‘Agent Carter’: Hayley Atwell on Peggy’s Opportunities and Challenges in Season 2

     January 26, 2016


When Agent Carter was filming its second season in Los Angeles, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. Like all Marvel productions, everyone on set was tight-lipped about what happens during the second season but that didn’t stop us from trying to learn some of the twists and turns. During our group interview with Hayley Atwell she talked about where Peggy is as we enter the second season, moving the show to Los Angeles and being able to shoot at some iconic locations, what Peggy makes of Whitney Frost when they first meet, the dynamic in the SSR for her in this new setting, and a lot more. Check out what she had to say below.

Agent Carter airs Tuesday nights on ABC.


Image via ABC

Question: Where is Peggy as we get into season two?

HAYLEY ATWELL: I think she’s in a very different place emotionally because she’s let go of the grief she had of Captain America. So her heart is a bit more open to possible romance, and so she finds herself in a love triangle out here. And there’s the visual aspect of it being shot in L.A. with the light, everything’s a lot lighter, her clothes are slightly different, her hair is longer because she’s embraced the glamour of Hollywood a little bit, and I think that also affects how she is emotionally. She went through a period of struggling to find her feet in the SSR or fighting in a subtle way the sexism that she found in a male-dominated environment. She at the end doesn’t necessarily win everyone’s respect, Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) for example, takes the credit that she probably deserves but she says she knows her value so she doesn’t need that praise. So I think the first season is not so much that she actually is able to establish herself to everyone as an equal, but yet for herself it’s implemented, she uses it as a source of strength for her and worth. So in that respect she’s a lot more confident, so I think she’s coming out into this new world of Hollywood met at the airport by Jarvis (James D’Arcy), her dear friend, and she can embark on something a little lighter. But of course, given the nature of this show, it’s gonna go dark very quickly, but she’s a little bit more equipped this season to deal with it with an open heart.

What are the struggles and the challenges for her in the beginning of the season?

ATWELL: I think initially, again, being in a different environment at the workplace. She’s having to meet different people who are basically SSR out in California, so it’s a whole other attempt to kind of prove herself to them, just in order for her to come with a job and get her foot in the door, really. The other thing, personally though, is that [Daniel] Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is out here and he’s come out here, unbeknownst to her, he kind of had to leave, he had to get out of New York, the tension between them and the fact that it wasn’t kind of really amounting to anything meant that it was very painful for him and he got a lead to go out and run the SSR as a chief.


Image via ABC

So of course it was an actual promotion for him and a perfect time to go and have a new life. So she’s kind of sent out there under false pretenses not realizing that Chief Sousa didn’t know that she was coming, he’s asked for reinforcements and Peggy’s sent, so personally it kind of throws his world upside down and she’s also having to realize that he actually wasn’t the one that called her out there so she’s feeling rejected. So, again, it starts off with lots of chemistry and tension between them but still they’re so kind of lame in their own ways that they’re not getting on with it, they’re so kind of fragile as human beings, so that’s played out through this season too.

One of the things that’s cool about the second season is that it’s a new location so you can bring in a lot of new stuff. Could it be, if you get a Season 3, that you need to go to London next season?

ATWELL: That would be amazing! [Laughs]. I love it. I think in Season 2 –without giving anything away– there are slight moments that we see of what her life potentially could have been before and back in England, and it also sets up a very rich background for her. So knowing that her roots are there, knowing that there are certain things that happened in her past in England that defined who she was as a woman, as a person, I think there’s plenty of opportunity to explore that a little bit more. It would just mean we wouldn’t be able to bring the whole crew over, we love the crew here [Laughs], so we’d be having to say goodbye, but then we’ve always had this strong sense of being a family here, we want to protect the show and what’s best for the show. So if the showrunners felt that there was a rich bank of stories to tell and things to be explored back in England, then I think that’s something that they would absolutely kind of entertain and would at least be willing to hear my thoughts on the subject.

agent-carter-season-2-hayley-atwell-interviewI just love the idea of shots of Big Ben and Jarvis in his slippers with his hot water bottle, and especially because I think that’s kind of the natural comic point of Jarvis being out here, is that he hates L.A. and he’s got some great moments where he’s trying to figure out what’s wrong. He welcomes me in the sunshine but he’s got an umbrella trying to hide himself from the sun and he’s in his full three-piece suit, and he’s just so stubborn, he won’t submit to the L.A. lifestyle and he complains about the fact that what is the point of palm trees, they offer no shelter, and everyone eats avocado with everything; and that’s very, very funny. So we’re seeing him out of his environment, so to see him in his environment would also be very quaint and very sweet and I’m sure a lot of American audiences would love to see it, because they love a bit of Brit.

Comic book fans know to be suspicious of the name Whitney Frost, but what does Peggy make of Whitney Frost when she first meets her?

ATWELL: She’s never met a famous person before so I think she’s starstruck. I almost feel that Whitney Frost is the other side of the same coin in that she’s very bright, she’s very successful in her own field, but she’s also probably had to overcome tremendous amounts of obstacles to get where she is and she’s ambitious in her own way and that’s something Peggy can relate to. So the fact that Whitney has just gone down kind of an abuse of power, a road that actually is much darker but essentially kind of parallel to the things that Peggy would’ve had to go through that formed her character, I think there’s something quite intriguing about that for Peggy, and I think probably quite refreshing that she’s got another powerful woman around. She might be the nemesis, but at the same time I think there’s an absolute respect for Whitney’s mind and her ambition and what she had to overcome to get the success that she has in the movie world.

