Buckle your seatbelt and keep your lip zipped! When ABC's new hit series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for episode 2 (Tuesday, 8/7c) its covert team of superhero wranglers and alien investigators will fly to Peru to check out a bizarre object of unknown origin. Then, on Oct. 8, they race against the clock to locate a scientific genius who's been kidnapped. And on Oct. 15, they're after a female superthief. But don't expect any deets from Ming-Na Wen. TV Guide Magazine spoke with the actress, who plays badass pilot Melinda May, about the pros and cons of starring on such a high-security show. Warning: This job can be hell on your friendships!
TV Guide Magazine: The secrecy on this show is maddening! How has it been for you and the rest of the cast?
Wen: [Laughs] Terrible! It's hard enough that we can't reveal anything in interviews or on social media, but we can't even talk about it to our friends and family for fear something will leak. [Laughs] You can lose friends over this job! First they're pissed that you can't hang with them because of the intense shooting schedule and then when I do see them I can't say anything. They'll ask, "So what are you doing on the show?" And I'll say, "Oh...you know...I'm doing acting...and, uh... stunts." Then I change the subject to the weather or the bad L.A. traffic. I got cast in this show way October so I'm now going on an entire year of not talking about it! Trust me, when you're on S.H.I.E.L.D., you're not the life of the party!
TV Guide Magazine: Your character was reluctant to join the team. What's she hiding?
Wen: May is still dealing with scars from her days as a soldier, most of which I don't know about yet. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are immersed in high levels of espionage and witness shocking things on the level of The X-Files and it's all so confidential they can't share it. So, it's weird. They're real insiders who know all the secrets, yet that makes them outsiders. That's why this new team becomes such a family. They need each other. They comfort each other.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you a Marvel nut before this gig came along?
Wen: Yes! In fact, I've been wanting to ask Joss Whedon if he'll sign my DVD of The Avengers. Or would that be too weird? But, yeah, I'm definitely in the club and I love that theme in the Marvel universe about working through your fear and not letting it break you. That's why the viewers will really relate to our characters. [Laughs] They'll be like, "Hey I went through that same experience — maybe not with Chitauri aliens but with my mother-in-law."
TV Guide Magazine: Not that long ago you were the ingénue. What's it like to suddenly be the veteran surrounded by newbies?
Wen: I'm ready for it! Listen, if they could believably slap some old-age makeup on me, I'd happily play a grandma. I'd jump on that in a heartbeat. I don't care. Bring it on! But let me tell you something about these newbies on our show — they are so much more mature and worldly and professional compared to what I was in my early 20s. And that's so refreshing! Maybe it's the internet and all the information they grew up with. When I grew up in Pittsburgh in my parents' restaurant, I was almost like a country bumpkin. These kids are very different. They are really, really old souls.
TV Guide Magazine: What's tougher, working on ER or S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Wen: Oh, S.H.I.E.L.D., no contest. Just the sheer physicality of it makes it the hardest job I've ever had. On ER, once you got all the medical jargon down and you figured out how to spew it out as you're dashing through the halls in those long gurney scenes, it was easy. This is hard, a lot because it's still so new but this show is so vast and intricate I don't know that it will ever be easy. But I love it. Even after a 15-hour day, I'm still counting my lucky stars. And you know what? I love that I'm working on a show that's for the family. There used to be comedies the whole family could watch together. Just try and find one nowadays! And don't get me started on today's cartoons. Finally, with S.H.I.E.L.D., I have a show I can watch with my seven-year-old son and my 12-year-old daughter. That's the part I'm most happy about. Now they can see what I do.
TV Guide Magazine: What about Mulan? Don't you get any cred with your kids for that?
Wen: Oh, I don't know if they care, but I sure do! I love when I go on the Netflix site and Mulan is still one of the favorites after all these years. She was one of the few Disney female characters who didn't need a man to help her out. She did her own thing and I love playing that kind of heroine. [Laughs] First I saved China, now I'm saving the planet. My challenges are getting tougher!