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Interrogating Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’: Hayley Atwell

With the events of Season 1 of ‘Agent Carter’ under her belt, Agent Peggy Carter is embarking on a new mission in a brand-new city: Los Angeles. But how has her experience changed her? And what new challenges will she face in the land of sunshine and palm trees? In a recent roundtable interview, actress Hayley Atwell talked about what’s in store for Peggy and what we can expect from Season 2 of ‘Agent Carter’ when it premieres with a two-hour event Tuesday, January 19 at 9:00 PM ET on ABC. (Source)

What opportunities will Peggy have now that she’s gained the respect of the SSR?

Hayley Atwell: I think she’s in a very different place emotionally because she’s let go of the grief that she’s had about Captain America. So her heart is a bit more open to possible romance and so she finds herself in a love triangle out here. And there’s the visual aspect of it being shot in L.A.–everything’s a lot lighter, so her clothes are slightly different, her hair is a bit longer. She’s embraced the glamour of Hollywood, a little bit, and I think that also affects how she is emotionally.

She went through a period of struggling to find her feet in the SSR, of fighting in very subtle ways the sexism she found in the male-dominated [organization]. In the end, she doesn’t necessarily win everyone’s respect. Jack Thompson, for example, takes the credit that she probably deserves. But as she says, she knows her value so she doesn’t need that praise. I think the first season is not so much that she’s able to establish herself to everyone as an equal, but yet, for herself, she uses it as a source of strength for her own worth. In that respect, she’s a lot more confident. She’s coming out into this new world of Hollywood, met at the airport by Jarvis, her dear friend, and she can embark on something a little lighter…but of course, given the nature of this genre, it’s going to go dark very quickly. But she’s a little more quick to deal with it this season with an open heart.

What are the challenges and struggles for her in the beginning of the season?

Hayley Atwell: I think initially being in a slightly different environment of the workplace, she’s having to meet different people based at the SSR out in California, so it’s a whole other attempt to kind of have to prove herself to them just in order for her to do the job and to get to her foot in the door.

The other thing personally for her, though, is that Sousa’s out here. Unbeknownst to her, he kind of had to leave; he had to get out of New York. The tension between them and that it wasn’t really amounting to anything was really painful to him. He got a lead to go out and run the SSR as a chief, and so of course, as it was an actual promotion for him, it was the perfect time for him to go out and have a new life. She’s sent out there under false pretenses, not realizing that Chief Sousa didn’t know that she was coming. He asks for reinforcements and Peggy’s sent. So personally, it throws his world upside-down, and she is also having to realize that he wasn’t actually the one who called her out there so she’s been rejected. So again, it starts out with lots of chemistry and tension between them, but still, they’re so lame in their own ways [laughs] that they’re not getting on with it. They’re both so fragile as human beings, so that’s played out throughout this season, too.

Comic book fans know to be suspicious of the name “Whitney Frost,” but what does Peggy think of Whitney Frost when she first meets her?

Hayley Atwell: She’s never met a famous person before, so I think she’s star-struck. I almost feel that to Peggy, Whitney Frost is the other side of the same coin in that she’s very bright, she’s very successful in her own field, but she’s also probably had to overcome a tremendous amount of obstacles to get where she is and she’s ambitious in her own way. That’s something that Peggy can relate to. The fact that Whitney has just gone down [a different road] with an abuse of power, the road that is actually much darker but essentially parallels the things that Peggy would have gone through and that informed her character, I think there’s something quite intriguing about that for Peggy and probably quite refreshing in that she’s got another powerful woman around. Okay, she might be a nemesis, but at the same time, I think there’s an absolute respect for Whitney’s mind, and her ambition and what she had to overcome to get the success that she’s had in the movie world.

Peggy has obviously worked with Sousa before so she won’t have to prove herself in the same way that she had to in Season 1. Are we going to see more of a leadership role for Peggy? Is she out on her own? What’s the dynamic in the SSR for her in this new setting?

Hayley Atwell: She developed a very subtle and witty way of defending herself and standing up for herself in Season 1 that was also treading carefully to make sure she didn’t end up fired. Which, she didn’t. She’s got a skillset in that she knows how to handle people in positions of authority over her that are also stupid, and she does that in a way that’s very elegant. In Season 2, she doesn’t suffer fools and she doesn’t have to pander to anyone, and she’s very, very straight-up with Chief Thompson. She’s not even trying to make smart comments; she’s just saying it as it is. She can be a little straighter with how she presents herself and how she defends herself, and she’s probably quite bored of it and tired of it by now. She just wants to tell them to go away and not have to do it in a way that uses irony, which they wouldn’t understand, so she can get away with it.

Which new character are you most excited about in terms of their interaction with Peggy?

Hayley Atwell: It’s kind of a new character, but kind of isn’t: Dottie, actually. I just thought the [Season 1] reveal of who Dottie was in the women’s hotel was so brilliant and I think that Bridget [Regan] is such a fantastic actress. But I didn’t get much to do with her, really. This is a different relationship [this season]. In some ways, without spoiling anything, I need her, and also, I get to have scenes with her that are like a chess game. As an actor, that’s incredibly exhilarating because a lot of the scenes between us are filled with subtext. On the surface, [Dottie] has got this very elegant, very soft-spoken voice and yet you know she’s an assassin and it’s a very potent mix. As an actor, I’m loving my scenes with Bridget.

Are we getting any more shenanigans with you and Howard Stark? You guys had a great rapport!

Hayley Atwell: Yeah! I think there’s a new comfort level between Stark and Peggy because of what they went through in the first season [with his betrayal], and she realizes how fragile human beings are and comes around to his way of thinking about why she was betrayed [by him]. Because of that, they’re on a bit more of an even level. She respects him hugely, but is also not afraid to comment on his lifestyle choices and how disgustingly misogynistic she finds him.

You know, I can remember, the greatest compliment I ever got [was] from a guy who was at school with me and who was a real misogynist, in just the way that he would talk about women and his conquests of women. I remember him coming up to me once, we had to do this exercise where we had to—[laughs] it was really so drama school: [mimicking teacher] “Go around one at a time and compliment each other!” or something ridiculous, because egos are all very fragile at drama school. You’d say something that you acknowledged about that person. And this misogynist said to me, he used the word “equal.” He just said, “Equal.” And that had so much more of an effect on me than, “Oh, she’s fabulous!” or, “She’s so this, that and the other.” Coming from him, given his perception and view of the world being so alien to mine and actually quite insulting to me, the fact that he saw me as an equal was quite a big deal.

I think that Howard and Peggy’s relationship is that. He has these kind of floozies around, and he does use women as a form of escapism for him and his Dionysian ways, but when it comes to Peggy, he doesn’t see her as big boobs and red lips. He sees her as someone he can actually have a proper conversation with. Which probably scares the hell out of him, as well, because he’s very confused by it all. But then at the same time, she’s also living at his house. He’s graciously opened up his doors to her—which means she’s more privy to how disgusting he is, so it goes both ways. I’m very lucky on this, because I have Dominic [Cooper] and James [D’Arcy], whom I have known for so long, that there’s an actual ease when we work together and we can go to those places because we’ve known each other a long time. We know how to push each other’s buttons and we know how to make each other laugh, and that helps create a rapport between the characters.

January 12th, 2016