Marvel was everywhere in 2014, thanks to the successes of Captain America 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and the studio's exciting announcement of its Phase Three film slate. Heck, even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to find its footing. Yet somehow, despite all that, Marvel has failed to produce a single female-fronted project... until now.
When Agent Carter premieres Tuesday on ABC (8/7c), Hayley Atwell will become the first woman to headline a Marvel film or TV series solo and the importance of this isn't lost on the star. "I can't even fathom it, really, in terms of the impact it may have," Atwell tells TVGuide.com. "In Peggy you have someone who is just as capable as the men, so she doesn't just rely on her physicality. She relies on her brain and her talents and her skills. And I think that's just a really positive thing that Marvel has done. It's making girls realize that they can be more than just the pretty girl or the ingénue or the bitch or the mother-in-law. They are fully rounded human beings capable just as much as the men at kicking butt."
Unfortunately, like many women after World War II, Peggy is expected to return to the status quo now that the men have returned home. Rather than utilizing her Liam Neeson-worthy set of skills, the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) has demoted her to "filing, making coffee and ordering lunches," as Atwell puts it. The everyday misogyny she faces both in the office and outside can be painful to watch - particularly seeing how little things have changed today - but watching the way Peggy handles it is an inspiration.
"She knows when she can play the guys at their own game. She knows when she should be just passive. She knows when being passive will actually mean that she can listen and take in more information than they realize. So it's just about making the best thing that she can out of a situation like that," Atwell explains.
What Atwell doesn't say is that when playing their game to her advantage doesn't work, Peggy isn't afraid to go rogue. Tasked with a secret mission by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) to retain his stolen inventions, Peggy is forced to play double agent. And without being able to call on SSR for back-up, her missions often result in a lot of gritty, grisly and bloody awesome fights.
"I do all my own stunts," Atwell proudly declares. "That was a big part of the appeal of her. In fact, I'm classically trained in theater and we did a lot of unarmed combat, so I have the muscle memory in me. I also played rugby in school when I was younger, so I'm not afraid of aggression physically."
Check out what else Atwell had to say about Agent Carter below, including scoop on Howard Stark, the Big Bad and more!
What's the most surprising thing fans are going to learn about Peggy?
Atwell: I think they'll see her vulnerability. And I think they'll see the cost of what it is to have lost her great love. She's grieving Steve [Captain America]. And I think because of that she becomes much more relatable and much more human. And we see her making mistakes too, which is far more interesting for me to play as an actress. We've seen she's capable and strong and smart, but we don't see what it means, like, to go home alone every night. And we get to see aspects of that in this series.
Is there anything you can tease about the Big Bad of the season?
Atwell: All I can say is that I think you'll be very surprised at the direction that it takes. You think it's going to be a formulaic show, solving the case-of-the-week and finding our baddie. But very quickly it takes a much, much darker turn and the risks are a lot higher for her and they're very, very personal.
How would you characterize her relationship with Jarvis (James D'Arcy)?
Atwell: I would say that he's kind of employed as the middleman between her and Howard. And I think she resents the fact that Jarvis feels that he has to take care of her and it becomes very, very clear that she has to take care of him on many occasions. And that creates great banter between the two of them, who have a love-hate relationship toward each other but also a deep respect and affection. And he becomes her sidekick and also provides the comic relief in the series.
Are we going to see a lot of superhero elements in the show?
Atwell: We'll see aspects of it, but what's really exciting is that because it's set in the 1940s, anything that's remotely futuristic stands out. And the prop department and the art department have been very skilled in creating these great effects that are so ahead of their times in the 1940s. But remember, she doesn't have any superpowers, so a lot of her action sequences are very real and they're dirty and they're messy and they're relatable.
The wardrobe on the show is incredible. Are you having a lot of fun with the period costumes?
Atwell: It's so fun. It's so beautiful. Everything was tailored for me and it's incredibly elegant. It was such a stylish time. And it reminded me of my grandmothers. You'd never see them without makeup or without putting on their best clothes every day. And it's kind of a uniform that she puts on. How can she get into character for the job that she has to do and make sure she doesn't sacrifice her femininity?
How much are we going to see Howard Stark in the series?
Atwell: He plays a pivotal role. He sets up the mission. But what starts happening is that it's not just the mission and the work they have to do together, but there is a deep, deep relationship arc there between them. And it involves betrayal and it involves a lot of anger and personal emotion and frustration. And I think all of those things mean that his character gets a chance to show different aspects of who he is.
Are we going to get to see her develop friendships with new characters?
Atwell: Yes. Not just the men, but the women too and I think that's absolutely, crucially important, that she's a woman's woman. And she has Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca) and then she has Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) as well, and they become very important roles in her life. And we see her trying very hard to form intimate roles, but she knows that she puts people in danger if she reveals too much about who she is, so she's always got this slight kind of block, this wall up.
Will we see Peggy get a new love interest?
Atwell: You'll see definite suggestions of it. And I think seeds are planted and put in place of two possible love interests. That is what is exciting. She is an attractive girl and there are lots of very attractive men around her so it's only natural that we'd explore all of that too.
Do you think people will be able to jump into Agent Carter without having seen any of the Marvel movies?
Atwell: Oh, 100 percent.I think it stands alone, especially because it's 1946. It's a very highly stylish, film noir, visual feast. And I'm not someone who was necessarily a fan of comic books and I knew very little about Captain America before I entered this world. And you don't need to. If you were changing the channel, you would be struck immediately by how visually stunning the piece is and how beautifully it's been produced and also how quickly and how fast and how clever the writing is. So if you were to just to come across it halfway through an episode, I think you would want to watch on to see what happens.
Agent Carter premieres Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC.