Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)
How you know the actress: A relative unknown in the States before suiting up as Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, Atwell’s other credits include Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream and The Duchess. She also reprised her role as Carter in Cap 2 and on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Get to know the character: A codebreaker for the U.S. government who was part of the Strategic Scientific Reserve team that created Captain America, Peggy Carter also became a bit of a sidekick and love interest for the hero. “We pick up in this show a year later after she thinks Captain America’s frozen in the ice and dead,” Atwell says. “It’s 1946, so the war is over, but she’s got plenty of work to do in the SSR. Unfortunately the men have a different idea, and they think the work will involve making coffees, making lunches and doing admin. So she’s having to go on secret missions herself in order to fight the bad guys, because the SSR bosses won’t allow her to. She’s capable just as much as the men, but being a woman, she’s not in a position of power to really fulfill her destiny.”
How the war changed her: “It toughened her up a little bit,” Atwell says. “She saw firsthand evil, she knows evil exists. If anything, it probably made her more capable of dealing with the much smaller-scale dangers that present itself post-war. I think it’s opened her eyes.” Alas, the war is also where she both met and lost the love of her life in Steve Rogers. “It’s probably knocked out any sense of romance about life from her, and she’s probably got a fairly simple view of the world. But then that also allows her a freedom to just pursue her own dreams, because she doesn’t have anything to lose anymore. She puts herself on the line because she’s lost Steve, and the worst thing that can happen is that she dies, but then she’d be dying fighting the cause, which is probably her ultimate goal, is to have a good productive death.”
Peggy Carter is no damsel in distress.
The hard-punching, quick-thinking woman — and love of Captain America — gets her biggest spotlight yet with Marvel’s Agent Carter, which premieres with back-to-back episodes Tuesday on ABC (8 p.m. ET/PT).
The action-adventure drama is set in 1946, as Peggy (Hayley Atwell) works in New York for Strategic Scientific Reserve, doing clerical tasks considered women’s work instead of hunting down bad guys, after the men return from World War II. Her first task: Surreptitiously proving the innocence of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who’s being investigated by her agency for selling weapons to enemies.
“She’s undercover, and then she’s undercover from being undercover,” says Atwell, who played Peggy in Marvel films including Captain America: The First Avenger. “The risks are higher and costs of being found out are higher. She’s putting not only her job on the line, but her life.”
Another twist: Howard, who assigned his butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), to assist Peggy, is not telling her everything. “It ends up being that Peggy doesn’t know who to trust,” Atwell says. “Howard has his own secrets.”
Ahead of “Agent Carter’s” Jan. 6 premiere, Variety spoke to Atwell to discuss Peggy’s evolution throughout the season, the need for female-led genre shows and and why the series feels like “a small triumph for women on television.”
You’ve played Peggy in several different projects now; what have you learned about her over the course of filming the TV show that you didn’t know about her before?
The two main things… firstly and most importantly, her vulnerability; the grief that she is personally going through about Steve that’s prominent in the season and gets stronger as you watch the episodes unfold. We see the emotional and psychological cost of that grief, and then also the vulnerability that comes with having such a high-stress job where she’s undercover [in her daily life]. And then, as we see in the first two episodes, she’s undercover again, working kind of against the SSR, so there’s the double cover-up going on in her life and that creates tremendous personal and inner battles, so it just makes her a bit more well-rounded. And I think the other side that we see more and more of is her humor — the wit and the banter that she certainly has with Jarvis and we’ll see more with other characters, which we haven’t really had a chance to play with in the other films. What’s nice about that is that she becomes, again, a little bit more interesting, a little bit more relatable, a bit more three-dimensional.
Marvel was everywhere in 2014, thanks to the successes of Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and the studio’s exciting announcement of its Phase Three film slate. Heck, even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to find its footing. Yet somehow, despite all that, Marvel has failed to produce a single female-fronted project… until now.
