melinda may marvels agents of shield pilot 'Marvel's Agents of SHIELD': Ming Na Wen on Melinda May's backstory, movie crossovers

In its premiere last night, fans finally had a chance to meet the cast of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” The pilot also made it clear that the show will have plenty of overarching mysteries about who these agents actually are. One of the biggest backstories waiting to be unwrapped is that of Melinda May, an esteemed SHIELD agent who got out of the field only to be dragged back in by Agent Phil Coulson.

“It’s definitely a slow reveal of her character,” Ming-Na Wen teases of Melinda’s Season 1 story arc. “You see her more in later episodes where she’s on task and you see what she’s capable of doing, but you get hints about her perspective about things. She’s very much the observer, and whenever she wants to put in her two cents, it’s something that you want to listen to and kind of pay attention to.”

Just don’t expect Melinda May to warm up by episode 2. Wen says that it could take a while for her character to get completely comfortable around her new SHIELD team.

“She’s slow in getting acclimated to part of the group and being in the field again,” she says. “To me, that’s so much fun to play because she has such great mystery and yet such great strength, and then when she does something it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, wow! What a surprise!'”

In a series filled with newcomers like Elizabeth Henstridge and Brett Dalton, Wen and her costar Clark Gregg are the Hollywood veterans. She says that sometimes the pair turn into “mama bear” and “papa bear,” and that their offscreen roles parallel their ones on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.”

“As much as Melinda May and Coulson are the vets, they can learn a thing or two from the young scientist and bioengineer and Skye character. They can learn a few things from them,” Wen admits.

“Pilot” showed how “Agents of SHIELD’s” episodic plotlines will work, but also teased a greater set of mysteries. Who is this new Centipede enemy dabbling with Extremis? What is Skye’s secret? And why is Coulson still alive? Wen says that “SHIELD’s” first season will find a balance between its one-off plots and overarching ones.

With showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen holding the reins behind “Agents of SHIELD,” Wen says fans should expect plenty of typical Whedon-style moments in the new ABC series. 

 “It’s sort of embedded into the DNA,” she says. “You’re going to get the quips that happen, the great lines that make people laugh or smile, but what’s so great about those lines that kind of lighten a moment is that it really comes out of the situation. They’re not punch lines. They’re really moments that come out of a very intense situation. It gives the audience a chance to kind of breathe and relax out of that intense moment, and that’s a magical thing.” She adds that all the writers on the team share Marvel movies consultant Joss Whedon‘s humor and sensibility.

With “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” being a spinoff of sorts from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a sense of inevitability that the TV show will cross over one day with the Marvel films. But Wen isn’t letting any details slip about if or when that would happen.

“It would be fantastic, but I’m not greedy,” she says. “I am so happy with what we have and living in our world. It is truly one of the most exciting jobs I’ve had, and I’ve had some really good doozies. If it happens, it happens. If not, living in this world is plenty on my plate.”

According to her, “Agents of SHIELD” manages to standalone from the films despite being a part of the same universe.

“I think there will always be a synergy and a marriage between the film world and our show because we have that title, ‘Marvel.’ It fits kind of all under that one umbrella. But for us, it’s almost just like moving the camera lens and focusing on a different part of the landscape,” she says. “We’re not focusing so much on the superheroes anymore, we are focusing on the agents of SHIELD. Who are they? Who are these men in suits? These mysterious characters who hop in and out, between the adventures that go on between the superheroes? And it seems like they just kind of come in sometimes to sweep up or clean up.”

She continues, “I think the focus for our show definitely is about this team in particular that Coulson has put together, and you know we’re going to take our audience for an amazing adventure every week, which is also very nice. It’s a little bit different from the movies, where you have to sell everything and show everything in two hours. We can do it over several months — and hopefully several years.”

“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs on ABC on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

Posted by:Terri Schwartz