Exclusive Interview: Ming-Na on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Ming Na

Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is almost here and we have a lot of interviews with the cast and creators, so let’s get started with an early preview. Ming-Na was the most established name cast as an original character on the TV spin-off from The Avengers. The voice of Mulan, the star of “ER” and “Stargate Universe,” Ming-Na will play Melinda May, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with a reputation alluded to in the pilot.

We’ll learn more on September 24 when “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” premieres, but here’s what Ming-Na could say this summer at the Television Critics Association party for ABC. 

CraveOnline: Your character has a reputation before “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” even starts. What can you say about Melinda May?

Ming-Na: That’s almost a question you need to ask Joss because he created all these agents. It’s definitely not a character that is in the classic Marvel comic books, but she was one of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For me, I think because she’s the cavalry, she’s experienced, she has done a lot of kick-ass missions, there’s got to be something that caused her to retreat and caused her not to want to be in the field anymore. She’d rather just have an office job and I think Coulson knows her too well, so there’s some history with them that I love and hope to explore. 

But Agent Ward knows about her before they meet. Do you know the backstory we’re going to find out?

I know a backstory. Whether that sticks is entirely up to the writing staff, but it definitely gave me enough to work with as an actor to find that dark side of her, why she’s reluctant to go back in when it’s obviously something she’s trained her whole life for and loves doing. She absolutely believes in S.H.I.E.L.D. She believes in serving her country so it’s just a matter of finding out how much she’s willing to reinvest. 

How far ahead do you know the plan for your character? Or ideas, because obviously it can always change.

Episode by episode. They’re even keeping the storyline from us so we don’t know.

Is this the first time you’ve worked that way?

Yeah, pretty much. I think on “ER,” my other long running show, I had some ideas about what’s going on. “Stargate Universe” they were kind of secretive too a little bit about what they wanted to do, but I kind of liked working this way. I like the surprises and I like knowing just enough to work on the character.

How comfortable does the Joss Whedon dialogue feel to speak?

The only thing that I get paranoid about when Clark [Gregg] is so good at it and some of the other actors in the Marvel films, is just those quick little catch phrases, the cool phrases that you say and then you move on. Those I’m getting better at, like just throwing away.

You joined “ER” while it was already a working machine. I’ve seen you for a number of shows that launched. How different does it feel to be launching a Marvel show?

It’s really one of the most exciting sandboxes you can go to work in as an actor. The camaraderie that we had immediately, not just among the cast but with the producers, it’s so heartfelt. It’s one of those rare moments where everyone is in it together. I come from a theater background so this kind of ensemble work, we’re all together for one vision and one agenda which is to create a show for the masses to enjoy and to be entertained by. It doesn’t happen very often and that is sort of the Marvel magic.

And you must have some security that this is likely to go for a little while.

I’ve been around in the business to know there’s no security whatsoever, but I really believe that as long as you live in the moment, it’s all good.

This has a better chance than “Vanished” though, right?

You know, for me, I thought “Vanished” was a great show. 

But it was an unknown quantity.

Exactly, but I’ll take any slice of the pie and this is the best pie to have in town.

When you auditioned, was the role conceived ethnically neutral?

Yes, there was no agenda for them to hire an Asian woman. 

I have to say, I genuinely love Street Fighter: The Movie

Thank you.

I think there’s a lot of heart in that movie, but they’ve still never gotten a video game movie right, despite my love for that one.

No, they haven’t.

Why can’t they get it right?

Because a video game was just a video game. You needed a writer to put the characters and create that kind of reality for each character rather than keeping them in this two dimensional world. They needed to be more three dimensional I think, and we tried really hard with Street Fighter, but they don’t have any backstories. That’s what Joss is so good about is writing backstories