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'Captain Marvel' star Clark Gregg spills on the softer side of co-star Samuel L. Jackson

The pair play opposite one another in the new Marvel movie, starring Brie Larson. 

Clark Gregg, left, and Samuel L. Jackson in

Clark Gregg, left, and Samuel L. Jackson in "Captain Marvel."  Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Agent Phil Coulson has been around since the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in “Captain Marvel,” you get to see an even earlier side of the S.H.I.E.L.D. mainstay.

Set in the 1990s, the new superhero film follows a powerful woman caught in the middle of a long war between two alien races, the Kree and the Skrulls. Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, is working alongside Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) when the warrior hero Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) comes crashing into a Blockbuster Video. “It seems to be very early days,” Gregg says. “They did some de-aging. I haven’t seen it yet, honestly. But I don’t think they did enough to explain why he’s such a newbie, because he looks like he’s about 28 or 30. Who knows? … But he seems to be a new guy and he seems to be very impressed and very keen on making a good impression on agent Nick Fury.”

Both Gregg and Jackson were de-aged using special effects to make the characters look like their younger selves for this period piece. Since his debut in 2008’s “Iron Man,” Gregg has played Coulson in multiple movies before taking the character to the small screen in the series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which has aired on ABC since 2013. 

amNewYork spoke with Gregg, 56, about the film.

Since this was a much younger Coulson, did you play him any differently?

I really just tried to forget an awful lot of traumatic, horrible stuff and terrible secrets from around the universe that he just doesn’t know yet. I tried to go back to a more naive, innocent place, which was not easy for me or Phil. We’re both jaded by the universe at this point.

That’s easy to understand.

I was just trying to make Phil great again.

Will you be getting a hat?

It won’t be red. It will just be the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo and scores of bodies on the side.

What do you think Brie Larson brings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

From the early days, from the days when I even read that my neighbor down the street, Jon Favreau, was putting together a cast to make “Iron Man,” with Robert Downey and Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow, I went, “Oh, wow. This is a whole different thing that Marvel’s going to do here.” And just, being such a fan of Robert, I knew that there was a chance that was the tone it needed and that was the kind of level of acting caliber they were going to bring to the party, and it’s been that way through “Guardians,” through Wakanda. And I think Brie’s as good as anybody of her generation and she brings reality that you really need for interplanetary Marvel stuff. And then to surround her with the people they did, from Jude [Law] and Sam and everybody else — LaShana [Lynch] — I was really happy to be invited back to a cinematic party.

And you get to share the screen with Samuel L. Jackson again.

Yeah, I’ve known Sam for a long time. It’s always a fun day when I get to show up and jump on the train and try to keep up.

Any fun stories you can share?

Sam is so tough and so cool and not overtly the most sentimental person or soft. But we were … doing a bit of a savage fight thing in the car for a minute and he hit me in the head. And suddenly there was a whole other Sam in the car that was so sweet and wanted to make sure I was not knocked out, although I could have been. He packs a wallop. He's still got the “Shaft” knuckles. I was really touched by that. I’ve been hit by a lot of people at this point, but nobody really cared that much — not like Sam.

What’s going on with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?”

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” did a very climatic, moving final season five finale, I got to figure about a year ago almost. And at the time when we shot it, we didn’t know if we were coming back anymore and I definitely had the feeling I wasn’t coming back because Phil Coulson was very terminally ill and saying goodbye. And not long after, we were told that we were not only getting picked up for a sixth season, but a seventh season. 

You directed a film, “Trust Me,” in 2013 and you got to helm a couple of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” episodes recently. What’s going on with Clark Gregg, the director?

The show runners were kind enough — and Jeph Loeb at Marvel — they were kind enough to ask me most seasons, do you want to direct one? And I just felt so overwhelmed the first three or four seasons, just manage all the stuff they were putting Coulson through. But then by season five, I said, “You know I really want to take shot at this.” … It was really like Marvel film school for me. I got to do … big wire fights and stunts and work with a bunch of people I already know and love. And it really was great. So then they let me do the first episode of last season which hopefully people will get to see at some point soon. … That said, it looks like we’re done [shooting] on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as of about June or July. So there’s a film that I wrote that I’m now attached to direct that I’m putting together a cast on and doing some work on to try to have ready to go in the fall.

Is there anything you can tease about that?

What can I say about it at this point? I can say that it’s called “Officer Bill” and that’s all I can say.

With this trip back to the 1990s in "Captain Marvel," if you could bring anything back from that era, what would it be?

You know, [“Captain Marvel” directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden] gave us a CD — I had to look hard for a place to play it — of just ’90s jams. And that is all I will ever need from the ’90s. The costume designer said, “Look, your suit is kind of ’90s. We looked at some real ’90s suits and they were just too horrible. We couldn’t put them on you.”

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