ABC Studios Tour London – Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds & How To Get Away With Murder

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With ABC Studios currently undertaking an exciting international tour, the stars of some of the network’s top shows stopped off in London last night to answer fan questions and talk about their work. Speaking on the London panel were  Agent Carter‘s Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson), Grey’s Anatomy‘s Sarah Drew (April Kepner), Criminal Minds Matthew Gray Gubler (Spencer Reid) and How to Get Away With Murder‘s Alfred Enoch (Wes Gibbins) and Matt McGorry (Asher Millstone)

The discussion kicked off with an introductory question from the host about the defining characteristics of an ABC series.

“Quality storytelling and a sense of family,” said Matthew Gray Gubler, decisively. “It’s interesting working on a television series because people grow up with the characters, they’re there for many, many years.”

Hayley Atwell picked up on the brilliant characterisation across ABC shows, as well as the huge variety on offer, both across the network and within each show individually. Clark Gregg agreed, mentioning the shifts from comedy to drama, and highlighting the element of romance that many of the shows have in common.

“There’s a wide range of characters from different kinds of backgrounds, so anyone who watches a show can find themselves in someone. And then coupled with that you’ve got life and death situations, and a lot of romance and drama – it’s compelling entertainment,” said Sarah Drew.

“The level of diversity is really, truly incredible and I think it’s just starting to balance things out the way that they should have been all along,” said Matt McGorry.

The issue of diversity was one that cropped up again with a mention of the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron merchandise controversy: Atwell was asked whether the success of Agent Carter might affect the current conspicuous lack of merchandise focused on Black Widow and other female characters.

I don’t know if it’s going to change it but it certainly contributes a public platform to my quiet resolution to take over the world!” she said. Nevertheless, she encouraged fans to keep pushing the issue. “The conversation between the creators and the audience is always an ongoing thing. They want to give viewers what they want, so it’s the responsibility of the audience to speak out about that. Peggy getting her own TV show came about through conversations with the fans who wanted to see more of her, to find out about her adventures and the stories that she had to tell.”

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“It’s unacceptable,” Gregg continued. “I’ll tell you about my daughter who’s 13 now. I tried to get her to watch the first Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., she looked at me like, “Ugh, Dad – it’s a boys’ show!” And then she got a look at Elizabeth Henstridge playing a biotech genius, and Chloe Bennet playing a computer genius, and Adrianne Palicki being a warrior, and now she’s right beside me with it. I think it’s got to be two steps together – as more and more of these issues are put forward things will change. And maybe when Agent Romanoff gets the film that she deserves, some of the merchandise will start to follow.”

“[In Grey’s Anatomy] we have lots of powerful women who are doing really extraordinary things,” Drew added. “Somebody told me something – I can’t remember the specifics – but the number of female surgeons has skyrocketed since the show began, and that’s incredible. We have people writing us letters who have now been through medical school, who have been watching since Season One and were inspired to go and do that. And then a lot of our female characters are mothers, and so we get to witness that world of being a mom and being a high-powered surgeon and navigating both waters. It’s really exciting to see that and to cheer them on.”

“It’s interesting because these representations of diverse genders and races and sexual orientations as simply expressing reality,” McGorry added. “People talk about ‘gay sex scenes’ but really, there are no gay sex scenes, there are just sex scenes. I think it’s really incredible that doing what is essentially expressing normality is seen as shaking things up. But I think it’s important, especially for a young person growing up, to be able to see images of the people you want to be. Showing possibilities through representation is incredibly important.”

“I also love that we’re telling the stories without commenting on them,” Drew rejoined. “Like you were saying, this is the norm. We don’t have to make a big fuss about the fact that our guest stars are two men who are married to each other, because it’s just life.”

“I think the more that we see it, the less it will be a topic of conversation,” said Enoch.

With Agent Carter now appearing on UK television, Atwell was asked about how it felt to be bringing the show back home.

“Well, now I have proof for my mother that I actually am employed and I do have a job!” she laughed. “It’s great because we have quite a few other Brits like James D’Arcy and Dominic Cooper, and it feels quite quintessentially British in its humour. It’s got an eccentricity about it, and I think it’s going to do incredibly well here.”

