Ming-Na Wen on Playing S.H.I.E.L.D.'s 'Bulldog' and Joining the 'Really Cool' Whedon Family
When it comes to S.H.I.E.L.D. maidens, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as fierce as Melinda May. But Ming-Na Wen, who plays the “retired” soldier on ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (premiering Tuesday at 8/7c), says her heart is as mighty as her muscle.
Picking up a short time after where the Avengers movie left off, S.H.I.E.L.D. follows Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, reprising his big-screen role) as he assembles a team of agents to investigate extra-normal and super human people and events worldwide. ER alum Ming-Na’s Melinda is a revered ninja coaxed out of retirement, Brett Dalton plays rising star Agent Grant, Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker form the science-and-tech team of “Fitz-Simmons” and Nashville’s Chloe Bennet plays a superhero-obsessed hacker named Skye.
TVLine spoke with Ming-Na about being recruited for Joss Whedon’s small-screen Avengers follow-up, Melinda’s shared bond with Coulson and what her young son makes of Mom’s “super” new job.
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TVLINE | Talk about the courtship process you had with S.H.I.E.L.D., when they came to knock on your door. Were you looking for a new full-time opportunity?
Oh, yeah, but in L.A. — and to have a show shoot in L.A. [as S.H.I.E.L.D. does] is a rarity these days, it seems. But actually, I probably would’ve gone anywhere they wanted. “Oh, we’re going to shoot in Sweden!” “Sure, I’m going!” That’s how much I wanted this job.
TVLINE | Did you instantly recognize how buzzy a project this was going to be?
When I first was presented with the appointment to meet with Joss and everyone, and going on the audition, I was already beyond excited. When I got the call that they were offering me the job? That was hitting the Lotto. After reading the script, I knew it was going to be a good show, but to have this kind of buzz…. I don’t think anyone can predict that. But it’s happening. And it’s pretty exciting.
TVLINE | What do you love most about Melinda May?
I love everything about her. But the thing I love most is where her heart is. It’s very, very masked and covered up, but she has so much inner strength. Everybody knows that she’s kick-ass and that she has a lot of ninja skills, but for me, playing where she soldiers up and overcomes whatever trauma that she had experienced that pulled her out of the field, and is willing to do her job and protect not just people at large, but her team…. That, to me, is her best quality.
TVLINE | Well, you talk about her trauma, and it’s hinted at in the pilot. How soon are we going to get some insight into what she’s been through?
Gosh, I can’t say, “Hey, in Episode 10….” I will say that it will be a slow reveal, but that’s going to be true for all the characters, which is what I love. It’s back to the kind of television I grew up with, where you don’t know everything all in the first two episodes of a series. For me, this is an amazing novel that unfolds little by little, chapter by chapter, maybe even goes into a second book and a third book, but it’s definitely a story that reveals the characters slowly, so that you really get to know who they are. That’s the luxury of doing a television show with the Marvel title as opposed to a Marvel movie.
Watch a brand new S.H.I.E.L.D. promo featuring fresh footage, then read on for more:
TVLINE | Are you privy to information about Melinda? Things that will eventually come out in that slow reveal?
I have some stories that I go on, from what Joss has told me. He’s a good storyteller. You should ask him!
TVLINE | How would you describe Melinda’s dynamic with Coulson? Is she merely his muscle?
In a way. She can be his bulldog, but at the same time, there is true camaraderie. He pulled her out of the field, he’s the one that gives her that second chance. He believes that he was saved from “the great white light” [after the events of The Avengers] and everyone deserves a second chance, so there’s great friendship and history between the characters.
TVLINE | And who would you say she experiences the most friction with?
Right now, she sort of is observing a lot of things, because for her to get back into the field is still a tug of war, as is connecting with everyone. Her most suspicious relationship is with Skye. She’s not quite sure why Coulson recruits her, and I don’t think she trusts Skye. So, in that sense, maybe her biggest friction is with Coulson as well, because there is some tension about that particular choice that he’s made.
TVLINE | Your son Cooper is almost eight. Is this a project that he can appreciate?
Oh, completely! He was at Comic-Con and saw the whole experience, with the screaming audience, the cheers. I think he was pretty blown away by it. To me, it was so funny, because he was like, “Mom, I can’t wait to see the second episode!” He is very much into it.
TVLINE | Has this role provided you any firsts, as an actress?
It’s provided me with a chance to work with Joss Whedon, who I’ve been a huge fan of. To now be part of the Whedon/Disney world, it’s a great combo. It’s like being with a new, really cool family.