Long before there was a Nick Fury, Agent Phil Coulson or, heck, even S.H.I.E.L.D., there was Peggy Carter. In the 1940s, the super spy and Strategic Scientific Reserve member teamed with Captain America in “Captain America: The First Avenger” to stop the Red Skull and his Nazi forces. Next, she took on an unauthorized solo mission in “Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter,” released on the “Iron Man 3” Blu-ray. Now, Peggy is stepping into the spotlight with “Marvel’s Agent Carter.”
The freshman TV series opens with Carter (Hayley Atwell) not being taken seriously by her fellow Strategic Scientific Reserve agents. However, when Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is accused of selling his technology to the highest bidder, Carter makes use her special skills to clear his name — and begins to pave the way for what will become the world’s premiere law enforcement agency.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely penned both “Captain America” films, the Agent Carter pilot and serve as the show’s executive producers. Ahead of tonight’s debut, the pair spoke with CBR News about developing “Agent Carter,” the thought process behind Carter’s brutal action sequences, the importance of James D’Arcy‘s presence as Jarvis and incorporating the Marvel Universe into the post-WWII era show.
CBR News: Obviously, you didn’t want to copy what has been done on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” What was your agenda when developing “Agent Carter?”
Stephen McFeely: We were not going to do a case of the week. Part of that was because we only had eight episodes, so we thought that afforded us the opportunity to do a more serialized [show], one larger, conspiracy-type of story with one bad guy. So far, the first two episodes indicate that’s where we’re heading.
Christopher Markus: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is obviously an ensemble. This thing only exists because of Hayley Atwell and Peggy Carter. It was always specifically about her and her life.
Do viewers have to be familiar with the Peggy Carter character or “Captain America” movies to enjoy the series?
Markus: On every Marvel project, you want to make it inter-connective and yet freestanding. You want to be able to come into this without having seen all the proceeding things. Yet, increasingly, everything is all #Connected, because it is the same universe. We take pains to inform you of what we think you need to know, but not over-inform you about lore and backstory that a fan would already know.
McFeely: In the pilot, we do a quick catch-up in the montage in the beginning. “Here are the bare bones you need to know about Peggy going forward.”
The series takes place in the 1940s. What kind of tone were you aiming for?
McFeely: For the tone, we go back to the “Captain America” movie. It’s definitely in our wheelhouse to try and give a period piece that doesn’t feel like a period piece.
Markus: It’s always a struggle. You’ll get differing opinions on whether we succeed or not to not make it feel like a bunch of 2015 actors playing dress-up. It has to feel like those are their actual clothes, not that they just came down from wardrobe.
What’s the most appealing aspect about following Peggy and her adventures during that time period?
Markus: In terms of the fun having Peggy in that world, it allows us to play up this idea that she’s the spy version of Rosie the Riveter. Peggy made an incredible contribution during the war. The war is over. The men have come back and said, “Thanks for that. You can go on your way.” She bristles against that.
Peggy Carter is certainly no damsel in distress. How important is it to make her capable and kick-ass?
McFeely: It was vital because she held her own alongside Cap and the Howling Commandos in the first movie. And also, she is a spy. She’s fully trained. She is everything a man can be. We wanted from early on to have that be as visceral as possible.
It’s interesting to note she utilizes everything around her as a weapon when fighting.
McFeely: That’s Casey [O’Neill], our stunt coordinator. We had the same problem with Steve in the first Cap movie. Everyone wants “The Raid.” There’s no Muay Thai. Peggy isn’t going to parkour off the wall and flip three times, and she’s not particularly stronger than the average man. She has to be clever.
Markus: In a way, I like that she’s quite brutal. She finishes fights. They are not ballet, where you stand across the room and then motion them forward to come at you. She is going to finish this as soon as possible.
She’s on a mission. It’s always about the mission for her. It’s not, “Oh, now we get to pause while we have a balletic fight.” She clocks that guy with the stapler. She is going to take him out as efficiently as possible. She finishes them.
What are we going to learn about Peggy over the course of the series?
