Agents of SHIELD is going where no other live-action comic book property has gone before.
The ABC Marvel series is bringing Ghost Rider to life in season four, but instead of introducing the more well-known Johnny Blaze, the show will welcome the lesser-known version, Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna). While Johnny Blaze has been around in the comics world since 1972, Robbie Reyes only debuted in March 2014.
“Because there is so little material on him right now, a lot of the show is going to be expanding the Ghost Rider canon,” Luna tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s really cool. It’s all me. It’s all on me.”
Luna didn’t even know that Robbie existed when he first landed the major season-four role.
“I knew about Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch — those were really my generation of the Ghost Rider,” Luna says. “I, in fact, did not know that the Ghost Rider spirit of vengeance was now inhabiting Robbie Reyes now. When [Marvel TV head] Jeph [Loeb] and [Agents of SHIELD executive producers] Jed [Whedon] and Mo [Tancharoen] finally cracked the lid on what I’d be playing, I was shocked because when they called me, they were very secretive as to what it was. When I finally found out what it was, I did my research, and I looked into it, and that’s when I discovered that there was this new incarnation of Ghost Rider.”
According to Luna, as soon as he found out which version of Ghost Rider he’d be portraying, he went out and bought the entire Robbie Reyes run from his local Hollywood comic book store.
“I went to the desk and gave the guy the books and asked him if that was the entire run. And he was like, ‘Yeah man. It was a couple years ago. They did 12 issues. You should read it; it’s really great,'” Luna says. “I had just found out I got the job from Jeph a day before. It was great because the owner of the shop — he was calling from the aisles, ‘Did you hear that stuff that’s coming out of San Diego? There’s like a train that’s got an Agents of SHIELD wrap on it with a flaming chain and everyone is speculating that it’s going to be Ghost Rider.'”
He continues, “He has this encyclopedic knowledge of everything that’s going down in the books and graphic novels and comics world. I just loved the excitement that this guy had. That was the very first moment that I realized just how big this role was going to be and the importance that this role had. But even though he had this excitement, I had to bite my tongue, and I couldn’t tell him that here I am buying my research. But this guy really took care of me. I can’t wait to go back and tell him. I’m going to make some time to do that.”
After he read up on all of Robbie’s adventures in the comic books, Luna began to feel a “kinship” to the character.
“His little brother’s name is Gabe. I have a little brother who I care for,” Luna says. “And I did this show Matador, where I also had a little brother, and the show came from Robert Rodriguez, who has the same name as Robbie and the same initials as Robbie. And when he came to direct our pilot and finale of Matador, he drove around in a black Dodge Charger. There are all these weird synchronicities that you can’t ignore. I don’t find it daunting as of now because I truly believe this was all meant to work out. I’m excited to bring him to life for the first time.”
Luna’s “grateful” that the SHIELD producers chose Robbie over Johnny because of the juicy backstory and family history that the character has in the comics. But as of now, he hasn’t shot any scenes showcasing Robbie’s family.
“It’s so early right now, and there’s very little I know right now,” Luna says. “We have the first episode in the can. What I’m really excited about is that the Robbie I had in my mind, he’s there. It’s not just his name or his body. His personality is all there. And it’s still the Ghost Rider. The Ghost Rider is a completely separate thing from Robbie. It’s something that always inhabits his body and something that he always has to fight. It’s an evil thing. That’s what they have maintained in the writing. It’s going to be a really solid interpretation of Ghost Rider. But as for his family, we’re going to have to wait and see if they show up.”
That separation between Robbie and the Ghost Rider spirit is what Luna is most looking forward to portraying.
“A lot of what happens in the books is that Robbie has this internal conflict with the spirit of vengeance,” Luna says. “It’s a really strong story. I’m excited to get to show how he’s able to exist with this spirit of vengeance and not only harness it but own it. That’s always been central to the Ghost Rider story. Sometimes the Rider totally takes over and that’s a terrifying process. It’s always this push and pull between the two characters.”
While the Ghost Rider spirit and Robbie are two separate entities, Luna reveals that he’s playing both characters.
“The flaming head? Yeah, that’s me,” Luna says. “I am playing that. We have this great VFX for it, and I saw the mockup the other day, and I thought it was completely finished. I was like, ‘Just throw that up on my TV.’ It’s a combination of CG and also some marking on my face so I can do some expressions.”
But as for how Robbie will be introduced on the show and how he comes into contact with SHIELD, Luna remained tight-lipped.
“That’s pretty much all I can say at this point, is that I’m on the show,” Luna says with a laugh. “But September 20th is right around the corner, so you’ll find out soon enough.”
Agents of SHIELD returns for season four on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at its new time, 10 p.m., on ABC.