SHI ELD ’ s geek queen on love, death and rolling with the unexpected
Agents Of SHIELD’s Simmons reveals why her character is not quite herself these days.
You never know where an acting gig is going to take you. Just ask Britain’s own Elizabeth Henstridge. Cast as brainy scientist Jemma Simmons on Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD she assumed a staid existence awaited her, filled with lab coats and tinkering with data. Well, she’s certainly experienced some of that in the series but, of late, Simmons has also been violently absorbed by black goo, left to survive on a stark alien planet, and tortured within an inch of her life. Luckily, Henstridge has had three years to become far more Zen about expecting the unexpected. “I came from theatre where you know exactly where your character is going to end up and how to get there,” she tells SFX during a break in shooting. “It’s very structured in a way, where this is completely open. You don’t know if all of a sudden they’re going to say that you were brought up by apes in the forest, so you have to roll with it.” Looking back at three years of adventures, what do you think are Jemma’s defining moments in the series?
I think the most dramatic moment that defined her was the end of season one when Fitz [ Iain De Caestecker] confessed his love and she didn’t know how to respond in that moment. It shaped her a lot and her journey in season two. It was the first time she’d ever not known what to say. So that started a huge growing period for her where she had to be vulnerable, she had to not know what was going on and had to be comfortable in her own skin not knowing exactly what was happening next. Then she went to the planet and fell in love with another guy [ laughs]. How has the experience of being stuck on a hostile planet, finding new love and then losing it, impacted her?
I think everything that happened on the planet, and after, is making her question everything she’s ever believed in, and being part of this team. Is it all worth it? She’s experienced all these alien things and experienced relationships that have been lost. I think she’s just been through so much and seeing the people she loves in pain because of her actions, we find her questioning herself and her choices. She’s grieving. Many assumed Fitz and Simmons were fated to be together. Given Will’s death, could that be on the cards?
When she found out Will didn’t make it, I really wanted to get across that she wasn’t angry at Fitz for not bringing him back. She was so pleased Fitz is back so now we get to see what they can salvage of their relationship. Do they react differently around one another as the season proceeds?
The stakes have been so high that moving forward we’re not going to see as much awkwardness. They’ve invested so much in each other and been through so much there’s an overwhelming appreciation for each other. The only question becomes where does that lead? Is it romantic? Can it become romantic? Are they just better friends than ever? Beyond Fitz, how have these trials, and even recent torture, changed Simmons?
She does hold survivor’s guilt that she made it back from the planet and everybody had to suffer to make that happen. There’s a feeling of inadequacy that she couldn’t face herself, and in those moments of torture, that she couldn’t get out of it. In some ways, I think she’s probably almost grateful to have that pain that she was suffering for someone else for a change. She wanted to protect Fitz and she felt strongly in their relationship that she’d rather be in pain than for him to be in pain. She wanted to stand up against a bully and it’s definitely changed her. Are we going to see more of a physical Simmons like Daisy ( Chloe Bennet) or Melinda ( Ming- Na Wen)?
I had a lot of questions at the start about when we would see Simmons in more of a combat role and when we would see her train. Obviously, we don’t know what’s to come but I like that she’s still a nerd at the end of it. What’s Simmons’ focus now that she’s back with the SHIELD team?
She’s always wanted to do the right thing and protect people. In the fight of good versus evil, she sees herself on the side of good and protecting the people of the world. She also wants to put her life on the line for this team who put their lives on the line for her. She’s never felt closer to them as a unit and she owes her life to every single one of them. Moving forward, she wants to protect her family, keep the world safe and... to kiss Fitz more [ laughs].
“She’s always wanted to do the right thing”