Even if one has (*shudder*) never seen a Marvel movie, Agent Carter offers more than enough derring-do to satisfy any action urges — as well as a healthy helping of humor — thanks to stars Hayley Atwell as the eponymous hardboiled S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder and James D’Arcy as her trusty sidekick and confidante Edwin Jarvis. I caught up up with the two actors after the Agent Carter panel at last month’s TCA winter press tour, and they explained the creation of their captivating characters and offered their hopes for the future.
Nerdist: It must be satisfying to star in a series that shows the world, week after week, that comics can depict many things besides superheroes.
Hayley Atwell: Well, I didn’t grow up in the superhero world. I’m not geeky enough in that way anyway, and I love it. So I’m kind of the perfect audience member to advocate it. I think it’s because of the quality of the writing. it never takes itself too seriously. It’s got great plotlines, great characters. I just think that means it’s immediately accessible.
N: It also fills a void in that it offers a two-fisted pulp heroine from an era, the ‘40s, that should have given us more of them but didn’t.
HA: Yeah, absolutely. Well, she’s a modern-day woman in 1946, so she’s ahead of her time in many ways. But at the same time, she plays the game. She knows the boundaries. She knows that she has to use her wit and her intelligence to outsmart the men, rather than undermine them. So it’s a great complex character, and I think that’s another reason why she’s accessible.
N: Peggy’s relationship with Jarvis is also complex.
HA: James and I go way back. We’ve known each other for about ten years. And because of that we had an easy chemistry on set. We were very relaxed with each other. And also because the writers are so collaborative. If we ever came up with a suggestion they’d always listen to it, and sometimes they would take it on board, and other times they would show us why their ideas were better fitted to the storyline. So it just feels like a very free environment where we’ve been able to create these characters from scratch.
N: Has Joss Whedon offered you any insight or guidance?
HA: No, the last time I saw Joss I was getting drunk with him in a bar, and we didn’t talk about work. [Laughs]
N: Good for you. [Laughs] Would you like to see Peggy get her own tie-in comic similar to that of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
HA: Yeah, I think there might be plans to have a Peggy comic. That would be fantastic. That just means she’s got more adventures to go on.
N: When you play Peggy, how do you strike the balance between being larger than life yet grounding the character in truth? She can fight on the hood of a speeding car, for example, but she has very real concerns.
HA: I think that’s from my classical theater training. I trained at drama school and that’s given me a foundation, to root her in some kind of truth. That what I try to do with every character that I play — [create] someone who is really feeling things and is really going through these emotions. So that was my intention.
Nerdist: Longtime comics fans are well aware of Edwin Jarvis, but Agent Carter’s version of the character is a unique one.
James D’Arcy: I did talk to them when they offered me the part, and I sort of said, “Look, there’s a lot of very famous butlers. I don’t want to do something that has already been done. And they said, “Oh no, no. He’s gonna go on the missions.” That was immediately exciting, because I thought, “Alright, he may not be good at them, but he’s gonna be there.”
N: Yet he is good at them!
JD: Well, he’s kinda good at them. [Laughs] I mean, he’s not like an action hero. But I think in his head he is. In Jarvis’ head, he’s Jackie Chan.
N: Your Jarvis also has a satisfying dark side, and some gravitas.
JD: You know what, I love the fact that he’s pretty dignified. I love the fact that he’s very eloquent. I love the fact that he actually doesn’t take any shit from anybody, even when he’s being interrogated.
N: In terms of humor, his rapport with Peggy calls to mind that of John Steed and Emma Peel in the British 1960s Avengers TV show.
JD: Yes! Well, I have to say that was a reference in my head. I hope we haven’t stolen their schtick, but… They wrote really great banter-y stuff for us right off the bat. We’re very good friends anyway, and it came pretty easily. Now I can’t quite see where the lines are drawn. [Laughs.]
N: Jarvis has harbored secrets that he hasn’t immediately shared with Peggy. How much of what he knows were you told in advance?
JD: I actually knew one thing that happened right at the end of the season. One person told me, and then other people were making out that it was a secret. I didn’t disillusion them that I actually knew.
N: Have you discussed a second season yet?
JD: I don’t have that information unfortunately. We’d love to. I hope that there’s an audience for it. It would be great.
N: I know a lot of people would love to see it.
JD: Well, great! Then you have more information than I do at this point. [Laughs.]
N: Congratulations on Agent Carter. It’s an excellent show.
JD: Thank you very much.
Agent Carter airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC.