In the Season 2 finale of Marvel’s Agent Carter, called “Hollywood Ending,” Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) must make the ultimate sacrifice in order to destroy Zero Matter. To complete the mission successfully and defeat Whitney Frost’s (Wynn Everett) evil plan, Agent Carter needs the help of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Jarvis (James D’Arcy) and Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) to help her face a danger so great that none of them could come back from it.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, the undeniably charming and funny British actress Hayley Atwell talked about why she loves playing Peggy Carter, what she’s most proud of with the show, working with James D’Arcy and Dominic Cooper, the Peggy-Sousa dynamic, and having strong and complex female adversaries. She also talked about her new ABC drama pilot Conviction, about a young attorney (Atwell) who heads the newly created Conviction Integrity Unit, which examines cases where there’s credible suspicion that the wrong person may have been convicted of a crime.
Collider: Peggy Carter is not only one of the most fun characters to watch on TV, but she’s just one of the greatest female characters, ever. She must be an absolute blast to play.
HAYLEY ATWELL: Thank you! Yeah, it really is! We love doing the show, and I love playing Peggy. It’s great because she’s a lot of fun, but at the core, has something that’s invaluable, and that’s self-worth. She empowers, especially, young boys and girls to take on that message, as well. No one else’s opinion really matters. It’s what you think about yourself. That’s very relatable. It’s part of the human condition.
It’s really delightful to see the Peggy Carter-Jarvis-Howard Stark trio together, and it doesn’t happen nearly enough, but there are some fun moments with them in the season finale. What do you most enjoy about sharing those scenes and moments with James D’Arcy and Dominic Cooper?
ATWELL: It was very sweet, after we finished filming, they had put together a blooper compilation. It was about four minutes long, and Eric Pearson, one of the writers, and James D’Arcy were like, “No, no, no, there’s got to be more than that!” They ran into the editing suite and spent a whole afternoon compiling as much as they could, and it was a much longer reel that we saw. It was great because it really did show just how much fun we have. It’s amazing we get any work done because we’re giggling most of the time. That’s one of the joys of getting to work with people you actually laugh, who make you laugh and you get the chance to make them laugh. It doesn’t really get better than that. I just feel very lucky to have known these boys. Having known James and Dominic for a long time now, I’ve gotten a chance to see them ten years later and get to work with them again, and it’s great. They’re really good guys.
The fans have really been rooting for Peggy to finally make a move with Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) to see the two of them together. Why do you think their relationship has connected so deeply with viewers, and have you personally been rooting them on yourself?
ATWELL: I think it’s been about timing, or bad timing, between Sousa and Peggy. In the first bit, she was grieving Captain America (Chris Evans), so she had absolutely no space for thinking about someone else. Also, because he has a disability, that’s something that she relates to because, in many situations, she feels that her own gender is a disability. She understands what it’s like to have to walk around with this huge limitation to the rest of the world, and yet, despite that, the choice to deal with it in a dignified way, and to have integrity and strong values, is something that becomes very attractive to her. It’s certainly walked she liked in Captain America, to begin with, so it’s inevitable that, in seeing that in Sousa, she would be attracted to him. And then, in Season 2, Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) very cruelly tells her that it was Sousa that asked for her in L.A., and when she gets there, she discovers that wasn’t the case, at all, and that he’s actually committed to someone else. Again, the timing was off. There is a chemistry between them and a purity of spirit, and that draws them together to do good, to make a difference, and to live life with a purpose. I think that’s the ultimate thing that keeps bringing them back to each other.
How special has it been for you to get to play this strong, complex female hero, balanced with equally strong and complex female adversaries?
ATWELL: Well, it means that the fights are that much more thrilling and interesting on both sides. With Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) and Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), in particular, you’ve got two people who have many qualities that Peggy really admires and respects in them, especially Whitney’s intelligence and Dottie’s cunning, but at the same time, their amazing talents are used as forces of evil. It’s the opposite side of the same coin as Peggy, and that makes for a much bigger challenge. She can’t not respect some aspects of who they are. There are some similarities there. I’ve had that experience of not liking people very much, but having tremendous respect for them, and that’s what Peggy has. It just makes the whole challenge of the fight between them so much more interesting for her.
Since we sadly don’t know the fate of Agent Carter yet, and if this tragically were to be the end of the series, what are you most proud of, as far as what you were able to accomplish with this show and with this role?
ATWELL: There are two ways of looking at it. There’s the audience’s response, which is people getting a lot of value out if it, which is lovely to see and hear. And that was brought to life so brilliantly by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters. So, there’s the reaction to it, and then, there’s the personal experience. I got the chance to lead my own show, and that meant that I found a new level of responsibility and understanding of what it takes to get something done, of that scale and that production value, over months and months of very hard work. I got to see how a TV show is made, from every different department. It gave me more respect for the craft, for the industry, and for the work that goes into putting these stories on, and to do it in such a way that it delights audiences. So, I feel very humbled by that.
I just feel like I’ve learned a lot. Being on set, all day, every day, you go through all sorts of emotions, whether it’s tiredness, exhaustion, confusion, frustration, or utter joy. There’s a whole whirlwind of emotions that happen when you’re working in such an intense environment like that, and I loved every minute of it. I did feel like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, luckily. I’ve had a good start, so it would be really bad, if I said, “I actually don’t want to do this.” That was wonderful. I’ve made lifelong friends, and that was all very organic, how that happened. I have a text group on my phone, between James D’Arcy, Chris Dingess, Eric Pearson, Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters and Wendy Willming at Marvel, and we chat random nonsense at each other, throughout the day. We keep in touch in a very real, sweet, organic way. It’s amazing to think that we’ve made genuine friendships with people that we really liked working with. So, if this wasn’t to go any further, I’ve had tremendous gifts from the whole experience that I will be very grateful that I’ve had.
You’re also jumping into another ABC series with Conviction. After playing such a great female character as Peggy Carter, what was it about that script and character that drew you in and made you sign on?
ATWELL: They’re completely opposite. Part of what drives me is variety. I’ve played all sorts of different roles in the ten years that I’ve been working, but a lot won’t have been seen because they were in plays in London, or one-off shows on the BBC, or independent films. But ultimately, I’ve loved being able to play a whole spectrum of different people driven by different things because I’m curious about what makes people different and what makes them similar, and what we all have in common.
So, this character in Conviction could not be any more different from Peggy. She could not have had a more different upbringing. The fact that it’s modern and she’s American, for starters, is a whole new challenge for me. I love taking on things that I think I’m not going to be very good at, at all, and fail miserably at because than I set myself up for a challenge that scares me, and that’s a very healthy thing to do. So, that was it. It would be nice to be seen playing someone who doesn’t have it all together, in the way that Peggy does. She is driven by different things.
The Season 2 finale of Agent Carter airs on ABC on March 1st. To learn more about the show, go to www.abc.go.com/shows/marvels-agent-carter.