Fans can not get enough of Agent Peggy Carter. Since her first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger, it's clear that it's a role actress Hayley Atwell was born to play. The tough, take no excuses super spy has caught on like wild-fire and has fans tuning in, in droves to see her on ABC's Agent Carter. We sat down with Atwell to talk about her experience with the character, where she'd like to see Peggy turn up next, and what music she has in her head during fight scenes.
Anyone following your Twitter and Instagram accounts can just tell that you have had an absolute blast doing the show. Were any of the relationships that you built, both on and off screen, a surprise to you as you were going into it?
Well I'm lucky enough to have known Dominic Cooper and James D'Arcy for about the last 10 years now. The ice between us had already been broken and we'd have a lot of fun together. It just made the whole experience that much more entertaining.
In between takes we already had a banter and a dialogue. We just made sure that we were having the most fun as we possibly could. I think we were so excited to all be part of the job anyway, that we thought let's not get worried about the pressure or the responsibility of a take but more just enjoy the opportunity to be one of unadulterated fun as what we wanted to inject in the show anyway.
What about on screen?
Yeah. There's two of them. One of them being Howard Stark because our relationship over the episodes, and especially tonight’s episode, it takes a different turn. That really changed and deepened and the arc of our relationship is very different to what I expected it would be. I started reading the later scripts. It's amazing what happens to be a part of this bigger thing that happens. I think we all assumed that from the first episode that it would just be a matter of finding his bad weapons, and once a week finding another one, but by episode three we've found them all. Now we're going, "Oh well, wait. What's the show about then?" Now what happens is what the show's really about. That was the interesting thing.
Then I think the other one was my relationship with Chief Dooley. He's the antagonist and the one that is very much against a woman doing any kind of role in the office apart from making cups of coffee, and yet as the show's gone on I think what's been clever about it is they haven't made all the men stereotypical cliches of just sexist people working in that time. There's an unspoken respect between Chief Dooley and Peggy that he comes to develop over time. That's been a huge ... That's been very, very different and not something that I expected to happen.
Ever since you showed up as the character you've built a pretty strong and loyal fan base but now that the show has kicked into high gear, how are you handling the new onslaught of people coming in to give you all sorts of praise?
I think that I'm like ... I take things as they come, so I wasn't expecting anything which is probably the healthiest place to be because it meant that if there was a change for the positive or the negative in my life then I would deal with it as and when it came up. I think I've been most excited about the positivity. The Twitter universe is incredibly supportive of the show and I think they appreciate the fact that I'm a bit of a goof on social media. It makes me more relatable to them.
I'm grateful because the Marvel fans are so committed and they are so supportive. There's an innocence about it, an innocence about their approach. They're just really into how the whole Marvel world is connected and that has been just lovely. Just doing things like the live tweeting when the show airs, which I'll obviously be doing tomorrow. Just hearing all the really great responses that people are having. Also how parents of kids saying thank you for creating such a positive role model in Peggy. To have a female fronted show is rare and it's needed. That's been lovely actually. I haven't been overwhelmed by it because, touch wood, the majority of it has been incredibly positive.
This is your third turn as Peggy. What goes in to approaching development of the character each time you step into the role?
The main reason why I wanted to do the show is because I felt like it would create a stronger sense of who this character was. I spoke to the writers about wanting to show her emotional and psychological cost of losing the love of her life and also being living in this particular world. It was the vulnerability that was really important I expressed because we've seen her be strong and capable and competent and intelligent. She can fight, we've seen her do that in Cap. 1. In this series we get to show her vulnerable side. Also there's her sense of wit and banter and humor which is mostly in the scenes between her and Edwin Jarvis. Those two things made me feel that Peggy would be a much more rounded and three dimensional character.
How much of Peggy is Hayley and how much has Hayley taken from Peggy?
I suppose I'm similar to her in my ... I've got quite a determined and driven character in my life. I don't know where or why or what for, but I have this purpose that I live with that's I think reminiscent of Peggy. She's a very brave person given the fact that she lives quite an isolated life that no one can really see who she truly is. She's built up these walls around her because she has to protect herself from the people that she's working with and for. I think despite that she still manages to be a survivor and pull through. I find her bravery and her courage very inspiring. Certainly any times when I would get tired on set I would think about the fact that Peggy's going through a lot more many things than I am and she still manages to get up and fight. That's something that kept my stamina going. If that makes sense. She allowed me to be a better version of myself and to be a better actor.
