Interview: Stan Lee on his 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' cameo and his hopes for the ABC drama
Marvel legend recalls the original creation of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It may have premiered in the fall with more hype than any other new network drama, but ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." truly comes into its own on Tuesday (February 4).
No, I haven't seen Tuesday's episode, titled "T.R.A.C.K.S." and I don't know if "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has turned a creative corner.
But Tuesday's episode finds the show going through one of the crucial Marvel rites of passage: Marvel impresario Stan Lee will finally make his first guest appearance.
Lee, who created the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Jack Kirby, has made regular appearances in the Marvel feature films -- "Guardians of the Galaxy" will apparently end his streak -- and he has done voice work on several Marvel-affiliated animated shows, so it's a sign of impressive restraint that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." waited for the 13th episode before fitting him in. [If you haven't checked out my colleague Drew McWeeny's story about the cameos, I know I've spoiled the twist, but it's still worth reading.]
And it's possible that this might not be a mere cameo for Stan Lee. As he explains it, it's more of a supporting role and "it has a bearing on what the plot of the episode is." Bonus!
I chatted with the Marvel legend last week about his latest guest appearance, his memories of the original creation of this universe and what he thinks of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." so far.
Check out the full, spirited Q&A with the 91-year-old icon after the break...
HitFix: I understand this is a slightly larger role than your standard cameo? How big are we talking here?
Stan Lee: Oh, I like to think of it as a supporting role! Actually, it's only a minute or two, but there's more to it than there is to my usual cameos.
HitFix: What is there that makes it more meaty?
Stan Lee: Well, I don't know if I'm supposed to give it away, but I'm with two other actors and it's a little incident that takes place on a train and it has a bearing on what the plot of the episode is. I'm in the scene with two young ladies and I walk over to a man who has been not too polite to another girl and I give him hell for the way he's been acting. And then I walk off in high dudgeon. It'll probably win an Emmy, of course. We'll see.
HitFix: You've done so many of these cameos now. How would you rate your abilities as an actor?
Stan Lee: Oh, superbly! I'm amazed that nobody has realized yet that I should be a featured player in one of these. [He laughs.] Please say that I said it with a laugh, or people will think it's the most conceited guy on Earth.
HitFix: Can do. Are you getting better with age? Are you getting better in these roles?
Stan Lee: I hope I'm able to stay the same. See, I started out magnificently and if I just don't stumble or lose... [He laughs.] Actually, these roles are so simple to do. I hate to say that anybody could do them, but it's very likely that anybody could. Except, of course, it wouldn't excite the general public as much as me doing it.
HitFix: Is there anything that you've been wanting to do in one of these cameos that you haven't gotten to do yet?
Stan Lee: Oh, I don't know. Maybe some great romantic scene with a leading lady? Like every guy dreams of sometime. No, I'm only kidding. To me, the fun of it is the surprise. When I go onto the set, I never know what they're going to ask me to do. I never know in advance, so it's always a surprise and it's always fun. I really enjoy it.
HitFix: Have you wanted to have superpowers at some point in one of the cameos?
Stan Lee: If they want to give me superpower, I'll be glad to accept it. I think my superpower, my genuine superpower, is being able to survive all of these cameos.
HitFix: You've done all of the cameos on the Marvel movies, but how was it different dropping by "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." as a TV show?
Stan Lee: To tell you the truth, I felt as though I was doing a Marvel movie cameo, but it was just a little bit longer, that's all. They're all the same. I get to the set. I'm told what I have to do. I try to do it without making an idiot of myself and then they say, "Thank you very much" and I got home and I return to the real world.
HitFix: When you're in the middle of this Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. world, does it feel like the thing that you created with Jack Kirby way back in the day? Or does it feel like it's become an entirely different thing?
Stan Lee: It actually is a little bit... I think I'd use the word "tamer." It's a little bit tamer than the script I did with Jack, but that's because it's on television and there's only so much they can do photographically and so forth. I think that little by little, it's gonna be a little bit wilder and little bit more far out, which I would like to see.
HitFix: You've created so many characters and so many worlds over so many decades. How vividly do you actually remember the creation and the genesis of this S.H.I.E.L.D. world?
Stan Lee: I remember it very clearly! There had been a television show called "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and I thought to myself, "We ought to do a script that had that same feeling." U.N.C.L.E. was this secret organization and there were two stars in the show and they went out on all sorts of great assignments from U.N.C.L.E. I forget what the initials "U.N.C.L.E." So I came up with S.H.I.E.L.D. - Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law enforcement Division. [He laughs.] I think they have since changed that a little bit, but that was the original meaning of S.H.I.E.L.D. We had this character, Sergeant Fury, who had been a sergeant in World War II, and we had a book called "Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos." He was the head of a group of tough commandos and it was a very successful comic book for a number of years, but eventually I stopped doing it, because we stopped doing war stories. But fans would always say to me, "What happened to to Sergeant Fury? Where is he? What is he doing now?" So I thought, "Wow, if I do a script like 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,' if I get a secret organization, why not put Sergeant Fury at the head of it? But by now, he'll be colonel!" I loved that idea. so he was the star, Colonel Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jack and I had a lot of fun doing the S.H.I.E.L.D. stories. We'd come up with the wildest ideas we could think of and away we went.
HitFix: You obviously remember this genesis so well, but does anybody ever mention a character or a run of a comic to you and you have no memory of it at all? Are there some things that just don't stick in your memory as well?
Stan Lee: [Chuckles.] No, if somebody mentions a storyline, the chances are that I will remember. Sometimes they'll mention a character who had been a small, incidental character and I might not remember that character. But mostly the things that stand out in my mind are the main characters and the main situations. I remember them pretty well, I think. They were so important to me.
HitFix: You said that you hoped and assumed that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." would get wilder as it goes along. What do you think that the show has been doing well so far?
Stan Lee: They've been doing the characterizations beautifully. It's been an intelligent show. There's been a lot of suspense. They're building up the mystery. I think they're doing very well. I just think they need to put something in that's going to excite the viewers a little bit more, to make the viewers go, "Wow! I never expected that."
HitFix: So what is the kind of thing that you would do if you were in their place?
Stan Lee: Oh, you'd have to call me again after I've had time to think about that!
HitFix: Over the years, Hollywood has only reached the tip of the iceberg with your characters. What characters might you like to see maybe work their way onto "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." who haven't popped up in movies or on TV previously?
Stan Lee: Golly. Any one of them. They could have the Black Panther. They could have Doctor Strange. They could have one of the Inhumans. I think all the characters that Marvel has had would all lend themselves beautifully to any type of a show on television or movie that's bigger than life and that's very imaginative and yet is told in a realistic way.
Stan Lee's episode of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." airs on Tuesday, February 4 at 8 p.m. on ABC.