HOW MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD’S LEADING LADIES ARE SUPER, POWERS OR NOT
“These women kick ass; we don’t have time to deal with that s**t!”
Before Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD even began shooting its pilot episode, Joss Whedon made it clear that there was one line the show would never cross.
Whedon, who directed and co-wrote the show’s first episode, sat down with series stars Chloe Bennett and Elizabeth Henstridge, both of whom were playing characters unique to Agents of SHIELD and were taking on their first series regular roles. He set one unbreakable rule for the two of them in their portrayals of hacker Skye (now revealed to be Daisy Johnson) and bio-chemist Jemma Simmons: they would create a relationship based on respect, and not be cruel to each other or portray a “clichéd, chatty relationship that is always on TV.”
“That’s the first thing that Joss said to me and Elizabeth. The first thing. i will never forget it,” Bennet recalled on the eve of Agents of SHEILD: Season 3’s midseason premiere.
Instead, these women would disagree as two geniuses in their respective fields; always respectfully, and always intelligently.
“He made that very clear, and I was just so grateful and thankful,” Henstridge remembered. “Female friendship is a sacred, beautiful, wonderful, supportive thing, and to be able to portray that, it just raises the stakes somehow if you really care for each other and you’d do anything to save them.”
Bennet added, “I’m proud of our show for doing that because it’s such an easy way out. These women kick ass; we don’t have time to deal with that s**t!”
Even as Daisy Johnson became the show’s first superhero, Agents of SHIELD was always open about the characters not needing to have special abilities or even throw a punch to be kickass. Speaking with three of the show’s leading ladies — Henstridge, Bennet and Ming-Na Wen — they opened up about their roles as strong women, with or without superpowers.
“I just love all the various aspects of our female characters,” said Ming-Na Wen, who plays Agent Melinda May. “They can be vulnerable and emotional in dealing with things that every human being has to deal with, and the struggles and indecisions about love and work. But at the same time, each and every one of them have a great sense of self, and if they don’t, they’re always in search of that in trying to become a better person.”
In the second half of Season 2, May will have returned to SHIELD and “shut herself down again as far as her emotions are concerned” after learning her ex-husband was the villainous Inhuman Lash, while also trying to reconcile herself with Coulson and keep their team together. Wen described her character as bringing a “quiet stability” and “maternal side” to the team, while also being one of the most action-orientated characters on the show.
That’s a duality that fans have connected with. Henstridge has found that fans often admire Wen and her character for seemingly being able to “do it all.”
“We see the different generations of women and also the different ways they can be strong,” Henstridge said. “It’s different aspects of what it means to be a strong woman in the different characters, and I think that it helps that we show the flaws in all the characters too, because something that’s obviously very human that we can all relate to.”
Agents of SHIELD continually seeks to ground its characters in humanity as they exist in a sc-fi, fantastical world. In the beginning, Skye was the audience’s entry into the world of SHIELD, which was familiar from the Marvel movies but had never been explored as in depth as it would be on TV. Bennet found herself reflected in her character during those early days of Season 1, and understood how people could connect with someone “so incredibly average living in their van and someone who genuinely has good intentions.”
When Skye was revealed to have superhuman abilities and later was trained to become a butt-kicking SHEILD agent who took on her given name Daisy Johnson, Bennet found herself looking at her character less as herself and more as someone she aspired to be.
“Daisy has exceeded my expectations on being so strong and so sure of herself in ways that I don’t think I have yet to grow into. She’s not afraid to let people know how she feels and say, ‘I know this isn’t what you believe, but it’s what I believe, and I’m going to make moves on that.’ That’s something I still struggle with,” Bennet said. “She’s just so strong, and it has nothing to do with the fact she is female, which is awesome. It’s just who she is. She knows what she wants and she knows what she believes in and she’s strong.”
But despite growing into a literal superhero with her Inhuman abilities, Bennet takes pride in how the character’s journey from Skye to Daisy still makes her a relatable and vulnerable person at the heart of the show.
“My character’s story is so grounded in being so vulnerable and having so many imperfections,” she said. “Then for her to grow from this character to be someone that can help someone, I think that speaks for anyone who feels like they’re not good enough to make a difference.”
Skye might have been the every-woman out of the bunch, But Henstridge has found a peculiar and heart-warming trend regarding science whiz Simmons: when attending conventions while promoting Agents of SHIELD, the photos of Simmons wearing her scientist lab coat and goggles always sell out first.
That’s helped Henstridge realize just how important Simmons has been to fans as a strong, competent woman in a male-dominated field. It initially didn’t strike Henstridge as unique to play a female scientist; her mother and grandmother are both doctors and her sister is a veterinarian, and she only realized the way her character became a role model later.
“Honestly, it really affected me,” Henstridge said. “I’ve met so many school kids that go, ‘I’m the only girl in physics class’ or ‘I’m the only woman doing a masters at college.’ It feels really nice that I get to be that role model, kind of by accident. It’s something I really love about playing the character.”
Henstridge said she most respects Simmons for knowing her own mind and being an independent thinker. “Men and women are different, inherently, of course, but that should be celebrated and not undermined, and I think that’s what the writers of SHIELD do so wonderfully,” said Henstridge. “We definitely celebrate strong women in SHIELD, but we also celebrate strong and wonderful men too.”
Agents of SHIELD set its standard for how it would portray its female characters with Skye/Daisy, Simmons and May, and it has since expanded that with people like Adrianne Palicki’s Bobbi Morse (who is getting her own pilot for a spinoff series) and newcomer YoYo Rodriquez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), an inhuman who will be introduced in the Season 3 midseason premiere. The actresses also credit show-runner Maurissa Tancharoen for Agents of SHIELD’s representation of women.
Calling Tancharoen “one of the strongest women I know,” Henstridge said being surrounded by powerful, empowered women is “not something that seems unusual to me.” “I guess it just shows how far we’ve come that I don’t get to work and go, ‘Oh my God, Mo is such a strong woman,'” she said. “I just think she’s such a strong person and so intelligent and I’m so glad that I get to be led by someone so wonderful.”
As Marvel continues it’s domination of the big and small screens, Agents of SHIELD’s forward thinking take on what it means to be a hero offers viewers a chance to see themselves reflected in a super capacity.
“TV is the medium where there’s the most diversity in all sense of the word, whether it’s sexual orientation or ethnicity — especially on our show,” said Bennet, “I’m so proud of our show for being so diverse. Whether it’s American or black of asian or Latina, we have so many people. It’s great. It’s so great.”
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC
Original article at IGN