Interview with Hayley Atwell

May 4, 2015 | Hayley Atwell has been playing british agent Margaret "Peggy" Carter since 2011. She appeared in "Captain America - The First Avenger" and on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.". On "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" we saw her as an elderly lady and most recently she's a part of the dream sequence in "Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron". We had the pleasure of meeting Hayley Atwell for an interview in Munich on occasion of "Marvel's Agent Carter" premiering in Germany. She talked about working on set in Los Angeles and what the fans can look forward to seeing in the first season of the show (airing from Mai 27th, 2015 on SyFy).

German translation of the interview.

Foto: Hayley Atwell, Screening-Event "Marvel's Agent Carter" in München 2015 - Copyright: Hannes Magerstädt für Syfy
Hayley Atwell, Screening-Event "Marvel's Agent Carter" in München 2015
© Hannes Magerstädt für Syfy

Note: © myFanbase 2015 - The interview is exclusive to myFanbase and may not be published on other websites or the like. You may share the first two questions (up to 180 words) if you link back to this site. Translations other than English and German may be posted with full credit including the link to this site.

Do you have childhood memories that connect you to the Marvel universe?

No, I've seen a few of the films - I've seen "Iron Man", but I can't say I was a fan. I wasn't aware of the Marvel comics until I became part of the franchise at all.

Do you regret not having that?

I was into Barbies, so that was okay. I don't have any regrets because I came fresh, without any expectations or pressure. I didn't have the responsibility of trying to live up to anything because I wasn't really familiar with it at all so it was quite new for me.

How does it feel to play such a strong, complex character like Peggy Carter since 2011?

What was great is that it felt like a collaboration; like Marvel came up me and said "Do you want to make a show?" and I agreed I jumped at the chance! they asked: what do I want to see? So I asked her to be vulnerable, to be humorous, to have a much more human side. It was great because I just felt like we were working together as a team, as an ensemble, and it made me fall in love with Peggy even more.

You mentioned at the screening at the screening that you can even pitch ideas to the writer's room, how's that like?

It's great because I come from theatre where I'm used to coming up with ideas of improvisation and certain lines and it was great to feel like I'm able to have creative control over what I'm doing, so you're not coming in and just being told where to stand, what to wear, how to act. You come in and you're asked on your opinion about things and so my life felt like paralleling Peggy's a little bit.

I love that the show has two female show runners; I imagine that this really pays into the female lead and the way the show works and is authentic?

Yes, with Tara [Butters] and Michele [Fazekas] and with so many powerful women in the Marvel universe - it felt right that they'd be leading that show. They wrote the final episode and they oversaw all the other scripts and it just meant that I could go to them with my ideas and feel a lot more free because I was going from one woman to another woman instead of a whole group of men.

Is Peggy's perfect look a comment on feminism in the 40s like she can be pretty and still kick ass?

Yeah, she doesn't sacrifice her femininity and she's very much a woman of her time who takes care of her personal appearance and I think that's really lovely because it shows that she doesn't have to be butch, she doesn't have to be aggressive in order to be strong and I feel like Peggy's strength comes from her vulnerability as a woman. It comes from the fact that she's a woman and that she had to deal with the bad guys, the enemies, but also people in her own office who are giving her a hard time so there's an assumption that she would just have to be taking care of the telephone, making the sandwiches and the coffee. Because that's what people expected her to do but because she's so feminine she can use her femininity to her own gain, so she can just pretend she's making coffee but listening to what the men are saying in the office. It's so clever that the writers have chosen to use the sexism of the 40s of a way for her gaining what she needs; it makes her of a modern day woman I think.

If we go on to the 50s, 60s, 70s do you see Peggy becoming sort of an activist?

I think so; ultimately she's a force for good so she would have been a humanitarian. You see her in the 40s and we know from "Captain America 2" that she lives to a very old age, she's been through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and the 90s, she's seen such a huge economic change and she would have been very privileged, she would have joined the UN, she might have run for President, she could have done all these extraordinary things that would have been very relevant to the issues of the time and that's something the writers would feel to explore incredibly well if we go to a second or a third, fourth season. I'd jump at the chance to do that!

You always apologize via Twitter after your stunt trainings, so how did you experience them?

I spent most of the times being like "I'm so sorry" I wasn't as graceful, I was a bit clumsy. But I had some good stunt coordinators that were trying to help me, they kept saying: "Distance, distance! Stay away, stay away from him!"

You said you were quite a tomboy as a kid - do you think that feeds into Peggy's "brutal" fighting?

Very much, I spent my time at school being into rugby and climbing trees and I grew up with two boys like my brothers, really so I wasn't very girly. I had Barbies, but I was a little bit more rough. Yeah, that made the transition into a superhero much easier, because she's so strong.

I love the red lipstick on you as Peggy! Who would you want her to kiss with those lips?

I would have chosen Gregory Peck from "To Kill A Mockingbird", because he's my favorite, ultimate hero and obviously he's from the same time that Peggy Carter would have been alive so I think they would have made a really good pair! So I definitely would have liked to kiss him!

Speaking of shipping: What can we expect of Angie Martinelli?