McFeely: There’s a toll to being an agent. I think you’ll see the cost it takes on her. She’s a Brit in America. She’s a woman in a man’s world. She is a feminist in a time where it wasn’t popular. And, she keeps secrets, which is maybe the biggest thing. That takes a toll on you. There’s a reason Jarvis is the only person she can talk to. He’s the guy who knows the Howard Stark mission. That’s clearly the first scene in the pilot. This is a woman who doesn’t have too many people close to her, and the one person Peggy has thinks she works at a phone company. That weighs on her, eventually.
Initially, it’s Peggy and Jarvis against the world. Is Peggy going to be forced to depend on her fellow agents? Will we see S.H.I.E.L.D. come together?
Markus: You will not see S.H.I.E.L.D. come together because that’s a ways off. You will see the S.S.R. [Strategic Scientific Reserve] gradually come away from this combative stance they have in the first few episodes and unite against a common goal. You’ll see more of Agent Thompson [Chad Michael Murray] and Agent Sousa [Enver Gjokaj] in the field doing agent work. And you’ll see some faces you don’t know yet.
How much of the bigger Marvel Universe are you weaving in?
McFeely: We can’t help but weave in the Marvel Universe. We’ve been at this for a few years now. All of our reference points are within the universe. We need a scientist character. We didn’t go very far to come up with Anton Vanko, just as a very small part scientist character. If you know what he is, or what he goes on to be, that’s interesting. If not, he’s the Russian scientist.
Markus: Also, working in the past where you already know the future — obviously, we saw ninety-something old Peggy — there are references being made, whether you do them on purpose or not. We know Hydra eventually took over S.H.I.E.L.D. When somebody says something hopeful about the future in Agent Carter, that is going to be tinged with the fact we know the future didn’t work out that well. There are plenty of little indicators of the future going forward, and the legacy of both the S.S.R. and Howard’s technology that will have ramifications later.
It’s almost like the M. Night Shyamalan curse, though. Viewers always expect some crazy twist in his movies. With Marvel, people anticipate all these tie-ins to other projects.
McFeely: I suppose it has the red box on the front. It’s a Marvel project, so they are going to expect something. But we’ve really tried to make the best show, about an interesting character in a world where there are some glowing objects and where a superhero has died.
Markus: We are also slightly freed up from that interconnection by the period. On “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Captain America and Iron Man and everybody are running around in that same world and same time period. They could theoretically show up at the door. There’s nobody around during “Agent Carter.” You can’t have an end-of-the-credits tag where Nick Fury shows up and talks to Peggy. He hasn’t been conceived yet. We’re a little cocooned.
Howard Stark is the catalyst for Peggy’s mission. How much will you be fleshing him out?
McFeely: We have him a few more episodes. You’ll see more of him, and arguably the most emotional episode is Howard-centric.
Peggy is quite witty. Can you talking about instilling the series with a sense of humor, especially those moments between Peggy and Jarvis?
McFeely: I’ve looked at this as an extension of the Cap movie. There’s fun and funny things in the first Cap movie. We didn’t set out to create the hilarious one-liner character. It’s just the connection between Jarvis and Peggy. There’s a crackle to those scenes, and that’s partially because they are from different worlds, so there’s that classic structure. But the actors are really good, too.
Markus: They are two very interesting characters. They are both British. She is certainly removed from the American characters. There is a lot of shorthand between the two Brits that gives it a little spark. It’s also one of Peggy’s defenses against the things put in her way. She can either become outraged when Agent Thompson disrespects her, or she can zing him with a one-liner. It’s always more fun to have the zinger.
How much of a complete story is the series telling? Are you setting things up for more “Agent Carter?”
McFeely: That is a devilish question. You will be satisfied with this story. That is always our goal. We also hope to plant seeds.
Markus: We’re certainly not slamming the door at the end of it. She accomplishes her goal, and the world is better for it.
McFeely: She doesn’t wake up in her sickbed in 2014 and go, “Whoa, that was a crazy dream.”