'Agent Carter' Star Reveals Wild Hopes for Decades of Stories to Come

Hayley Atwell wants to play Peggy Carter through different eras — if Marvel will let her

Agent Carter is just hours away from its premiere, and while it's just the beginning of a seven-week run for the ABC series, star Hayley Atwell already has hopes for stories spanning the decades.

She says her cameo as a 90-something Peggy Carter in last summer's Captain America: The Winter Soldier potentially lays the groundwork for future seasons to explore different decades.

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"She would have experienced the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, and she would have experienced so much culturally during that time," Atwell tells The Hollywood Reporter, going on to describe what would remain constant about the character. "She's someone who has a very strong purpose and clear destiny she is trying to fulfill. She knows the bad guys are never going to end. There's always going to be something to fight, a cause to believe in. It's about fulfilling the whole person in that role."

In a chat with THR, Atwell also teases Peggy's antagonistic relationship with Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper)'s butler, Jarvis (James Darcy), weighs in on female-centered franchises, and reveals just how many stuntmen she injured on set.

What were your emotions like when you first watched the premiere?

I was trying to watch it as objectively as possible. You know something is good when you are swept away by the story rather than self-critiquing. I was the most delighted by the pace, the wit of the dialogue. There are great elements in the beginning establishing who she is and the other people in her life. It just deepens. Within the season it gets deeper and deeper into the world, and we see more aspects of who she really is.

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Is having just eight episodes a blessing or a curse?

It's a blessing in some ways. It feels like you're making four films. The writing is not stretched out and does not feel diluted. It also means the dialogue is a lot tighter, it's a lot slicker. You are having to get to the point quicker because you don't have much time.

You get to star in the first female-fronted Marvel property. What's that responsibility like?

It's a real thrill. It's a great time to be able to say to audiences and to Hollywood alike: Women are bankable. They want to be at the forefront. They are watchable, and audiences want them, and Hollywood should want to make female-centered projects. I feel like the last 10 years of TV has created really strong and fascinating women. Women who aren't the damsel in distress or the ingenue or the bitch or the mother-in-law. They are a lot more interesting and complex. I hope that Peggy is seen in that category of leading a show, but also showing her flaws and showing much more relatable qualities.

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In Captain America: The Winter Soldier we see Peggy as an old woman. How does knowing where she ends affect how you play her now?

What was fantastic about seeing her in Captain America 2 is that we know she's lived a full life. She would have experienced the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, and she would have experienced so much culturally during that time. She's someone who has a very strong purpose and clear destiny she is trying to fulfill. She knows the bad guys are never going to end. There's always going to be something to fight, a cause to believe in. It's about fulfilling the whole person in that role.

That would be interesting, to see you play Peggy when she's in her 40s, 50s, 60s…

We learned from Captain America 2 that she's married and that she's had children. We haven't seen that, either. I'm jumping the gun, because I love working on the show so much that I really hope we carry on. That's up to the audience and Marvel to decide. If we did, that would be a very exciting thing to explore.

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You posted on Twitter that you'd injured stuntmen. What was your final body count?

Unfortunately I whacked one on the back with a lead pipe while I was rehearsing a stunt. I think that made it No. 9 or 10? That's kind of a lot, because you'd think I'd learn to be more careful after the first one. My stunt double would laugh and say, "Don't worry, they deserve it. They'll be fine." It was unintentional. I played rugby as a kid and was a tomboy, and I can naturally be quite aggressive. I was brought up with guys, and we used to wrestle. Sometimes I forget my own strength and it inflicts pain when I don't mean to. I think it could also be that I'm quite clumsy.

What can you tell us about the character of Jarvis? He seems poised to be a standout.

Jarvis is Howard Stark's butler, and he's been employed to help Peggy in any way that she needs and to be the middleman between her and Howard when Howard is away and trying to save himself and his reputation. The funny thing is that Peggy doesn't feel like she needs his help, and in fact he's kind of detrimental to her mission because she ends up saving him on various occasions. Because of this forced togetherness, it means there is a great love-hate relationship between them. There's still respect, and a playful side to it. The banter is very witty. It's very British. It's very dry. It's ironic. It's sarcastic.

Reviewers have commented on that relationship as being a highlight of the show.

It helps that I've known James for 10 years, so we are very relaxed together. We've been adding lines to scenes and improvising, sometimes going far too far and them getting cut, or other times the director loving it and sticking them in. That's one of the great joys of the show, working with James and giggling constantly on set and pulling pranks on each other.

What kind of pranks have you pulled?

On Halloween, I put plain film over his toilet seat, and I hid in his trailer and jumped out as he was walking through. The man literally fell on the floor, clutching his stomach. He was terrified. That's very, very fun. If it gets to about 4 in the afternoon and we've had two or three coffees and we get very caffeinated, we become a little bit ridiculous like school kids. I have no idea how we end up getting work done. We must really annoy the crew, because we constantly babble away about anything and everything.

Agent Carter's two-hour premiere airs at 8 p.m. on ABC

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch 

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