HomeInterviewsChristopher James Baker on Working on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stargirl & Accents

Christopher James Baker on Working on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stargirl & Accents

Christopher James Baker Agents of SHIELD
Photo Credit: ABC/Mitch Haaseth

This season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is underway and actor Christopher James Baker, who plays new character Malachi, was nice enough to speak with us. James, who has also appeared on hit shows like The Blacklist, Ozark, and True Detective, discussed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his career as an actor, and what the future holds.

Thank you again, Chris, for speaking with me. How did you break into acting? 

It was sort of something I always wanted to. After high school I did some traveling and then studied in a three-year drama course in Sydney, and that led into me making a lot of my own work. I formed a company with the group that I went to the drama school with and, yeah, kept just sort of pushing away at it that way. And then after, I guess nearly 10 years in Australia, in Sydney. It’s a much smaller industry over there and a very kind of limited pool of work if you want to do the kind of work that I was attracted to. So, my wife and I moved over here to New York to give it a go for a year or so. And that was 10 years ago.

And you’ve established quite a resume since then.

Thank you. Yeah, I’ve been fortunate.

I saw you last week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That’s in its sixth season already. What’s it like going into an established universe like that as a newcomer?

I think that’s a great question, the difference between being on a show when you’re creating it at the beginning is very different than to coming into an established thing in season six. They’re a really good, cohesive, happy family. It was really easy and fun. The cast and the crew, they’re all very good at what they do. And you know, there’s no sorting out how things run. It was easy.

They were just very welcoming, and I think everyone’s aware that this is a really fun show to make and the fans really enjoy it. And so it has an element of levity and joy, as well as the seriousness, that I haven’t experienced on something for a while, which was good to be a part of.

They have some of the best choreography on TV right now. And your character Malachi’s an assassin. Can you explain at all what goes into the choreography process?

I got to do a lot more sort of stalking and firing across rooms, but you’re so right. The stunt crews on these shows are just amazing and so good at what they do, and the performers as well. That’s them doing a lot of it. And they have such seamless relationships with the stunt doubles. And the choreography is getting so exciting, when it gets to the point where they are revealing character, and the action sequence or the fight sequence almost has an emotional arc or a story arc. It’s a real fine skill. These stunt coordinators and fight choreographers, they’re getting so good at it.

I know you might have to be tight-lipped about it, but is there anything we can expect from your character?

I do have to be tight-lipped. I think it’s safe to say just more of the same. I’m causing trouble and, you know, I’ve got a teleporter.

Right, right.

But no, I’m not really allowed to say too much more about what’s happening, but I’m excited to see how it all plays out. It’s always so fun to shoot something—that was almost a year ago, I think—and then suddenly it’s happening and you get to see how cleverly they do it. So much of the VFX stuff that they can do now is just amazing, what transforms from one S.H.I.E.L.D. set and how it looks.

You’ve worked in the industry, like you said, for a long time now. Is there any big difference between acting on TV and film these days, or has the line kind of blurred between the two?

I think the line has blurred. I think a lot of the more recent work that I’ve been doing is much more informed by streaming. And the nature of it is more like you’re shooting at a 12-part feature film, rather than the kind of super tight, episodic way TV that used to be. Things like Ozark and True Detective have the scope to shoot like it that, and the difference being often it’s just the time allowed them for the cinematography and the other elements that go into making things what we like to think of as cinematic.

They’ve got license to do more of that rather than the super-fast paced, just churning out a lot of network TV used to be. It’s now just raised the whole bar. And I don’t think there’s a lot of difference other than, if it’s a feature film, you may be there, if you’re there from start to finish, it might be 20 days or 30 days. But if you’re shooting a season of television, it’s four or five months.

And I think everyone gets so much better and more comfortable with their jobs and the process over that period of time that a lot more can be achieved to make it feel more filmic.

Photo Courtesy of Creative PR

You’ve worked with a large number of actors over the years. You worked with Vince Vaughn in True Detective and you were in a movie with Woody Harrelson. Is there any actor or actress in particular that you just had a blast working with?

All actors are really good fun to work with. We all really enjoy the job. If you’re not enjoying it, then there’s not much reason to do it. Working with Vince Vaughn was really good fun. He was very generous, and very funny, to the point of distraction in between takes. He’s one of those actors that has an ability to just be joking and cracking up, but then when they call action drop right down into that other place, which I thought he did so well in that season. Which I had to try and work a bit harder, to not be still giggling when somebody’s been saying something funny. And working with Jason Bateman on Ozark was pretty exciting, given that he was also directing and executive producing and acting in the way he was. That was pretty cool.

And Woody Harrelson, of course. I didn’t get to have a bunch to do with him. We’re all in a tiny little town in the middle of Mississippi, so we got to hang out a bit, which is an experience. But I get to work, which is really fun, with a lot more of the sort of—I don’t know if you know the term—the journeyman actors, a lot of the character actors that get to pop in and out of things, the actors that people might go, “Oh yeah, I recognize that guy from somewhere,” that you don’t really know. And they’re always such good people, and the times you have on set with the people that aren’t the super big stars is often the most rewarding and enjoyable time, I found

You’ve played so many different roles and you’ve mastered different dialects. Is there any accent in particular that took you a while to get down?

Photo Courtesy of Creative PR

Coming from Australia and having red hair, there were a lot of Irish and English and Scottish things I got to do. Coming over here, just getting the first few jobs that I did, I think I was a worse actor with my American accent than I was with my natural. Until I had just practiced it, practiced it, and practiced it, until it got to the point where it was secondhand and it wasn’t in the forefront my mind, so that kind of filter was just automatic. And that took a really long time to work on.

I spent days wandering around New York City just talking to people with an American accent. And then being able to do the variations and sort of Southern and things like that. I really quite enjoy dialects and getting into the phonetics of words and how the kind of roots of them all are connected or not. So, you throw all that into it with study of it and practice, it’s a really enjoyable part of the craft for me. And, but yeah, getting an American to the point where it’s not even on anyone’s register that that might not be how you actually talk is a good part of the craft for me, and it was difficult. I’m better at it now.

So, in addition to working with Marvel, you’re also working with DC. You’ll be in their upcoming Stargirl show. So, if not anything about your role, is there anything you can tease for that show?

I’m not allowed to talk about my role because it’s just going to be quite exciting to reveal it. It’s based on the comics Geoff Johns created many years ago. I think it was his first comic. A lot of the stories are in there, in the comic books; he’s definitely adapting and bringing in a lot of new characters and old characters from the DC universe. And it’s another one that feels like we’re making a feature film. The budgets and the effects and the way they’re shooting, the care that’s being taken, is really exciting. And the cast is fantastic. I feel very blessed and fortunate.

There’s something about the fantasy element or sci-fi element of a show based in a comic book world, there’s an element of archetypes and the bigger picture of good and evil that lends a really fun anchor to the work if it’s grounded in reality. And I think the tone of this show and how it’s being made is going to just be really exciting for people that are into it. It’s going to be really kickass. There’s been quite a few moments of standing there on set and just going, “Oh, this is going to be so cool, I can’t wait to see it.” I’m excited.

Catch Christopher James Baker on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Friday nights on ABC.

Aaron Sarnecky
Aaron Sarnecky
Aaron Sarnecky is a Senior Writer and Former TV Editor for The Pop Break. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of Senior Columnist Josh Sarnecky. The two record retrospective podcasts together. Aaron probably remembers that canceled show you forgot existed.

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