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Clark Gregg On His New Film ‘Trust Me’ and the Future of Agent Coulson

Clark Gregg
Matt Carr, Getty Images

Clark Gregg strides through the West Village restaurant toward my table with an air of confidence that’s notably different than the first time I met the actor, shortly before the release of 2012′s ‘The Avengers.’ Then again, confidence is certainly something that can be gained after playing what was, at one point, a minor character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only to then have the role saved, in part, by a frenzied social media campaign — which resulted in the return of Agent Phil Coulson and Gregg headlining the ABC’s just-renewed for a second season ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘ It’s not too shabby of a time to be Clark Gregg — which is probably why Gregg didn’t even flinch when, as he sat down at our table, he noticed his fly was down. (For the record: I then discretely checked to make sure that mine was in working order.)

Gregg is currently promoting his new film, ‘Trust Me’ — which he wrote, directed and stars in — which has been on-demand and will get a theatrical run this week. Gregg plays Howard, a somewhat sleazy agent to child actors (and a former child actor himself) who goes to great lengths in his attempts to sign who he thinks will be the Next Big Thing — and, then, things get weird.

Gregg is known throughout media circles as a “good guy.” When you meet him in person, he’s engaging, polite and invested. On this day, Gregg seemed to be in a particularly good mood (wardrobe malfunction and all) as he discussed the difficulties of making a small, independent film in 2014 — and the strange reasons why we don’t get reported VOD financial numbers — and he looks back on the ups and downs of the first season of ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

This is the second time we’ve talked about this movie. We talked about it at Tribeca in 2013.

Yeah, but this is different now. Now is when it matters [laughs].

It’s a year later, what takes so long between then and now?

I was busy.

Is it really that simple?

Mostly I was busy. It’s really important for a little movie like this these days to have the impassioned filmmaker on the ground, kind of going around talking about it … and I was so insanely busy with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ that I had to kind of say, “I can’t take this out until we finish.”

This film premiered on-demand before its theatrical run. What’s your opinion of that?

There’s so much out there these days. You’ve got a minute to grab people’s attention. So, I’ll answer that question after we do this because it will be really interesting to see being on iTunes and all of those things builds an appetite for the movie theaters or saps it. I don’t know.

You’re in superhero movies and you’re also a director of small films. We keep hearing the system is broken right now, but do you think it’s broken?

To give you a really decisive answer: Yes and no [laughs]. Yes, it seems broken in that the film world, no one quite knows what it’s going to be next. It’s like The Thing and it won’t quite turn into anything — it looks like five different things at once. The focus with the studios is a lot of tent-poles.

And a lot of them do well. People like them.

It’s why we go to theaters. It’s so complicated because people have in their homes a 50-inch TV screen, and to watch an independent movie — though you don’t get the beautiful collective environment that I think is so important and special — but you’ll say, “Why don’t I watch that at home? My screen is spectacular.”

And no one is talking or on their phone.

Exactly … and ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron,’ they want to go see in a theater. In a way, [VOD] levels the playing field. A small movie with recognizable actors like this that people are liking gets shared on a grassroots level and it makes it an exciting time.

One of the problems has been that we’re not getting the VOD numbers like we do box office numbers, so we don’t know how a movie is performing.

Why won’t they release that?

It’s not altogether clear.

This must add up to me not getting paid somehow.

You’re probably right.

If anyone in the picture could be getting screwed, it’s probably me. I’m dealing with it on every front: People watch ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ in huge numbers, they just don’t always watch it live without pausing.

I’m in that category.

So am I, frankly. Even though I have to live tweet it! You know what I mean?

Looking back at this first season of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,’ what do you feel worked and what didn’t work?

This show is always about a new team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents working within S.H.I.E.L.D. in a new way — which is post-’Avengers’: A global response unit having to deal with all these different people seeming to be messing with, or trying to get ahold of, the technology or powers we saw in ‘The Avengers.’ Halfway through the season, we came to understand that many of this was all connected. That’s very much what was going on within the show. It was Marvel working for the first time with ABC with two very different models going in.

So there was trial and error.

There was trial and error. There were new characters, young actors and a team — just like Coulson has — coming together in a place where some people wanted to see kind of a villain of the week. Some people wanted to see it much more episodic, like the comics.

And to be fair, the movies.

And to be fair, the movies. And it became much more like that after the ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ crossover.

If ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ somehow affected ‘S.H.I.E.L.D,’ would you know about it?

No. I wouldn’t. They keep the secrets from me. And I’ve agreed to it — I think it’s right. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know. I didn’t know how deep Hydra reached; I didn’t know Hydra reached into my own team. Because I can just act better if I don’t know.

Do you think the Avengers will find out Coulson is still around at some point?

We have terrific writers and Joss Whedon is very involved. We had dinner — I just had dinner with him — and I kind of feel like the representative of the fans. “The fans brought him back to life and here’s what they want: They want to know what the hell happened to his cards, they want to meet the cellist someday, they want to know what he’s doing still alive and it can’t be a cheat…”

And “please don’t kill him again.”

I think they might be open to that. They watch my face enough times on their TV, they might be very open to that.

I don’t think people want you to show up in ‘Avengers 2′ or ‘Avengers 3′ and then just die again.

I don’t think they want it to be like Kenny, where I get killed every episode.

Mike Ryan is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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