In the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode prior to tonight’s midseason finale, Grant Ward stepped across a threshold, both literally and metaphorically. Gideon Malick convinced him to put his quest for revenge on hold and step though the portal and into Hydra history.
When we last saw Ward, he was on an alien planet, leading a Hydra expedition team in search of the Inhuman Hydra was created to serve. Will Ward's faith in Hydra be rewarded?
We spoke to Brett Dalton, the actor who plays Ward, about what’s going through his character’s head as we come to the potentially internet breaking midseason finale.
In the last week’s episode, one of the most interesting things with Ward was that he says to Malick that he knows that Malick is trying to manipulate him. Yet, in the end, he still agrees to go on Malick's mission. What was happening in Ward's head that made him decide, "I'm going to go through with this after all"?
BD: One of the other things that we saw in the episode is perceptions of other people who were part of his team. There's a definite hero complex that has driven Ward. I think that Malick is an amazing manipulator. He was all, "I can identify his manipulations." They are so good that he, I think, appeals to this whole hero complex. Flatters me enough that I feel like this is no longer a mission in which I'm following his orders, but I am, in fact, leading. This is not a suicide mission, this is in fact a historical, once-in-a-lifetime, never done before mission. It becomes historic and epic and heroic on that level.
Malick is really good at what he does. Even though I know that he's working it on me, I think he just happens to press all the right buttons, I guess.
As far as the Inhuman goes, is Ward skeptical of this whole story surrounding this Inhuman, and that the whole purpose of Hydra was to bring back this Inhuman? Or, has Malick convinced him, and he's now becoming a true believer?
BD: I think that's the thing. I feel like, for Ward, Hydra is a church that he had attended, but he's never really seen God. You know what I mean? There is a parallel there, I feel like. Malick is, in a way, a believer who absolutely trusts and knows that there is something on the other side of this portal that is part of Hydra's destiny, and part of their history, and part of their future. I think Ward originally was more loyal to Garrett, rather than Hydra. He was more loyal to Garrett than he was to Hydra, but he also uses Hydra now as a [inaudible 00:04:11] ... He elects himself the leader of this, or one of the leaders. Surrounds himself with people. He uses Hydra in a way to enact his revenge, as well. It's kind of ... I do feel like it's, in a strange way, like a church that Ward has attended but he's never really done communion sort of thing. Yeah.
Part of Gideon's manipulation of Ward was to try to convince him that he has achieved victory against Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. already, and that there's no reason for him to stay and watch the last breath, so to speak. Does Ward necessarily believe that? Does he feel like he's achieved victory? Or does he the he still has some unfinished business there, at this point?
BD: Yeah, I don't know. The cool thing is I don't know if there's a very definitive answer. I imagine yes, because I'm playing the guy. That's my guess this morning. Still, one of the joys of this is ... And this particular character, there are some things, interpretations. Malick sees the whole chess board. For me, all I can see is taking down the king. I have my sights set on that, and in a way I'm so focused on taking down Coulson- By the way, he's the king, the Director, is a metaphor that I'm building here. I'm so focused on that, that I really can't see the bigger picture. All I can see is this one person directly responsible for all this pain in my life. We've seen that as a pattern in a lot of Ward's flashbacks. Someone is to blame for everything that has ever gone wrong. Today it happens to be Coulson, because of the whole Skye, and Agent 33, and all that stuff.
Malick comes along and, from the very beginning, he's able to see the whole chess board. I think this is the very first time that I'm sort of snapped out of that hyper-focus and can see that there is a larger framework here. That the act of revenge on Coulson, doing all that stuff, while satisfying, trying to do that for episode upon episode, is still not going to give me the satisfaction that perhaps this new historic step through the portal will. I'm sure it's kind of a pattern in Ward.
One of the first things he said to me is, "It's a trick, I can see it clearly." He goes to his bigger brother and tries to re-write his path, he goes to that moment and tries to re-work it. I don't think he's any happier. He does it, I'm not sure if that really ... If he gets his revenge, I'm not sure if that has the consequence that he thought that it would. I think Malick has his plan in a new direction, and says, “There’s another way. This is so small. You thought this was big, and it's not.”
It's like when you graduate high school. You think high school is just going to be how the rest of the world is. Then you graduate and you realize, "Oh my goodness that was a speck. That doesn't matter."
Ward's graduating. As small-minded as Ward is, he's graduating.
As you said, Ward is a character that can be interpreted in different ways. He's gone through quite an arc just over this first half of Season 3. I was wondering, what are some of the things you, through playing the character, have come to learn about him in this season that, maybe, you didn't realize before. What are some of the lessons that he's learned, over the course of going from re-booting Hydra to falling in with Malick?
BD: Yeah. I think that really Ward has been on a journey of self-acceptance, in a way. There are certain things about him that he has tried to hide, and actively fight against for his entire life. I think what we saw a little bit of in Season 1 is a recognition that he does have a weakness for feeling, and love. That's his weakness, that's what Garrett said to him in the very beginning. I think he comes to terms with that, with Skye, in a way. He knows that's his weakness. And then there was the FitzSimmons scenario. That was another incidence in which his weakness, his empathy for somebody else was such that he actually couldn't carry out the whole killing scenario and ended up pushing them off the plane, instead.
