INTERVIEW – ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ star Ming-Na Wen on Joss, being a badass and her mysterious character.

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Now that U.S. audience have gotten their first two tastes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. our readers want to know all they can about the characters in the new television branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This past July at San Diego Comic-Con, ABC was gracious enough to let me take part in the press room for the show, where I got to speak with the cast and creative team behind Marvel’s first foray into live-action TV. We kicked things off with an interview piece filled with great stuff from Joss Whedon and Clark Gregg.

This time out we’re going to share the conversation with the lovely and energetic Ming-Na Wen, who stars as the badass S.H.I.E.L.D. operative with the steely demeanor and mysterious past, Agent Melinda May.

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MING-NA WEN

It seems like there’s quite a bit of untold backstory on Agent Melinda May. 

She definitely has a history. She’s had to deal with quite a lot of things to reach that level. Level 7 is a very high place in the S.H.I.E.L.D. world. She’s a survivor, so whatever experiences she had is kind of what creates this mysterious damaged character and I can’t wait to find out more in episode 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, just keep ’em coming. Keep those episodes coming.

[pullquote_right]I feel like I’ve been given the best lotto ticket ever. This is a life altering experience for me.[/pullquote_right]Do you actually know her history?

I know a few things, yes. [laughs] You know in this world it can change on a dime. So whatever Joss was able to bestow upon me to help with this character – who knows? Who knows if it will end up being that. You will see a particular moment in her life mentioned a few times in the first few episodes.

MING-NA WENWhat’s different about working with Joss Whedon?

I feel like I’ve been given the best lotto ticket ever. This is a life altering experience for me. To be the geek girl who loves science-fiction, read stuff like [Jerry] Pournelle and Larry Niven growing up and then to have this moment where I am working with the geek god of all gods. He’s different. He’s loving to his characters as well as his actors and writers. He’s so generous. Yet I think it comes from the security of being really knowledgeable about what he is able to offer to us. And he offers a lot. It’s not just in his writing. It’s in everything. His being. Am I gushing a little bit? Yeah, I’m gushing.

So you get to kick a little ass in this series huh?

I do! I do! It’s so funny because I’ve always studied [martial arts]here and there, kind of like playing guitar, I’ve always tried to pick it up and then I drop it and then pick it up. Now I’m hoping this series is going to run ten years and I’m forced to become, like, a black belt. I love it, I love feeling strong and powerful and feeling cool. Don’t we all fantasize about those things? There are days where I’ll be driving down the freeway going “How would Agent May drive down this freeway today?” It’s so goofy.

What is Agent May’s mindset as she starts being drawn more and more into the action of these missions?

I think you definitely see her probably coming to terms with what she signed up for. She is someone who, if you tell her she has to do something, she is that kind of soldier. She will, under any situation, do her duty. Ultimately deep down inside she knows what she signed up for and I think there’s a history between her and Coulson.

MING-NA WEN

Do you foresee her being able to loosen up that tough exterior?

I think when she hopefully makes a stronger connection with the other newbies that will come. But right now, she is trapped in her own world.

Do you like playing a character that you can slowly unpeel over the course of time?

Yeah, but sometimes I struggle with it. It’s really difficult. To be that mysterious character and hoping that you’ll come across where people would want to know about her. What if everyone was like “Eh, we don’t care.” [laughs] That would suuuuck.

It’s kind of like when we were making this pilot. We were shrouded in absolute secrecy. We couldn’t talk about it, we couldn’t tell anyone, we couldn’t show anything. But what if we’re finally like “Here it is!” and everyone says “Oh, this is it?” I have so much trust in our writers to make her character a really nice reveal.

Since Joss will take his time revealing her backstory, do you create your own to go off of in the meantime?

Yeah absolutely. Not to get into the boring acting stuff. Because that’s boring. It’s taking stuff from my own life and what’s so great about Marvel is that most of their characters are people you can relate to, so for me it’s finding that connection with her that I’ve experienced myself.

Any examples?

Oh I don’t know, let’s see… maybe being the only Asian girl in high school maybe had something to do with the struggle of fitting in or finding the strength to overcome the pain. You delve into those deeper darker issues.

[pullquote_left]I’ve always dreamed of being on a show where my kids could watch.[/pullquote_left]You got Ballroom 20 at Comic-Con applauding your muscles. You’re officially an action star.

It’s kind of exciting! I’m finding muscles that I didn’t know I have. I’m working on it, I’m working on it. Everyday. It’s my motivation. But what’s really great is I’ve always dreamed of being on a show where my kids could watch and that’s what’s so great about this show. I know my son said “Mom! I didn’t know you could fight like that!” When would I have had an opportunity or reason?

SAM HARGRAVE, MING-NA WEN

Do you think Agent May could have potential leadership qualities for the team?

I don’t know. It’s going to be an interesting thing based on what I’m experiencing. It seems Coulson is the leader so I think she understands the heirarchy and respects it. It’ll be interesting to see. I’m sure if she has to go outside of the box she will, but only under very dire situations.

Are you looking forward to your inevitable action figure?

Wouldn’t that be fun? I’m just looking forward to finding some Agent Melinda Mays out on the Comic-Con floor all dressed up next year. That would be awesome.

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesday nights at 8:00 pm EST on ABC. 

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