An Interview with AGENT CARTER’S Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy
During my visit to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I spent some time on the set of AGENT CARTER to interview the lovely Hayley Atwell (“Agent Peggy Carter”) & James D’Arcy (“Edwin Jarvis”).
photo credit: ABC
Below is a portion of our interview. Enjoy.
About Season Two.
JD : Well, I’ve moved to Los Angeles, so instead of being a sort of New Yorky, dark, dingy vibe, now it’s bright sunlight and palm trees and sort of a Chinatown type.
They have particular fun with my character in terms of Los Angeles-ness of it all because they didn’t want to make me any more costumes. I’m wearing three-piece wool suits, which is alright now, but in August when we started it was complete misery. The writers just came and sort of hooted with laughter all day long. They loved it.
photo credit: ABC
The ways that Hayley is like her character.
HA : Stubborn, quite determined, single-minded and tenacious.
JD : I think he’s like one of the world’s first feminists, particularly in season 1 when all the men just dismissed Peggy. They didn’t even bother hating her. She just didn’t even count.
Jarvis was like the only person who saw her as a fully rounded three-dimensional human being, and I love that about Jarvis and I do identify with that actually. He’s not afraid to be uncool. I am afraid to be uncool, but I am just uncool. I really like Jarvis. He’s my favorite character I’ve ever played.
Why Jarvis is James’ favorite character that he’s played.
JD : He just plows his own furrow. He really doesn’t care if people don’t like him. He has his way of doing things, and he’s totally at peace with that. I don’t know about you guys, but I respond really well to anybody who is just very comfortable being themselves, even if they’re nothing like me, but they’re really comfortable in their eccentricities.
HA : You get a sense he’s very happy in his home life, too, I think.
JD : You do.
HA : That you just got a very strong marriage, which is I think quite exciting for Peggy in a way, ’cause she’s had such bad luck with men. To see it demonstrated, a loving relationship between two people who respect each other, I think it makes it possible for her imagination. I think she admires Jarvis’ home life.
JD : Too much really, ’cause she gets out and about this season, doesn’t she? There are a few gentlemen callers.
photo credit: ABC
Will Peggy take Agent Sousa up on his offer of dinner and a drink?
HA : Without giving too much away, when you see them reunite after season 1, that they’re so awkward around each other that they just ruin it the minute they see each other because they want it so bad.
Also, the first time they meet is a misconception, because Peg has been told that he’s asked her to come out. So she’s out like oh, oh my God! She gets out there and she’s like I’m here. And he goes, what are you doing here? So, that immediately makes her feel kind of a little bit rejected and backfooted again. So they’re kind of back to their awkward stage, really, so they have again this kind of long way to go.
Do Hayley and James find themselves exploring the Marvel world?
HA : I do feel that because it’s 1940’s and because we do exist in our own world that’s it kind of feels unrelated. It feels like this show has it’s own tones, very different from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., for example. Because of that, there’s a freedom, and I kind of signed up for Peggy, I didn’t know she’s end up here.
I don’t think anyone did. There was no expectation. You see the reaction of the fans, and we were interested in that. And me feeling that I could find different things to explore in her, but it felt like my stubborn single mindedness, that it had to be more on my own terms as an actor of what I feel like I could do, I could bring to it, that was outside of the fandom. I wasn’t familiar with Marvel and I wasn’t familiar with the comic book world.
So I thought if I’m not and I’m not in the center of my own little microcosm of that, then it’s got to feel relatable to people who are outside the fandom. So I approached the characters as I would any other job, which is: commit to finding some kind of depth or some kind of psychological story behind what drives her and then commit to it in the best way that I possibly could so that from the biggest, avid fan of comic books to my granny there’d be something in it.
JD : I think one of the things that’s so great about this show, is you really don’t need to know anything else. We do pre-date all the other stuff that comes along, with the exception of the first Captain America film, so you can watch it on it’s own.
How Hayley feels playing a strong woman set in the 1940’s.
I love it. I love it so much. It’s a very humbling experience. I’ve been doing lots of conventions and the great thing about that is I get to meet the fans of the show face-to-face. I get to see the faces of the audiences and that comes up all the time. Young people and parents of young people telling me that it’s so nice to see a woman represented. It’s always a shock to me, ’cause I’m like, ‘well, women are strong.’
My mum went to a school where everyone became housewives or hairdressers or secretaries, but she was like ‘no, there’s got to be something else.’ At age 17, she moved to London and became a nanny and then she worked in different things, but she’s very adventurous. I found that she has a natural leadership quality about her, although she didn’t become a politician or a high-powered businesswoman, in her own way, she was a leader.
This is someone who came from a working class background and I see my mum as I see many people in her situation given the resources that she had of forging her own way and her own path as an everyday hero. With natural qualities of what a hero was. I also found that the one thing that I think is great that people can relate to is that Peggy doesn’t have these superheroes, and she’s at fault, and she makes mistakes, and she’s terrible in love, and she’s trying to sort things out.
But she has this drive and she has a determination and she has this tenacious desire and purpose to get things done and to endure and despite the situations that she finds herself, to get up every morning and put her curlers in and put her red lipstick on and get out there and be a part of the world and to engage in the world. I think that’s something that’s very appealing quality especially for young girls to see; that despite whatever circumstance or situation or position that you’re in, whatever your background, whatever your socio-economic position in society, that heroic quality of just getting up in the morning and doing what needs to be done is very appealing and is very appealing to me and is completely underrepresented in this industry.
I love the fact that here we have this, this kind of superhero franchise which loves to put women in cat suits and look really sexy, great, fabulous, I have no problem with that, but can be slightly over-objectified and over-sexualized. As an actor, I have no interest in that. I remember from a young age as going “No.” I had no authority to say yes or no. I didn’t have the power of choice. I still don’t to a large extent, but I know what I won’t do.
That’s something that I feel that undermines how far women have come, how committed I am to the work that I do and what drives me, which is why something a role like Peggy, I can revisit again and again and again, because I feel like ultimately she’s a force for good in the world.
About the stunt work involved on AGENT CARTER.
HA : I’m really good at jogging to the craft table and having myself a donut.
JD : She does all her stunts.
HA : I do love it. I played rugby at school and I was quite a tomboy, so I had that in me.
What it’s like on set.
HA : We do very good work, but it’s always a fear of creating a loss of joy in something that’s upbeat, which really helps with the speed of the language is delivered, ’cause a lot of the scenes especially between the three of us, there’s a rhythm to it which carries it own wit and you have to kind of hit the mark. In order to deliver it in such a way that feels like it’s hitting it, we have to create an absolute perfect atmosphere of fun, of joy, of tongue and cheek.
On how long each episode takes to shoot.
JD : We shoot two episodes at once, so we get 15 days for 2 episodes, so 3 weeks, but actually it’s not 15. We get this sort of sneaky half-day as well.
HA : Whatever it takes, depending on the level of naughtiness.
photo credit: ABC
The two-episode premiere of AGENT CARTER airs TONIGHT at 9/8c on ABC!
Disclosure: Disney sponsored my travel, accommodations and activities during my stay in Los Angeles.