2:50 pm EDT, June 24, 2019

Elizabeth Henstridge talks exploring Simmons psychology (and psychosis) on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Elizabeth Henstridge explains the mind-bending experience of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06, meeting her miniature, and what she’ll keep from Id Jemma.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06, “Inescapable,” might be one of the series’ most demanding episodes for Henstridge, who shares the screen almost exclusively with costar Iain DeCaestecker. “Inescapable” requires the pair to leap forward and backward through remembered time, manifest their darkest selves while balancing pathos with wicked comedic timing.

The result is an episode that provides an energetic catharsis for Simmons and Fitz, excavating past traumas to expose the true foundations on which they stand. It quite a journey, and Elizabeth Henstridge took us inside the process on the wild ride of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×06.

Elizabeth Henstridge discusses ‘Inescapable’

What did you know about the episode before you got the script?

Not much, I don’t think. I mean people would say, “Oh six is a good one. Six is a good one for you.” But, you never know if that means you have a great moment or a cool scene. I didn’t think it was going to be so much FitzSimmons but that was a nice surprise.

We also bring in Jesse Bochco, who directed it, to do the slightly different ones. So, when I spoke with him directly I thought, “Uh-oh, this is going to be a cool one.” I just spent a bunch of time with Jesse doing episode three with Chloe when we were in Planet Kitson. So it was cool to get to work with him so quickly again and all day, every day which is fun because he’s the best.

Obviously, getting to do all my scenes with Iain is the best too. It was a good time, but we didn’t know too much about it before the script.

And “Inescapable” has such an interesting structure and pattern for its revelations. What was your reaction once you read it?

Just that it’s so cool. I’m always incredibly impressed by our writers. They’re all in the room and they all write the stories, but DJ Doyle, who wrote, it just did so wonderfully. It was just so cool to have Simmons’ alter-ego, I’ve never had so much fun, ever.

It was one of those episodes that you have to read a few times. Not that I didn’t understand it the first time, but it’s just so rich and there’s so many moving parts that the more you read it the better it gets, which I always think is a sign of a really strong episode. I learnt something new every single time. So my reaction was just, “That’s so cool and I can’t believe I get to do this every day for the next couple weeks.”

This episode includes a lot of revelations about both Simmons and Fitz’s mental states, and the ways they function as people. Having played Simmons for six years already, had you thought of any of these nuances before now?

Not really, [but] I like how they show their sides of characters. I think they’ve dealt with Fitz’s mental state really sensitively and I really enjoyed seeing that side of him from college, that his anxiety was still present then. It’s something that they can help each other through, and Simmons is aware of that.

Whenever, as an actor, you get to learn more about your backstory it’s always such a gift, but to actually get to act it out and explore it in that way is just beyond cool. The thing with us being on air so long is that we have so much time now to explore lots of different things. So that, for me, was one of my favorite moments.

Did any of what you learned in “Inescapable” affect how you played Simmons in the rest of season 6, or maybe season 7?

I don’t think it really changed how I played Simmons necessarily, but definitely it all informs it. I don’t think it changed too much what I did the rest of the season in terms of her character.

But being able to play her alter-ego was just so freeing as an actor. I [had] all this stuff on my face, and having my cheeks gross, and it’s just all the things that you would typically worry about not wanting to look like on screen. All of a sudden, I was just all of it, and I loved it. But as an actor to then go back and play Simmons, I felt like I had experienced a freedom that I hadn’t felt in a while. To not be self-conscious and be able to completely let go.

I think I carried that with me, which to me is something I’ll then carry in every project I do. I’ll be chasing that feeling of complete abandonment. I think that inherently is going to make me a better actor and make the whole thing more fun.

Tell me a bit more about what it was like to play the Id Jemma. You are so completely different in that version of her.

I was really nervous, actually. I mean, it was so fun and everybody was excited, but I just have never done that stuff before so I wasn’t quite sure. There’s just so many ways that it could be interpreted, and you don’t want to do yours and everyone go, “Wow. I did not think it would be that.” So I was a bit nervous. It’s like doing something new in front of your family. I’d rather it be strangers.

But it was cool and it was just so fun. RJ [McCasland] did the makeup and he’s just unbelievable. And [with] the eye contacts and the cheeks, it was just so fun. Everybody should get the chance to be made that version of themselves because it’s just so freeing.

I loved how many different parts of her costume from previous seasons were included. It was such a great amalgam of everything Simmons has experienced.

Yeah, and it was fun to figure out what those things would be. It was all her stuff that had been traumatic. It was everything on Maveth, and [as Cassius’s] slave. It was cool to go through and pick out the moments — everybody has those traumatic moments in life where you go, “What would I be carrying on if I was just a being of envy and hate and pain?” What does that look like? It’s morbid, but it’s a cool thing character-wise to think about.

Earlier in the episode, what was it like seeing yourself played in miniature?