The time period in which the show takes place is a lot of fun mainly because it feeds into so many things that are happening “now” with events in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or even things that may turn up in future movies down the line. The show plays an important and pivotal role in that. Is there a sense of glee in knowing where the show fits in terms of the grand scheme of something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
I'm not as clued up about the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fans are. Again, there's not much expectation or pressure in that respect. I regard this as important as any other job I've ever done. As an employed actor you do what's required and that means bring the script to life under the particular direction and under the director's vision. Therefore if you approach it that way then it becomes part of who you are as opposed to tying to fulfill the dream of this particular commercial franchise, which I think if you did that would be very daunting, I suppose.
What has been nice is to revisit her and revisit the character that you don't see really much of in the first two Captain America films. This is now her time to shine and her time to get the opportunity to really flex her muscles and show the skill set that she has.
Creatively speaking it's been very fulfilling.
We've also seen you have a ton of fun with the wardrobe from the show. Does a lot of that help get you into the mood? One of my favorite things about your portrayal of Peggy is your uncanny ability at accents. Do you do much research about that time period to get you in that mindset or do you have any affinity to that?
I hate to say this but I don't do any research at all for this part. It's unashamed instinct. It's reading what's on the page and going, "Oh okay. This American character that I'm in disguise of playing is a Marilyn Monroe type character." I see Marilyn Monroe films and I get a sense of her sensuality, so when it came to playing the bombshell in the gold dress I think, "Okay. Well let's channel Veronica Lake. Let's channel Marilyn Monroe." Then the bureaucratic government worker, that would be other actors that feels entirely different because she's up high. She's got a job to do. She's very jobsworthy. That kind of informs how I play her really and how swift and how sharp and how aggressive the dialogue was in those scenes. Then as an actor you embody that.
I'm sorry to say I didn't plan any of it. I was just goofing around on set more than anything else. I've had to do research for plays that were about subjects that I knew nothing about, culturally or socially or historically just so I got a sense of the references of what the script was saying or certain words that I didn't understand I would have to look up. This is a really fun genre to do where I don't feel that there's much academic research that really needs to go into it. You just turn up on the day and you have fun and you bring it to life in the best way that you can.
A lot of fans seem to have latched on to the show’s soundtrack. The music for the show really plays a pivotal role in setting a scene. You guys don't get to hear that stuff when you're on set, right? Is it totally new and different for you when you watch it back?
Absolutely. There's one fight scene that happens in a couple of episodes from now and has a very upbeat 1940s song over it, which is fantastic. What people don't know is that actually during the fight sequence I had Nicki Minaj's Anaconda in my head throughout the whole fight. When I hear the new soundtrack I go, "Oh that's not what I had in my head, but it still fits."
It's fun things like that and I remember when I was just starting off doing the stunts. My stunt double came up to me and say, "Hayley, you don't need to add your own sound effects. They'll actually put those in for you." "Oh right. Sorry. Yes of course." You punch someone and you're like, "Pow." Like an old cartoon. The soundtrack just helps. I think it supports the tone of the piece and it adds to the pace and it adds to the sense of fun. Especially when you have the violent scenes are undercut with this very sing song-y innocent 1940s tunes. I think it's a clever way, a clever device that they can use.
How much of the fight scenes are you involved with? Are you doing your own stunts?
Yeah, it's all me. I do all my own stunts.
Have there been any accidents?
Yeah. It's never been me though, unfortunately. I say fortunately or unfortunately because I've kicked seven stunt men in the genital area during a fight sequence, which I feel very guilty about. I've hurt various members of the crew. I hit a grip over the back with a lead pipe when I was rehearsing and I kicked a chair into the AD, which wasn't very well received from the sound of things. I think because I played rugby as a kid at school, I'm used to aggression. I don't mind going full throttle into something like that. It gave me good training for jumping into the fight sequences, but unfortunately because I'm not trained in unarmed combat, in fact I was quite clumsy and quite dirty in my fight.
If you could choose, what other Marvel movies do you think Peggy would fit into that would be a lot of fun to get into that setting?
If there was a Black Widow film I'd love to be part of that. I think that a lot more females on screen together is a very powerful dynamic. I think that would be great fun to see her up against other women. The thing I like about her as well is she supports other women and she's not competitive with other women. She has strong female relationships. I think to be alongside another strong female, would inspire her to up her game a little bit.
Once Agent Carter has run it's course, is that going to be the last we see of Peggy?
I hope not. I really hope it comes back for a second season. I would jump at the chance if that was the case or if there was a movie in the works for her. I think there's so many things that we can explore still. We can go into her family life. Who she marries. If she has children. How she juggles those things. A different decade, what the 50s were like. We know from Captain America 2 that she's lived a full life. There's many ways and many places that she could pop up. I really hope ... As you can see from social media, I had such a great time on this job but I would love to come back and do it all again.
Agent Carter airs Tuesday nights on ABC.