In 2011, Captain America: The First Avenger gave comic book fans a new hero to love and thrill to, and that hero’s name was Agent Peggy Carter. What could have been the simple love interest part because something so much more multifaceted and three-dimensional in the hands of English actress Hayley Atwell, who has since gone and made Agent Carter a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the head of her own series, and a female superhero icon in a field that so desperately needed one.
“It’s weird,” Atwell said to the fans gathered for her Q&A, the final event of the 2015 Fan Expo in Toronto. “It’s very humbling. I did Captain America five years ago and I never thought I’d be here seeing people who were inspired by Peggy. It’s an amazing support system that I feel from the fans that keeps me going.”
“It was such a turning point in my career because I had never been involved in anything that big or commercial,” she added. “It was really refreshing to be in something so different, and I never thought I’d here five years later fronting my own show.”
Agent Carter premiered midseason in January, and although it wasn’t a ratings success, it was a smash hit with critics and fans who loved Carter’s continued journey post-World War II in the man’s world of 1940s espionage.
“It’s such an empowering show for women, but for men as well,” Atwell explained. “What I loved was the arc about her grief for Steve [Rogers AKA: Captain America] and how it manifests into her getting a vile of his blood and keeping it safe. It’s a story about her grief and how she moves on, and its also about protecting Steve and it’s very beautiful and very sensitive. It was important that they establish what the loss meant to her.”
The upcoming second season of Agent Carter also came up in conversation. “It’s going to be gangsters and the dark underbelly of the 40s, very LA Confidential-esque,” she said. “[Carter]’s in a much more lighter with herself and we have Jarvis in his three-piece suit and his absolute hate for palm trees. We will delve into her past and there will be a new love interest and love triangles,” Atwell added.
There was a mad scramble by fans to get to the microphone to ask Atwell a question. Amongst the Agent Carter questions was a query about Peggy’s fighting style, particularly the fight against agents in the diner. “I love the diner scene,” Atwell said. “She uses a plate, and kicks a chair, she’s not someone like myself who’s particularly skilled and very confident.”
“I think what Marvel has done kindly and brilliantly is that they’ve used her skills,” Atwell added. “She doesn’t have to be good a martial arts, but she’s very capable and resourceful. She’s a dirty fighter which is more my style.”
Also Atwell’s style is “Carterelli” those that ‘ship Agent Carter and her friend Angie Martinelli, the diner waitress and aspiring actress who moves in with Carter into one of Howard Stark’s opulent addresses at the end of season one, The two will also be heading to L.A. together in season two.
“It’s seldom that you see on television a friendship between two women that isn’t founded on a relationship with a man or that isn’t competitive or bitchy,” Atwell said. “There’s a mutual respect there that’s quite rare and reflects the quality of female relationships in real life.”
“I think relationships are so much more interesting and complex then are played in the media, so I think Angie and Peggy are ahead of their time essential being modern women in the 40s in a man’s world.”
Speaking of being in a man’s world, Atwell was asked about her comments about wanting to be Doctor Who someday. “I’m never speaking again,” she said slightly embarrassed about how the comment became such a big deal. “I like to play with the gender issues in casting for various films and shows, so when someone asked if I wanted to be a Bond girl I said ‘I would rather be Bond.'” As for Who, “It probably means I’ll never get an audition to be the Doctor. I’m probably blacklisted.”
Well, there’s always Dubsmash Wars for Charity to keep her busy. “It was just being awesomely creative on social media and it’s got a little competitive,” she said of Team Carter’s face-off against the cast members of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Then it got really competitive, but it’s now sudden death. Friendships will be terminated,” she added.
And there’s more Agent Carter to come in TV and the movies. On Captain America: Civil War she said, “Peggy’s in there somewhere,” but Atwell is especially interest in seeing what her co-star does next with the title part. “I’m most looking forward to seeing the development of Chris’ character. I think he’s getting better with every Cap film, and he’s getting darker and more psychological interesting.”
As for Peggy’s future in Ant-Man… “I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m sure it’s crushing the box office that I haven’t bought my ticket,” she said. Atwell has however seen the finished version of her future self. “She’s got really good hair,” Atwell said. “I can’t get my hair to do that by myself, so I hope I age as gracefully as Peggy.”
“There’s so much scope and she has this incredibly full life so I could be doing this three or four decades from now,” Atwell added about the future of her character.
For now, Atwell seems satisfied to by Marvel’s first lady of kicking butt, and has a true appreciation for what that means to fans of all genders, especially let last lines of season one. “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”
“I’ve seen so many people with the tattoo of that quote. Its really very moving and I think it sums up who Peggy sets out to be at the end of the season,” Atwell explained. “She does this not for the praise, but for the fulfillment of doing the job to the best of her ability. It leaves more head space to focus on the witty retorts and the clever plans.”