Interview with Hayley Atwell (A.K.A.) Marvel’s Agent Carter

Agent Peggy Carter Images: © 2014 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. Credit: ABC/Michael Desmond

Marvel’s Agent Carter starring Hayley Atwell begins on ABC Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 8pm ET/PT. Imagine this pitch meeting between Marvel and ABC: “Let’s do an eight-part series about a supporting character from one of our earlier films … a woman with no superpowers. By the way, it’ll take place in the 1940s.” In any other world, this idea would sound ludicrous.

Marvels Agent Carter
Images: © 2014 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. Credit: ABC/Michael Desmond

Thankfully, Marvel isn’t just any other world, and Agent Carter isn’t just any other show. “She’s a very relatable character,” says London-born Hayley Atwell, who first breathed life into Peggy Carter on the big screen in Captain America: The First Avenger. “She’s a woman in a man’s world trying to prove her skill set. She’s just as capable, if not more so, than the men around her. She’s good-natured and has a good heart and at the same time, she kicks ass, which is always something that people like to see.”
Peggy’s role as Steve Rogers’ (a.k.a. Captain America’s) bold and beautiful lady love in the aforementioned film made her character an immediate fan favorite, yet she seemed destined for a dead end. That period piece ended with Rogers being thrust into suspended animation, not to be resuscitated until the present day. However, Peggy’s (and Hayley’s) popularity landed her in a “Marvel One-Shot,” a short film that was included on the Iron Man 3 home release. It depicted Peggy on her own mission following the events of Captain America and created the potential for continuing her story … especially after establishing Carter as a founder of S.H.I.E.L.D., the influential secret law-enforcement agency that has appeared in many Marvel films and its own TV show (in the same Tuesday time slot that Agent Carter will be borrowing for its run).

“Part of the Marvel Universe’s winning formula is that they respond well to their fans’ expectations of what they want, but they also take it a step further and sell it with lots of new surprises,” Atwell explains. “So it’s been fun to play Peggy … someone who other people have seen as being very capable, but in this series we get to see the psychological and emotional cuffs of someone who’s living a double life and is having to adapt and keep herself afloat. I think that’s what’s kind of fun about playing her … you’re seeing different aspects of who she is that we haven’t seen before in the other movies.”

Beyond the weight of the overarching Marvel storylines that Agent Carter will help carry, the series, at its core, is the story of an exceptional woman whose courage, determination and intelligence make her a natural role model for women of all ages … a responsibility that isn’t lost on Atwell.

“I think there’s a revolution that seems to be taking place in Hollywood right now of actresses speaking out, saying they want better parts and bigger roles … not just when they’re in their 20s, but their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s,” Atwell theorizes. “Audiences want to see women that they can relate to … women that are strong and that they can look up to. Even on my social media accounts, I’ve had lots of young girls and the parents of girls say that Peggy’s an inspiration. So it feels like a social responsibility to tell Peggy’s story and also to just be part of that revolution.”

Enthusiastic and animated despite a rough filming schedule for the show, Atwell believes that Agent Carter will definitely appeal to Marvel fans, but she thinks that newbies to these characters can pick it up and enjoy it as a stand-alone series as well.

“I think what they’ll love probably most about the show is its sense of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Atwell chuckles. “There’s always a twinkle in its eye. It’s very tongue in cheek. So you’ve got these fantastic high-production sets and costumes and action sequences, which we can always expect from Marvel, but you’ve also got the humor and quality of warmth in it, which we haven’t really seen before. To me, that’s what has been what’s most fun about it, but it’s also what’s going to keep the show running.”

Will this glimpse into the past lead to even more opportunities to follow the life and times of Agent Peggy Carter?

“I certainly hope so,” she says. “I, for one, love playing her, so I would jump at the chance to reprise the role again and again. Since it’s set in 1946 in the first season, there’s a long way that we can go with it. We can explore the ’50s, maybe the ’60s, and right up to the present day where she’s in old age. And as we’ve seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we know that she’s had a family. She’s lived a life, and there are many adventures that she can go on, so it’s really up to Marvel, ABC and the fans to decide if that’s the story that they want to continue telling. I certainly would jump at the chance to keep doing it for the rest of my career.”