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From brand new shows to long-running series, Drew was asked about joining the Grey’s Anatomy cast several seasons in. While, the strong, almost familial relationships people develop with their favourite characters may be part and parcel of the “quality storytelling” Gubler spoke of, it turns out they can also result in tensions surrounding new additions to the family.

“It took a while for the viewers to warm up to me. They wanted me dead for the first few episodes! But often coming in half-way through a series, people get mad that you’re taking up airtime from their friends, because that’s how the characters feel to everyone.”

Nevertheless, being a part of the show has been a fantastic experience for her, particularly once those initial reservations began to break down.

“It was amazing, because it was something that my husband and I had watched religiously from day one – it was ‘our show’, so getting to come in and play a part on it was a huge thing…And people have warmed to her. I really feel like part of the family now.”

“While instant online communication may give viewers a chance to feed back (hopefully positively) on what they’re watching, it also means that tight security is necessary to prevent spoilers from leaking out.

“For the mid-season finale and for the finale of the whole season [of How To Get Away With Murder], we only had paper scripts, and no electronic call sheets were sent out, so everyone had to be quite diligent in terms of knowing where everything was,” said Enoch. “I think if you were someone who was very technologically – not dependent, but…cohesive…”

“I think you can say dependent,” laughed McGorry.

“…that must have been hard,” Enoch continued. “For me, at university, I hand-wrote all my essays, and I’m quite happy to have paper. It feels more real. You talk about the high security – we had table reads for the mid-season finale, and everyone had been banging on about security for about a week before, and we knew there were going to be fewer people there than normal, and then on the day, Denzel Washington just rocked up. I think he’d managed to keep it a secret because everyone seemed surprised.”

“We have a lot of ‘red pages’, and you don’t want those, because that means that you’ve got pages that the rest of the cast don’t have,” said Gregg.

“I often get the script for an episode about a day before I shoot it, and then on the day, I’ll go in, I’ll have learned all my lines and they’ll have changed it. But that’s actually quite thrilling and liberating because you don’t have much time to rehearse, so you have to make very strong, instinctive choices,” said Atwell. “I have been in trouble a couple of times before for sneaking out information to people. I’m never making that mistake again.”

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Asked whether his character’s lack of involvement in certain crucial scenes meant that he was left in the dark about story developments, McGorry said that he usually does get to know what’s happening, “but sometimes I do feel a little left out.”

“When we were shooting in Philadelphia, none of us had ever been there, so we had hardly any friends. Even when we weren’t filming, we were very insular and spent our time together. I remember on the first day when everyone went off to shoot the murder flashback scenes and I was like, ‘I have no idea what they’re doing,’” he said. “So I would take naps twice a day and eat lobster rolls, and it was a little depressing, but then after we went to Los Angeles, I had an entire life outside of lobster rolls and naps!”

Asked about how he had found playing a naïve and sensitive character like Asher in How to Get Away With Murder, McGorry replied that it hadn’t been difficult.

“I’m a sensitive individual. I’m actually crying right now as I speak,” he joked.

Another character-specific question was directed at Gubler, who was asked whether he feels inspired by his Criminal Minds character, Spencer, or if the character had been more influenced by him.

“I’m greatly inspired by him,” Gubler replied. “I feel like he’s got so many good qualities. He’s a hero, he’s full of hope…I feel very fortunate to have gotten to play such a loveable, smart, courageous person when I myself am the exact opposite…”

Having also directed episodes of Criminal Minds, Gubler was asked about how acting and directing compared.

“It’s funny, I came to Hollywood with the intention of being a director, and then I miraculously ended up acting,” he replied. “The one thing I was sure about when I was a director was that I’d never put myself in a film or anything I made. On Criminal Minds, having to do that taught me that if you’re a control freak like me, it gives you the most control to be directing in a scene rather than when you’re outside, because instead of just having to cut and talk about it, you actually, for lack of a better term, manipulate things through the way you perform.

Atwell and Gregg, on the other hand, were asked to compare their experiences portraying their respective characters on the big and small screens.