When Agent Carter premieres Tuesday on ABC (8/7c), Hayley Atwell will become the first woman to headline a Marvel film or TV series solo and the importance of this isn’t lost on the star. “I can’t even fathom it, really, in terms of the impact it may have,” Atwell tells TVGuide.com. “In Peggy you have someone who is just as capable as the men, so she doesn’t just rely on her physicality. She relies on her brain and her talents and her skills. And I think that’s just a really positive thing that Marvel has done. It’s making girls realize that they can be more than just the pretty girl or the ingénue or the bitch or the mother-in-law. They are fully rounded human beings capable just as much as the men at kicking butt.”
Hayley Atwell was born in 1982. But looking at her on a recent December afternoon on the set of ABC’s new series Marvel’s Agent Carter, you’d swear she walked straight to work from the 1940s. Her hair is in pin curls. Her outfit is an elegant vintage pantsuit. She practically radiates femininity. And then, in the midst of a thoughtful sentence about her new job, she lets out a loud, hearty burp.
“Get that down!” she says, grinning and pointing to a reporter’s notebook. “I love it because I look so glamorous and ladylike. The truth is out!” Let the world know: Hayley Atwell is no delicate flower. And neither is the character she’s about to introduce to TV. One of Marvel’s classiest butt-kicking bombshells, Agent Peggy Carter made her cinematic debut in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger as an officer with the SSR, the top secret government agency, tasked with turning Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) into a shield-wielding hero. Her popularity led to a short released on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray, which became the basis for the series, debuting Jan. 6. But this isn’t just another random satellite in the Marvelverse, which has been launching projects across all platforms, from film and TV to Netflix. Carter is both the studio’s latest attempt at conquering TV and its first female-fronted project. That makes it a big swing for Marvel after the middling success of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then there’s the fact that Carter is the first Marvel property run by women—longtime writing partners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas (Resurrection)—which is a little ironic for a story that takes place in an era when women with power were all but nonexistent. Both behind and in front of the camera, Agent Carter is changing the rules of the superhero game. “It’s absolutely vital that we’re saying to Hollywood—and to the world—female-centered roles are important,” Atwell says. “They are watched. They are bankable. The audiences want them.”
World War II is over, but superspy Peggy Carter is still fighting the good fight — and she’s looking pretty damn good while doing it. ABC’s lushly produced, seven-episode action-adventure series Marvel’s Agent Carter, set in 1946, will be bringing some old-style Hollywood glamour to primetime. Leading lady Hayley Atwell wholeheartedly approves.
“This series is such a film-noir feast for the eyes that I come to work an hour early just to watch,” says the British actress, who first played Carter in the 2011 movie blockbuster Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. “Despite all the chaos of the war years, people had great style — the guys so elegant and gentlemanlike, the women so beautiful and well turned out with their cinched waists, pencil skirts, pin curls, and red lips. To act in this time period is absolute heaven.”
Peggy, however, is in her own kind of hell. She had been a fierce and brilliant secret agent for the Allies’ Strategic Scientific Reserve during the war — in fact, she will one day be integral to the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D. and serve as its first cohead. But with the Nazis defeated, she’s been demoted to an SSR desk job. “Peggy is making coffee for the men and taking their lunch orders,” says Atwell. “She’s feeling incredibly wasted, disrespected, and frustrated.”
Captain America lives on in Marvel’s Agent Carter, which is set some time after his (presumably) fatal arctic plunge — and all Peggy Carter can do is shrug.
In the second half of the ABC series’ two-hour premiere (airing Tuesday at 8/7c), SSR Agent Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) catches a listen of “The Captain America Adventure Program,” a live radio play populated by breathy heroines and a Hitler-pummeling hero. But the artifice, as patriotic as it is, leaves her unimpressed and visibly missing the real man she and the Howling Commandos once fought alongside.
