Clark Gregg Tells Us All About Agent Phil Coulson’s Return In ‘Captain Marvel’

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Back in 2012, Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson died heroically in The Avengers, fueling the cause the team needed to eventually defeat Loki. (Remember when Loki was the main villain in the Marvel movies? This all seems like 50 years ago.) Fans were sad, as they had grown a fondness for Coulson. It became a big deal. (In 2012, when I worked at HuffPost, Gregg came to our offices to have his first interview about Coulson’s death. What I remember most about this was the anxiety from everyone involved surrounding this plot point possibly leaking before the movie was released. Again, this all seems like 50 years ago.)

Then, on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson was back! And then he died, again. But the trailers for the next season show that he’s back again — at least some version of him. And, of course, he’s also back in Captain Marvel. But this one is a little easier to explain since Captain Marvel is set in 1995, where we meet a (digitally de-aged) wide-eyed Coulson who has no idea what’s in store for him over the coming years. And it’s the first time moviegoers will see Coulson back in a Marvel movie since the aforementioned The Avengers.

But, first, Gregg takes us back just 10 years as he remembers his role in (500) Days of Summer, and one line in particular.

Hey, how are you?

Good, what’s going on?

Well actually, I’ve had a cold this week, so if I sound weird.

I expect a little of that from you, Mike.

Before we get started on Captain Marvel, have you been enjoying the (500) Days of Summer 10 year anniversary resurrection?

Oh, really? Have people been showing it? I knew that there was some celebration of the 10th anniversary.

A lot of people have been writing about it. I laugh every single time you read off that greeting card.

Oh, thank you. I have to watch it again. Actually, I was shooting somewhere downtown, a couple of blocks from where we shot that scene. I was doing an indie horror film the other day and someone on the crew said, “Hey! (500) Days of Summer! And we shot right there!” And I was realizing, God, that was already 10 years ago.

I know. It’s crazy.

“Roses are red, violets are blue. Fuck you, whore.”

And we’re at 11 years of Phil Coulson.

No! Is that true?

Yeah. 2008.

2008. You’re right. Jesus Christ.

Did you enjoy the de-aging effect. Do you have to wear something on your face?

It was incredibly painful.

I have no idea if you are serious.

I’m just kidding with you.

I didn’t know if there was something on your face.

They pulled my skin back. With a screw.

We should start that rumor.

I have more Botox in me right now… no. It was just dots on my face. They asked for a bunch of pictures of me in the ’90s. I think they realized I already looked like shit back then, so they started from scratch. I don’t know who I’m gonna look like. I haven’t seen it yet. I hope it looks like someone good!

It looks like you in Clear and Present Danger.

That was one of the photos I sent them, and they must have used it liberally.

So back in 2012, I did your first big interview after Coulson’s death. You came into our office and everything. And, since then, you’ve come back, you’ve died again. Now you’re back again in this, and you’re back again on the television show. Do I have that right?

I mean, I think so. You’d have to break it down and go over it again, but yeah. It’s confusing to me as well. The guy’s really hard to kill, apparently.

It’s like a good guy version of Jason Vorhees.

It’s really true. I think of Kenny, from South Park. He just dies at the end of every show.

Eventually, there will just be no explanation.

Oh, there’s that guy again.

When did you first realize people liked Coulson?

It’s funny, I guess … I don’t know! I’m really not sure. I certainly kind of couldn’t believe Joss wanted to give him all this stuff to do in that cast, in The Avengers. I thought for sure that was going to all end up on the cutting room floor. He said, “You know, people are going to be so sad.” And I said, “I don’t know. He’s a little bit snarky and annoying. They might be kind of glad to see him go.”

And so, to see the fans just not having it, and doing the whole Coulson Lives thing, to this day, it’s one of the most moving things that’s ever happened to me as an artist or a human. To have it be something that’s turned into 125 episodes of a TV show that, to me, has only gotten better as it’s gone along. It’s really just been a gift as an artist, just to be able to do all that stuff and go all those places and explore a character in that many universes. It’s been really, really fun. And to kind of go back in time. There’s something really cool about going back in time to the beginning of it, before he knows all that stuff. And to get to do some of the origin story beats with him and Nick Fury, that was really a kick.

You get a cool entrance in this movie. You get to do the “dramatically take off your sunglasses” move.

Oh, I do? That’s fun. I think I remember that now.

I heard some cheers.

That was me and my friends.

I think it will get good applause in theaters.

We can hope, Mike.

I think it’s going to happen.

It could very well get a, “Oh, for God’s sake! This guy? Again?”

Coulson is such a wide-eyed optimist in this movie.

Yeah. Well you know, we all start there. To me, the tone of the really good script, it felt early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s post-Red Skull. They don’t know what they really know about yet. So it feels like the world is about to crack open for them, and he’s the kind of wide-eyed tour guide for the audience, in a way. Even Nick Fury seems to adjust a little quicker.

For people who don’t watch the television series, this is the first they’re seeing this character since The Avengers.

Well, I mean, I feel like, if anything, it’s just an origin beat for the people who’ve seen the other movies. Because the cool thing about the Marvel story that they’re telling, is one story across, God knows, 20 some movies?

This is 21.

Twenty-one movies. The people who fall in love with Wakanda, they go back and they start watching what led up to it. Same thing has always been true. The people who stop me to talk about this, they want to talk about the ways these things influence each other. They’re interested in it as a giant run of comics, where it’s all part of the same thing. And that’s what Marvel’s done. It’s one thing that they’ve had a batting average like this, doing great films, but to do this one giant story that all connects, I think is amazing.

Did you get to meet the cat?

I can confirm that I met the cat.

Is the cat nice?

I can’t say anything more.

‘Captain Marvel’ opens in theaters nationwide this week. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.