Agents of SHIELD has typically shied away from marquee name heroes. While they started seeding potential movie concepts with Inhumans (notably Daisy “Quake” Johnson) and have played with a handful of supporting characters, the big stuff is left to the movies or Netflix. That all changed when they announced Ghost Rider was coming to Agents of SHIELD Season 4.
Gabriel Luna plays Robbie Reyes, the comics’ latest incarnation of Ghost Rider. Luna attended a Marvel Television party for the Television Critics Association this summer where we got to speak with him about taking on the role.
I know we hoped there’d be more Matador but did it feel serendipitous that the opportunity to play Robbie Reyes came along when it did?
Yeah, I did feel that way but Matador felt that way, too. Each job you feel grateful for, but there was something about the fact that we had just come off Harley and the Davidsons. We got home and because we left town during the pickups and everything that was happening on the network, I did find myself in a nice little pocket of space and time where they had looked at a lot of people, but I think there was interest there and they had contacted us previously. We just didn’t know what the character was. They finally cracked the lid on what it really was. All of a sudden, your interest, curiosity and excitement is ignited and you’ll do everything you need to do to get that job.
They wanted you for a character before they knew they were doing Robbie Reyes?
No, we didn’t know. They wouldn’t tell us so the timing was great. Once we had our talk and I was in Marfa, Texas, promoting a film called Transpecos, little movie that could. I hope everyone gets a chance to see it. I got on Skype with (executive producers) Jed (Whedon) and Mo (Tancharoen) and Jeph Loeb. They clued me in to what was going on and I just wanted to start work immediately. I had to earn that job first but I was ready to do all the work it took.
Have you worked on the visual effects of Ghost Rider yet?
We have, yeah, we have. Mark Kolpack, amazing, amazing dude. We went in, did my 3D scan. We have these really great lighting effects that cast light on all the surfaces around me and my costume, so once they add old Flame Brain in there, it’s going to look great.
Are you able to play Ghost Rider when he’s flamed out?
Yeah, yeah. I think it’s important. You read the books, you can still find the articulation of his body, the shapes that he makes and those things. You add them and you hope that people notice but at least you’re trying to infuse it with those true to the books elements of his physicality. I put on the hood with all the lights and we do our thing but it’s not just me. My double, Morgan Benoit who does all the driving for us, we all together play the Ghost Rider.
So you have a specialist for the driving?
Robbie Reyes actually drives a 1969 black Dodge Charger which is called The Hell Charger, which is a very rare vehicle, beautiful monster of a car. The Ghost Rider, throughout the history of the comics, Carter Slade rode a horse, Johnny Blaze/Dan Ketch, they rode the bike, and Robbie’s just riding around town in his sweet Charger.
Do you ever get to drive it or is it so specialized they need Morgan?
It depends on what you need to do. If you’re going to do some really great J turns and spinning and everything else, you want Eric Norris, who happens to be Chuck Norris’ son. Yeah, I’ll let Chuck Norris’ kid do all that because he’s just an immensely talented dude.
Where is Robbie when we meet him?
I can’t really say but September 20th is very close.
Does Ghost Rider come fully formed to Agents of SHIELD?
You will not have to wait long. Let’s just say that.
So you’re not exploring the origin story again?
That’d probably be a Jeph question. I’m not sure. We haven’t addressed it. I’m sure we will but there’s also an element of what Jed and Mo and all the writers do which is really, really incredible is they tell stories, you have fans of the books but if we just did the books, there’d be no surprise. There would be no tension. There would be no drama. There would be no excitement.
So it’s always a matter of walking the line of employing elements of the book that are important to the people, and then of course keeping them guessing and taking the story in new directions. For instance, in the Avengers movies, Civil War, those all play out in slightly different ways as to how they play out in the books. We change it enough to keep people on their toes.
Do you feel like the movies paved the way for Robbie Reyes, because now that Johnny Blaze’s story has been told on film we don’t need to do that again? You can jump to another Ghost Rider?
Yeah, I think it’s perfect. The setting is also important. By the end of season three, we find Daisy in Los Angeles. That’s the perfect opportunity to introduce people to this character which is one of the pillars of Marvel lore including Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk. Ghost Rider is an extremely well-known character but now you get to infuse him with new life.
How tortured is Robbie at this point by his curse?
Can’t really say.
How important is it to you that they went with a Mexican-American character?
Immensely important. I think it’s a continuation of the work we were doing when we did Matador and what Robert had in mind is also what Marvel, both in the books and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also what they have in mind. We have Lunella Lafayette, we have Miles Morales, we have a female Thor, we have a female Iron Man. It’s time for people to open the books and look at their television and see reality, the reality of our world, the reality of our communities and the diversity therein.
I’m just really, really stoked, man. I’m beyond excited to be one of the first if not the first. I’m not sure, I haven’t fact checked that, but I believe I’m the first Mexican-American superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of the well-known titles. And I’m honored. I will not take it lightly.
Agents of SHIELD Season 4 premieres on September 20th at 10 pm.