Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Ming-Na Wen Breaks Down May's Shocking Trip Down Memory Lane

Exclusive: Star of ABC's Marvel series talks the many twists and turns that befell her character(s) on tonight's new episode

By Billy Nilles Jan 25, 2017 7:00 AMTags
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ming-Na WenABC

Warning: The following contains spoilers from tonight's new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you haven't watched yet, you might want to bookmark this page and return once you have. Proceed with caution.

It's hard out there for Melinda May. Both of them, to be exact.

On tonight's new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we finally got a glimpse of the simulations Radcliffe (John Hannah) and Aida (Mallory Jansen) have been subjecting the real May (Ming-Na Wen) to while she's been kidnapped and kept in his lab. And let's just say they weren't great. When the dastardly doctor realized that neither a tranquil spa (too relaxing) nor a fight sequence (too winnable) could keep her subconscious at peace, he went ahead and programmed her to relive that pivotal night in Bahrain that made May into the woman she is, only he altered history to keep young Katya (returning guest star Ava Acres) alive and not a villain who May needed to put down.

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Meanwhile, out in the real world, LMD May discovered the truth about her existence after last week's gash on her back revealed some surprising non-human innards. Confronting Radcliffe just before Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the team could swoop in and apprehend him for siccing Aida on them as well as colluding with Senator Nadeer (Parminda Nagra), she forced him to tell her everything, but chose to keep it to herself once—putting whatever's growing between her and Coulson at risk should he come to find out she's, you know, a robot.

With so much to digest, we needed to turn to the woman responsibly for bringing May(s) to life on a weekly basis and got Wen on the phone. What follows is our unedited Q&A. Enjoy.

E! News: I want to start by asking about that final simulation Radcliffe and Aida put May into with the return to Bahrain and that really pivotal point in May's whole life. What was it like to recreate for this episode?
Ming-Na Wen: Well, it left me as an actor with a million questions. Have they permanently altered May's memory? Or is it something of a temporary thing so that while she's in this contraption, she's able to stay calmer and have a more relaxed experience. I think reshooting that part of it was really odd, for me, because it was such a part of May's character and how she transformed after that moment. It was such a pivotal alteration of who she was as a human being that to extract that now and change it so drastically—and then reshooting it, it felt a bit uncomfortable, you know? "How do I fill her shoes now?"-kind of feeling. But it was great to see our little Ava again. She was lovely. It's funny because her face hadn't changed, but she grew a lot taller. [Laughs] As kids do. But she didn't change very much, so that was helpful.

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You mention that this raised questions for you that this could possibly change May. Should this permanently alter her memory, what do you think that sort of May would look like?
I would think that she would be still as focused as she's always been, still as skilled, but probably she'd smile a little bit more. [Laughs] She'd smile a lot more, actually. We've had some flashback scenes with May prior to Bahrain, in that episode, and she was definitely more fun and more easygoing. I think that would've been more the real May. Or the old May, I should say.

Shifting gears a bit, the LMD May learned the truth about what she is this week and she makes the decision to keep that hidden from Coulson, just like Radcliffe told her she would. Why do think she chooses to keep that hidden?
Hmm. OK. [Laughs] I think that particular question will be answered in future episodes, so it might be inappropriate for me to answer it. So, I'll take the fifth on that one.

Fair enough. We're watching the relationship between the May that is out in the world and Coulson continue to develop. What can you tease about where this continues to go? And what's it been like exploring this new facet of their relationship and working with Clark in this way?
Well, I think, for the both of them, things develop because they're having to work closer together and there's so much going on between the new Director and S.H.I.E.L.D. coming back into the public's awareness and Daisy coming back into the fold. Ultimately, both of them realize that through it all, they have always had each other's back, and I think that's why they're sort of allowing themselves to be more in touch with their real feelings about each other.

 At the same time, I think our writers are very, very keen on wanting to please our fans as well. [Laughs] Especially our Philinda fans. So, even though it's organic in how their relationship has always—they've always had feeling for each other, let's put it that way. It's now being more addressed. And it's fun. I mean, Clark and I, sometimes we're excited about it. And other times it's like, "Oh no. OK, what do we have to do?" Because we're friends. So, you have to take the actors out of the equation and think about the characters.

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Now that the LMD May knows what she is, what can you tease about how she grapples with this knowledge and what it does to her?
I think for May, because it is still May's memory and it's May's personality, for her, this awareness definitely doesn't sit well. I think there is this sense of confusion which causes her to feel out of control, which causes her to have to question her motives and everything. That doesn't sit well with May because May is always so sure 99 percent of the time what she needs to do to get something done. And now this realization that she wasn't even aware that she's an LMD, I think it really troubles her because there's something in May's make-up that questions everything now. Everything that she does and everything that she thinks, whether it's hers or if it's someone else's control or program.

During the "fight" simulation that May is put into second, there's a moment where Radcliffe and Aida mention a second LMD agent that they can activate. Should we presume the reveal of the Radcliffe LMD is the second or should we be worried that there are more LMDs?
Well, definitely Radcliffe is the second LMD. [Laughs] As shown on that particular episode.

OK, fair enough. At the end, when it's revealed that Radcliffe and Nadeer are working together, there's this mention of the "superior." What can you tease about who this person is and what sort of threat they pose to everybody?
Well, I could tease whether the superior actually is someone that is a double agent that works within S.H.I.E.L.D. or whether it's someone entirely new that we don't know about. I guess I could say that.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.