Reed Diamond Brings on the Bad Guys in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
We chat with Reed Diamond about his role as the season’s Big Bad before Tuesday’s Winter Finale!
The spectre of Daniel Whitehall and his machinations as part of Hydra has hung over Coulson’s team since the second season premiere of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Now, with the Winter Finale approaching this Tuesday, it appears as if the villain may finally have the opportunity to enact his “extinction level event” if S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t stop him in time.
Diamond relished the opportunity to play an out-and-out villain, bringing a measured menace to Whitehall that makes him all the more terrifying. Plus, as a longtime Marvel fan, he didn’t balk at the opportunity to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as this season’s Big Bad.
While you wait for the Winter Finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” this Tuesday, December 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC, read on to learn more about how Diamond got the role, where Whitehall sits in the spectrum of Marvel villains, and much more!
Marvel.com: You’d worked with series Executive Producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and that whole crew before on “Dollhouse,” so once you got the role of Whitehall and came on board was there a feeling of coming home in some ways?
Reed Diamond: I heard that Joss [Whedon] and Jed and Maurissa were doing this show right when we were filming “Much Ado About Nothing,” and I wanted to be on the show so badly. First of all, I wanted to play in the world, but second of all, I love those guys so much. I love working with them, I know how smart they are [and] how well they write. I was so jealous that there wasn’t a part for me when the show started. I don’t think I was available either, I think I was on another show at the time. So all last year, they asked if I was available [when] parts would come up and I wasn’t, I was shooting a show in Canada, [but] I’m so glad I waited because this was the dream part.
In true TV style, for about three weeks I kept getting calls that Jed and Maurissa were going to offer me a part but they couldn’t tell me what it was. I thought, “Great, great.” And finally when they offer it to me, I had to start the next day, and they go, “How’s your German accent?” I remember I scrambled, because I’m trying to put together this character in 24 hours. I was driving down to Comic-Con, and in the back of the town car I found the exact right German accent that I wanted to do, [so] I was learning it in the back of the town car on the way down.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Marvel and [their] villains. I remember I was really lucky when I was nine-years old [and] they released “Bring on the Bad Guys,” I got to go to the release party. Somehow my father was able to bring me to it, and it was in this penthouse in Manhattan and there was Stan Lee. It was amazing. I remember all the artists were there and they would draw any character you wanted them to draw. I had John Romita, Sr. draw me Daredevil, which I still have on my wall. That book, “Bring on the Bad Guys,” I sucked it into every pore of my body. I’ve always identified with the super villains, and I’ve always had a very sweet spot for Red Skull, Doctor Doom, and Loki, who I don’t necessarily regard as truly evil. But I love Loki.
I’ve always wanted to play the bad guy, so when this came along, it was a dream come true. [I wanted] to figure out where this guy fit in the pantheon, so I went back and I re-watched all of the Marvel movies. [I] watched how Hugo Weaving would play Red Skull, to see how they pitched it, to figure out how [Whitehall] would fit in within that spectrum. It took a little while, I even devised a whole workout program for him because I thought, okay, he’s this very sort of rigid, Aryan, dramatic evil guy, so he’s going to stand a certain way, he’s going to walk a certain way, he’s going to speak a certain way. The joke I always say [is] I went to Juilliard, and for about 20 years I didn’t use anything that I learned there. And I feel like the Whedon family has made a concerted effort to make me use my Juilliard training. Whether it be “Much Ado About Nothing” or this, because I really had to think about how he spoke [and] what his voice was like. I got to do an awesome German accent.
Marvel.com: You mentioned that you went back and tried to figure out where he fit on that Marvel villain spectrum–where did you land with that, then? Where would you place him between Red Skull and Loki?
Reed Diamond: Loki’s got that great sort of malevolent humor, and I took little ideas from all of them. I remember I created this whole workbook for Daniel Whitehall and on the cover I put Loki’s quote from “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “I’m burdened with glorious purpose.” Because I think the hardest thing for me [is], I’ve played a lot of bad guys, but I’ve never played a super villain. Heretofore, I’d never played someone who really believed that they were the best person to rule the universe, or at least the Earth. I hadn’t really delved into that sort of megalomania, and it exists in the real world. Not only did I re-watch all the movies, but I watched as many documentaries on Nazis as I could as well, because obviously that’s where Hydra was born out of, that idea that there was a “master race,” and there were people who were built to run the world and they were going to reinvent [it].
From the movies, I was taking away all those philosophical points that had been weaved in, that man can’t handle freedom. He doesn’t deserve freedom, and there are a few of us who are wise enough to actually run the world. Loki’s a god, and he’s royal, he’s like the evil, malevolent prince, so [Whitehall’s] got that quality. And Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull was very angry and had that amazing voice. I thought, “Okay, this is TV. I’m the smiling, calm, villain.” I thought that’s where I fit in. When Jed came up with the glasses, that was sort of the key. That’s your eye-patch. That’s your iconic piece, and he came up with the idea of cleaning the glasses. This is your character-identifying quality or feature.