Now, with the men home from World War II, Peggy’s biggest fight is with those who marginalize her potential and contributions at the SSR. (Spoiler alert: It’s a battle she is sure to win.)
With a pair of movies, a Marvel One-Shot DVD featurette, some Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cameos and Agent Carter‘s eight-hour run now under her belt, Atwell tells TVLine that what most delights her about Peggy “is that she doesn’t sacrifice her integrity, her morals or her femininity when she’s up against tremendous personal and external obstacles.” As seen in Captain America: The First Avenger, “She is a fighter and a survivor, but she doesn’t have any superpowers,” her portrayer notes. “She has to rely on her wits and intelligence and determination to navigate what comes her way.”
COMICSBLEND — Hayley Atwell (Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’, ‘Captain America’ films) is scheduled to appear at the Seattle International Film Festival Opening Night event on May 15th.
Atwell stars in the Opening Night Film ‘Jimi: All Is By My Side’. Atwell will the join the film’s director, John Ridley, on the Red Carpet prior to the screening. The film is based on Jimi Hendix’s pre-fame years in London.
COMICBLEND — ABC revealed new details for Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’; The series will reveal the origins of the Marvel Universe and S.H.I.E.L.D. The sizzle reel included footage from the Agent Carter one-shot showing Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (father of Tony aka Iron Man). Here’s the official description:
“It’s 1946, and peace has dealt Peggy Carter a serious blow as she finds herself marginalized when the men return home from fighting abroad. Working for the covert SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve), Peggy must balance doing administrative work and going on secret missions for Howard Stark all while trying to navigate life as a single woman in America, in the wake of losing the love of her life–Steve Rogers.”
Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ follows Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Tuesdays at 9am on ABC.
COLLIDER — While Marvel has done a lot of smart things, one of the best decisions they made was casting Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. Unlike some of the Marvel movies where the love story feels forced and unrealistic (see: Thor), the relationship between Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Peggy Carter (Atwell) was fantastic thanks to the actors’ chemistry and a great script. With her character becoming an instant favorite after the film’s release, it was no surprise Marvel asked her to appear in one of their One Shot short films, Agent Carter, which was included on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray. The short picked up where the events of Captain America: The First Avenger left off—right as Carter joins this new organization called S.H.I.E.L.D.: “As she searches for the enigmatic ‘Zodiac’ key, Agent Carter also battles her sexist, bureaucratic boss, Agent Flynn (Bradley Whitford), who thinks women have no place in the secret-agent business.” Dominic Cooper also reprised his role as Howard Stark.
Almost immediately after fans got a look at the short at Comic-Con, people began asking about a possible Agent Carter TV series. I was one of them. Thankfully, ABC thought it was a good enough idea that they started developing it with Captain America screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Yesterday at the Winter Solider junket, I asked them the status of the pilot, what the show would focus on, its timeline, whether Atwell is still interested in playing the character, and more. They also revealed that the show is envisioned as more of a limited series with 13-episode seasons or less.
• ABC has the script for the pilot but nothing is greenlit yet.
• Markus and McFeely have recently spoken to Hayley Atwell and she is very interested in doing the show.
• Howard Stark would be a recurring character, not a series regular. This is assuming Dominic Cooper would be willing to continue to play the role. I’ve spoken to him about this and he seemed very interested. But this was a few months ago and things change.
• The show would start in 1946, sort of in the middle of the timeline of the One Shot. McFeely said, “We can’t get her to the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. that fast. We wanna stay in that world longer where people are disrespecting her and she’s proving herself and going on missions and things like that.”
• Unlike most network shows that are 22 or 23-episode seasons, Markus and McFeely think Agent Carter should be a limited series with a maximum of 13 episodes per season. McFeely said, “[13 episodes] is how this is envisioned, maybe even less… That’s my hope, is that it would be something like [Under the Dome]. Our case would be that it would be a limited series and you would wrap up that one bad guy and that one case, and then if you like it we’ll do it again next year and it’s 1947.”