She’s obviously with Sousa before, so I think she’s not having to assert herself in the same way as she was and in Season 1 she kind of proved herself. Are we going to see kind of more of a leadership role for Peggy, is she kind of out on her own, what’s the dynamic in the SSR for her in this new setting?

agent-carter-season-2-hayley-atwell-interviewATWELL: I think she’s developed a very subtle and witty way of defending herself and standing up for herself in season 1 that was also treading very carefully making sure that didn’t end up fired, which she did, but she came back. So she’s got a skill set of which she knows how to handle people in position of authority over her that are also stupid, and she does it in that way that’s very elegant and I think she has that skill set now that she’s learned from Season 1. So I think she doesn’t suffer falls and she doesn’t have to pander to anyone and she’s very, very straight up to Chief Thompson, she’s not even trying to make smart comments, she’s just saying it as it is. So I think she could be a little straighter with how she presents herself and how she defends herself, and she’s probably quite bored of it and tired of it by now so she just wants to kind of tell them to go away and not have to kind of, yes, do it in a way that uses irony which they wouldn’t understand, so she can get away with.

Which new character are you most excited about in terms of the interaction with Peggy?

ATWELL: It’s kind of a new character but it kind of isn’t, it’s Dottie [Underwood] (Bridget Regan), actually. I just thought the reveal of who Dottie was in the women’s hotel kind of residential thing, where she suddenly becomes Black Widow, I thought it was so brilliant and I think Bridget is a fantastic actress. But I didn’t have much to do with her really, this is a different relationship. In some ways – without spoiling anything – I need her, and also I get to have scenes with her which are like a chess game, and so as an actor that’s incredibly exhilarating because a lot of the scenes between us are filled with subtext and yet it’s on the surface just having to be … she’s got this very soft-spoken, elegant voice and yet you know she’s an assassin and it’s a very potent mix. And so as an actor I’m loving my scenes with Bridget.

For you as Hayley, being able to kind of lean into the Hollywood glamour and be able to shoot at some of these iconic locations in L.A. and use those to your advantage, what’s been kind of the excitement about that element of this season?

agent-carter-season-2-hayley-atwell-interviewATWELL: The way that it’s being shot and using things like.. Am I allowed to say? Good. So that, for example, and I saw Rebel Without a Cause again this year knowing that we were gonna shoot there and I just wanted to see it on film, and it just felt very iconic, and a lot of these places Peggy will know about as well, so this is the excitement of… Like for me, ten years ago when I first came out here and saw the Hollywood sign for the first time and it’s just so exciting that first hit of it, and I think Peggy who doesn’t really have much interest in the Hollywood world per se, but I think it’s very much in her psyche because it’s part of the culture of her day, to have that kind of Golden Age of Hollywood. So she looks immaculate every day at work so I think that’s kind of keeping with the fact that you come to Hollywood which is so visually driven and it’s all about appearances and creating this glamour, but of course is an undercurrent of darkness and that’s a lot to do with the gangsters and the serial killers that were rife back then and seem to be these famous cases and we’ve touched upon those a little bit, and I think it adds more of a film noir feel to it and it does make the whole thing a little bit more filmic. It’s great because we’ve had to film so much inside last year to hide the fact that we filmed in L.A., that this year we’ve actually been able to get out and see the sunshine which has been lovely and easier to light, obviously.

Are we gonna get any more shenanigans with you and [Howard] Stark (Dominic Cooper)?

ATWELL: Shenanigans in what way?

In that you guys have a great repertoire, that kind of thing.

ATWELL: Yeah. I think that there’s a new comfort level between Stark and Peggy because of what they went through in the first season where he betrays her and she realizes how kind of fragile human beings are and she comes around to his way of thinking as to why she was betrayed. And because of that they’re on a bit more of an even level, she respects him hugely but also is not afraid to comment on his lifestyle choices and how disgusting and misogynistic she finds him. But, again, I remember the greatest compliment I got from a guy who was at school with me and who was a real misogynist, just the way he would talk about women and his conquest for women, and I remember him coming up to me once and we had to do this exercise where it was really, so high school, “Go around one at a time and compliment each other,” and it was something so ridiculous, and you’d say something you acknowledged about that person, and this misogynist said to me, he used the word “equal”, he said “equal”. And that had so much more of an effect on me than, “Oh she’s fabulous!” She’s “this” or she’s “that.”

agent-carter-season-2-hayley-atwell-interviewI just felt that coming from him given his perception and view of the world so alien to mine and in fact quite insulting to me, the fact that he saw me as an equal was quite a big deal. And I think that Howard and Peggy’s relationship is that, it’s that he has these kind of floozies around and he does use women as probably a form of escapism for him and his ways, but when it comes to someone like Peggy he doesn’t see her as big boobs and red lips, he sees her as someone who he can actually have a proper conversation with, which probably scares the hell out of him as well because he’s very confused by it all. But then also at the same time she’s living at his house, so he’s graciously opened up his doors to her which also means that she’s more privy to how disgusting he is, so it kind of works both ways. But, again, I’m very lucky on this because I have Dominic and James who I’ve known for so long that there’s an actual ease when we work together and we can go to those places because we’ve known each other for a long time, we know how to push each other’s buttons and how to make each other laugh, and I think that helps create the ripples between the characters.