An Interview with Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell

Marvel star talks what to expect in season one -- plus a little barbeque!

by | January 6, 2015 | Comments



In anticipation of tonight’s Marvel’s Agent Carter premiere on ABC, Editor in Chief Matt Atchity spoke with star Hayley Atwell about playing Peggy Carter.

Here’s what to expect this season, plus a glimpse into life on the set — which includes Twitter high-jinks and some Kansas City baseball.

Matt Atchity for Rotten Tomatoes: Thank you for joining me today.

Hayley Atwell: Of course. I’m just doing my laundry. Excuse me.

RT: Are you kidding? Peggy Carter has to do her own laundry?

HA: Can you believe it? Unbelievable! You think she’d have people around her, but no. Alas, no. I’ve just deflated an air bed and put laundry on.

RT: My first question is that you look like you’re having a lot of fun in this show. Is it as fun as it looks?

HA: Oh my God, it’s more fun than I could possibly ever imagine. I’ve laughed so much on this show, I thought I’d keel over and die. I think it helps that I’ve known James D’Arcy and Dominic Cooper for the last ten years, so them being on set is like, ‘Hi, brothers!’ I’m like a silly teenager when I’m around them. And we keep going,’Oh, we did so much over the last ten years, and we’re more and more immature‘ and I’m like, ‘Yeah! Let’s never grow up!’ We’re going to release a series of tweets called, “Konked-Out Carter,” where we see Peggy in and around set, finding different ways of falling asleep: under desks, on a water cooler, on top of tables, on coat racks, and we’ve just been having a real giggle doing it.

RT: That’s excellent. It sounds like they’re working you pretty hard though.

HA: Oh, yeah. Anything between 15- and 17- hour days. There’s a lot to get done, a lot of dialogue to do; so I’m having to have the stamina that someone like Peggy, in her role, would have. It helps.

RT: Right. And a lot of action. Not just dialogue, but a lot of action too. Does that make it a longer day?

HA: It does! They’re like choreographed dance sequences I have to learn. But my background is that I played rugby in school and I trained in unarmed combat at drama school. So I had a lot of physical work that I did that’s all in my muscle memory. So it’s not as hard as, I think, coming to it from scratch.

RT: So this is really just old hat for you, right?

HA: Yes, yes. Exactly…

RT: I was intrigued: I don’t know what I expected, but I was surprised to see that Peggy’s story really does parallel that of a lot of working women’s post-war experience.

HA: Yeah. You know, she’s been demoted after the war. She’s back making lunch orders, making coffee, finding reports, and she has to struggle without the great backdrop of more tension. And we’ll see how that develops over time, too.

RT: Yeah, and it really doesn’t seem to sit right with her.

HA: No it doesn’t. She has to make the best of her situation. Inside, she’s really pissed, but she also knows that she’s probably smarter than everyone in that room, so she has to humor them.

RT: I expect that we’re going to see plenty more action from Peggy and the rest of the story in the next few episodes, right?

HA: Oh, a hell of a lot of action. You wait; you’re in for a big treat. I can’t believe some of the stuff that I’ve done. I had to walk into DMV the other day, wearing my harness when I was getting my passport renewed, and I was like, ‘This is surreal.’

RT: When you’re in those period costumes and on those period sets, does that help get into the mind-set to be Peggy and act in that world?

HA: It helps with my posture and my physicality and it makes me get ready for the day. Wearing such beautiful clothes, that have been so beautifully handmade and fitted to my exact specifications, and having two hours of hair and make-up, gives me a respect for the crafts of make-up artists and wardrobe department — and also kind of gets Peggy ready for the action.

RT: I’m glad you brought up the costumes specifically, because that fashion is not necessarily conducive to a lot of movement. Do you, does Peggy, have to have a specific fighting style to work within the confines of that?

HA: Yeah. More importantly, it’s not the restrictions of her clothes, but it was more that she doesn’t have any superpowers. So her punches can be a bit messy, it can be a bit dirty; they’re not as slick as, say, someone like Black Widow or Captain America, who make it look very elegant. Peggy gets in there and gets into a bit of a scramble and a scrap.

