‘Agents of SHIELD’: J. August Richards Talks Deathlok’s Return, Coulson’s Plans

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” Season 2, Episode 16, titled “Afterlife.”

SHIELD’s “Cavalry” is currently caught up in the politics of Agent Gonzales’ (Edward James Olmos) attempt to overthrow Director Coulson (Clark Gregg), but in Agent May’s (Ming-Na Wen) absence, Coulson turned to an old friend to help get him out of a jam. Mike Peterson — aka Deathlok (J. August Richards) — returned with a bang and plenty of upgrades to help Coulson and Agent Hunter (Nick Blood) escape Gonzales’ “real SHIELD” forces and abscond with a quinjet after the duo came to a dead end in their hunt for Skye (Chloe Bennet) in the April 7 episode.

While Skye is exploring her powers in a remote mountain hideaway populated by her fellow Inhumans — including charming “transitioner” Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) and, unbeknownst to Skye, her long-lost mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) — Coulson, Hunter and Mike are setting off in search of Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), who was last seen brainwashing Hydra member Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) for reasons yet to be revealed.

Variety was among a number of outlets who talked with Richards on the “Agents of SHIELD” set about Mike’s return and what’s ahead for the team.

Can you talk about what Deathlok’s been doing since your last appearance?
Yeah, Coulson has had Deathlok in his back pocket since we saw him last. So he pulls me out of hiding to help him out with this really huge mission that is vital to SHIELD. I got a lot of upgrades while I’ve been gone. My costume is very different. There are things that are still the same. The character has been evolving since we’ve seen him last; this is like Deathlok 2.0.

When we last saw Mike, he was a guy searching for what’s next. Has he found his purpose at this point?
When I’m playing him now, I like to think Mike is now owning Deathlok. Before, I think he was really reluctant. Even back when I was playing the character [before], I didn’t know how to move, or act. I felt that was really Mike, with this body that got forced on him — like with this artificial leg that we jokingly say cost $10 million, or the rockets on his arm. He didn’t know how to incorporate that into his life, or his movement.

What is his relationship with Coulson like?
Fans will find out that Coulson and Mike have actually been secretly working together since we last saw Mike. I always think about this character’s humanity, so I feel like Coulson is someone that Mike doesn’t want to disappoint and someone that he really looks up to. I also feel that from the very beginning, he’s been looking for redemption and seeing Coulson as a key to that. Coulson can help him be the hero he’s always wanted to be for his child… That’s the only thing I think about with this character, him as a father, with a son. There are a lot of levels to that.

Mike and Skye have a relationship that stems back to the very first episode. Mike got his powers forced on him, whereas Skye got hers unknowingly. If and when the two meet, is it tense?
Thats one of those things I can’t answer! But I will say yes, our powers are significantly different. For Mike, he’s a regular guy who has to deal with the responsibility of having this much power — [it’s] a little different than what she is going to go through.

With the new upgrades, does that mean Deathlok will have new abilities?
I have so many cool abilities. I have three USB ports, a Firewire connection, you can get wi-fi off of me, this thing on my arm makes cappuccinos… [Laughs.] I do have some new powers… I think you’ll see them unfold over time. At the core, he still is who he is. He has a bunch of mechanical parts that do a bunch of interesting things. This arm piece shoots rockets, and he’s still super strong from the Centipede that he got in the first episode. Even in the comics, I feel like he’s a character with a thousand powers that constantly unfold. It’s a character with a lot of possibilities. And again, even with reading the comic, I feel like I can’t put a finger on all of his powers and the things that come over time.

Do you have a favorite upgrade?
I love stomping someone with my mechanical leg like I did in the last episode of the first season. There is just something about doing that that I really like. I love being able to jump really far, too. We did that a bunch of times in the pilot and subsequent episodes, but there is just so much about being able to be him that I really enjoy.

Did you know you were getting a new costume when you came back? What was your reaction to it?
Man, it was like the first time. I was in fittings for the first costume even before I knew I was even going to be Deathlok. They keep me in the dark as much as you guys. But I saw a drawing of it and I really liked it. It really came out perfect. I love all the little pieces that fit together nicely. It really puts me in the body of the character. Also, there are like a thousand people futzing with me all day long, making sure my lights are on, my gloves are on, and my makeup is right.

When did you find out you were going to be returning in such a major way?
I think I found out a few weeks before returning to work. I had been tipped off that i’d probably be returning, so I had to keep that a secret for a while too. I was really excited to come back. But every time I do come back, I feel like I’m playing a completely different character because there is so much that goes on off-camera. Like I said before, Mike Peterson is owning his role as Deathlok and that’s a whole different performance.

Will we see you interacting with more of the team while you’re back?
As it was left in Season 1, there was a lot of unfinished business with the other team members. I think you’ll get to see that played out a bit.

Will we get a sense of if he’s had any contact with his son, or if he’ll see his son this season?
I think we’ll get into that. As it was left, I felt like Mike really couldn’t face his son until he became a hero.

Do you think we’ll ever get to see him get to that point — considering himself a hero?
I think about that, all the time. It’s so funny, because that’s what makes him such an interesting character to me. Even if he saved the entire world, I don’t know if even then he could face his son. I think something really big would need to happen for him to get over everything he feels guilty about. Mike suffers from an immense sense of guilt. Even when I came back the first time, I felt like Mike shouldn’t have felt as guilty because it was the Centipede making him crazy, but he takes so much personal responsibility from his sins that it would take a lot for him to feel better about himself.

From an emotional and psychological standpoint, how much of Deathlok is Mike, and how much of him is pure android?
God, you guys are asking the questions I ask myself, that I keep dancing around trying to figure out. When I said in one of the episodes that “Mike Peterson is dead,” I thought the only way that line could have meaning is if it were not true. I always think of Mike Peterson being at the core of this character, and whatever happens as a result of that, is all Mike Peterson. I think he’s 100% there.

We’ve seen you go through some pretty drastic changes, will we see even more, to inch closer to his look in the comics?
You know, its such a work in progress and I can see a scenario where that happens. I was really excited in one episode where Mike was under a x-ray and we got to see that underneath it all he does look a bit like the comic character. We’ll see, it’s constantly evolving, as you can already see.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

“Agents of SHIELD” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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