Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ming-Na Wen

Ming-Na Wen: Why S.H.I.E.L.D. is the 'toughest show I've ever had to do'

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Dec 10, 2013, 7:33 PM EST

Actress Ming-Na Wen is kicking butt these days, literally, at least on ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Her character, Melinda May, is the mysterious expert pilot and martial artist on the team of non-super agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and her role isn't exactly a typical one for the actress, whose peers are playing judges, doctors, moms and grandmothers.

“A lot of my Twitter fans love using the word 'badass', which I love. I love that title. I love it. It's the best description. I don't think I've played many characters where that is the constant description,” said Wen in an exclusive interview with Blastr.

“She is really a special character. I am really thankful to have been given this opportunity. It's one of the more challenging roles for me to play, to play someone who in the beginning ... I mean, she's speaking a lot more, but someone who doesn't say a lot. Everything that she did say had to have some weight to it but at the same time be 'Whedonesque', shall we say. It has to have a sense of humor even when she's not smiling, she's not laughing, she's not even smirking. It's an incredible challenge,” she said.

Melinda May's past is slowly being revealed, but we do know that she's legendary within the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization and that she's saved lives and taken them. And she has a special nickname she's not fond of.

“I just love having that title to her character. The Cavalry. It evokes such fun and mystery and a strength of character. That's great,” said Wen. “This character is definitely quite different from anything I've ever played.”

The actress has had a rich and varied career and been involved in several notable projects, including Stargate Universe, Eureka and ER, and voiced Mulan in the film. But Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is special, and not just because of her lack of dialogue.

“It's the toughest show I've ever had to do, because of the physicality. That definitely is something that I'm really, really proud and happy that I have some muscle memory from the training days in college and high school for all the stage combat stuff that I used to do and some of the martial arts that I did. There's definitely muscle memory. The muscles are getting stronger, thank goodness. They haven't atrophied yet. So I'm really enjoying that part of it. But it's very tiring,” she said.

Beyond her challenging character, she's been thrilled with the series itself, which comes from Joss Whedon, his brother Jed Whedon, and Jed's wife, Maurissa Tancharoen. The series is set in the universe of The Avengers, which Joss Whedon wrote and directed. However, the focus is on a team of non-superhero heroes who protect the ordinary from the extraordinary.

“I understood her character really well from the beginning. Somebody who has been traumatized, and she decides to go a different path with her life. And then Coulson comes and rescues her, in a way, gives her a second chance to really put her back on the right track, because that's where her skill and really her passion lies, in being this amazing super agent. I think all of us have gone through that. You get knocked down by life or you have a traumatic experience where you just don't feel like you can get back on your feet, and you have that good friend or family member who comes and kind of boosts you up. That part of it, I really related to her. That's the part that I think is the crux of her character. Once she's there, she's there. Because I'm a Scorpio and loyal to the core. She will do anything for Coulson. But she won't just blindly follow him, either. She's got her own set of opinions about things,” she said.

While May has become the person Coulson confides in the most on the team, “she's the only character that Coulson ... not quite fears, but walks on certain eggshells with every so often if he's kind of crossed the line with her,” said Wen.

“There's definitely some moments where it's been jaw-dropping. For me, I'm so excited to have those episodes air. I want to see what the audience reaction is going to be to it. There will definitely be a lot of surprises down the line, and yet at the same time just bringing in all these new – well, maybe not to the Marvel world, because there's definitely a lot of characters that the Marvel fans will recognize – but for the average viewer who's just in it because they want the fun and the adventure. It's going to be really fun for them to discover these other characters and this bigger conspiracy storyline of who the Centipede organization might be. I think those all have some payback later on, down the line,” she said.

“I would love to see where they take Agent May and her relationships and her past. She's got this very dark and secretive past. It's quite a mystery. They're unfolding it very slowly, little by little giving hints to it. But no one really knows. It's like Coulson's death. No one really knows the full story yet,” said Wen.

“We have the action and we have the humor, but at the same time it's also about this particular family that Coulson's put together. How they relate to each other and whether or not we can trust each other. What if May decides to give it up again? If she's re-traumatized? Who knows? There are so many different ways to go with this,” she said.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

How do you think Melinda May stacks up when it comes to badass TV characters?