It was so fun! Ava Mireille was the actress. She was American, and her British accent was so great. I was there for scenes. and helping her with different words here and there because my accent … every accent is such a mishmash of different places. But she was just so great and it was really fun. How cool to get to see the child version of yourself! I thought Ava did such a great job, and got Simmons’ essence as kind of the arrogant and intelligent and fun all in one. She was great. It was really cool to do that.

Then, to see Iain DeCaestecker as Fitz reacting to that! I laughed out loud so much at the stuff he did this episode. We’ve had so many conversations about it. I just think his performance in this episode is unbelievable. Seeing him caught in those situations. It’s a fun one because with Iain you just put him in something and then just watch him fly. It was nice to be at the monitor watching it. It was surreal, but really fun.

That’s awesome. That line she says about how she’s not afraid, she’s observing. I was like, that’s perfect.

I know. So perfect. That’s what I mean. DJ Doyle does such a good job. You couldn’t do this episode on a show that hasn’t been on as long, I don’t think. It just wouldn’t land. It wouldn’t be as cool. But as soon as you know so much about these characters, yeah you have those moments of, “Oh, my god. Of course that’s what she would say.”

Was it cool to revisit the blazer and the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy version of FitzSimmons?

Yeah. Yeah, that was amazing. I got actually quite emotional with Coulson, because we haven’t seen Coulson in so long. It was really nice to see Clark back in his suit. We were in the same stuff as I wore in the pilot. It was really like being transported back. It was so fun, because the first time around doing scenes like that, I was just sick to my stomach with nerves. Whereas, this time around, six years later, I’m like, “Oh, god. I can just enjoy this now. This is just pure joy.” So, it was good.

And just seeing Clark be Coulson really lit my heart up. I’m slightly obsessed with Coulson, so having a scene with him again was really nice.

What was your favorite scene overall to film from the episode?

I think it was when we were in the pods.

Something nice happened in a pod for once!

Yeah! Exactly. This was so bizarre to reading it, I just didn’t know how we were going to film that. I thought this whole episode would be a lot of CGI, and then it wasn’t. We did everything practically. Everything was [in] the camera moves and camera angles. So that was fun to figure out the mind game of it all.

But then, being in this pod and being able to argue and say all those things that you’ve wanted to say for the past six years… It’s always fun to be in an argument as a character because Simmons is so quick, and so is Fitz. When I have any sort of disagreement, I think of my best line a couple hours later, and then it’s over. Whereas, this is like every line that they each say is so good and right.

Then we just got absolutely soaked. It was really fun. For me it was a whole episode of abandonment and letting yourself go, and that scene was definitely one where I felt like the characters were like, “All right. I’m going to just lay it down and let you know how I’ve been feeling for the past five years.”

It was very cathartic to watch! So, going forward, what is Simmons going to take away from this experience?

I think her bond with Fitz is stronger than ever. They keep overcoming challenges together and I think she feels stronger. She’s discovered something about herself, in terms of maybe her method of dealing with traumatic experience isn’t the best one. I think she spends a lot of her time worrying about Fitz and his mental state, and not really thinking about herself. So, I think for her it’s going to be a bit more about finding a way to deal with the pain that is somewhat healthy.

It is always the case, as soon as she gets into one thing, there’s another challenge. So, they’re going to be pretty busy, the two of them. In her down time, she’ll think about how to deal with trauma more.

That’s great. But this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and life is never easy. Can you hint a little bit about what might be coming next? Should we expect serious trauma ahead or can Simmons and Fitz handle what comes by now?

I think it’s more, “We’re together so we can handle it.” They’ve been separated for a while at this point. They’ve come together again. So, less trauma. There’s a lot that Fitz has to catch up on. For the foreseeable future, they’re a really strong union again. God knows how long it will last but, we’ve got to be grateful for what we’ve got!

Looking ahead a bit, what is life going to be life with Fitz and Simmons, and now their new best friend Enoch?

Oh my god. He is amazing. I think his loyalty’s always going to be to Fitz, they have such a special friendship and they’re best friends. I think that Simmons is going to enjoy watching Fitz deal with that. Joel, who plays Enoch, is just so brilliant. Enoch’s such a fun character, and one that just came out of nowhere, in a way… It’s because Joel is brilliant, who plays him. You just want to see more from him.

As far as their dynamic goes, I think to a point, Simmons is happy to be able to offload Fitz onto someone else for a little bit. Enoch is incredibly loyal, there’s some nice moments coming up with like, “He’s my best friend. You’re my best friend.” But ultimately they all want the same thing — to stay alive for at least another season, really.

And speaking of that next season, what can we expect for the rest of season 6?

I think the main thing is that we’ll learn more about Sarge and his whole deal. We’ve had quite a few departures from that, and I think moving forward, everything wraps up a bit now that the team is pretty much back together on Earth. We’ve got to figure out what the deal is with Sarge being here, and what are these things that are attacking us? What are these creatures that took out Keller? We’ve never fought anything like this before, and from what Mack sees at the end of the episode, something worse is on the horizon.

Yeah, their creator or something right?

Right. Things are going pretty quickly now!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6×07, “Toldja,” airs Friday, June 28 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.

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