'Agents of SHIELD': J. August Richards argues Deathlok is no villain

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Mike Peterson is a complicated character on "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD," but don't ever call him a villain. The character from the pilot went on to be a SHIELD agent before being taken and rebuilt by Cybertek as a weapon of HYDRA and the Clairvoyant known as Deathlok, but he has always wanted to be a hero, and that's what the actor who plays him, J. August Richards, sees him as.

Zap2it spoke with Richards while he was promoting the return of Mike/Deathlok in episode 20, "Nothing Personal," and he shared a bit of insight into his arc over Season 1. He also teased whether Mike will lose his Deathlok alter ego, and whether fans can expect to see him in the season finale.

Zap2it: Did you have any idea early on how big your "Agents of SHIELD" role would be?
J. August Richards: I had no idea, mostly because when you do a pilot you don't know if there are going to be any more episodes, let alone if my character was going to be coming back. I'm just so happy to be all these months later still on the show.

Did you ever find out how long Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen had planned for you to become Deathlok?
I get the sense that they have known for a while, but everything is so secretive with the show that I even had a costume fitting for Deathlok and I didn't know what I was being fit for. They were taking pictures of my body and scanning things and I was thinking to myself, "What is going on?" And then as I was riding home from the costume fitting Maurissa called me, and she said, "I'm sure you're wondering what's going on, and I just wanted to let you know we are turning you into Deathlok." I literally had to pull the car over to the side of the road and have a private celebration. I've said this a lot of times, but it's so true: If you had asked me when I was a little boy what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a superhero. It was super exciting.

Deathlok is a complicated superhero. I think some people perceive him as a villain, even though that's not what he's trying to be.
Thank you very much! Thank you. I'm actually called the "Gentleman Tweeter" on Twitter because I'm very polite and very kind, but I've never gotten into more fights -- or any fights -- on Twitter until people refer to my character as a villain. Something about that really rubs me wrong, because I know how desperately Mike wants to be a hero, and a hero for his son and a hero for himself, and how good he is. The fact that he's being forced to do these things against his will just really hurts when people call him a villain. But somebody on Twitter coined the perfect phrase, and they said that Mike/Deathlok is the "anti-villain," and I like that as opposed to the anti-hero.

His whole storyline is a huge tragedy.
This is Mike's worst nightmare come true. This is the exact opposite of what he wanted for himself, and it's really quite tragic to me as well. I'm so personally attached to the character that, again, when people refer to him as a villain it really hurts.

When we see him in "Nothing Personal," where is he at emotionally?
When we come into this episode, we find that Mike is almost resigned to his fate, that he is being controlled by Garrett and having to do these things, and he almost feels that there's no hope. But the thing I've discovered playing this character is that with him, no matter how dark it is, there's always that hero underneath trying to get out of his circumstances. That's how we met him, and that's how we'll find him in the next episode. He's just trying to get out of the circumstances, even in a small way.

Skye is a character who always sees the best in Mike. Can we expect her to not give up on her quest to bring him away from Deathlok and back to Mike in this episode?
Man, Skye's got so many problems of her own, I'm not sure how concerned she is with me at this point. But Chloe [Bennet] and I have always bonded because we started on the first day of the pilot together. I always, in the back of my mind, know that Mike has a really soft spot for Skye because she's the first person he knew in this whole world. He has an affinity towards Skye, so yes we have a few scenes together and they're pretty pivotal scenes.

What was your response to finding out that Grant Ward is actually HYDRA?
I kind of found out that he was a villain on the show by watching the show like everybody else. The scripts are very under lock and key, so I didn't read that script. When I saw the episode, that was when I saw the turn. Obviously I'd shot some episodes after that so I knew he'd turned, but I saw it with everyone else. That's how under lock and key this whole experience is. I love it for his character. I think that one caught everyone off guard. No one saw that coming, and it was done really masterfully.

Is it any different playing opposite Brett Dalton as HYDRA Ward versus SHIELD Ward?
Every time I've come on screen with Ward, I feel that there's always this tension between Mike and Ward for some reason. If you recall when I came to join SHIELD in [ episode 10], I walked into the room and Ward was talking smack about me. There's always that tension, and we'll see maybe a little more of that in the next episode.

In the episode description for episode 21, "Ragtag," you're mentioned as "J. August Richards as Mike." Is there anything we can read into the fact you aren't mentioned as "Mike/Deathlok"?
Isn't it interesting, though, that the name they use is always very revelatory, meaning Coulson never calls me "Deathlok." He always refers to me as "Mr. Peterson." I think that really speaks to the class and the dignity of Coulson and the way he always pays Mike his dignity at all times. Every time, no matter what I've done on the show, he always refers to me as "Mr. Peterson," and I think that's really telling because I think that means he never had given up on me. That's about as close to answering that question as I can come.

Can we expect to see you in the finale as well?
You just said that I'm listed in the [penultimate episode], so I guess that you can draw your own conclusion. These people have me so scared! I'm so scared I can't even talk to you anymore. [ laughs]

"Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
Photo/Video credit: ABC