It’s incredibly satisfying to see Peggy Carter sitting at the central desk of the Strategic Scientific Reserve’s newly revealed Los Angeles offices, ready to address everyone. It’s as if her chauvinistic postwar colleagues have at last noticed her abilities and allowed the smartest person in the room run the show.
But of course, life of Captain America’s wartime love never runs that smoothly. Instead, the moment was for actress Hayley Atwell, in full costume, to provide journalists some hints about the second season of Marvel’s “Agent Carter.”
However, Atwell offered more than mere plot teases, delving deep into Peggy’s head as she makes her way from New York City to Hollywood.
What new opportunities does Peggy have in Season 2?
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 the middle of a love triangle out here. And there’s the visual aspect of it being shot in LA with the light. Everything’s a lot lighter. Her clothes are slightly different, her hair’s longer because she’s embraced the glamour of Hollywood a little bit, and I think that also reflects how she is emotionally.
She went through a period of kind of struggling to find her feet in the SSR or fighting in a very subtle way the sexism she found in the male dominated environment. She, at the end, doesn’t necessarily win everyone’s respect. Jack Thompson, for example, takes the credit that she probably deserves, but she actually 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, she uses it as a source of strength for her own worth. So in that respect, she’s a lot more confident.
I think she’s coming out into this new world of Hollywood, met at the airport by Jarvis, her dear friend. And she can embark on something a little lighter. But of course, given the nature of this genre, it’s going to go dark very quickly, but she’s a little bit more quick this season to deal with it with an open heart.
What are her struggles and challenges in the beginning of the season?
I think, initially, being again in a slightly different environment of the workplace. She’s now having to meet different people who are based in the SSR out in California, so it’s a whole other attempt to kind of prove herself to them, just in order to, first, get on with her job and to get her foot in the door, really.
The other thing personally, though, is that Sousa’s 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 kind of wasn’t really amounting to anything meant that it was very painful to him, and he got a lead to go out and run the SSR as a chief. So of course, it was a natural promotion for him, perfect time for him to go out and have a new life. So she’s kind of sent out there under false pretenses, not realizing that Chief Sousa didn’t know 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, yeah, he 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 kind of so fragile as human beings, so that’s played out through this season too.
Do you think that one day we might see Peggy at work in London?
That would be amazing. I’d love that. I think in Season 2, without giving anything away, there are moments that we see of what her life potentially could have been before 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, and we love the crew here. So we’d be having to say goodbye. But we’ve always had this kind of strong sense of as much as we are a family here, we want to protect the show and do 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 at least be willing to hear my thoughts on subject. I 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 the natural sort of comic part of Jarvis being out here is he hates LA.
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 in the sun. And he’s in his wool, three-piece suit. And he’s just so stubborn, he won’t submit to the LA 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, I think, be very quaint and very sweet. I’m sure a lot of American audiences would love to see because they love a bit of Brit.
Comic book fans know to be suspicious of the name Whitney Frost. What does Peggy think of her – in this 1940s incarnation as a movie star – at first?
She’s never met a famous person before, so I think she’s star-struck. 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 a tremendous amount of obstacles to get where she is. And she’s ambitious in her own way. And that’s something that Peggy can relate to.
So the fact that Whitney has just gone down an abuse of power, the road that actually is much darker, but essentially a kind of parallel to the things that Peggy would have 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.
Are we going to see more of a leadership role for Peggy, or is she out on her own?
She develops a very subtle and witty way of defending herself and standing up for herself in the Season 1 that was also treading very carefully of making sure that she didn’t end up fired, which she did, but she came back. So she’s got a skill set. She knows how to handle people in positions of authority over her that are also stupid. And she does that in a way that’s very elegant. And I think she has that skill set now that she’s learned from Season 1.
So in Season 2, she doesn’t suffer fools, and she doesn’t have to pander to anyone. And she’s very, very straight out with Chief Thompson. She’s not even trying to make smart comments; she’s just saying it as it is. So I think she can 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 kind of wants to tell them to go away and not have to 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?
It’s kind of a new character, but Dottie, actually. I just thought the reveal of who Dottie was in the woman’s hotel/kind of residential thing where she suddenly becomes Black Widow, I thought it was so brilliant. And Bridget [Regan], I think she’s a fantastic actress. But I didn’t have much to do with her, really. This is a different relationship. In some ways, without spoiling everything, I need her. And also, I get to have scenes with her which are like a chess game.
So as an actor, that’s incredibly exhilarating because a lot of the scenes between us are, they’re filled with subtext. And on the surface she’s got this very soft spoken, elegant voice. And yet, you know that she’s an assassin, and it’s a very potent mix. And so in the actual, as an actor, I’m loving my scenes with Bridget.
Are we getting any more shenanigans with Peggy and Howard Stark?
Yeah, I think there’s a new comfort level between Stark and Peggy, because of what they went through the in the first season, why 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 kind of level. She respects him hugely, but also is not afraid to comment on his lifestyle choices and how disgustingly misogynistic that she finds him.
But again, I remember the greatest compliment I ever got from a guy who was at school with me, and he was a real misogynist — just the way that he would talk about women and his conquests for women. And I remember him coming up to me once, and we had to do this exercise – it’s really so drama school – we were like, go one at a time and compliment each other. It was something so ridiculous because our egos were very fragile at drama school. And you’d say something that you kind of acknowledged about that person, and this misogynist said to me, he just used the word “equal.” He said “equal,” and that had so much more of an effect on me than, “Oh, she’s fabulous.” Or she’s this, that, or the other. Coming from him, given his perception and view of the word, being so alien to mine, and in fact, actually quite insulting to me, the fact that he saw me as an equal was quite a big deal.
And I think Howard and Peggy’s relationship is that. Is that he has these kind of floozies around, and he does kind of use women as probably a form of escapism for him in his Dionysus ways. Actually, when it comes to someone like Peggy, he doesn’t see her as a big-boobs-and-red-lips; he sees her as someone 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 [laughs]. So it kind of works both ways.
But again, I’m very lucky on this because I have Dominic [Cooper] and James [D’Arcy], 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 to create the rapport between the characters.
Marvel’s “Agent Carter” returns Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.