Clark Gregg will forever be known as Agent Coulson, thanks to the 51-year-old actor’s role in the Marvel pantheon and the character’s upcoming resurrection on ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” which picks up where “The Avengers” left off.
Before that, the actor/writer/director – who grew up in Chapel Hill – stars in the raunchy new 1990s-set comedy “The To Do List” (in theaters Friday).
In it, Gregg is the father of “Parks and Recreation’s” Aubrey Plaza, who plays a bossy yet inexperienced valedictorian who goes on a studious quest to tackle a series of sexual encounters before college begins.
Gregg recently spoke to The Observer about growing up in North Carolina, his TV resurrection, and the nostalgia that “The To Do List” stirred.
Q. What interested you about “The To Do List?”
Turning the coming-of-age sexual story around and objectifying males in the process seemed appealing to me. And Connie (Britton) was going to play my wife.
Q. As a father of a daughter in real life, what was it like playing this role?
My daughter is 11 and I don’t have to deal with this yet, but I was surprised by all the feelings that came up. I’m an open-minded liberal person in real life. The minute this stuff goes on in these scenes, I connected with this conservative dad.
Q. Would you say it’s a feminist take on an old tale?
There’s a feminist element to it. I don’t think it has a political agenda, but it’s by a talented female director. That’s a voice we haven’t heard much. It happens to come at a time when we’ve had “Bridesmaids,” when we are getting to hear a feminine sexual perspective that isn’t apologetic, which is fine – as long as my daughter never does that (laughs).
Q. What was your 1993 like?
I certainly wasn’t in high school. I was in LA after years in New York – an out-of-work bohemian actor just as confused and lost in relationships as the people in the film.
Q. Did you get interested in acting while living in North Carolina?
I certainly developed a thirst for the laughs of my compatriots. My homeroom teacher at Chapel Hill High School, Mr. Curly, was the drama teacher. I would pick up the script and torture him with what my audition would be like. (But) I went off to college in Ohio to focus on soccer, chasing girls and drinking too much. I dislocated my thumb playing goalie. So I walked by the theater during an audition for “Much Ado About Nothing,” ironically (Gregg currently appears in director Joss Whedon’s recent film adaptation of the Shakespeare play). I saw beautiful coeds and followed them in. I left that school to go to New York, (though) it was more to go to the Mudd Club and CBGB’s to see bands.
Q. Have you filmed anything here?
No. Nobody wants to get hired to work in Wilmington more than me. (I could say) “I danced to some beach music at that place. I did some shagging over there.”
Q. You’re quite a music fan.
I saw Parliament P-Funk in North Carolina. ... My friend and I were obsessed with “Soul Train.” We dressed up like the guys on “Soul Train,” did a lot of jive stuff, and danced. Did the robot and splits – this short, white little kid. The first dance I went to, I was going to try it out in my platform shoes and beanie hat. ... I remember walking into that cafeteria during lunch and they were playing P-Funk. It was like hearing a wolf call. This is my music.
Q. It sounds like you have a ’70s-set movie in there.
Poor Connie Britton was listening to my stories about my social failures trying to get something going in the ’70s in North Carolina. She said, “This is so painful. You have to write this.” So I’m coming away from this junket thinking I’m going to have to write (that).
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