As military woman Peggy Carter in Captain America, Hayley Atwell is much more of a heroine than a classic damsel in distress. We recently spoke with Hayley about taking on the role, which marked her first time working on a big-budget action movie, and what surprised her about Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Hayley talked about getting physical with Chris on set, helping to create her character's gorgeous World War II-era look, and whether Peggy might be making a return in The Avengers. Here are some highlights:On what surprised her about Chris: "He’s a really good musician and a good singer and a really good dancer, too. So I think I was surprised at that, because a lot of the things I’d seen pictured him as a kind of goofy jock. Kind of a strong, masculine guy. And there’s a lot more to Chris that will be revealed, I’m sure, in his career. He’s a very, very talented young man."
On groping Chris's chest in one scene: "That was an instinctive moment. I literally couldn’t help myself, because I hadn’t seen him with his top off until that moment. I mean…go for the man boob! And Joe loved it, he was like, do that again! So we ended up doing lots of takes just to see how far we could go, and then got a little bit over the top. There was the touching of the nipple, and it became like a Saturday Night Live sketch. It was kind of ridiculous. Really corny."
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On this being her first action role: "I was kind of looking to do something different. I’ve done quite a few period dramas, so I was like, 'Yes! I’ve got an action film...Oh, f*ck, it’s a period again! Will I ever break away?' [Laughs] I had a general meeting with Joe [Johnston, the director], for about an hour, just talking about everything but the script. So, I came away going, 'Well, I’ve made a friend, but I don’t think I’ve got the job.' And then after that, I did various auditions and a screen test. It was all day, and they’d hired a crew, and they’d hired makeup and hair and costume. I had to learn eight pages of dialogue, then I had half an hour to learn an unarmed fight scene, and then I also had to show loading and unloading various guns. I loved them, but I’d never played with them before!"
On why Peggy couldn't be a damsel in distress: "She’s in a position where, if she was like that, she wouldn’t be working. And when she goes, 'I know what it’s like to have a few doors slammed in my face,' I think because she’s this attractive woman. She’s kind of had to fight a little harder to get where she is, to prove that she is capable. And I think that’s great because also, there’s a kindred spirit between her and Steve [Captain America]. There’s an equality about them, and I love that."
On how she helped create Peggy's look: "We settled on the idea that women at that time, especially compared to now, seemed to spend so much more time on their appearance. Making sure they looked immaculate but very, very sophisticated. I think Peggy is someone whose self-respect comes through in how crisp and white her shirts are, and how perfect her lipstick is applied, and it’s part of the perfectionism in her as a military person who still has a lot to prove. There’s an amazing book of all these fabulous headshots of all the greats; Ava Gardner and also Katherine Hepburn in particular, were two images that stuck out for me. There’s a beauty now that exists where lots of people seem to look the same, and back then, there was a personality in the beauty of the women.
On whether she might appear in The Avengers "I don’t know if I can give away that kind of information! I actually don’t know, no one’s called me or contacted me, so honestly..."
On how well Chris balanced his alter-egos in the movie: "He has the same kind of qualities at the beginning of the film and when he goes through the transformation. And I think what’s great is, early Steve and Captain America Steve, they both have the naivete and vulnerability, and that’s the thing Peggy fought for, and Peggy likes him for him. When she pulls out his picture at the end, it’s skinny Steve that she looks at and gets teary over."