RT: Yeah, she definitely does. I was surprised — but very amused — to see you take that fork to poor Kevin Heffernan. I mean, he kind of had it coming…

HA: Poor guy. [Laughter]

RT: We see Peggy, at least in this first episode, still kind of mourning over Captain America, the loss of Steve. And then she loses her roommate too. It seems like Peggy’s had to deal with a lot of loss just at the very beginning of this show.

HA: Oh, yeah. And I think grief is something that fuels her. It also means that she can’t get close to people because she’s scared that she’s going to put them in danger and that’s a beautiful kind of character trait, I think. We see her flaws and we see her personal struggles, as well as having to do all these missions and fight all the guys.

RT: When you first started playing Peggy, did you have any concept that Peggy would get her own show eventually?

HA: Oh my God, no way! I was doing the red carpet for the first Captain America movie, and then I went the next day to do a play in London. I still am a jobbing actress. I look for variety in what I do. I do a lot of plays still, and do a lot of different TV dramas. So I didn’t really have any expectations. You never know how the audience is going to respond to characters, and whether or not they want to see her back. So it’s been a huge delight that Marvel has reemployed me.

RT: Right. Now do you feel that there a certain pressure knowing that you’re going to be kind of an icon and a role model to the kids who like comic-book and action heroes?

HA: No, because I think they’re such a lovely bunch of people. They’re very kind and have been very sweet to me. So I’m very confident that we will exceed their expectations and give them more than they could have ever hoped for in the show.

RT: I have to tell you, I really enjoyed the show and, as I mentioned before, it seems like you’re having a lot of fun.

HA: Oh, you just wait until you see the other episodes. They are amazing. It just keeps getting better and better and better.

RT: I was very intrigued to see that things don’t look so great with Howard Stark right off the bat — that he’s kind of been turned into this shadowy figure.

HA: He’s a bit of a douchebag, isn’t he? He’s very unpredictable. And that’s great, because it means that their relationship is going to change and expand and develop over time. And you just wait, there’s something that happens that really shakes the core of her foundation and it’s to do with Howard.

RT: And even just in his flirting, you kind of see, ‘Well, where Tony gets it.’

HA: It’s a great way of developing those characters. And Dominic is wonderful at playing him. There’s a real naughtiness behind his eyes, and there’s a tongue-in-cheek banter between them which I think you’ll really enjoy.

RT: This is a super-fun show. Are you a fan of the kind of the music and the style of that era?

HA: Oh, hugely. I mean, I look up to those icons like Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn — that kind of golden time of Hollywood. I find it so glamorous, but also these women had great chutzpah and integrity and dignity. So it’s great to be a kind of a step-part of that time.

RT: One of the things I’m curious about is that someone from the UK’s post-war experience is a little bit different, I think, than the Americans’. Does that help add to Peggy’s character and what she’s dealing with as a woman in a man’s world?

HA: It’s something that we haven’t really explored in terms her of being British and being in America. I suppose it’s because I’m half-American myself. I spent my summers in Kansas City, MO, with my family so I don’t see very much of a cultural difference just because I feel half and half. Does that make sense?

RT: Yes. Okay, so I’m going to ask, since you’re from Kansas City, is Gates your favorite barbeque or do you have a better barbeque that you like?

HA: Oh my God, no. It is all about the K.C. barbeque, and it’s all about the Chiefs and the Royals. In fact, we watched the Royals game on set, and we had to stop every time something happened; it was such an amazing game.

RT: Oh yeah? I’m originally from Kansas City myself. It’s great to see a K.C. girl make good!

HA: Absolutely. I hope I’m invited back to turn on the Christmas lights there.

RT: Yes, the Christmas lights at The Plaza are super exciting!

HA: Exactly. Let’s hope maybe this time next year, I’ll be doing that.

RT: That’d be great. Let’s start that Twitter campaign now.

Marvel’s Agent Carter two-hour premiere airs tonight on ABC at 8 p.m. EST.

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