Warning: There are major spoilers for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’s” aired episodes contained in this article. If you are not caught up on either, major plot twists will be ruined for you. You’ve been warned.
Maximiliano Hernandez’s Agent Jasper Sitwell plays a very important role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s the fact that he was a member of HYDRA who worked in SHIELD as was revealed in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, but he’s also the first character who went from the Marvel movies to “Agents of SHIELD,” had a significant role there, and then shifted back to the films.
Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill had a similar function, though her roles in “SHIELD” and “The Winter Soldier” were significantly smaller and less influential than Hernandez’s. His character’s motivations on “Agents of SHIELD” were questionable far before he headed to the freighter at the end of the “SHIELD” episode “End of the Beginning,” and that transition from small to big screen — plus the repercussions Sitwell’s actions will have on the ABC series — are certainly a sign of things to come in the MCU.
Zap2it had a chance to speak with Hernandez about Sitwell’s journey in Marvel, what it means for the TV/movie franchise and whether we’ve seen the last of his character.
Zap2it: How long have you know the trajectory Agent Sitwell would have?
Maximiliano Hernandez: For me, it’s always been an “as we go” thing. I did the Marvel One Shot, “Item 47,” and from there a couple of the producers and Louis D’Esposito, the co-president, they knew where I was going. I didn’t know at this point, and they were like, “Don’t worry, we have something special for you coming up.” I had no trajectory of this character at all. I knew who he was, but I had no idea that there was going to be this sort of turn in “Cap.”
In “Agents of SHIELD,” there’s a sense that characters like Sitwell and Hand don’t have our SHIELD agents’ best interests at heart. Did you know when you were shooting those episodes that Sitwell was not someone to be trusted?
I shot “Cap” first. I actually just shot [“End of the Beginning”] like a month ago or something like that, so I already knew full well. Some of the cast members did not know. Clark [Gregg] maybe screened the film, so he knew at that point. But I obviously have to go in with a complete straight face, so when people watch [the episodes] they’ll have no clue, which is great. Like, I know the little secret inside, and I’ve known it for a while. Doing these episodes of “SHIELD,” I’ve had that inside of me. [The audience] can take what they want, but they’re going to find something completely different when the stuff gets revealed in “Cap.”
What was your response to finding out that Sitwell was HYDRA?
I freaked out, and I was like, “What!” It’s funny, because I had not read the script until the day I went to go meet Joe and Anthony Russo. They asked me to come talk, and I had not read the script yet, so I was like, what is going on here? I had been asking, “Where is the script? I want to read it.” Then when I got there, [producer] Nate Moore hands me the script. He’s like, “I’m going to leave you alone now,” and he walked away. He was so cryptic, and I was like, “Alright.”
So I’m reading through it, and I’m like, “Oh my god, this is amazing. Oh my god, this is really good. This is crazy. This is really good.” I’m reading it, and then I see the scene. When it’s really revealed is the scene with Senator Stern. That’s the first time I had read it, and I was like, “Oh, cool, Senator Stern. Cool, I get a scene with Garry Shandling, that’s awesome.” And then we say “Hail HYDRA” to each other, and I was like, “What!” And everyone turned and looked and they started laughing. I asked, “Are you guys kidding me?” And then they were laughing some more, and I knew I needed to finish reading the script.
I read the script, and then I see my demise, and then I scream, “No!” and then they immediately knew what I was talking about. I just put my head down, and when I sat back, Anthony had popped his head out of the office. They were waiting in the office for me to come in, and they were like, “Dude, you’re killing us. Get in here.” And I said, “No, no, no, I’ve got to finish this. Just give me 20 minutes.” I finished reading it and I go in and I go, “So, I need to talk to Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, the writers, about what they wrote here.” [laughs] I was like, “I need to vent, and I need to yell at someone.”
What did you think of the twists?
It was very shocking to me. What I liked about it is no one would see it coming. It comes out of nowhere, to the point where my son didn’t know. His mom knew; I had told her, “Listen, when we go to the [screening], I just want to let you know,” but he didn’t know. He sat next to me at the red carpet [Los Angeles premiere] and he grabs my arm and goes, “I will never trust you again.” [laughs] He crossed his arms, and he was pissed. I was like, “You know this is just a movie?” And he said, “Yeah, OK. We’ll talk later.”
So this is the end for Sitwell?
That thing happens to me, but you don’t really see it happening, and Victoria Alonso, who is one of the producers as well, said, “I didn’t see you die. I didn’t see anything.”
I mean, Coulson actually died and he still came back from the dead, so you never know.
Yeah, Coulson got run through with an Asgardian toothpick, and he gets to come back. I went up to Jeph Loeb, who’s the executive producer of “Agents of SHIELD,” afterwards. I actually went up to him and Maurissa [Tancharoen] and Jed Whedon, and I said, “OK, I died just like Coulson. I swear to God, I better have a TV show.” [laughs]
And what was their response?
They just started laughing. I’m like, “No, no. I’ll kiss the ring, I’ll make good, I’ll be a good soldier, but I want a d*** show. You guys write a show for me.”
We’ll start a “Save Sitwell” petition. You’ll see T-shirts at Comic-Con.
Yes, Save Sitwell. Maybe HYDRA has some stuff they can pull out as well. Or, my petition is that this is all Nick Fury’s plan. That’s what I was saying to Marvel. I’m like, “How about I didn’t really die? How about that wasn’t even me? How about that was a Life Model Decoy? And how about that was all put in place?” Nick Fury’s the kind of man who has backup plans to his backup plans.
