Elizabeth Henstridge on Directing ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ‘Groundhog Day’ Episode

Agents of SHIELD
ABC/Mitch Haaseth

Things just seem to be getting worse for the gang on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

At the end of the July 15 episode, the time-traveling Zephyr made another mysterious jump forward, but this time, it wasn’t to any specific period in S.H.I.E.L.D. history. The follow-up, July 22’s “As I Have Always Been,” finds the team stuck in a time storm. (That’s right, no battle with the semi-robotic Chronicoms who are trying to take over the planet.) Here’s the catch: There’s also a time loop happening, and only Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Coulson (Clark Gregg) are aware of it.

The fun, Groundhog Day-style episode was directed by none other than series star Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays biochemist Jemma Simmons, one-half of the brainy couple FitzSimmons. (Fans have yet to see that duo in action this season—where are you, Fitz?!)

Below, Henstridge previews her wacky directorial debut.

First off, congratulations on directing!

Elizabeth Henstridge: Oh, thank you!

At the end of last week’s episode, the Zephyr jumped—again—and now they team is being sucked deeper and deeper into a time storm. What does this new danger spell for them?

Disaster. They realize they’re in this time storm and kind of circling the drain, getting closer and closer to destruction. They have to try and figure out a way to get out of it, with Daisy and Coulson being the only two who know there’s [also] a time loop happening. And the jumps are getting closer and closer.

I love the Groundhog Day concept, but I imagine that brought its own set of technical challenges for a first-time director—say, shooting the same scenes over and over again with different reactions.

There was a part of me that thought it almost might be easier as a director because there are fewer scenes to prep in a way, but actually, it was really challenging continuity-wise. We shot all the scenes in one direction first, and then [moved] the camera and shot all the scenes in the opposite direction. So, as an actor, it’s really hard to get your head around, but as a director, I had to know exactly where we were with every scene. Camera angles become very important, [as well as] what we cut to and what we make sure we get.

We get to see a lot of different scenarios play out—some funny, some scary. Which tone was your favorite?

Some of the scenes between Chloe and Clark are so brilliantly funny. There was just such comic gold in the episode.

(ABC/Mitch Haaseth)

What are you most proud of in this episode?

Just proud to be a part of this team, honestly. I’m proud to be a member of that cast, and now I’m proud to be a member of the directors who have been involved in the episodes. I’m proud to be a representative of ABC and Marvel. It’s been truly life-changing. It’s an episode that I can sit and watch and just really enjoy. That was always the aim. I thought at one point it might be impossible to get beyond my awkwardness to be able to sit and watch it and just enjoy it, so yeah, to be able to do that, I think, is pretty cool.

What can you say about Jemma’s journey? I know I’ve personally been keeping an eye on her because there’s definitely something bigger that we’re not yet seeing.

Yes, there is! Up until this point, we’ve seen her be very stoic, keeping some kind of huge secret, and she’s been much more closed off than she’s ever been before—very defensive and private. We start to see that all unravel [in this episode], and the risk that comes with adding an implant in your brain and what the repercussions could be.

The series finale is quickly approaching. I’m sure it’s going to be epic and enormously crazy, which is perfectly on-brand for this show, but what can you tease?

It’s such a big responsibility, I think, to bring the whole show to an end and help everyone feel like it’s a satisfying ending. I think the writers did an incredible job, [and they did it] in a way that felt right for all the storylines and characters. It’s going to make you cry, for sure. It’s going to make you have moments of pure joy. This whole season has felt like it’s been a love letter to the fans that [embraced]  the show in the first place, and the finale’s no different, really. It’s a really good one.

Do you remember what your reaction was when you first read the finale script?

Oh, my gosh, I was crying the whole way through. We had the table read—I hadn’t read the episode before—and I loved it. I couldn’t love the ending more. It’s pitched perfectly. My script now is, like, tear-stained.

Did you take anything from the set after you finished shooting?

Well, by the time we got to Season 7, a lot of my cool props were gone—we’d left them in the past. But I took a couple of costume pieces and a couple of tiny things. For me, it’s the scripts that are everything, with my notes and coffee stains and little messages from people.

Is there anything else about tonight’s episode that you wanted to say?

I think the main thing is that I’m just so grateful to ABC and our EPs for giving me the opportunity to direct. You know, it’s a big risk. This is a big show. It has a big budget and a lot of moving parts and components that go into making a good episode. I think giving me this opportunity just speaks volumes to them trying to make the industry inclusive. I hope I did them proud.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC