An Interview with Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell
She may spend most of her time in the 40’s on the set of Agent Carter, but Hayley Atwell is a modern girl. The show is the first of its kind that features a woman as the forerunner of the show, and while that may seem like an immense undertaking for the actress, Atwell has found that she loves to portray Agent Carter and never expected her small role in Captain America would lead to such a huge following from fans, as well as a show. We had the opportunity to talk a bit about the show and the upcoming second season, her expectations for her character and how she is facing her new celebrity status.
When you first filmed Captain America were you expecting to have your own show?
It was a complete surprise. I had no expectations that I’ll have my own show one day and I wasn’t expecting such a response from the audience, to have a fan base who loved Peggy. I wasn’t expecting such a response from Marvel. They completely liked the way I interpreted this character and it’s a huge compliment. It’s a dream come true.
Why did you decide to reprise the role of Peggy Carter for television?
I thought Peggy’s story was not finished. She had little screen time in the first movie and we know in the winter’s soldier that she had a long life so I knew if we could do a show we would have to fill in the gap. We needed to tell what happened in that life. It’s a rare opportunity to explore an entire life of a character but we can do that in TV through so many episodes compared to a film limited to a couple of hours. I wanted to be able to show her vulnerability as much as her strength. I thought there was so much to show about her and it is a great opportunity to develop her story even more.
How does it feel to play the very first female character to have her own show in the Marvel franchise?
I love it. I’m a tomboy and my parents would always tell me that I was smart and tell me more about my character than my prettiness. So I never felt very girly but I felt quite strong. The show feels like a natural progression. Agent Carter is considered as strong as a man, as capable as a man which is exactly like what my parents used to tell me. I feels really privileged. It’s actually a shame that it’s a privilege because it would be lovely to have more situation with strong female character being in shows or films like this. I think there will be in the future especially on TV which is living its Golden Age. I felt really humble.
What are you expecting for the second season?
It’s gonna be completely different. It’s a year later, in Los Angeles and there will be a sort of LA confidential atmosphere. When you think of Hollywood you think of the glamorous aspect of the city but in the 40’s it was also a very dangerous place to be. There were so many searches of serial killers and mysteries like the Black Dahlia and lots of gangster so it was very dark and we’re gonna show that. Also because she moved on with Steve, I think she is ready to have a new romantic interest. She is in a better place now. That’s gonna be interesting to explore.
What kind of man do you think Peggy is attracted to?
Well the reason she loved Steve is that she loved his character. She loved skinny Steve, it wasn’t just about the muscle. She is looking for someone who is similar to her, who is an imitation of her disability which is to be a women in a man’s world. Steve was physically incapable of being the hero that he was inside exactly like she couldn’t be the hero she was inside because she is a woman. She is looking for someone who has a very strong mind like her…and maybe also great muscles.
If you were living in the 40’s what would you do?
I wouldn’t be a spy because I’m terrible at keeping secrets. I would definitely contribute to the war efforts. I would have lots of children and probably would dress like my grandmother who was always immaculate. No matter if she was going to bed, waking up in the morning or leaving the house.
When you’re on the set, how do you move from being Hayley to being Peggy?
In 2 hours on the set, I physically transform into Peggy mainly because of the clothes. She looks so pristine. Her clothes are so beautifully tailored it means you hold yourself differently, you breathe deeper, your voice drops a little bit so it gives you a natural authority when you speak. And you carry yourself in a particular way, if you wearing high heels you feel different than if you wear trainers. Playing someone like Peggy show me the power of dressing. It really reinforces the character.
Talking about the importance of appearance, there is a big debate about Hollywood and its standards of beauty, especially for actresses. How do you feel about this?
It’s really simple. When I’m on the set, when my hair and makeup are done it’s just work. It’s not me. It feels like a small elements of my life. As an actress I think you have to step back to live a normal life, to be able to connect to the human race. I think if you’re thinking too much of beauty, you forget to think of other details of your personality. Red Carpets are fun but they don’t let you much place to think of other things expect your dress, your makeup and your smile. When I was at the drama school I played an elderly man, I played the color blue, a penguin so there wasn’t much focus on beauty. It wasn’t about being sexy and beautiful, it was about the character you were playing.
Is it hard on your personal life to be so well known now?
I live quite an anonymous life. I’m an actor first not a celebrity. I love people like Helen Mirren who can walk in the streets, take the tube and live their life. It’s an important thing for me. I think many celebrities live in a bubble where they don’t engage with everyday life and for me it’s a very dangerous bubble that I don’t want to be in. I make a point not selling myself as a celebrity. I’m also well-grounded thanks to my friends and family. I have friends who aren’t in this industry and they’re not interested by what I do. So I can just be myself.