Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always had fantastic, awe-inspiring, three-dimensional women at the forefront. The women of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been such a core part of the series and have had many stand-out moments, all the way through to the final season. Look no further than super spy Melinda May, super-powered agents Yo-Yo Rodriguez and Daisy Johnson (aka Quake), and biochemist Jemma Simmons, played by the lovable Elizabeth Henstridge.
After seven years and seven seasons, the series finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on ABC this week. The final season finds the team time traveling to save the past, present, and future of the world. We were grateful to speak with Elizabeth Henstridge for an exclusive interview. In part 1 of our deep discussion, we talk the series finale, her favorite memories on set, and the fate of FitzSimmons.
What’s been your favorite moment throughout the entire series? Given how hard the question might be, it doesn’t have to be just one!
EH: I mean there’s just so much. We filmed the finale a year ago, so seeing the show back on air, we’ve never had that before. We’re usually always filming as the show is airing. I think that’s why I’m enjoying this season so much because it feels like such a reflection on the whole experience. The things that stick out in my mind are when we were just so new to it. So that first day on the pilot for me, or the first table read, meeting all the cast. You know, just us all being so nervous and the first impressions of everybody. There was a sense that this was something really special. You know, you book a job and you never know if you’re gonna get past the table read. Or if you’re gonna make it to episode two.
A lot of this is fueled by Zach, my partner. He has this philosophy that you have to just celebrate every step. So every call back to an audition, you celebrate it as if you got the job because it’s progress, you know? I remember going home and celebrating the fact that I hadn’t got fired after the table read. And then you get to day one and you’re like, “Oh my God. I said my first line”. Because you’re always just sort of assuming that someone’s going to, or at least I am, someone’s going to tap you on the shoulder and go, “Oh my gosh, there’s been a huge mistake. We didn’t mean for it to be you.”
So I think that first day on the pilot was amazing. There was just like huge explosions and Joss Whedon was there. It was almost too much to take in. And then our second episode was big because that was the first time we’d got picked up. I think we got picked up for six episodes at the start. Was it six or was it eleven? I think maybe it was eleven. And then we got picked up for the back-end of the first season.
I remember there was a scene that we filmed in episode one or two, where we’re all sitting on the back of the Bus looking up at the 0-8-4, almost like a firework show. And we clink our beer glasses and, you know, we’re looking up at just a green screen or whatever.
Or a tennis ball…
EH: Yeah, exactly! The writers wrote it in a way that it was these new actors all coming together and it was also the new members of this team coming together. So it was art reflecting life. And it just felt like, “Oh my God, we’re doing this. Like we are on set, filming a TV show. This is nuts”. So that sticks out. And then I think the season five finale was a big deal ’cause we felt like that was it, and it was kind of saying goodbye to Coulson. That was the most traumatic day I’ve ever had of filming, we were just crying for like nine hours straight. And they were real tears, you know, we thought that this was it. Then when we did finally wrap the show, just those final moments, I don’t want to spoil it because I can’t say what’s coming.
But the lovely thing too is the fan edits. I get lost down a deep dark hole of fan edits for hours at a time. They’re so wonderful because then you remember, “Oh my God, that was this day and completely forgot we went through that”. Seeing those really sparks the memories. So it’s just all the little things, the little moments on set. I think it’s the ones that I’ll miss the most.
You mentioned how at the end of season five you thought that the show was going to end there and wouldn’t continue after that. Were there any other times, either before or after, where you thought that maybe the show would end and that would be it?
EH: I think there was only one season, I forget which one it was now, whether it was three going into four where we knew before we finished filming that we were going to come back. But most of the time you end the season not knowing if you’re going to get another season. So really at the end of each season, it was that kind of, “Okay, well maybe see you in a couple months, maybe see you in a couple of years”. And that’s just kind of how it goes, that’s very standard for network television as far as I understand it. But when we finished season one it was just such a sense of accomplishment that we’d done 22 episodes of television.
