'Agent Carter's' Hayley Atwell: Season 2 Tackles Racism, Sexism

"I have been told that Peggy Carter had the first interracial kiss in the comic books, therefore [this] interracial relationship is taken directly from the comic books," Atwell tells THR.
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Agent Carter is doubling down on one of its greatest attributes in season two.

Highly praised for how the ABC Marvel drama tackled sexism in season one, its sophomore outing will continue to look at how the issue affects women both personally and professionally. But Agent Carter will also turn its attention to racism, a subject still as prominent today as it was during the 1940s, when Agent Carter is set. 

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Agent Carter star Hayley Atwell about how the comic book series will continue to handle those issues (and more) in season two as well as the show's move to Los Angeles and a surprising love triangle.

Season two is going to look and feel very different with Peggy's big move to L.A. What excited you most about getting to explore a different location?

The tone of it, the brightness, the blue skies and palm trees, and also the fact that that's reflected in the costumes since you need to wear less of them because it's a bit hot, the whole look of it is so much lighter. And that also is reflected in Peggy's internal world. She's gotten to quite an advanced stage at the SSR in New York and she's allowed to get on with her job now. She's also moved on from the hardest part of the grief of losing Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). She's more emotionally and romantically open now. By the time she gets out to L.A., it's a new beginning for her, not just about the adventures she's about to go on, but just in terms of an internal shift, looking at the world in a brighter and lighter way. There's more humor, particularly between Peggy and Jarvis (James D'Arcy). You will see more of Jarvis and his home life. And Peggy also gets herself into a sticky situation with a love triangle.

Peggy spent most of season one grieving Steve, but by the finale she seemed ready to finally move on. It was also hinted that she had some feelings for Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). But in season two, he's seeing someone new, so is Peggy doomed to once again pine for a man she can't have?

Well, when season two starts off, she's in New York and Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), who she's never really enjoyed listening to or taking orders from, wants her to go to L.A. But she doesn't want to go. She's having a great time in New York. The only thing that gets her out there is Jack uses the Sousa card on her. He lies and says that Sousa asked for her specifically. Peggy's like, "Oh, well that changes everything!" She goes out there with an expectation. Sousa's been gone because he's the chief of the SSR in L.A. What she doesn't realize is that things were awkward between them by the end of the first season. That suggests they both have feelings for each other.

It was pretty obvious they both were interested in each other.

Right. But for whatever reason, they were rubbish at romance and couldn't get their crap together. That's one of the reasons why he went to L.A. It was too hard for him to work with her every day with these strong feelings and not being able to act upon them. When she hears from Thompson that Sousa wanted her specifically in L.A., she heads out there with an agenda more than just doing work, and it's made clear to her as soon as she sees Sousa's face, he didn't actually call for her. He's completely shocked to see her and it turns his world upside down. She's left in this awful state of limbo. That's when she meets someone else, but she still has feelings for Sousa. He's with someone else, and she can't be with him. And this weird love triangle is born. It's awkward, and it makes for some humorous but cringe-worthy scenes.

Peggy and Jack spent a lot of time butting heads in season one. What is their dynamic going to look like now that she's in L.A. and he's leading the SSR back in New York?

They had such an interesting dynamic in the first season. They were butting heads, but the mission they went on with the Howling Commandos, he confided in her. That helped them understand each other better. But then he becomes a douchebag in the end by claiming all the praise for the work that she's essentially done. At this point, she's not having to fight him so much. She sees him as a bit of a pest but not really a threat to her position. She tolerates him, knowing she can't do anything about him.

Having said that, when she gets out to L.A., he does play a part and they are in continuous conflict with each other. He's in a position of power, and she does have to respond to him and respect him. He can call her on her sarcasm now, and he can even fire her. She has to tread a fine line not to be insubordinate or rude. But she is such an asset to him that she has a bit of rope. She's too important to the SSR. It's a very strained relationship, but there's a bit of give now that she's on the opposite side of the country.

Last season dealt with sexism, both in the workplace and in Peggy's personal life, in such a fresh and groundbreaking way. Are we going to see that continue?

You'll still have that. It's true to the time, especially Hollywood in the '40s. The women who had power were movie stars, but even then, they're very much controlled by the studios. And their power always depended on how their movie was doing at the time. So these women, who were seen as successful and powerful, were actually very vulnerable. What's extraordinary about Peggy is that she knows her value. She carries that value with her. So when she travels to a new place, where a women's currency is her sexuality, that's not her main currency. She's up against a new kind of sexism.

Are we going to see any other big issues explored in a similar way?

This season also touches upon race as another issue because her love interest in African-American Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin). I have been told that Peggy Carter had the first interracial kiss in the comic books, therefore their interracial relationship is taken directly from the comic books. It shows that what Peggy is attracted to, with Sousa who is disabled, Captain America who went through adversity to get to where he is, and Jason Wilkes who is a minority who has to fight so much, she is attracted to strength of character and the underdog.

Fans know that season two is going to tie into the Doctor Strange universe with the introduction of zero matter, also known as Darkforce. If you could pick, what Marvel movie or show would you want the show to connect with next?

I would love Peggy to become some kind of superhero with powers, and be the biggest badass she can be. It's difficult because she's in the '40s, so to have her be with the Avengers, she'd be in her '90s. She wouldn't really be in her prime. [Laughs.] But what would be really sweet is, since she's so close to Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), it would be lovely to see her relationship with the baby Tony Stark, the toddler Tony Stark. She would probably have a huge influence on him at the time. I'd love to see Peggy babysitting the future Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.).

Agent Carter season two premieres on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC with back-to-back episodes. 

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