Agent Coulson is a bit of an anomaly in the MCU as one of the few characters who straddle the line between the movie and TV sides of the universe–two worlds that don’t always play well with one another. Captain Marvel gives us a chance to see the SHIELD back on the big screen for the first time since his “death” in The Avengers back in 2012.
The death thing is a little complicated, though. While Coulson did genuinely die on screen in 2012’s Avengers, he was resurrected by Fury over on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, where he began leading a team of SHIELD agents in secret for five-plus seasons, all of which tangentially relate to the movies but never really intersect. Now, thanks to Captain Marvel, we know that not only did the core Avengers team know Coulson during his big screen days, but Carol Danvers did as well, if only briefly–which, begs the question, who on the film side of MCU actually knows Coulson is still alive?
Well, Clark Gregg had some thoughts on the matter when we sat down with him to chat at the Captain Marvel press junket in Beverly Hills this March. “In my mind, Captain America doesn’t know he’s alive. It’s bittersweet to me,” he laughed. “We know that Nick Fury knows, obviously, we’ve seen him. And I feel like Tony Stark knows things–he just finds a way to know things–but I think the two of them have had a blunt conversation about it and decided not to share it further. And then we had Lady Sif promise not to tell Thor–but I don’t know how much I believe that. And Maria Hill knows, she’s spent time with him–but I think everyone else is just keeping it a secret.”
If this revelation ever did make the jump from Gregg’s imagination into MCU canon somewhere down the line, it certainly wouldn’t help Tony and Steve Rogers repair the burned bridges of their relationship, that much is for sure. And it would be interesting (and, let’s be honest, hilarious) for Thor–a character who traditionally has struggled with knowing when and how to say things tactfully–to be brought into the conspiracy as well.
Gregg’s ideas about his character didn’t stop there. With Coulson’s appearance as a junior agent in SHIELD back in 1995, we were left wondering: how did he actually end up involved in the organization in the first place? What was his life like before?
“Well we know his interest in superheroes started really young, with his Cap cards, and we know from his story on Agents of SHIELD that his father passed away early. […] But, I like to think that before SHIELD, he worked in an elite, very secret branch of the Post Office,” Gregg playfully explained. “I think his secret origin is getting a very serious package in the mail, and it all spiraled out from there–I mean, I just made that up, but it would be fun.”
Top secret postal service gig or no, it’s clear that Coulson’s story is anything but over. Since his debut back in the post credits scene of 2008’s Iron Man, he’s become one of the most beloved and recognized characters of the modern Marvel era, branching throughout the comics and live action adaptations–something which Gregg himself is very proud of, if a bit intimidated by. “Obviously, I feel a lot of ownership for the character. It’s very porous between the two of us. When he’s upset I get upset, but at the same time I am a little bit of passenger on a bus where the drivers change very often. I’ve tried to just keep the core thing that I like about him, which is his love of the game. He’s got this love of humans and this love of the game. I would say he believes in the idea of SHIELD and heroes, which is a choice. He’s come across a lot of people who don’t, who haven’t committed to a belief like that, and it doesn’t seem to go so well for their soul. That’s what I hope people recognize about him.”
You can catch Coulson’s big screen return in Captain Marvel, and his modern day story on Agents of SHIELD as it head into its eighth season.