As part of the ABC portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour, most of the Agent Carter cast (including Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj and Lyndsy Fonseca) and a whole lot of executive producers were on hand to talk about the show. Set in 1946, Agent Peggy Carter (Atwell) lives and works in a world when women weren’t recognized as being as smart or as tough as their male counterparts. Not one to ever be underestimated, she goes on dangerous secret missions for Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), who was framed for unleashing his deadliest weapons to the highest bidder, and while she finds that those who she works for are not who they seem, she also begins to question whether Stark is as innocent as he claims.
Following the panel, Collider got a few minutes to chat with executive producer Louis D’Esposito, who also directed the pilot, about expanding Peggy Carter’s world even further, how quickly they realized that there was a potential TV show there, working so closely with the actors, what makes Hayley Atwell and the character she plays so appealing, that they’d love to continue for Season 2 (with somewhere between 8 and 13 episodes), what he’s most proud of with the show, the importance of casting the right actors to populate the world, and the challenge of getting Dominic Cooper to sign on.
LOUIS D’ESPOSITO: From the directing point of view, you approach it the exact same way. What was great about directing the pilot was that I had an opportunity to rehearse with the actors. I got to sit with Hayley [Atwell] and go through the script, line by line, and really start exploring what choices to make. And I had the opportunity with Shea Whigham to go through the script, and Enver [Gjokaj]. Not all of them because they weren’t all available, but that was fantastic. So, I approached it the same exact way. I had in mind, from the One-Shot, the tone of it, which is why I think we became a television show. They liked the tone.
Did you immediately start getting feedback from the One-Shot and learn right away that people wanted more from this character?
D’ESPOSITO: When we made the One-Shot, there was no agenda other than to tell a great story and a fun story, and to highlight Hayley Atwell. But when we finished and started showing it to people, especially people at Disney said, “This has potential for a television show.” As you can imagine, I’m so proud to have done that, and now to be here with an eight-part series.
Were there things on your wishlist from the beginning, that you wanted to see in the show?
D’ESPOSITO: I never thought about it that way. I try to keep in the present and tell a great story, and then this came about.
D’ESPOSITO: Obviously, [Peggy Carter is] a bad-ass, she can kick butt and she’s a great SSR agent, but we get to explore her home life now. Does she have friends? Where does she go? What does she do? What are her aspirations? Does she want to get married? I think you’ll find out a lot of these things, as the show goes on. Juxtaposing kick-ass spy with a woman living in the 1940s makes for great storytelling.
Are you thinking about Season 2 yet?
D’ESPOSITO: No, we’re not yet. We don’t know. Once we know, we have a great team and we would love to keep them assembled and continue.
It feels like this is the ideal amount of episodes for this show, with eight. If you do get to continue, are you looking to keep it at that number?
D’ESPOSITO: We like the mini-series [format of] eight, ten or 13, or somewhere in there. I think it allows us to get deeper into whatever story we’re trying to tell and deeper into the characters. It’s a lot of work to do 22 episodes, especially because I’m on the studio side, too, with Kevin [Feige]. It would be a tremendous amount of work.
With all of the elements involved, the way everything has come together, and how great the show looks, what are you most proud of?
D’ESPOSITO: I think I’m just most proud that we pulled it off, and that it came from a One-Shot. Having Hayley Atwell, though, pretty much gives you a leg up on the competition.
D’ESPOSITO: I used to tell her, “I look at you as the female Captain America. I think you have the same moral compass.” Today, you see all anti-heroes, but to see someone who is genuinely good, and to make her interesting and watchable, is what we tried to achieve here. Does she have dark moments? Of course. But basically, I think she has a strong sense of where her moral compass is pointing, and what’s right and what’s wrong. The greatest compliment is that my 12-year-old daughter likes the show and really wants to watch it.
The friendship between Peggy and Angie is so special. Was that something you saw right away and wanted to focus on?
D’ESPOSITO: It’s great. In the audition, you could tell the chemistry between them, right away. I told Hayley to change the line at the end and tell Lyndsy [Fonseca] that she’s really a spy, and Lyndsy looked like, “What am I supposed to do?!,” but she handled it beautifully. You can always tell a lot from an actor who listens. When they listen, they respond like a real person would, instead of ignoring it completely. That was a great moment.
When you get everything together, did you have a moment where you realized it was all working in the way you would have hoped?
D’ESPOSITO: After the script was written, the cast was the most important thing. I knew we had Hayley, Shea, Chad [Michael Murray] and Dominic Cooper. When they started coming in, I started feeling better and better about it. There’s not one moment where you say, “Wow, this is going to be fantastic!” You always have self-doubt going into it. You hope it’s great and you want to try your best. Every cast member in the show, I wanted and we got. That’s exciting.
D’ESPOSITO: Well, I have a relationship with Dominic. It all depended on his schedule and what he wants to really do with his professional career. I gave him a call and explained to him what was going on with the character, I sent him the pilot, and he called me back and said, “I’m in!” He said to me the other day that he’s having the greatest time.
Why was he such an important element for the show?
D’ESPOSITO: We had the script written without him being signed first. When we knew Agent Carter was going to go, we hired Stephen [McFeely] and Chris [Markus] and they wrote the script, and we had Howard Stark in it. It was fantastic, but then I had to go get Dominic Cooper. And he just said to me, “I’ve had the greatest time on the show.” So, there was the writing, Marvel has a cache now, and there was his relationship with Kevin and myself. I think that all added to it. You have a trust that we’re always going to work hard to put out the best product possible.
And who doesn’t want to live in and play in this world for a living?
D’ESPOSITO: Right. Our characters are so relatable. They have problems like you and I. Even Thor, who’s King of Asgard has got problems with his brother and his father and his mother. That’s relatable. People understand that. And then, you take that and couple that with casting great actors, starting with casting Robert Downey in Iron Man 1 until now. We knew that to get an actor like Robert Downey to play Tony Stark, that was 90% of the battle. We had the Iron Man suit, we had the special effects, we had the Marvel world. Now, we have to get actors to really bring those characters to life. That combination is great.
Agent Carter airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.