It was funny because I do this other show with Malcolm McDowell, who I think plays some of the greatest bad guys of all time, and Malcolm called me up and he said, “What are you working on, darling?” And I said, “I’m the big bad guy on ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’” He goes, “Oh, wonderful, how are you playing it?” And I say, “Well, he’s very calm,” and he said, “Good. Always smile and let the lines do the work.” So I took a little bit of Malcolm McDowell, I stole a little bit from the movies, I stole a little bit from watching Nazi documentaries on the History Channel, and then [the writers] wrote such great stuff. I’ve had lots of just “dream come true” super villain monologues where we describe what I’m going to do to you and why you should comply. It’s been a dream job.
Marvel.com: You keep describing this as a dream job, and watching you in the show I can see you enjoying your job, which translates then into Whitehall enjoying his work, you know what I mean? You’re just having a great time with it, and on screen that translates into Whitehall having a great time torturing people, which makes it even more sadistic and creepy.
Reed Diamond: That’s exactly it. It’s so simple. I love reading people’s comments on it too, because just by being relaxed and enjoying it, it comes off that much creepier by being unfazed. [Whitehall has] that confidence that everything’s going to work out his way, because it always has. He’s just icky! There are so many times we’ll finish a take and whoever’s directing will just go, “Ew. You’re so sick, you’re so gross.” It’s great, I love it.
Marvel.com: When you were developing Whitehall, what is it that you found was his central motivation? Why is it he thinks he’s the guy that can control the universe and run it the best way?
Reed Diamond: I always felt that he thought he should rule the world because he thought he was the smartest man on the planet. It was all intellect, because he’s obviously not a man who ever dirties his hands. I’ve got other people who are the muscle–that’s why I love that scene where Kyle [MacLachlan] comes in as the Doctor, and he starts killing all of the poor red-shirt Hydra agents. He just offs them, and [Bakshi] and I just stand there. I sit there, because I know I’ve got some other device in that room where I can eliminate the Doctor, knowing that no harm is going to come to me. He has this sick intellectual curiosity. I loved [how] in that scene, he [also] wants to see what the doctor’s going to do! He doesn’t care about any of his lower henchmen, he can get a hundred more in a second, so he wants to see what this guy’s made of.
I had to take full on sadistic pleasure in unraveling what makes people tick and then reprogramming them. I have time and patience. He’s lived for such a long time, he always has the big picture in mind. I’m always waiting for that moment, which may come where he’s frustrated to the point where he explodes. That would be an interesting thing to explore, but what’s so creepy and so fun is I have time to watch this play out, and if it takes 10 years or if it takes 25 years to get what I want, that’s fine.
Marvel.com: You’ve been talking about all these different scenes. Which has been your favorite to play so far with Whitehall?
Reed Diamond: That’s the best part of being a bad guy, and especially in the Marvel world, is you just get great scenes and great dialogue. Certainly the torture scene with Agent 33, where I’m pouring the drink and you don’t even see that I’ve got her hooked up to that horrible “Clockwork Orange” device. That’s your Marvel/James Bond villain little-boy dream. It’s fantastic.
Marvel.com: Obviously we can’t really say much about the Winter Finale, but what can you tell us about what’s coming up for Whitehall?
Reed Diamond: What we know is, everything has worked out for him. I’ve gotten the Obelisk, I know where the city is, I also now have people who can handle the Obelisk for me. So I feel, as we come into the Winter Finale, everything in my plan has come together exactly as I knew it would, and as I wanted it to. And hopefully nothing will get in my way.
Marvel.com: Anything else you wanted to add about Whitehall and being on the show so far?
Reed Diamond: The fact that I got to be in two time periods and that I got to work with Agent Carter was [amazing], and to do all that old age makeup and watch him age. In all my shows, I wear Hugo Boss suits because they just fit me really well. And my first fitting was to try on my SS uniform, which fit like a glove and were coincidentally designed by Hugo Boss. [laughs] [That’s] a semi-well known piece of history, but he designed those uniforms.
[Plus], I turned my daughter on to all of the Marvel super villains and she has my “Bring on the Bad Guys” book. For the last [few] years she’s been calling me “Reed Skull,” because she knows Red Skull is my favorite. It was funny to go to her school, too, because she knew I was playing [Whitehall] and she was like, “Daddy, what are you working on?” And I said, “I’m a super villain,” and she wanted to know all about him. I said, “Well, in the comic books, he’s also the Kraken,” so anytime I go to school she gathers her friends around and goes, “Daddy’s the Kraken on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” We have fake fights in the house where I’m the Kraken and she keeps stealing the Kraken’s helmet, which, [in the comics], without his helmet, he doesn’t have his powers.
Catch the Winter Finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Tuesday, December 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC!