"), "Ultimate Spider-Man" is the very first time that this performer has ever voiced a character for an animated series.
"This being a superhero show and all, I thought that I'd be spending most of my time on 'Ultimate Spider-Man' going 'Ooof!' and 'Owww!' But that really hasn't been the case," Gregg continued. "To be honest, I've been really impressed with the writing on this show. I mean, there's action. But these are also characters that you care about with problems that are real. But at the same time, it's funny. Some of the interaction between Peter Parker and Principal Coulson has been just great."
So what with working with "The Avengers" and "Ultimate Spider-Man" for the past year, Clark has obviously had a pretty Marvel-ous year. And seeing as this performer was in such a magnanimous mood at this Disney XD press event, would Gregg then be willing to share a few spoilers for this highly anticipated Joss Whedon film.
(L to R) Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man, "Marvel's The Avengers" director Joss Whedon, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evan as Captain America on set during a break in shooting for this Walt Disney Pictures release. Photo by ZadeRosenthal. Copyright 2001 MMLFFLLC. All right reserved
"You're kidding me, right? I mean, you know that we're inside of a Disney building right now? If we were outside at a cafe talking about this topic, I'm pretty sure that they'd have snipers take me out. But in here? Were I to start telling you guys anything about this movie, my chair would probably explode," Clark smirked.
But after being assured by the Disney publicist in the room that his chair would not in fact explode, Gregg was semi-sort-of-kind-of forthcoming about this highly anticipated Walt Disney Pictures release.
"Look, if you know Joss and if you know his work, you know what to expect from 'The Avengers.' From the moment that I got that script, I thought 'Wow, this makes perfect sense,' Clark explained. "And for my money, 'The Avengers' has some of the funniest stuff from the movies. But at the same time, everyone's voice sounds like an extension of the voices you already know -- Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, for example. Plus there are some new voices. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and the whole relationship between that character and Black Widow is going to be very exciting."
Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye on set during the production of "Marvel's The Avengers." Photo by Zade Rosenthal. Copyright 2001MMLFFLLC. All right reserved
But now comes the big question: Has Gregg seen the final finished version of "Marvel's The Avengers" yet?
"I'm not going to lie," Clark admitted. "I have seen a cut."
Iron Man gets ready for action in "Marvel's The Avengers." Photo byZade Rosenthal. Copyright 2001 MMLFFLLC. All right reserved
"I'm very excited for people to see this movie," Gregg continued. " The hardest thing to get right is to figure out a proper way to bring all of these characters together and then fulfill the promise of 'The Avengers.' Marvel really set a very high bar for themselves because they've been setting this coalition up over the past five movies, and they better deliver. And in my opinion, they thoroughly deliver."
But "Marvel's The Avengers" doesn't arrive in theaters in 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX 3D 'til May 4th. So if you're in need of a quick refresher when it comes to this corner of the superhero universe, may I suggest that you check out the new "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series and/or the Marvel Universe programming block? Which debuts on Disney XD this Sunday, April 1st at 11 a.m. ET/PT.Your thoughts?
Copyright Marvel / Disney XD. All rights reserved
I'm actually acutely jealous that Jim Hill gets to do these kind of interviews.
I was familiar with Clark Gregg from his role as an FBI agent on The West Wing. When he showed up in Iron Man I thought "Wow. That's perfect casting." As Phil Coulson, he manages to seem both off-putting and trustworthy at the same time. I've enjoyed all his appearances threading through the Marvel movies. It's one of the joys of the "single-universe" approach Marvel has taken with its films.