Then, when we pick up in Season 2, he's really wrestling with his demons, and attempted suicide and all that stuff. At the end of that, he's, "I don't know who I am now." I think, really, Ward has been on this huge journey of self-acceptance. I think that where we see him in Season 3 is ... There's no conflict anymore. He's not the person that he was in Season 2, deciding, "Am I a good person? Am I not? Do I have feelings for Skye? Do I not?" There doesn't seem to be a lot of wrestling with those types of stuff anymore. It's really, "I know who I am. I know what my job is and what I want to do. I'm going to stop at nothing until that's been completed." I think this season he's a powerful force. I think he's come to terms with that, in a way.
I mean, there's a kind of maturity we see, as well. This time around. It is actually a big step for Ward to do something as uncharacteristic as not fulfilling his original mission. It just doesn't happen. The guy is just laser-focused, and has tunnel-vision when it comes to his goals. The fact that Malick is able to get him to, at long last, see a bigger picture, there is a kind of maturity there. Revenge is a temporary feeling, and then you have to pick up and go on to the next goal. In retrieving something on the other side for Hydra, that's a huge, huge, historic, unprecedented event.
You mentioned Fitz and Simmons. I thought it was interesting, during the interrogation, that he told Simmons that he would never hurt her, even though he then hands her over to be tortured by someone else. Is that a moment of sincerity on his part? Or is he basically just taunting her?
BD: I think that's incredibly sincere... In a strange way, we also saw Ward completely tell the truth in Season 2. Sometimes, he would invent certain things. All the stuff that he said to Skye about him reuniting her with her father, all that stuff was completely sincere. Every word out of his mouth when he was in jail was completely true. Obviously, there were some omissions, leaving out some of the details, et cetera. I think that was absolutely true. I think this falls into the category of sincerity, as well. I don't think that he would ever hurt Simmons. I think there's this strange kind of respect, he even said, "I'm digging the Furiosa vibe." I think he's seen her mature from this nervous, twitchy, lab rat to someone who is a force in her own right. She says, "I'm going to kill you." She says, "I need to see this through." He thinks that she means it. She actually means it. I think that there's a respect there, as well, for this soldiering-up he's seeing in Simmons.
I don't think he wants to torture her. He wants to get the job done, and somebody else can do it. I think that there's a particular weakness with Fitz and Simmons, in terms of empathy. He knows, "I didn't do anything to Fitz. I wasn't the one doing any of this stuff. I wasn't the one getting anything dirty. I took off my jacket, but I wasn't actually causing any actual physical harm to Fitz. I didn't do anything to Simmons, either. It was all done by someone else who got their hands dirty." I can't see him to be the one going in and hurting them.
I also want you to know, you mentioned the Furiosa thing. The idea that Grant Ward, while leading Hydra, stopped to find the time to go watch Mad Max: Fury Road earns lot of respect from me.
BD: You wouldn't believe the number of tweets after that, "When did he have time to go out and see the newest Mad Max? Yeah. I don't know, that's a very good question. Although, if there's any movie that would appeal to Ward, it would be Mad Max. "It's just somebody out for revenge who will stop at nothing? I can get behind that. I can get behind a movie about that. Yeah. The kind of barbaric-ness that is standard and required for living in that kind of society. Yeah, I can get behind that."
Obviously, we can't spoil anything about what's coming in the mid-season finale, but…Ward's trained a lot, he's basically the best at what he does. Going to another planet is a whole other ballgame. Is he really prepared for this? Or are we going to find that he might be in over his head a little bit?
BD: I think you bring up an interesting point. Much like Liam Neeson, he has a particular set of skills, and they're very good in most situations. He only has a limited amount of time on this other planet and, in a way, Fitz has more powerful cards than he does. He’s the one with all the science and knowledge to get them there in the first place. It's an uneasy power dynamic that I don't think Ward is a huge fan of. He also has the muscle behind the situation. This is a life-long struggle actually. Brain versus brawn. I guess we'll have to see. I wish I could tell you all of the incredibly cool stuff that you're going to see. I will say that I think our show does mid-season and season finales incredibly well, and this blows them all out of the water. I'm very excited to see, hopefully, the internet break because of it.
I would tend to agree with you on that. That is very exciting.
BD: Yeah, yeah. It is very cool. It’s called “Maveth,” that's the name of this other world. Obviously, a lot of things happen on that side of the portal. There's no take-backs in this midseason finale, so our show will never be the same. It's great.
Could you hint or tease at what you're most looking forward to coming back from mid-season break? What might be next for Ward?
BD: This is ... It's a new chapter for Ward. It's really ... I'm very much enjoying the exploration of this next step. I think fans are going to be- There's some cliff-hangers the fans are going to have to sit with until March when we come back. I think this is one of the story lines they're going to be most excited about finding out more about. There's some ... A healthy portion of WTF moments, I guess you can say. It's very interesting on the other side, and we'll all have some uncharted territory. We're all kind of figuring it out, enjoying just this new space, the new territory. It's a lot of fun. I sincerely cannot wait to see what all of our fans have to say. I will be on Twitter furiously reading all of these tweets. Seeing how it lands.