Hayley Atwell is carrying her shoes on the ride up the Langham Huntington Hotel elevator. She just spent the day bouncing around the hotel talking with a gaggle of reporters about her ABC series “Marvel’s Agent Carter.”
The British actress joined the Marvel Comics universe in 2011 playing Peggy Carter in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and has continued to play her through a video short, the feature “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and now the short-run ABC show.
Although the ratings have not been what was expected for a series set in the Marvel Universe, Atwell has been pushed into the spotlight because of the current mania for projects connected to comics. Her credits include upcoming appearances in the Marvel Comics films “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man.”
“I was over the moon to get the part in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger.’ What’s excited me about being able to portray Peggy in this season is that we saw glimpses of what she could be in the first film,” Atwell says. “We know she’s strong and capable and has a hard time with the guys, but what about her vulnerability? What about her humor? What about her wit? What about the different aspects of her intelligence? So I just felt that there was so much more that we could explore, which was why, of course, I jumped at the chance to work on it again.”
Playing Carter has changed Atwell’s life, including dealing with the stamina it takes to be a lead character in a TV series, especially one who is involved with a lot of action scenes.
Atwell’s done as many of her own stunts as the production will allow. They drew the line at her jumping on top of a movie car.
Stephen McFeely, executive producer of “Agent Carter,” knew Atwell was right for the job as soon as he saw her screen test. The surprise for him is that five years later, the character has grown to have her own series.
And this character is one she can play through the decades. Because of her work in the recent “Captain America” movie, it’s clear Agent Carter lives a long life. Atwell would love to see how the character deals with all the different decades.
Carter is as an agent at the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a collection of top minds from the Allied nations assembled to fight the Nazis. Now, in a post-war world, tough, smart and sexy Peggy Carter is working there while dealing with the loss of her love, Captain America. And, she has to deal with chauvinistic treatment in the office.
“It has to reflect the social etiquette of the times, but it’s also a timeless piece because it exists in the Marvel Universe,” Atwell says. “There’s a tongue-in-cheek attitude to it where it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not making any huge social commentary.”
Agent Carter isn’t as well known as other characters in the Marvel Universe. Atwell finds that freeing.
Before playing Carter, Atwell appeared in a string of British movies and TV shows, plus the remake of “The Prisoner.” She’s as comfortable in British roles as she is playing an American because she has dual citizenship.
“I think it helps, being half American, half English, so I have those influences. I spent my summers in Kansas City, which is very different than the kind of state school of London that I went to school in. I think that gave me a sense of how big the world was and how the different genres can all give you something,” Atwell says.
She grew up a huge fan of theater and gets back to the stage when time allows. There hasn’t been a lot of time lately because of the TV series and feature films. Along with all of the Marvel mania, Atwell can be seen this summer in the big-screen adaption of “Cinderella.”
As for slipping out of her shoes after a long day, Atwell says that on set she has soft dance shoes she wears for the running scenes.
Being dressed up for work or to meet the press isn’t the norm for her: “I’m more of a jeans and T-shirt kind of a girl.”