Exclusive Interview: Clark Gregg on Trust Me and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Clark Gregg Trust Me

I did not go to New York for the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s just not on my festival circuit at this time, but when I saw that Clark Gregg had directed a film playing at the fest, I knew it was an important story. This is the second film from the director of Choke. Trust Me stars Gregg as a talent agent for children who discovers a tyke about to land the latest Twilightesque franchise.

We were able to get Gregg on the phone two days after his premiere. Gregg may be best known as Agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel movies, and he’s also shot the pilot for ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV series. Staying in the Joss Whedonverse, Gregg also appears in Much Ado About Nothing, due in theaters this summer. We talked about all three projects with Gregg, and spoiler warning for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the billion dollar grossing The Avengers.

CraveOnline: When did you have time to direct again between all the superhero movies?

Clark Gregg: You know, they had rudely killed me off in Avengers so I knew I had a little bit of time on my hands and I had been working on this project for a while. Then it came together and while I was doing this I got a call saying, “You might not be as dead as we originally thought you were.”

So this was your project after last summer?

Yes, I tried to make it first, not last fall but the fall before, after The Avengers and I couldn’t quite get all the pieces together. Then it came together at the end of last summer after The Avengers had come out.

For your first film, Choke, you adapted Chuck Palahniuk. What prompted you to write an original script for the next film?

I’d been writing for a while. I was given Choke to adapt because I had written a script called What Lies Beneath, a thriller years ago, and was working a lot as a screenwriter for a while. Suddenly when I turned my focus away from acting I started to get a lot of work.

Is the script for Trust Me inspired by some real Hollywood experiences?

No, I wouldn’t say it was based on anything that ever really happened, but I certainly was doing some jobs with kid actors and I was quite struck by their agents, how they didn’t get any respect in kind of the grown-up Hollywood world and they were all kind of struggling to find and cater to the needs of some child who might get them to the big time. I thought that would be funny, a movie about that. By the time I finished writing it, it turned out to have brought up some more ambivalent feelings, which if you dig into that world at all, it’s kind of nonsense if you don’t explore that. It also seemed to be about a lot of things that really had nothing to do with Hollywood. It was just a template against which I could set some emotional stuff I was interested in.

We are sort of in a post “Entourage” world though where everyone thinks they know Hollywood. Does that help make a movie like Trust Me accessible?

No, I think Hollywood is very wary of straight insider Hollywood stuff. I feel like generally they say, “We’ll do anything except an inside Hollywood thing.” Then “Entourage” comes along or the various other things that are like that. There’s many of them that work. It has to really work. The idea of child actors to me felt under explored. There’d been a great movie, or a movie I loved, called Life with Mikey years ago but there hadn’t been much. I had a lot of people when they saw it, it premiered the other night, say, “I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before.”

Directing your second movie, what was easier and what were new challenges?

The part that’s better is it’s not your first time. I think it’s probably similar to having a baby. So much of what’s terrifying the first time you have a child is not knowing what the hell to expect or what you’re going to have to do and what your job is. And the second time, every baby is different, but the second time you at least have a ballpark idea of what goes into the process and what it’s going to feel like. So that was a big relief and at the same time, the first movie I’d shot in 25 days and acted in three of them, and I swore I would never act in another one of my scripts and I wouldn’t ever do a movie in less than 25 days. This one I made in 20 and I was in all of it. It just goes to show how absurd the concept of making plans is.

But you had a lot of the same cast as Choke, right?

Sammy Rockwell. Sammy Rockwell’s in it. Everyone else was new. They were people I’ve worked with before but not on Choke.

I’ve never been to the Tribeca Film Festival before. What is the vibe of this festival and how is it going?

It’s a great vibe. A lot of times, Sundance which I’ve been to, it’s up in the mountains and everyone’s there just for the festival. New York is the perfect place for a film festival because there’s already so much energy and life here and New Yorkers love movies. I feel like there’s a million of Woody Allen’s film loving characters, the kinds he argues with in lines outside of movie houses in his movies. They’re a very responsive, smart audience. Watching the movie for the first time in front of 1000 New Yorkers the other night was kind of a dream experience. Not only did they get everything I was aiming at, they got a lot of stuff that hadn’t even occurred to me. I moved here when I was 19 and grew up in lower Manhattan in my 20s and 30s, so the fact that this festival was kind of engineered to breathe life back into lower Manhattan after September 11th just makes me happy every time I come to it.

Are you getting to see any films there?

Our premiere was Saturday. It was quite late. I slept all day yesterday. I think tonight is the night I’m going to go try to see a couple of films.

Cool. Anything in particular on your radar?

I really wanted to see Mud last night but I wasn’t able to. There’s another movie that Justin Long made that Sam Rockwell is in called A Case of You. My pal John Slattery’s in a movie called Bluebird that I hear is great. There’s a couple of documentaries I want to see.