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Agents of SHIELD is under new management come season four.
As revealed in the season three finale flash forward, Coulson (Clark Gregg) is no longer the director of SHIELD. After months of speculation, Marvel and ABC announced that the new director wasn’t a character viewers already knew on the series, but rather a new character played by Jason O’Mara. The only details released about his mysterious role is that he is “playing a character whose Marvel roots go back to the 1940s.” For his part, O’Mara isn’t even allowed to reveal the name of his new role or if his character has good or bad intentions.
“He could become a villain. I honestly don’t know,” O’Mara tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t know where it’s headed. I also don’t know how long it will last. Usually you go into something knowing how many episodes it will be for, but this is open-ended. It could be good, it could be bad, it could be hero, it could be villain. It could be anything. If the fans hate me and if the writers hate me, maybe I’ll be four episodes and done.”
Having such an open-ended status on a series is a new experience for the seasoned actor.
“I’ve never really done anything like this before,” O’Mara says. “Even on The Good Wife, I think I did just five episodes. Maybe that was supposed to go longer but complications happened. So I’m sort of along for the ride here. Let’s see where the journey leads. If it’s being handled right, I’m willing to go along with it.”
All that O’Mara knows for now is that his character is going to have a major impact on Marvel’s ABC series.
“It’s pretty high status. It’s a little daunting,” O’Mara says with a smile. “He’s a high-status character. Suddenly he comes in and he’s the boss, telling the other characters orders. Here I come in after [the other actors] been doing this for four years and I’m telling them what to do. It’s a little awkward, even for me on set!”
He laughs, then continues, “These other actors have closely guarded their characters for four seasons. They’re very protective. But I have to say they’ve been so welcoming, so warm and have really made me feel good about this. Everyone’s been so cool and patient with me, so I’m really pinching myself right now. It feels too good to be true. Someone just suggested they might make an action figure out of me and that’s a bucket list item crossed right off.”
When pressed for any more information surrounding who he’ll be playing, O’Mara played coy, showing off his newly minted Marvel secrecy skills.
“He has roots in Marvel history,” O’Mara says. “We know that he’s out there already. He pre-exists. But no doubt [the writers] will do their own modern spin on it, as they do. No doubt he’ll be riddled with flaws, as they do. But they don’t tell us much further than the script we just received. I like the secrecy. It’s frustrating as an actor sometimes because the more information you have, the more you have to work with. But I do like this idea that stories should be surprising. It’s also a good marketing tool to not even release the name of the director of SHIELD. It builds the mystery so I’ll go along with it.”
All that he could reveal was a little information about his onscreen dynamics with some of the other characters.
“Obviously, the relationship between my character and Coulson is going to be huge,” O’Mara says. “It’s a power struggle kind of dynamic there. It’s going to be huge and important. And of course, how my character interacts with the entire team and their dynamic, but even their goals and purpose as a team, that’s going to be really interesting to see as that changes, if that changes. And I had a scene with Elizabeth [Henstridge, who plays Simmons] this week and she is so funny and charming and sweet. My character is going to lean on her quite a bit to make sense of a lot of the science stuff because he’s new and needs it to be turned into laymen’s language.”
Joining the Marvel universe, especially with such a historical role, is more than just another acting gig for O’Mara.
“I definitely read a lot of Marvel stuff when I was a kid,” he says. “I could never really figure out the whole Fantastic Four, Fox rights, Spider-Man, Columbia, Disney, everything. It’s so complicated. That confused me for a while. But when you’re a kid, they’re just comic books. They didn’t exist in any other form. It was simple, pure experience reading them. I was a big fan.”
He continues, “I didn’t care if it was Daredevil or Captain America, I was a fan of all of it. It was just a part of my growing up. It’s so exciting to now join this 2.0 universe where you get to see these characters onscreen. I also really admire Marvel for bringing us really great television and film that feel like they exist in the same world. Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] can guest on SHIELD any time and it makes sense.”
And landing this SHIELD role was perfect timing for O’Mara, as he found out his A&E pilot The Infamous was not getting picked up in the same call that his agent told him that Marvel “really seriously” wanted him.
“It all happened really fast, like in 24 hours,” O’Mara says. “I talked to [head of Marvel TV] Jeph Loeb, I didn’t have a script to read, I watched some of last season, they made an offer, I accepted, I signed a nondisclosure agreement. It was done and dust in 24 hours. It felt great.”
O’Mara credits his long and amicable history with ABC as a major reason why joining SHIELD was so easy.
“I’ve been doing stuff for ABC for a long time, since 2004. I’ve had several deals with them,” O’Mara says. “Like Life on Mars, that was a large event for me in my career. Even though it didn’t go again, [ABC] were huge fans. They’ve been perpetual, forever fans of the show. I got to know [former ABC boss] Paul Lee a bit; I haven’t gotten to know [new ABC boss] Channing Dungey yet, so it was really nice to know that no matter who is running the place, ABC are still fans and they’ll still green light an offer for me to come in on hit shows with a nice, big, juicy role.”
Another major addition to SHIELD season four is the introduction of Ghost Rider aka Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), which has O’Mara geeking out.
“I haven’t had any scenes with Robbie Reyes yet, but maybe I will have scenes with him down the line, which would just be so cool,” he says. “I’m just enjoying all that Ghost Rider stuff as a fan right now. But it’s conceivable: I could be in a scene with Ghost Rider!”
He pauses to smile and puts his hands over his mouth for a moment as he thinks about what he just said. “It’s been such a roller coaster of a week, but it’s really starting to dawn on me that there is so much to be excited about,” he says. “And I’ll tell you, on Twitter, I instantly picked up thousands of new followers and they were instantly warm and welcoming. There were a couple of them that were like, ‘Um, the voice of Batman is the director of SHIELD?’ But they were actually in the minority. I thought everyone was going to say that.”
He pauses again, and adds, “The troll level is low.”
Agents of SHIELD returns for season four on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at its new time, 10 p.m., on ABC.
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