“Peggy doesn’t get much screen time in the Captain America films: it’s the beginning of her career and then the end of her life. In the series, there’s more time to flesh her out and make her three-dimensional,” said Atwell. “In the film we see her being strong and capable and quite cold, but in the television series, there’s a chance for her to develop her into someone with vulnerability and humour. So it’s a lot more interesting to play.”

“In the movies, Coulson is working around a bunch of diva superheroes, but then on TV he becomes the head of a team and the head of SHIELD, and you get a chance to do so much more in-depth exploration of the character and the world, which is a total luxury,” Gregg agreed. “In The Winter Soldier, we were suddenly Agents of Nothing, and what was cool about that was that we’d been working together for a year, and then suddenly found out that some of us had been strangers all along. In terms of what it’s like to be betrayed like that, we got to portray it in much more detail than there was time to do in the film. Although you can’t help being angry at the people who play the traitors!”

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Asked about the possibility of anAgent Carter/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. crossover, the pair were enthusiastic, but reluctant to make promises.

“It’s Marvel – anything could happen,” said Atwell.

“It’s something I would kill for,” Gregg agreed. “Hayley might be in more episodes of our show in flashbacks, but I don’t know. I would really like it – the show’s magnificent and I can’t wait for you to see it!”

The panel concluded with a question about how it had been for the stars to meet the fans of their shows.

“It’s been really incredible,” said McGorry. “In the world of social media you get to meet fans from different parts of the world, but it’s been strange to finally see these people face-to-face. The fact that there are people all over the world watching these shows and responding to them really adds to you wanting to do good work.”

“It’s been pretty overwhelming,” Drew agreed. “In Monaco, just walking out of my hotel room, it was incredible to see how enthusiastic the European fanbase is. One thing that I’ve noticed is different is that everyone over here is so affectionate – you want hugs! I got to do a convention in Paris, and travelling between there and London, I was reading the letters fans had written me and I was weeping on the train. People’s lives are really touched by the stories that we tell. It gives you an extra burst of excitement to tell the stories in the best possible way. To get the opportunity to love the fans back a little bit in these little moments is a gift for me.”

“I think it’s tremendously important to show our gratitude, but also it’s very gratifying. It’s nice to know that it’s touched people. When people go out of their way to tell you, it’s very pleasing,” said Enoch.

“I feel like performing is a gift and a privilege, not a right. I’ve always thought that if I could just entertain one person, I’d be the happiest fucking person on earth. The fact that there’s more than one is just icing on the cake. I love the fans dearly – I think I speak for all of us – we’re hoping to bring happiness and storytelling to people,” said Gubler.

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“I meet these everyday heroes that I’m deeply humbled by,” said Atwell. “I was out in the Middle East recently and I met a woman who was crying. She asked if I could sign a photograph, ‘Women can be heroes too’. Then there was another lady that I met in Philadelphia who had had an accident and had lost the use of her legs, so she was in a wheelchair, and she came up to me and asked me to sign her thigh, and she came in the next day and she’d had it tattooed. And then she showed me how she’d had other women’s signatures tattooed on her legs, and she told me it was her way of claiming back her broken body.”

“I worked in theatre for years, and when I first started to perform on film in LA, it felt like something really crucial had vanished,” said Gregg. “I really missed the interactivity. And as much as the social media stuff is sometimes a little overwhelming, there’s something about getting a live response that gives a little bit of that back. It’s nice to feel like you’re not just doing it in a vacuum and to see when stuff works. And sometimes it doesn’t, and then you can make adjustments.

“I have to say it got to a point where I reached a kind of saturation – where I was hearing more views than I needed to hear,” he went on. “But lately it’s struck me that it’s changing attitudes with things like Caitlyn Jenner and LGBT rights, and some of the outrage that’s going on over this horrible stuff that just went down in Charleston. It feels like there’s a way that we are collectively speaking up more and that it has the capacity to shift attitudes. I think it’s a very tiny way that what we do impacts on that, but it’s exciting to be part of it.”

Photographs by Kay Ibrahim

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  1. […] to MCM Buzz, Gregg joined ‘Agent Carter’ star Hayley Atwell and a number of headliners from some of ABC’s […]

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