The buzz about Hive: Brett Dalton, Clark Gregg, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast and showrunners on the new big bad

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Mar 22, 2016, 2:50 PM EDT

Things have been getting pretty Hive-minded over on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since the corpse of Grant Ward was overtaken by an ancient Inhuman who has a penchant for sucking the life out of others.

With Ward now hosting the literal embodiment of Hydra, Gideon Malick is quickly looking to be playing second villain fiddle to a bigger bad. But along with the whole “end of life as we know it” threat that Hive-Ward poses, things are going to get pretty awkward when the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents encounter the new threat with a familiar face. After all, this creature resembles the team’s old friend, teammate, tormenter, nemesis, and even – in the case of May and Skye – elover.

To explore the buzz around Hive, I visited the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. set. While there, I spoke with the man behind the monster, actor Brett Dalton, as well as with Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, and with showrunners, and the rest of the cast.

[And don’t miss our other MAOS set reports, including where the cast stands on Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man in Civil War; what they can tease about the remainder of Season 3, and our interview with showrunners Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell.]

Can you guys talk about, whenever Hive sort of talks, he always says we, and he’s also affecting other people. Can you talk about the logistics of how Hive works a little bit?

Jeffrey Bell, Executive Producer: If he was something on the planet that then embodied Will on the planet, and then after Will died, he then embodied Ward, and when he was Will he was able to have memories of Will, there’s a fill-in-the-blank sort of conclusion I think that you can take from that.

This is sort of your riff on the Marvel Comics version of Hive. How did you decide this is the best way to show what this character is and sort of turn Ward into a little monster?

Jed Whedon, Executive Producer: This was another way to sort of not only give [Brett] a challenge, but to give Ward a new…he’s been the baddie for a while, and I thought it was a nice way to escalate this character. As you were just mentioning, there’s still memories in there. So there’s still an aspect of the man we came to love to hate in there, but we wanted to give it some extra juice and we wanted to give Brett one more challenge where he has to change his character.

Maurissa Tancharoen, Executive Producer: Also, I think we’re very interested in seeing how our team will respond, eventually, if they happen to cross paths. How they will respond to seeing the man they all know and hate still standing. And if he does have Ward’s memories or parts of Ward’s personality, how, then, that will play into scenes with our characters.

Bell: One of the challenges anytime you have an antagonist is, what’s the antagonist’s motive? It’s like, I want to rule the world, or it’s I want revenge or I want love or I want greed...so, to be able to embody an antagonist with somebody we already have feelings for, it’s already loaded and interesting to us. So, for Brett to embody whatever this thing is, puts a face on it that comes super loaded for us. So, for us, it’s much richer than Monster X.

Hive, from what we’ve seen, seems to be a very straightforward villain. With Ward, you always tried to add an element of grey to it even when he was doing reprehensible things. Do you feel like there are shades of grey to Hive?

Brett Dalton ("Grant Ward"/"Hive"): It’s always a conversation between your performance and the writers. I don’t know if I agree that he’s a straightforward villain. He’s certainly a reinvention of the character.

you will see he actually does have a philosophy about what the world could be now that he’s there, and it’s quite inclusive, actually. It’s not about taking over the world and doing all of that stuff, as cool as that is to do. There actually is something there that might be, I would say, in a shade of grey.

This is the third time to reinvent the character you’re playing. Can you talk about the process of creating the character?

Dalton: I just keep going back to how lucky I am that I’ve had the chance to play three separate characters, essentially, on as many seasons of our show. I don’t know what’s happening fourth season, but we imagine it’s either a dinosaur or a robot...

This one was an opportunity that I really wanted to take to kind of reinvent the character because he — as I’ve said before, this is a conversation with the writers, and this is a comic book character that has existed in the comic before. So, this is kind of an ongoing conversation. It’s our version of Hive. Obviously, I’m not walking around with all the tentacle stuff. I am on the inside, but not on the outside. I really took this as an opportunity as a character who looks like Grant Ward, and is walking around in Grant Ward’s body, but is not Grant Ward at all. He’s not fueled by the same things that Grant Ward is, he didn’t have a troubled childhood…

I don’t even know if he had a childhood. But he’s used to being worshipped as a god on Maveth. All of these things are completely different than Ward, so I couldn’t just have a caved-in chest and call it a day. I wanted to change the whole thing, and thankfully the writers have been really responsive about that and allowed me the creative freedom to do that because I guess maybe I’ve proven myself before. Or they’re just crazy and just gave me carte blanche. I don’t know. I shudder to imagine what’s going to happen in Season 4.

Did the writers give you any sense of the long-term for Hive?

Dalton: Well, selfishly, I certainly hope that they will find some way to keep me on the show, some other version. I don’t really know. I will say this guy’s existed for a really long time and I’m sure has had many an enemy along the way and seemed to have survived all of those threats until now. So, I think he’s a worthy foe. He’s not just a villain of the week. So, we’ll just have to see how that plays out. Your guess is as good as mine.

How might Coulson react when he discovers Hive has the face of Ward?

Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson): On the one hand, it's pretty startling. On the other hand, in the brain, the brain gymnastics of that moment, when he decided to take him out, there's a feeling like he could have left him there and felt pretty safe about it. But how safe could he really feel about it? I'm going to become Coulson now, it happens all the time. Because other people have already come back, several of them, from this place. So, I don't think he would have been considered permanently neutralized if he had just left him there. That said, I think he's got to be just shocked to see him, and the other way I would think about it is, so much of his life this guy has put the organization -- pragmatic objectives of how to protect people within the Marvel Cinematic Universe first. And one moment, when he still could arguably have been doing that, definitely some personal anger, rage, revenge crept into it. And I think, on some level, he sensed crossing that line was a line that he can't cross.

Do you think there are more dimensions to Hive, or is what we see, what we get?

Gregg:  I see a lot of dimensions there. He’s the perfect villain for this show because he carries with him the memories, desire, hatreds, and agendas of Will and of Grant Ward. At the same time, he’s got a much deeper, bigger agenda that’s thousands of years old, and gave birth to Hydra. The whole runner about what it was on this planet and what it has meant in this multi-generational story of Hydra, I think is insanely cool. I never had any idea – maybe no one did – that the Hydra logo might represent Hive.

Hive seems pretty irredeemable. Is there any chance of redeeming him?

Gregg:  He does, doesn’t he? We’re pretty early on. My understanding is that these Inhumans were seeded here as a potential warrior race being built by the Kree to defend themselves. Again, this is just me the nerd talking, but that’s what I remember. At the same time, when you listen to Jiaying and some of the Inhumans talking, they feel that they are complementary, no two of them are the same, and they are meant to create a balance, and I don’t know if that means to take over this world.

It’s almost like in Prometheus where the engineers created this species, and now this species of potential warrior mutants, if I’m allowed to use the M-word, have a different agenda of their own and are becoming something else, altogether.

Hive is one of those. They’re about fulfilling their own destiny, and if humans get in the way of that, I suspect, like so many alien races, they’ll consider us dispensable.

What will Skye’s reaction, emotionally, be when she sees that Hive has the face of Ward?

Chloe Bennet ("Daisy 'Skye' Johnson"): You know what, I don’t think we made much of a meal out of it because there’s so much stuff going on that it’s kind of, “Well, of course that would happen.” You know? Of course, of course. It’s almost kind of like, “Alright, well, that’s funny almost.” It’s weird, but it’s not, you know? It’s not him. I don’t think she’s that upset by it. I think she’s onto the next with problems that are going on because things go crazy.

How will May react to Hive taking over someone she was with?

Ming-Na Wen ("Melinda May"): I don't think she'll be too happy...

Do you think there's a line that cannot be uncrossed with some of these characters, like with Hive?

Wen: I think that's what's interesting about Marvel. There's the unknown of everyone's personal journey. It's hard to say. So far, what has happened to Ward's character has been one shocking transition to the next. There is no way of really telling you a definitive, "Yes, he will never be able to turn." In reality, what does he turn into? He's no longer Ward, really. We can keep that hope alive that inside that monster there is still some parts of Ward. Now that we know Ward has also been HYDRA all this time, that would be one character I would think would be hard to find redemption.

How would May be as a future potential host for Hive if he ever decides to leave Ward's body? Would she be a good host for him?

Wen: Ha, like if she became Hive? Wow! That's an interesting question. It'd be the end of the world, man...that's a really interesting question. I don't know. She might be able to control him. It'd be interesting. I like that question. Thank you.

How will Simmons feel when she discovers that a version of Ward is still out there and the thing that terrorized her is still in play?

Elizabeth Henstridge ("Jemma Simmons"): I think she's going to feel so guilty, because it was her that aided that all to happen. If she hadn't gotten sucked into the monolith, if she hadn't been on that planet, if Fitz hadn't risked everything to save her, he would never be back here.

She didn't think Ward could get any worse, but he did, and it's kind of her fault, in a way. She definitely feels guilt for that. 

Hive is this hive mind and we get the sense that he's every person he's ever absorbed, which means he's partially Will. Would you like to see some closure for Simmons with this character?

Henstridge: It would just be so weird. Yeah, I mean, yes and no. I think that she's worked so hard to get to this point where she's able to function and has compartmentalized that crazy, traumatic period of her life. I think that would just bring more trauma honestly than comfort. But I guess it's a possibility. 

How will Fitz react to Hive having Ward's face?

Iain De Caestecker ("Leo Fitz"): If the show was at 11 PM at night, he'd probably go, "F---ing hell," but since he won't, he'd probably go, "Oh sh—," and not actually swear. It would be very confusing, since he saw him die and there's all those different conflicting emotions that surround that character and his face for a long time, so it would all boil up to the surface, I think. 

Fitz felt very guilty about killing Will. Will that be assuaged by the fact that he was terrible and that needed to happen? Or is it if I hadn't killed the Will body, would the Ward body have become Hive?

Henstridge: I haven't thought about that. That's a good one. Everything could've changed if you hadn't of...

De Caestecker:  What are you trying to say? It's my fault?

Henstridge: No, I'm just saying Hive would've had a different face…

De Caestecker:  Yeah, but if you hadn't given him hope on that planet...

Henstridge: Excuse us for one minute...

De Caestecker:  Yeah, I suppose. There's a lot of guilt people could put on themselves in a lot of different situations and they probably will. The concept is crazy.