Why 'Agents of SHIELD' Chose Robbie Reyes Over Johnny Blaze as Ghost Rider

"Truthfully, Nicolas Cage turned us down," executive producer Jed Whedon jokes.
Courtesy of Marvel; Getty Images

When Agents of SHIELD decided to tackle fan-favorite Marvel character Ghost Rider in season four of the ABC drama, the show's producers had a choice: go with Johnny Blaze, the most well-known iteration of Ghost Rider, or a lesser-known version.

Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb and executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen decided to go with option B and cast True Detective alum Gabriel Luna as the newest version of Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. Casual fanboys know all about the original Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, thanks to the two live-action Ghost Rider movies starring Nicolas Cage, and most of the comic books are about the stunt motorcyclist who sold his soul to who he thought was the devil. So why is Robbie Reyes coming to SHIELD in the fall?

"Truthfully, Nicolas Cage turned us down," Whedon jokes to The Hollywood Reporter. We moved on as fast as we could," Whedon told THR with a laugh before confessing Robbie's backstory was too attractive to pass up.

"At the end of the day, SHIELD is really a show about family," Loeb tells THR. "I know that it looks like a show about a bunch of spies that are running around on a big, giant plane that are saving the world every week, but it really is about a group of people who come together because they have no one else in their lives. When you watch the show from that point of view, you really understand that Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a father figure, and these people around him are people he needs to look after and make sure they're OK."

Since Robbie was introduced into the Marvel canon in 2014, his story has focused on his family history as he lives with and takes care of his developmentally disabled brother Gabe and will do anything to keep both of them away from the gangs that run East Los Angeles.

"Robbie's story, in its inception, is the story of an older brother who's looking after his younger brother, and then how the world of the Ghost Rider changes that dynamic," Loeb says. "That's true of any Marvel hero. We begin in a place where it's something we can all relate to, and then something extraordinary happens to them, not that they've ever asked for it. What we'll find out along the way is Robbie's journey now that he has the burden of being the Ghost Rider, what that does and more importantly how that affects our cast at SHIELD."

To hear Tancharoen tell it, the fact that there is so little source material on Robbie compared with Johnny was also a big factor in their choice.

"People are familiar with Johnny Blaze. Robbie Reyes is a new iteration of the character," Tancharoen tells THR. "There's not a lot of material on the character so it gives us a lot of room to have our take on it. And also, just the fact that he is a young kid who grew up on the streets of East L.A., we liked that backstory. We like seeing a character like that in the mix of our team."

"Most people, when they think of Ghost Rider, just think of the flaming skull, so we can really pick and choose what we do," Whedon adds. 

And because Robbie's story includes the opportunity to add more diversity and inclusivity to their show, Whedon and Tancharoen promise that they will dive into Robbie's family history and his dynamic with his brother "fairly early on."

Agents of SHIELD returns for season four on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at its new time, 10 p.m., on ABC.

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