Just as the faithful artificial intelligence J.A.R.V.I.S. has proven indispensable to Tony Stark, the original Jarvis, manservant to Tony’s father Howard in the postwar years, proved just as vital to the senior Stark — and perhaps even more so to espionage agent Peggy Carter.
Providing a very dry tone and a stiff upper lip to the hit ABC series, actor James D’Arcy (“Cloud Atlas,” “Hitchcock”) admits he wasn’t entirely sure if he was up to the task of serving as “Agent Carter’s” chief sidekick in her post-Captain America adventuring. However, he quickly found his way into the head of Edwin Jarvis — and no, he assures us, it wasn’t by studying Paul Bettany‘s Marvel-ous vocal performance.
CBR News: Tell me what it was about the role of Edwin Jarvis that really kind of sunk its hooks into you and made you say yes, because I know you gave it real thought before signing on.
James D’Arcy: It wasn’t really a debate — I was actually just generally worried that I couldn’t do justice to it. I thought it was fantastically well-written. I’ve never been called upon to do anything funny, and when I read it, I thought “This is very funny — I don’t know if I can do that! I don’t know if I’m the right guy for the job. I don’t want to go and do a half-assed job of it, as much as I’d like to be in the Marvel Universe.” They were very clear that they would like me to be a part of it, if not this show, then some other thing, at some other point. So there was an easy way out.
In the end, there was something about [Jarvis’] decency, actually. I thought, “You know what? This is a dignified human being who treats a woman in 1946 — when they were sort of second-class citizens, as we explore in our show — with real respect and kindness and generosity, and I can play that.” And if it’s funny, great. And if it isn’t funny, it doesn’t matter because I don’t think that’s the heart of who this guy is. So I went for that, and that was the hook that I was able to get into.
Aside from the writing on the page, were there other inspirations that you drew from to kind of color this guy? Were there models of him that you kind of had in mind at all?
No, there were only really anti-models. There are so many people who played butlers, and I just didn’t want to do something that you’ve seen before. I didn’t want for you at the end of the first scene to go, “All right — that guy. Already, I don’t really need to ever see him again because I know exactly what he does.” I wanted to do something a little bit different, a little bit surprising. It is kind of gratifying that the relationship between Peggy and Jarvis seems to be somewhat popular. I hope that that’s sort of working in a way that is attractive to people.
Tell me about that chemistry with Peggy and Jarvis — and with what we’ve glimpsed of Jarvis and Howard, because I think that you’ve found a fun note with each of those characters.
Right. Well, I can’t tell you too much about Howard because you haven’t seen that so much, yet. You got a taste. And there’s more with Peggy. It’s like a kind of funny brother/sister relationship, isn’t it? He can call her on her shit, and he can do it very politely. He can be a guide to her, and her confidante, which is obviously important.
At the same time, he’s got a wry irony. He doesn’t take any of this world terribly seriously. He has other interests, and he makes that clear. I think that’s very grounding for Peggy, because you feel like she can get swept up and lost in this pretty easily. And then there’s the fact that, secretly, he’s loving it. In my head, Jarvis thinks that he’s Jackie Chan. That’s what’s going on in my head. Jarvis thinks that he is a badass.
There’s obviously some connective tissue between your Jarvis and the A.I. J.A.R.V.I.S. that we’ve come to know in the “Iron Man” films. The answer, of course, may be revealed in time, but have they explained that specific connection to you? Or is that still a discovery that you’ll get to make eventually?
They have not explained it.
Have you studied Paul Bettany’s performance at all?
No, I predate Paul Bettany. There’s nothing to study!
Right — maybe he should be studying you.
I agree. He should go back and redo all of his voice work now, based on what he’s seen of me.
No, I don’t need to. He’s an A.I. system. He’s Tony Stark’s memory of what the real-life Jarvis is like, so he doesn’t have to sound like me. He doesn’t even have to behave exactly like me. He has to behave like Tony Stark’s memory of me. That’s the one thing that we know: at some point, I’m going to meet Tony Stark, and I’m presumably a big part of his life and his childhood. But I haven’t had any conversations about that — I’m just telling you what is self-evident.
What do you like about the period you’re playing in?
Actually, the costumes are great, the cars are great, the sets are great, all of that kind of stuff. Really, what I like is the way people treat each other, particularly Peggy and Jarvis. They call each other “Miss Carter” and “Mr. Jarvis” and they look each other in the eye and they’re polite. Something that we sort of shortcut our way around now, as we’re all talking to each other whilst texting at the same time. I found that rather touching.
They share a Britishness — a common “expatriate in America” kind of bond.
I think there is a small element of that. We don’t explore it very fully, but I think just naturally, how could it not be so?