Their friendship grows over time and what's really nice is that you have a relationship that's not based on talking about other men and it's not based on competition. You have two girls that really respect each other. I think the really difficult thing is that Peggy would like to confide to Angie because Angie is such a good person, but she's worried that she'd end up dead like Colleen. So she has to be slightly on her guard and what then starts to happen is that Angie is more and more frustrated because she's trying so hard to become her friend and yet Peggy has her slight protective shield over her. It grows and develops and it's really lovely to have a female friendship on screen that, as I said, is not competitive, isn't mean, it's a genuine girl friendship, which is really cool.

Foto: Hayley Atwell, Screening-Event "Marvel's Agent Carter" in München 2015 - Copyright: Hannes Magerstädt für Syfy
Hayley Atwell, Screening-Event "Marvel's Agent Carter" in München 2015
© Hannes Magerstädt für Syfy

As nice as Colleen seemed in the few seconds that we've met her she's basically only "You should date again" way too soon after Steve so it's great to have that sort of friendship. And all my American friends are like there's this tension, maybe there's even more

(laughs) Yeah, it's a lovely friendship and I think that's something that will grow. Every convention that I've been to there were such big fans of Peggy and Angie, which is just lovely. And Lyndsy [Fonseca], who plays her, is just such a fantastic girl. We had a lot of fun and it's just nice to have a girl on set that becomes your friend and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.

Speaking of which: Last night at the screening there was this girl in full Peggy attire, you also frequently retweet Angie, Peggy and Cap cosplayers. How do you feel when people dress up as "you" or get your face tattooed on their arms?

It's a huge honor. What's lovely about it is that Peggy is such a great role model and that so many people responded well to her. It makes me feel good that the show is being supported by a network of loyal fans. I met a girl who had my name tattooed on her leg. She was in a wheelchair and she couldn't have much use of her legs but she got my name tattooed as a way of empowering herself of keep going despite the fact that her body had failed her. And that's the kind of power that Peggy has on her fans and I do feel like it's a responsibility to keep them interested and excited and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the fans who wanted to have a show, it was them who spoke out and who where such big fans of Peggy to make it happen. I just feel very moved by it, like my life has changed from playing Peggy and I hope that continues because it really was such a truly special experience waking up in Los Angeles with the sun shining everyday and going to the set with this amazing, fun people, having the best time telling this really empowering story for men and for women.

What is it like to work with Chad Michael Murray? His character is pretty macho and it feels like Peggy Carter is so done with men of her time period.

He took his character very seriously! He plays such a horrible character but he plays it so well, he's very smug and sexist and belittles Peggy and takes the praise that she deserves and [Chad] does it with great sense of grace and acceptance that he's the bad guy. But he's lovely, you know, he gave me some advice about working in Los Angeles because that was the first time that I worked there. He's very much a family man and he brought his dogs on set and he has a lot of experience in working in television so it was nice to have someone that I've felt like was an older brother who is looking out for me.

You're also really close to Jarvis' actor

I've known James D'Arcy for about ten years and I've known Dominic Cooper for about ten years and so we've had a tremendous amount of fun on set. We were just really silly and had a lot of fun being naughty and they were like my brothers which was great.

Did you kind of balance being serious on the show out with being silly off-screen?

Yes, it's a really nice balance. Obviously it's a show that's really high pressured because it's Marvel and there's expectation about it but I think it was really important to have as much fun as possible. James said to me: "Whatever happens with the show, let's just have the best time we possibly can!" and I was committed to that and we took full advantage of that.

I read you like to write short-stories and essays in your spare time, which is personally very interesting to me. May I ask what they are about?

They're very nostalgic, they tend to be about life in London and the experiences I've had, very autobiographical. And also kind of insightful a bit like journal entries about thinks I've learned, life lessons something I hope my children will read one day. Also things I've learned about the industry, anecdotes of people that I've met and funny stories that have been told. I feel very grateful about the life I have so I want to document it as much as I can so I can look back when I'm older and remember vividly the experiences that I had.

Since Peggy Carter is a bit like Sydney Bristow from "Alias", using a blonde wig to change identities what's your favorite TV show?

Oh, that's a difficult question I don't own a television so I don't really watch that much. But I'd say the one that I keep revisiting is "Arrested Development", the comedy show. I tend to watch a lot of comedy on my downtime because that's somehow so really different from all I've done, especially when I'm doing plays that tend to be serious and dramatic.

The soundtrack of "Marvel's Agent Carter" is obviously very forties-ish. What's your personal soundtrack?

Oh my God, so many different things you might have heard of Joni Mitchell and David Bowie - I was crazy into him when I was younger - loads of the older stuff. I'm listening to Queen, I'm a big fan of Freddie Mercury and quite flamboyant, theatrical performers. And then nowadays a lot of female songwriters like First Aid Kit and CocoRosie, but it tends to change given my mood. It changes when I'm at the gym and I want something upbeat like Rihanna or Taylor Swift and something fun and poppy. And when I'm feeling kind of contemplative it's very much like folk music and kind of chilled out singer/songwriter - melancholic, poetic, that sort of thing, so it kinda depends on the mood that I'm in.

What is in store for us with a potential second season?

If we get a second season, which is not being confirmed, we'd really like to look in Peggy's back-story to find out what made her the person that she is. So we'd delve into her family. And there'd definitely be a love interest as that's relevant by the end of the first season. I think she's moved on now so that'd be about her moving on with her life and settling down with someone.

Thank you so much for your time, Hayley!

Simone Bauer - myFanbase