Even though “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is only just premiering on ABC, audiences have known Peggy Carter for quite some time. First she was Steve Rogers’ ally and love interest in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” then she was shown to be quite capable without him in “Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter.” Most recently, a present-day version of her in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was a sign of all that Cap has lost. But in her new ABC series, viewers will meet a Peggy they haven’t seen before.
In anticipation of “Agent Carter’s” premiere Tuesday (Jan. 6) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, Zap2it spoke with leading lady Hayley Atwell about revisiting Peggy, the state of women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and where the series is heading. This show takes place in a world Marvel fans haven’t seen yet: a pre-SHIELD, pre-superhero, misogynistic landscape where Peggy is valued for her looks and not her skills. Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman, as “Agent Carter’s” tagline promises audiences, as Peggy is the only person able to deal with the threat ahead.
Zap2it: When it came time to make this show, what was most important for you to bring out in Peggy this time around?
Hayley Atwell: I wanted to see her humor. That was so important to me. And I wanted to see her vulnerability. We’ve seen her doing all these cool, sophisticated things, but we haven’t seen the cost of losing Steve, being in this male-dominated world, the fact that she can’t get close to people because she puts them in danger too; all of those things that make her a little bit more relatable, a little bit more real so that modern-day audiences will really enjoy watching those aspects of her too.
In the first episode, the way she addresses the misogyny in her world is so interesting. I don’t think we’ve seen any other Marvel heroine do that before. Why was that such an important facet of this series?
It was important because it was true of the time. We knew that if we set it in 1946, you just have to address that. There’s no way of getting around it. So what is the funnest way we can do that? We said, “Well, maybe she embraces those things and she uses her wit and her satire to stand up to the men.” That was an added element of tension and drama, and a really exciting backdrop so she’s not just going on these missions, but she’s having to deal with difficulties in her own workplace.
This is part of a big shift toward a more diverse Marvel in Phase 3. What are you most excited about being a part of that?
I’m looking forward to seeing more female roles. They’re going to be really surprising their audiences with strong, central leading women that speak to modern-day audiences. … I think it’s time. Women need this and women want this. The audiences have spoken, and that’s why we have Peggy Carter. It’s because of the audiences.
This ensemble you guys have assembled is such a wealth of riches.
Oh, I know. I’m so starstruck. I’m was like, “That’s Bubbles [Andre Royo] from ‘The Wire’! Oh my god!”
Is there anyone in particular you have really hit it off with?
The two people I’m most naughty with are James D’Arcy and Dominic Cooper. I’ve known them for about 10 years, so I know those guys incredibly well. James and I have worked together, Dominic and I live a road apart in London, so we see each other a lot; my boyfriend plays football with him every week. It was just going to work with your friends, and it’s very, very naughty. If you see any of my tweets, you’ll see the absolutely ridiculous antics that James and Dominic and I get up to. We’re like 5-year-old children, and we’re absolutely delighted that none of us have grown up yet. It’s really nice.
But on another level, the one person that has just blown my mind is Shea Whigham. In terms of his craft and what he brings to Chief Dooley, he’s an exceptional actor. He’s very, very respectful and respected on set and creates a very professional, serious and heartfelt performance as Chief Dooley, and that develops over time.
There are some “Captain America: The First Avenger” clips interspersed in this episode. Is that something we will keep seeing?
What’s really cool is he’s a very strong influence and force throughout the whole season. There’s something that happens that is the most exciting part of the series about the direction that it takes — which obviously I can’t talk about or I would have to kill you, and myself because I’d be out of a job.
Usually people threaten that Marvel will kill people, but I’m glad that we’ve gotten to the point where you will actually kill me if you give me spoilers.
Oh yeah. I mean, Marvel has given me a gun and a whole level of skills as a fighter, so I’m going to take people down. It’s just how it’s going to be. But yeah, there’s something that happens where there’s something that Peggy needs that is incredibly, incredibly personal and brings up all the pain of losing Steve but all the joy of what he gave her.
That is going to be so heartbreaking.
Are you kidding me? I have cried in every episode. It’s really beautiful. It’s really beautifully done, it’s really sensitive and I’m just so proud of it. It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and I think it’s going to blow people’s minds. I think it’s groundbreaking television. It really is.
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’s” mantra has always been “it’s all connected.” How would you describe “Agent Carter” as fitting into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and the role it plays?
We know that she’s going to be one of the founding members of SHIELD. I think it’s kind of connected but it’s very loosely based. This is a TV show that stands alone. It’s a different time, so SHIELD doesn’t exist yet. I think in many ways it’s not connected, so I will disagree with them all. [laughs]
Do you think it’s inevitable that this series will show us the birth of SHIELD? Is that the end goal?
I wouldn’t say it’s the ultimately end goal because SHIELD is one facet of the Marvel universe. I think it will be tied in at some point the more seasons that we go on. At the moment I’m just kind of interested in where Peggy’s at in terms of the 1940s and the ’50s and even the ’60s. We know that she lives a long life because we’ve seen “Captain America 2.” I would love the idea of what it means to be pregnant at the SSR, what it means to be trying to hold a marriage together as well as well as being a career woman. These are very modern-day issues that Peggy, we know, will advance through and will have experienced. So there’s such a rich variety of stories that we can tell.
After watching the first episode, I realized I don’t necessarily know where it’s going, and that’s exciting.
Good. You’ll be like, “Oh my god. It went there? Jesus.” You’ll be incredibly surprised. The writers have done a great job, and I’m not privy to any of the scripts until they’ve come out, so I’m learning as I go along what happens. It’s blown my mind, what the writers have done. It’s awesome where it takes you.
Is it freeing to just have the eight episodes and not have to worry about the full 22?
Oh god yeah. It means less time, which means less lines to learn — on a personal level. [laughs] What it means more than anything is it’s very tight. It’s not diluted over 22 episodes where you’re trying to solve a case a week. It’s much more than that. It’s like four movies, and it’s very climactic and it’s very succinct and very specific. The writers move the plot along beautifully and really quickly.
You’ve made a couple appearances on “Agents of SHIELD” thus far this season. Is that something you’d be open to continuing as long as there’s a purpose?
Oh sure. I mean, I love the people at “Agents of SHIELD.” They make me feel so welcome and they’re really supporting our show. It’s a real pleasure to work with them. That’s a delight about working at Marvel is I really do value the people that I’m working with. I have tremendous respect for them, and I feel very lucky to be working with professional people who I can still have a good laugh with. So yeah, I would definitely embrace that.