For Clark Gregg, the challenge of Shakespeare is simple: “You throw yourself in 100 percent, as truthfully as you can,” says the actor, “and you just trust Shakespeare, because it has worked for an awful long time.”
Gregg — you know him as Agent Coulson from The Avengers, Thor and two Iron Man movies — co-stars in director Joss Whedon’s modern-day take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which opens Friday in South Florida theaters. Making the film, famously shot over 12 days at Whedon’s house in Santa Monica, was “crazy,” according to Gregg, who plays Leonato, father to the ingénue Hero.
“We have such a hang-up about Shakespeare,” says Gregg, who’s married to actress Jennifer Grey. “We think it was meant to be performed by Brits only, or you need a license.”
The quick shoot helped the cast — which includes Whedon veterans Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz and Reed Diamond — get and stay in character. “No one had time to second-guess themselves or decide whether they were Shakespearean enough.”
Gregg, who counts Much Ado as one of his favorite plays — though “I love Hamlet and Twelfth Night, and there are also parts of The Tempest I find weird and sexy” — was introduced to the Bard at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he played the lead role of Benedick in Much Ado. (“I was walking by the theater and saw a couple of tremendously attractive women walking in, and I followed them,” he says of his introduction to the theater department.) Like most of the actors in Whedon’s film, he’s at ease with the dazzling yet difficult language.
“I work as a writer, too, so I love Shakespeare’s language. So much of what you get to say as an actor. … I wouldn’t say it’s pedestrian, but it’s not this exalted poetry of Shakespeare. I got to work with Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet. They prepared me for it. They have their own kind of poetry.”
The plays still resonate for good reason, Gregg says.
“They’re about the most primal, core, visceral things we continue to wrestle with. Hamlet has got this stepfather, his uncle, who has just moved in, and now his mother is sleeping with the guy, who killed his father. You describe that story, and you already have these feelings coming up. Look at Much Ado About Nothing — it’s got two lovers who are the funniest, most razor-witted people in town carving each other to pieces. It’s the template for everything from His Girl Friday to Moonlighting.”
Next up for Gregg is more Whedon. He’ll reprise his Agent Coulson role for the director’s TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which ABC picked up earlier this year. (No word yet on when it will air.)
And no, you’re not crazy: Agent Coulson was pushing up daisies by the end of The Avengers.
“I had to pinch myself,” he says. “I thought I was dead! And yet all the mysteries about why I would still be around were so compelling, and suddenly there were all the things I love about the Marvel universe — the humor and the action and incredible visual effects in a television format. When they picked us up, I was very excited.”
Follow OgleConnie on Twitter