My whole pitch to them was “Secret Warriors.” If I’ve ever read it, this should be “Secret Warriors.” It should be Nick Fury’s planned all this out, he knew that SHIELD had to end and he had to take some of his best guys with him — and after the death of Coulson, he could not have that happen again. So why not replace them with Life Model Decoys? You don’t lose your best agents; you can send those decoys out.
The Life Model Decoy theory is something fans really took to after Coulson died, so it’s interesting you bring it up. Do you think Marvel will inevitably actually make that an MCU plotline?
I mean, it has to. This can only play out, in my opinion, in one way. The thing I thought about, especially when reading the script, is like, if this is the end of SHIELD, then how does “Agents of SHIELD” push on? And the only way that that can go on is if they are an elite squad, a small squad of agents of Fury instead of agents of SHIELD. The only way that that can work is sort of a take off of their “Secret Warriors” books that Marvel wrote, which is where there are shadow agents that are faithful to Nick Fury and they’ll do anything, and then they have to break away from SHIELD somehow. To me, it’s going to be really interesting how the rest of the season and how next season begins.
Do you think the implication from “The Winter Soldier” is that anyone could be HYDRA? For instance, that Hand could be HYDRA? That Melinda May could be HYDRA?
Absolutely. I think that’s the whole thing about it too. It just plays into that real psychological thing of who’s real and who’s not. Has my friend been hiding this whole time? Has my friend been an agent of HYDRA this entire time? You don’t know, so that paranoia level just shoots up, which would make life really, really difficult for Coulson and his crew on the Bus. The people who are supposed to be backing them up with technology or support, can you trust them? Are they feeding information to HYDRA or to AIM or to anyone?
My big question after the reveal of HYDRA and the reveal of Victoria Hand as, seemingly, the Clairvoyant is: Are they all one entity?
It’s really exciting. It’s so revolutionary to connect the movies so deeply with the TV show. The fact that anything that happens in the movies so directly impacts the show, I don’t think anyone’s done that before.
And thus far it’s all been in one direction for the most part.
Exactly. It was sort of like building it in a very procedural way, and then when they decided — I think in a good turn — to implement more Marvel universe in the show into directly to tie it to the films, I think that was a really, really smart play. Those big boys at Marvel and Disney, they make really good choices. It’s really interesting how they choose it and what they choose to keep in or out.
Now that Agent Sitwell has gone from the movies to the show back to the movies, do you think that’s something that we can expect to see more of going forward? Do you think it’s important to have elements of the show keep affecting the movies?
I think it’s important. The truth is, there’s much broader audience that stay home and watch these shows weekly. That translates into more people going to see the movies, in my opinion. When you have that number [of TV viewers] coming in every week and in someone’s household, it’s a completely different animal. It’s a completely different thing when you come into someone’s home on a weekly basis and they feel a connection to you to the point where they come up to you on the street and they say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that happened to you on that show!” They feel that connection.
I think it’s smart when they can make the show and the films evolve. I guess it’s like when they say “Act locally, think globally.” The TV show would be like the acting locally, and the thinking globally would be the movies. You can make really small, subtle moves in the show, and have that affect the film — and vice versa. I think it’s really smart. I’m kind of baffled no one thought of it earlier.
Other than our hopes of a Life Model Decoy/”Secret Warriors”/Nick Fury subplot, do you have any other thoughts on saying goodbye for Sitwell, at least for now?
You know, it’s the longest character that I’ve played. He was in “Thor” lightly, he was very light in “The Avengers” — I wasn’t really in that script, but they told Joss [Whedon] he needed to add me to pile the universes together — so that was really great. It’s been five years, going on six years with Marvel, and it’s been a great ride. It’s been a lot of fun. I was just happy to be in “Thor.” [laughs] I never thought I’d ever play Sitwell because he’s like this white guy with blonde hair, and that’s so not me.
I’m very thankful to Kenneth Branagh for seeing something a little different in me and doing a different take on Sitwell. It’s nice it’s gotten to the point of “Cap” where there’s this big thing that gets revealed, the whole HYDRA thing. I was a fan of “Captain America: The First Avenger.” I liked the elements of it. It felt like an old war movie. It’s nice to be a fan of that, and be brought into this second one.
The truth is, no one ever really dies in the Marvel universe. People come back all the time, you know? I’ve been reassured of that, but I have not been promised anything. It’s really cool when the president of the studio [Kevin Feige] goes, “Well you know, no one really dies.” And I go, “What does that mean?” “That’s as far as I’ll go, Max. That’s as far as I’ll go.” It’s nice to have that feeling where they never shut the door without opening a window. They never paint themselves into corners. The idea to me that he could come back is very exciting to me.
And I’m assuming you’d absolutely be on board with that if they did find a way to bring Sitwell back?
Oh, of course. Without a doubt. I’m so in love with the process of making movies with Marvel. They are so excited. It’s almost like you step onto a college thesis film. Everyone is so gung-ho. Even though they’ve been doing this for a while, that level of excitement, they have that. I can attest to it. They have that enthusiasm where the president of the studio will call you and breathlessly explain a film that he wants to do, and he’s talking about it like he just read it out of a comic book. These are grown men. It’s amazing, because you don’t hear that energy a lot.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is currently in theaters. “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.