Exclusive 1:1 Interview: Trust Me Writer, Director and Star Clark Gregg!
Clark Gregg has to be one of the most down-to-earth gentlemen working in Hollywood. He is a creative and incredibly talented actor, writer, and director. Aside from his brilliant take as Agent Coulson in the Marvel Universe, he also happens to be a very unique filmmaker. In his latest feature film, TRUST ME, which he wrote, directed and also stars in, he plays a former child actor who is now a struggling Hollywood agent. The darkly comedic film is a sometimes brutal satire on the wild and weird world of searching for stardom.
It is always such a pleasure to chat with this incredible thespian. He is so nice and open that you forget you're talking to one of the main players on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and THE AVENGERS. During our conversation we discussed his latest feature and uncovering some very twisted Hollywood tales. He also chatted about his mentor, David Mamet, and discovering a sort of safe haven within the world of Joss Whedon. Will he direct an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is he going to make an appearance in AGE OF ULTRON? Find out below.
What is the challenge of taking on a film based on a darker aspect of Hollywood and not stepping on toes a little bit?
Thats a really good question. I think Im blessed with a naivete I have a very weird sense of humor so I thought CHOKE was a slightly weird romantic comedy with a little nudity. I found out other people thought it was a bit more shocking. In this case I felt the same I dont know, it tells a very twisted and dark Hollywood story but with a lot of love for the characters and a love for acting. Perhaps some real people will feel offended by it. But I guess my naivety in this case was, I was aware that it was a showbiz story but I felt like a miniaturist. It was really meant to be a specific story that really was a representative story of a minority of cases that everyone is very aware of. This happens. I also really felt that it could be in any kind of business. This is particularly true in Hollywood because there is this idea of stardom which is suddenly so powerful. Its always been powerful but its even more now and it seems to be this guiding obsession. I just felt like it was this kind of American idea that Im going to turn that deal that will put me on easy street. Even that language, it just sounds like its something weve been hearing since the Depression. I think its a kind of a beautiful but poisonous myth that has kept a lot of people from living in the reality of their circumstances for many, many years.
With this project you are a full on storyteller. You are an actor, a writer and a director. Which do you prefer?
I know I should have an answer for this question because it certainly begs to be asked. To me it feels all of a piece. I feel like it is about telling stories and maybe other people dont feel this way. But to me, I am telling a story. When Im acting I kind of get to tell a particular theme within that story, or I should say since its a theme its a symphony or an opera. It comes to my part and I play that part and I try and push the envelope and surprise people with it. You know, I really try to deliver what that themes job is in the story or symphony. And then other times that hasnt felt like enough authorship to me and I wanted to try and write something that kind of just more purely told my take on the world. As an artist you are trying to communicate with people. I have found that not everybody feels this need. Sometimes I wish I didnt. I have felt the need to kind of take out the middle man and try and communicate directly with people. Ive found the process of making something that I wrote with actors that I hired, choosing a score that worked for me, to be a purer form of the satisfaction one gets from telling a good story. My mentor in college was David Mamet and he said to us write the kind of movie youd like to see, be the kind of actor youd like to work with. Its such a perfect compass. Thats really why I got into it. I wanted to make the kind of movie that I wanted to see.
I just totally geeked out by the mention of David Mamet
Thats how lucky I am. I was a really lost kid who didnt know why I was doing it. I had some visceral thrill from some tiny bits of acting that Id done but I was lost. It was terrible. I luckily stumbled into this class at NYU with Bill Macy, who was a fairly unknown actor, and this young playwright, David Mamet, who was having a lot of success. It completely changed my life and it gave me a kind of clarity of vision, and it made me part of a company we all birthed, where everybody did everything. So you direct one, you act in one then you produce one and build a set for another. You started to get a kind of holistic idea as to what it means to tell a story. It was meaningful enough to me that I continued trying to do that to this this day.
There is a nice camaraderie with that, even with Joss [Whedon], using all these people in other works.
I didnt realize it at first but Joss is very much a comrade in arms. From the first day I showed up on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING I realized I was with a second home. The way I was welcomed by some of his players, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, the way they treated me from the first day it felt like home to me.
It was literally his home as well. [Laughing]
Yeah, literally his home! But you know, he tried to get me to do it and I couldnt do it. He hired somebody else and that person couldnt do it. And then suddenly I was there trying to learn one of the lead roles in this thing in two days. It wasnt a safe environment on its own until these people stepped in and made it safe. Thats how I came up was in a company with an ensemble where people really supported each other. I was finding out that I wasnt going to have the kind of time or money that I had to do CHOKE, which even then wasnt enough to do TRUST ME. It was being at Joss house and seeing how he did that in eleven days that made me think, okay, I can do this. My debt to him is as profound at this point as my debt to Mamet.
As a director, do you see yourself stepping behind the camera for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
I havent wanted to yet. You know, its so different. I mean, the directing Ive done has been with things that I wrote. I love the writing on our show and I love the direction its going in. I love the directors that weve worked with. So to me I find the task of really, fully delivering Agent Coulson and his journey is as formidable as anything Ive come across, except perhaps TRUST ME. And I feel like there are compromises you make when you try to do more than one. I certainly learned that here. Sometimes really good compromises pay off in other ways. But I take the gift of this character and his rebirth so seriously and so joyfully that my first task really feels like honoring the fact that these things dont work if you treat them like a comic book thing. As if it is something that you can kind of just show up and say the lines and squint at a monster thats not there and go home. Agent Coulsons journey has been about surviving the trauma of combat. Its a very salient and important thing to be talking about right now to me. Its about getting over some trauma and figuring out why you work for the thing you work for when it isnt what you thought it is. I think people that dont see the full breadth of acting challenge in that, they are just not really digging deep enough into the material. I think someday I might get to the point where I would think it would be a really good exercise in the right episode to try it. But Im still really trying to get in and get all the meat out of what Im trying to do as an actor.
Are we going to see Coulson in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON?
I dont think so. I havent heard anything about that. To be fair, the way that generally works is that I get a strange phone call in the middle of the night saying, You know Joss wrote something... Can you get on a plane? is honestly how it works. I kind of prefer it that way. Its too hard for me to sit here and BS you if thats not what Ive been told. I certainly - because Agent Coulson are almost inseparable at this moment - as Coulson I would be very sad if I dont get to explain my existence to some of my brother and sister S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents, Romanoff and Barton. And you know, front-off with Tony Stark again.
Finally, with the assumed crossover with AGE OF ULTRON, will we see more heroes popping up on the next season?
I dont know. I mean, I think what they beautifully established is that anybody is game to show up but that is never going to be what the show is. It is not a table at a restaurant we are holding for some superheroes to show up. It is specifically a show about the people who can be killed, like Agent Coulson who arent invulnerable. That said, its a great launching platform for some of the other heroes. Lady Sif is a great example. People get to find out more about Lady Sif than we got to know before. Ill be very sad someday if some people from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY dont show up in my world. I got no intel for that.
You can check out TRUST ME on VOD platforms and iTunes available now or when it opens for a limited theatrical run on Friday, June 6, 2014. Either way, I highly recommend this fantastically original flick.