LOS ANGELES (AP) — A movie-size blockbuster is a rarity on the small screen, the Super Bowl aside, but “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” boasts the pedigree to make a run at it.
The drama series has the nearly prerequisite comic-book heritage and the added benefit of hitmaker Joss Whedon (“The Avengers,” ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) as co-creator and executive producer.
Which is why Brett Dalton considers himself a very fortunate actor to be playing Grant Ward, a combat and espionage expert serving with — take a deep breath — the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division.
“Nobody’s more lucky than me to get this part, and I know that I won the Lotto on this,” said Dalton, whose credits include “Army Wives” and the part of President Lincoln’s son Robert in the TV movie “Killing Lincoln.”
Executive producers Jed Whedon (Joss’ brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen count themselves equally fortunate.
“When we saw Brett Dalton’s audition we all blurted out the words, ‘Cast him,’” they said in an email. “He landed the humor and emotion of a man who isn’t used to playing with others with the right amount of subtlety.”
“The guy also looks like a superhero, so there’s that,” they added of the actor with a perfect thicket of dark hair and cheekbones to die for.
“Marvel’s Agents,” debuting 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, is a TV follow of sorts to “The Avengers,” which already has a sequel in the works.
In the TV show, S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives lack superpowers but bravely search out threats worldwide. Its director is Phil Coulson, undeterred by dying in 2012′s “The Avengers” and played again by Clark Gregg, with Ming-Na Wen, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge and Chloe Bennet also in the cast.
Dalton considers himself well-steeped in the world of comic book-based films. He’s partial to the tongue-in-cheek asides of Marvel properties such as Iron Man, compared to the darker tone exemplified by Batman of DC Comics.
A sense of humor is part of “Marvel’s Agents” as well. “It goes with the reality of the moment but it’s not afraid to give a wink now and then and not take itself seriously,” Dalton said.
The genre’s box-office power certainly is serious, including the more than $1 billion earned by this summer’s “Iron Man 3.” ABC spent a reported $12 million on the “Marvel’s Agents” pilot, a bid to entice more male viewers to the female-skewing network and boost its lagging young adult audience.
It’s also a nice display of corporate synergy: ABC and Marvel Entertainment both are owned by the Walt Disney Co.
Dalton said he’s shrugging off talk of pressure on “Marvel’s Agents” to score big.
“I’m sort of blissfully unaware of that,” he said. “I see the billboards everywhere — how could you not? — and the ads, but my feet are still firmly on the ground.”
His career path was set as a high school senior, when he overcame qualms about the drama club scene (“Theater people could be a little off-putting, a little weird”) to try out for a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“I knew in the first five minutes of auditioning that this was what I was meant to be doing for the rest of my life,” Dalton said.
He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, followed by a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama. In between there were two years in New York, then two more after Yale as he attempted to put his stage training to use.
“The theater didn’t decide to take a chance on me,” he said, candidly. “So I’m going to go with where the ‘yesses’ are, and that’s from TV and film.”
Good writing is what counts whatever the medium, “and we have the best possible team to do that,” Dalton said.
But action also matters in “Marvel’s Agents,” and the actor said he’s thrilled to be doing most of his own stunt work.
“They just keep saying, ‘Hey, can you do that?’ and I keep, saying, ‘Yeah,’” Dalton said. But he won’t share details any examples.
“It would spoil it,” he said, with discretion worthy of a superhero.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter@lynnelber.