The first year that you do that, it’s like sprinting a marathon and by the end everybody’s bodies are broken. You’re so emotionally spent that you’re kind of ready for that break. I think each season you’re very grateful that you made it to the end of the season and that your character survived. You kind of make peace with the fact that you might not get the next one, but there was something about getting to a hundred episodes was such a milestone. We did that within season five and then reaching that finale it just felt like, “Okay, this feels like this could be the end”. And the writers definitely wrote it as the ending of the show. I think the other seasons it didn’t feel quite as painful because you sort of felt like, “Oh, well we might come back. You never know.”
Or season five, we were just convinced that that was it. Like we’ve got to a hundred episodes, they’ve done this beautiful arc of the show. We were saying goodbye to Coulson. Fitz was gone. I think as Simmons I just felt like, “Well, this has to be the end of the road.” So I think we all just really invested in that being the last scene we would film. And then we got the call, the EP’s were like, “I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but you’re coming back”, which honestly gave such a freedom to season six and seven. And we knew when we got picked up that it was six and seven, shortened seasons, and that was going to be it. It was kind of like an encore. We sort of felt like the rock star band that came on and played the last couple songs. The final lap around the stadium. There was such a freedom in knowing, “Well, I guess we kind of did everything we wanted to. What’s on the bucket list that we never thought we’d get past.” Kudos to Marvel and ABC, they just gave the writers free range and they just kind of went for it.
So season six and seven were picked up at the same time, which is a little uncommon because it’s typically season by season.
EH: Totally. And they did it a bit differently, they were both shortened seasons. They were both 13 episodes. It was a very different way of doing it, but our writers are just so talented. To write a story arc over 22 episodes is a huge feat. They crafted those storylines so beautifully. And I think being able to do it over 13, I mean, I don’t know if that was easier or not, but I think they just adapted so well to it. I think season six and seven are up there with my favorite seasons and specifically season seven with the time travel. I mean, it’s just so fun.
That must’ve been really exciting, “We’re not coming back for one season, we’re coming back for two!”
EH: Yeah, I think it just allows completely different story arcs. And I mean, honestly, I would just do the show until they like put me in my coffin. I absolutely loved every second of being on set. Just the crew were amazing. You know, we’ve had mostly the same crew since day one. And so people get married and have children and you remember their girlfriends when they first came to settle their boyfriends and then you go through picking out the ring and the proposal. You really get to experience life with 200 people. It’s just the most amazing experience. So when they picked us up for two seasons, I didn’t negotiate at all. I was just like, “Yeah, I’m in. Where do I sign and get me on set right now.”
So you’ve been through quite the ringer throughout this series. Like in season four when the team is in the Framework and Simmons wakes up and she’s buried underneath the ground. Or when she was stranded alone on an alien planet. What was the hardest moment for you to to film personally?
EH: As Elizabeth, I found it hard to shoot the stuff where Fitz within the Framework is Leopold, because I’m just such a huge FitzSimmons fan-nerd that for Fitz to be acting like that, I hated it. Usually Iain and I would have all our scenes together and then in the Framework we’d be so separated and I’d be with Chloe a lot, which I absolutely loved, but I hadn’t really been on set on the same days as Ian, as Leopold. And I remember the first time I saw him on set as Leopold, just like took my breath away, gave me such a weird feeling. Ian’s an incredible actor and he just had such a different demeanor about him and carried himself differently. And Ann Foley did amazing as the costume designer to really craft costumes for him that reflected that.
It was kind of like hitting a brick wall when I saw him, ’cause it was just so different. So that I found traumatic for Simmons to have to do. I guess the episode on the planet, what was it… “4,722 Hours”. That was the most demanding as a performer. I was in a lot of the scenes and I loved it, but the prep for that was kind of intimidating. I just hoped that I would be able to carry the episode and that I would be able to do it justice.
You did. Those were great episodes.
EH: Well that episode was written by Craig Titley and directed by Jesse Bochco, and talk about a dream team. Craig wrote the most incredible episode. Jesse is just an amazing director. They definitely made it fun, but that was physically very demanding. We filmed a lot of that in the desert, in a heat wave. I mean it was just so many things that coincided on those episodes.
It was “4,722 Hours”. You got it right away.
EH: Right? Yeah. It’s only seared in my memory now.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a fantastic seven season run. And it’s ending on it’s own terms, which not everyone who stars in a show gets to say. Are you grateful that the show is getting closure and are there any things you’ve learned or taken away from it after all this time?
EH: Yeah, I think that’s such a great point, for the crew and actors to be able to really know and be able to say goodbye over such a long amount of time, I think made us all just really be present in those moments and really appreciate it for what it is. And it was so wonderful of ABC to give that. And you know, a lot of the time it’s just impossible to know what their schedule is going to be for the next year. But to be able to give that certainty was just the greatest gift, because it allows you to then have those conversations with every single crew member that had impacted you and be able to say, “This was amazing”.
And then to be able to plan what you want to do afterwards as well. It was the greatest gift. It did make us extremely dramatic though. I mean, I’m talking personally, it made everything like, “Oh my gosh, this is the second-to-last time that we’re going to be in this set on Tuesday.” You know, I mean that happened, but like the whole year was, “Let’s celebrate this ’cause it’s really important.” I think the biggest takeaway for me is that, I came into the show having never done a series of television where I’d been in every episode, not in America, I certainly had done a pilot before.
So to be able to come in totally fresh. Everything being new as an actor and to leave, having directed and understand so much more about what it takes to produce, to write, to edit, to get to grill every department head and to get to really experience every stage of production and meet so many people. I think just really getting to know how a TV show gets from an idea in somebody’s head to being in the seventh season on network television. That access to people is something that I’m so grateful for. And I’m really passionate to try and share that with people because you know, everybody that works on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as a smart as they are, they’re also just normal people. And I think it’s really encouraging to me to know that there’s not some magic fairy dust. It’s just like hard work, determination, being given the opportunities and then just running with it and having fun with it. I think anybody can do that. It’s just knowing sometimes you can do it, makes it possible. I think that’s my biggest takeaway overall, just kind of witnessing what a lot of different people do and kind of all the different roles that make up the TV show.
What are your thoughts on the way the relationship between Fitz and Simmons has evolved over the series? I mean, they’ve been…
EH: They’ve been everything!
Yeah, they started out as friends and colleagues, but then it became something more.
EH: Yeah. I’ve absolutely loved it. Certainly to come in at the start, this big TV show, there was a ton of pressure. There was a lot of eyes on us at the start. It was Marvel’s first live-action TV show. So it was a big deal and to come in and be in a double act was so comforting. I feel like it made me feel so much more comfortable and confident. Just to get so many scenes opposite Ian is the greatest, it was such a special relationship on and off screen. And I’m so happy that I got to experience that. I’d never really been in a double act in anything before and that felt really nice and it just feels like the more scenes we had together, the more we would find.
I think if that wasn’t a healthy friendship offscreen, then my experience would have been very different, but I was just so lucky in getting paired with him. So that at the start was really brilliant. And then, yeah, just the amount of places that they took Fitzsimmons. We kind of got to explore everything and I’m so obsessed with them. I just feel like we were so lucky. We kind of started as the comic relief and then we kind of evolved into something, maybe more multi-dimensional. I feel like we just got to explore every single part of what that friendship and relationship and marriage would be. And I never got tired of it. Sometimes I got tired of them being torn apart just because it was painful for me.
Simmons has been through the ringer, but so has the FitzSimmons relationship.
EH: Absolutely. You know it was nice too, for them to be able to explore each of the characters individually, whenever they were torn apart. So I just feel like I’ve had the best of both worlds really. And honestly, to get to act opposite Iain De Caestecker is such a gift. I’m so happy I was paired with him.
Although Iain De Caestecker hasn’t actually appeared much in the final season, his presence has been pretty large. With Fitz and Simmons still apart, can fans hold out hope for a happy ending?
EH: Yes! Definitely hold out hope. We’re gonna find out more about what he’s been doing and where he is and what happened. We’ll find out more from Simmons, but we’ll also find out directly from Fitz as well. So I can’t exactly say what form that takes, but yeah. Still hold on to hope.
Describe the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale in one word.
EH: I’d say, “fulfilling”. Yeah. At least I found it that way. You know, it’s so hard to end a show with everybody feeling satisfied with the ending, but I feel like the writers did a great job. I didn’t think we’d be able to end it any more perfectly than we did in season five and actually I think they’ve done it. So, I hope people like it.