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Ming-Na Wen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final season and the possibility of Philinda
With the final season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now on the air, it might feel like the end of an era — and in some ways, it is. The ABC television series was one of the first to grow the Marvel Cinematic Universe outward from the stories being told on the big screen, and now, seven years later, it's finally coming to a close, a bittersweet realization in and of itself.
But within these final 13 episodes are proof that the show still knows how to offer twists and surprises — including the return of Agent Melinda May, who after being revived and healed by Enoch from the mortal injuries she sustained in Season 6, might be suffering surprise consequences given that now she seems to possess no emotions whatsoever.
We figured that wasn't all that might be in store for May, so SYFY FANGRRLS caught up with Ming-Na Wen via phone to chat about what's played out so far, what potentially lies ahead for her character (like a Philinda endgame?) and what she's currently FANGRRLing over.
May's a character who's always kept her emotions very close to the vest in a lot of ways, but this is a very different emotionless position she's in now.
Yeah. Just when you think she couldn't feel less and show less, she does. It's very tough as an actor to play that, trust me. I mean when they told me what was going to happen, I was like, "Really, you're going to go in that direction? How is that even possible? How do I show less?"
What was the biggest difference for you between playing her as someone who internalizes a lot versus a completely emotionless version? What was the biggest challenge? Because it definitely sounds like it was a challenge.
Right, it really was. I asked Joel Stoffer, who plays Enoch, "What are some things that I can do to turn off all emotions?" Because even Enoch has more emotions and opinions than May. I think it's just in the eyes, more or less, where if I just maintain a deadness to her eyes... that was my starting point. Because even when she spoke she couldn't have any emotions and it was very challenging.
This most recent episode must have been more fun because she got to do a little undercover work. Was there anything interesting that you learned about that part of history through getting to dive into it?
Well, when they were telling us that they were going to do time travel, and one of the time periods was going to be in the '50s, I was excited because I've always been so interested in the WASPs, which stands for Women Airforce Service Pilots. And I immediately told the producers, "Look, there were Asian pilots during that time. How cool is that?" And the fact that May, when she first came on the show, was known as the pilot, it just seemed really apropos. And it was a great way to showcase the fact that these women were so brave and they never got the accolades, really, back in the day.
We're definitely seeing a lot of shows that are shining a spotlight on the unsung heroes of history, on aspects of history that people may not be familiar with.
Right. And all the contributions that various ethnic groups have contributed, and it was never really showcased and never mentioned in the history books that I grew up with, that's for sure. So it's nice to be able to do it in my art and tell the stories that way.
I have to ask about Philinda. You've been supportive of that relationship. I know that we're getting down to the wire with this season, but is there any possibility of it happening for them?
Well, I think one of the greatest aspects and continuity of all seven seasons, and the synergy with the fans, is this development of their relationship. Coulson and May were just more or less supposed to be good partners, good soldiers with each other, and the fans really wanted them to hook up. So it's been a great synergy between the writers and the producers and us, in having this happen.
I think, like any relationship in S.H.I.E.L.D, it's always got its ups and downs and there are always moments of it being unrequited. And right now we have a killer bot and a Chronicom trying to rekindle emotions. I don't know. I mean, that's what we always want. We always want them to find love in the end. But yeah, we'll see. Right now, May's not having it. [laughs]
Looking back on the show, what do you think your biggest personal takeaway is from playing the character? What are the aspects of her that are going to stick with you?
I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from playing May is that you don't have to really worry that much about somebody liking you or what their opinions about you are. Especially if they're negative. Growing up Asian, growing up in white suburbia, and as a woman, I was always trying so hard to either get acceptance or feel like I was part of a group.
For May, she is such an individual who is so confident in her abilities, and who she is, and what she's about, that she doesn't need anybody else to tell her who she is. And I think that is one of my biggest takeaways. I don't need to have to care so much about what other people think, because the people that are going to be kind and sweet and support me are the true people, true friends. And everybody else... just punch them in the face. [laughs]
What are you currently FANGRRLing over?
Oh gosh. So many things. Definitely Baby Yoda. Love, love, love him. Or The Child, whatever he or she is. I am actually also rewatching Game of Thrones right now because I've kind of run out of things to watch. But I had a bad taste in my mouth that Season 8 left, and I'm hoping that when I revisit it I'll have a lower expectation. Because I want to be able to feel good about the series. It was such a great series. I'm giving it a second chance.
This interview has been edited and condensed.