While Peggy Carter will battle Nazis, spies, saboteurs, and supervillains in our imaginations forever, the woman who defined her so dynamically with every fiber of her being is facing a new kind of challenge these days. One that shows she’s capable of bringing her unmatched charisma to any era or endeavor. Hayley Atwell plays a former First Daughter and party girl turned crusading attorney in New York’s Conviction Integrity Unit (examining wrongful conviction cases) in ABC’s Conviction — premiering Monday October 3 at 10 PM, on the very same network that aired Agent Carter. As Atwell revealed at today’s Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles, fans of her SSR agent will find much to love in the new series…
“I think my job is to be as flexible as I can in discovering new characters and new storylines,” says Atwell of her new role as Conviction‘s Hayes Morrison. “It feels like an easy transition when you have strong material. Then it’s a matter of just inhabiting the world. So it was a very welcome challenge but something I didn’t find daunting.
Explaining how she prepared for the role of a former First Daughter, the actress remarks, “The only thing we’re privy to is the documents of their public persona. It’s rare that we get to know the ins and outs of people’s unresolved family issues. That was obviously not available to me. So I looked at people in positions of power and the faces that they have to put on, and how they choose to work a room. Seeing movie stars or politicians across the board. It was a really interesting part of who Hayes Morrison was, that she can do that. She’s been trained. It’s in her DNA to know how to do that.”
“But then what makes it interesting as an actor,” adds Atwell, “is to find the chinks in the armor and the triggers and where she might just mess it up. And the underlying vulnerability and the cost of having to be on form all the time, and what that does to your own psyche.”
Executive producer Liz Friedman addresses the very real stories of incorrect convictions being overturned…
“We need the police, but we’re seeing [these convicts] as people and we’re seeing mistakes there. How do we correct for that and how do we go forward? What’s great is to be able to have some of those conversations in the context of these great mystery stories that we’re telling.”
Friedlander explains that the show began when she was driving in her car one day… “I heard this story about these conviction integrity units on the radio. It struck me, obviously aside from the social issues, as an amazing workplace drama. Because in reality they throw together a prosecutor, a forensics expert, the police — all these people who have never worked together before and approach things very differently. I thought, ‘What a chance to do something about social issues and throw these people together who are different.’ Then as we wrote the pilot these characters came to life.”
Fridlander’s fellow producer Liz Friedman describes how Atwells character developed…
“Somewhere the notion of a very troubled sort of iconic woman who had been in the public eye and had made missteps… What’s it like for her to look at people who’ve made missteps or are just put in a bad situation in their life and are paying this huge price? It’s a price that she’s never had to pay because of her privilege.”
“Hayes is a risk taker,” says Friedlander. “She’s a risk taker [with] the good of that and the bad of that. In every kind of aspect of her personality. I think she can be personally reckless, and I think she can also professionally take risks. She kind of operates without rules, for better or for worse. You can see that get her into a lot of personal trouble and also make her look at things in a very unconventional renegade way.
As for whether her character is reckless or damaged, Atwell says, “Those two very often come hand in hand. There’s a wild aspect of her. She’s at times feeling that she’s not reckless but is in a reckless situation, or she’s reacting to the environment she’s in. If she’s a risk taker, if you know how to manage that as you grow up, you kind of take the good with the bad with that what that quality is in your personality.”
“I did,” she continues, “feel that there were elements of Hayes where.. She’s just stayed at the party too long. She doesn’t quite know how to leave. She’s missed her ride, the lights have gone off, and she’s eating the stale pizza.”
Regarding the relationship between Atwell’s character and that of her new leading man, played by Eddie Cahill, the actor says, “She’s his match and in some respects he aspires to be who she is or covets what she has. Hayley said earlier today, ‘They give each other mental orgasms.’ They’re these two prizefighters who are constantly figuring out how to best each other. There’s respect, attraction, and a will to win at each cost.
Atwell says she’s now relishing the opportunity to play a character with far more flaws than her beloved Peggy Carter…
“It’s nice being rotten for a start,” she laughs. “There’s talk about her [having been] half-naked on the beach in Belize. She does have this public persona. She’s aware of how she looks and that she can use her sexuality if she needs to. And she has the money for it. What we wanted to do was create a woman who was sharp, who was on top of the game, but also had a slight edge… She knows how to present herself in a room and impress.”
Lest there be any who view ABC’s greenlighting of Conviction as part of the network’s decision to cancel Agent Carter after its second season, the actress assures us that “ABC said, ‘This is not us cancelling Agent Carter, this is us having a great new project and we really want you in the center of it.'”
So could Atwell one day return to her breakthrough Marvel role?
“It’s still a much-loved show for the people involved in the making of it, and we know it has a special place in the fans’ hearts. That’s something that I would be very happy to go back to, if the opportunity came… The great thing about Peggy is we know she lives a long life. I’m banking on, when I’m in my fifties, saying, ‘Let’s see what Peggy’s up in this decade!’”
Here’s the trailer for Conviction…
Are you a Hayley Atwell fan? Will you be watching Conviction? Let us know below!