There doesn’t seem to be many actors working quite as hard as Hayley Atwell at present, with the prolific British star hitting our screens this coming weekend playing Cinderella’s mother, in Kenneth Branagh’s glorious and enchanting adaptation.
But that’s not all, the 32-year-old is a prominent figure in the Marvel Universe as the character Peggy Carter – giving us a fair amount to discuss upon meeting her recently in London. She spoke about Cinderella, Agent Carter, Age of Ultron and Ant-Man with HeyUGuys – and we loved every single minute of it.
“It was lovely to do a film like Cinderella,” she said. “I cried throughout the whole thing because I found it so beautiful, without being sentimental either.”
“Ken [Branagh] was fascinated in creating a background for my character, which made her more well rounded, as he believes the audience pick up on subliminal messages, so if the actor has put their work in and comes fully prepared, they don’t have to say very much but it’s all there. So I explored who she was and why she called her daughter Ella, which I decided was after her own mother Isabella – that sort of thing.”
Given Branagh’s own history as an actor himself, Atwell is convinced that helps him tremendously when taking his seat in the director’s chair.
“Ken understands the sensitivities of an actor coming in and wanting to do their best and having to fight through their self-consciousness and fear in order to do something creative, to get a line out and make it sound truthful,” she explained. “He’s very kind and very gentle, he’s very patient and he is full of anecdotes and self-deprecation. He’ll always put himself down, and put you first and if you come up with an idea he is beside himself with generosity of the idea of acting it out, even if it doesn’t work, he believes actors should find their own way. That comes from an empathy because he knows what it’s like to be in our place. So it’s lovely to see someone in such an amazing position of power and not be a bully, just a good person.”
Branagh wasn’t the only cinematic legend involved in this project, as Cate Blanchett also appears as the vindictive step-mother – and Atwell admits it was a joy to share this project with such an esteemed performer, despite not actually meeting her.
“I was very upset not to have met Cate Blanchett because I’m a huge fan, but one day,” she said. “I’ve been in the same room as her three times, but I can’t be the person who says “you’re amazing, I love you!”
“You meet someone that’s famous, which is cool, and that’s exciting, but when you meet an idol, like when I met Meryl Streep, her work has basically brought me up, I am the woman I am today because of her work, she’s amazing. It’s life-changing and it’s always nice to see how lovely they are. Luckily I haven’t met any of my idols who have turned out to be disappointing, because that would be really heartbreaking.”
Talking of stars, there are a fair few involved in the forthcoming blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron – and unlike Cinderella, the cast certainly seem to have spent a little more time in one another’s company.
“There’s a real family, when you bump into someone like Tom Hiddleston, you’re like ‘hey Loki’ and Chris Evans is a dear friend and we’re doing running charades on Friday nights. You get to create a good network of friends and Marvel treat their fans with incredible respect, they want to excel their expectations, they want to give them what they want and more. That’s also because Marvel are massive fans of their own comic books themselves and very nerdy. It’s a great company to work for, it feels very collaborative.”
In regards to Age of Ultron, though Atwell is yet to see the finished production, she’s pretty confident that Marvel will have struck gold yet again.
“From what I’ve heard, Marvel are incredibly proud of it, like “oh my God it’s insane”,” she said. “But every time I see a Marvel film I think, how are you topping that? Then they do something and you think “you’ve topped it, that’s remarkable”. They’re a franchise that know how to move quickly and with the times. I have every faith it will do very well.”
It’s not the only Marvel production Atwell features in this year either, also taking on a small role in Ant-Man – though she admits that she’s not exactly sure how she will fit into that particular narrative.
“I have no idea how what I do fits in to what,” she laughed. “That’s the beauty of Marvel and hopefully I’ll be working with the for the rest of my life, because I fit into anything, any slot, any time frame. They can bring me back and age me, and what’s nice is I’ve played Peggy from my age to 96 years old. Because of that we know she’s had a long life, so there’s plenty of opportunity for her to pick up and in a dream world I would love to do a season a year, for a good few years.”
The one place where Peggy is given a lot of screen time, is within the popular TV series Agent Carter – still yet to be aired to British audiences. But Atwell is confident that it will have done enough to warrant a second season (and hopefully a UK release date…).
“I’m completely speculating, basing this on ratings, because I’ve been checking every week to see how it’s doing, and also critically it has done very well, and the creative team at Marvel are gearing up for it, and we’d all love to – but it’s dependant on the audiences, it’s entirely to do with the ratings and whether people want to watch another season.”
It sounds as though she deserves it anyway – particular given how hard Atwell had to work when shooting the series, admitting it to be somewhat more time consuming than making a feature length movie.
“The only difference is the rate you film television, it’s eight or nine pages a day, whereas film, there’s a lot of waiting around,” she said. “When I did the first Captain America I was doing a short course on the history of Burma for the open university – that’s how much time I had on my hands. With this, I had to raise my hand if I needed the loo and let them know I’d be straight back, there was no time to do anything other than be on it.”
Nonetheless, there were perks to shooting this series too… “Playing Peggy Carter meant I had unlimited VIP access to Disneyland, so I went five times.”