Other than “it’s happening,” there’s still not much available information about “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” an eight-episode series scheduled to debut in early 2015 on ABC, during the mid-season break for “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” What’s definitely known is that the series will see Hayley Atwell return to the role of Strategic Scientific Reserve agent Peggy Carter, which she first played in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and that it takes place in 1946 — meaning post-World War II, and a deeply frozen Captain America.
The show’s executive producers and star ventured to go further than that late last month at Comic-Con International in San Diego, with CBR News and other outlets participating in roundtable interviews with the folks involved — who were all very conscious of the fact that “Agent Carter” is the first project in the Marvel Studios era (which began in 2008 with “Iron Man”) that stars a female character.
“It’s a huge responsibility to getting her right,” Atwell told reporters. “It’s a privilege. She’s such a positive role model to a lot of girls. We just want to make sure you see her and every aspect of who she can be, and we exceed the expectations that people have of her. Although it’s a lot of pressure, I have full faith in it.”
Though “Agent Carter” hasn’t started filming, the character has already starred in a “Marvel One-Shot” short film released with home versions of “Iron Man 3” directed by Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito, who is also slated to helm the first “Agent Carter” episode. D’Esposito’s heavy involvement explains why he has a very specific vision for how “Agent Carter” might fit into the larger scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is now 10 films deep.
“The one-shot is encapsulated time,” D’Esposito said. “If ‘Agent Carter’ would go for seven years, it would start off with the SSR, and it’d finish with her forming S.H.I.E.L.D. She will not join S.H.I.E.L.D., or form S.H.I.E.L.D., during the ‘Agent Carter’ series. The people at Marvel that do the timeline — there’s this giant timeline over at Marvel — it made them crazy. ‘It can’t be!'”
As made clear in the one-shot, 1946 is still a very harsh time for a woman like Peggy Carter to be operating in a workforce — let alone a militarized one — that is still very much a man’s world. According to Atwell, that struggle will be a major part of the series — along with the character’s high-action spy missions.
“I think it’s mainly the backdrop of this male-dominated world, where women are still in the workforce, unspoken for and struggling to find a place outside the home,” Atwell told CBR News. “That in itself is a backdrop for the drama, and it shows how far we’ve come. But it also shows that’s where we started, and that’s where the real battles were being fought in everyday life. So you’ve already got that alongside the actual missions she’s going on — poor Peggy. It creates a hell of a lot of drama for her in her life, but [it’s] thrilling for an actress to play.”
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote the first two “Captain America” films, and have written the “Agent Carter” pilot. They’re also finding plenty of fertile creative ground in setting a show nearly 70 years in the past.
“It’s a really rich period in history, where this giant opposition we had going for 10 years with the Nazis is gone, and we’re not completely positive what the rules are anymore,” Markus said. “Who gets the scientists? Who gets the secrets? It’s all on the table. Everyone developed these skills in World War II. People became spies, people became murderers. And suddenly the war was over, and they came back, and it’s like, ‘Wow, I know how to do some shit. Now, what do I do with this?’ It’s nice to play with that assortment of characters. An office, basically full of people who just came back from the war. There’s no telling what any of them experienced last year.”
“We have a tendency to think of history as this fixed thing,” McFeely added. “‘Oh, that’s right. Good guys won, 1945. Then it was the ’50s.’ It’s just not the case. Everything was up for grabs for quite a while, and murky. We didn’t know we really won.”
Compared to most Marvel characters who have headlined a project, there’s plenty of room for interpretation with Peggy Carter. As Markus & McFeely put it, she’ll have equaled if not surpassed her combined screentime between both “Captain America” films and the “Agent Carter” one-shot by the end of the pilot. The character is relatively obscure in Marvel comic book lore, other than being related to Sharon Carter, Captain America’s long-time present-day love interest.
“The more we saw Hayley playing her, the more it was like, ‘Wow, I wonder who that is?'” Markus related. “Because she didn’t have that many lines in the original movie. It’s like, ‘OK — She’s in the army for some reason or another. She’s English, but she’s American.’ It raised a lot of questions that we didn’t have the answers to at the time. ‘Who the hell is this person?'”
“Which leaves us a playing field now,” McFeely added. “Why is she in the Army? Why America? Why does she drive so hard to do this? There are a lot of easier ways to live your life in 1945 or 1946.”
Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, who previously worked together on “Reaper” and “Resurrection,” will serve as the “Agent Carter” showrunners. They’re also looking forward to working on a show set in 1946 — for some very practical storytelling reasons.
“When you look at the one-shot, you don’t feel like you’re watching an old movie,” Fazekas said. “It still feels modern. What the period does for you is it gives you a really great style. And you know what I love? No cell phones.”
“No computer, no Google,” Butters added.
“Being on a cop show for five years, it’s like, ‘Ah, but everybody’s got a cell phone,'” Fazekas said, referring to the time she and Butters spent as writers and producers on “Law & Order: SVU.” “[Not having them] is dramatically great.”
Another storytelling advantage is being limited to eight episodes — a length closer to what’s typically seen in Britain or on premium cable — rather than the 22 or so which are typical for an hour-long network drama. Fazekas said a lower number of installments give writers an opportunity to “really spend the time to craft all the episodes” — something especially important to the pair when working in this genre.
“Larger orders work with a really specific type of show,” Fazekas said. “Like a procedural. You can do 22, 24 episodes, because you can have different writers working on different scripts at the same time. Whereas a serialized show, it’s harder. You have to finish this script before you move on to the next script. Time becomes an issue.”
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has become a place for Marvel characters not earmarked for a feature film anytime soon to be introduced to the live-action Cinematic Universe — last season included Deathlok, Victoria Hand, Graviton and more, while Mockingbird has already been announced for the upcoming second season, as played by “Friday Night Lights” alum Adrianne Palicki. “Agent Carter” is obviously limited by nature of its timeline, but according to Fazekas, “everything’s on the table” in terms of familiar characters from that era to make an appearance — though she declined to share any names.
One specific character that may be seen — or at least teased — is Peggy’s unnamed husband, mentioned in this past spring’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” as someone who Steve Rogers saved during World War II.
“We’re aware that’s a question that people are going to ask, and we will certainly hint at different options,” Fazekas said.
Though it’s early, Butters and Fazekas already have a tone in mind for “Agent Carter,” one of many shows based on comic books on the upcoming network schedule: “Fun.”
“The template that the one-shot gave, which I love, is a really good template that we responded to when we saw it,” Fazekas said. “It sort of blends genres — there’s a little bit of noir, there’s a little bit of science fiction. And there’s a wink. There’s humor in it. I like blending all of those together.”
“Agent Carter” is slated to debut in early 2015 on ABC.