December 9, 2011
Hayley Atwell stepped into the big budget blockbuster this year with Captain America: The First Avenger, where she took on the role of Peggy Carter.
– Hi Hayley. You have what many actors would describe as the perfect career. You’re in huge blockbusters like Captain America: The First Avenger, but you also have a great stage career and starred in quite a few quality TV series in the UK.
It works for me. I really like jumping from one to the other. When you are an actor starting out you often don’t have many choices, but we do have the ability to say ‘no’ and steer our careers in the right direction and that’s what I feel I have done. I loved making Captain America, but it’s still important for me to do theatre.
– Your mother is English and your father is American so, luckily for you, you are a dual UK-US citizen. Where is home?
I live in London. Captain America was shot in England. I have never actually worked in the US. I’m not on a Screen Actors Guild contract but I’d love to work in the US. There’s so many exciting opportunities in the US. I might be able to take advantage of my dual citizenship.
– You play Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger. Tell me about Peggy.
She’s English and an officer in the Strategic Scientific Reserve. She’s tough. She can kick butt with the boys.
She isn’t a damsel in distress. I like to say Peggy can do everything Captain America can do but backwards in high heels.
– What was it like working with Hugo Weaving on this movie?
I’d often sit next to him during the make-up tests. He’d sit beside me and would be suggesting where his scars should go, how much of the red you should see through the eyelids, how much should rip off and peel away.
He really gets into it and has a great sense of humor. He was like a kid. I am amazed at the actors Australia has produced like Hugo, Judy Davis and Cate Blanchett. They tend to have a laid-back attitude and don’t take themselves too seriously which is great.
– Brits are like that too. You don’t tend to take yourselves too seriously.
I hope not (laughs).
– Another great actor in the cast is Stanley Tucci.
Oh yes. He is a really sociable guy. We had lots of dinners with him. He loves great food and wine and I’ve stayed in contact with him.
– The big star of the film, of course, is Chris Evans. You spent a lot of time on the set with Chris. What’s he like? He seems a little quiet, maybe even shy, in interviews with the media.
It’s nice in a way. He has that element of mystery. He’s quite thoughtful, but he’s also a lot of fun. He is skilled in many things. He’s a great musician and dancer. He’s a good singer. He tap-dances.
He has so many skills and I hope during his career he gets the chance to show them. But, with a project like this he might be shy because he knows it might change things for him quite dramatically. He wants to retain that sense of who he is.
– Chris is a good dancer? Did you guys go out dancing after filming ended for the day?
He’d tap dance on the set. He’d get into it. He’d break into it to warm up for a scene.
– One of the great things about the movie is the visual effects wizardry that went into transforming Chris into the 90 pound weakling. You were in a lot of scenes with Chris when he was the scrawny Steve Rogers. How were the scenes created? Did you act with Chris or did you act with the scrawny body double?
Both. I’d do the scenes with Chris and then Leander Deeny, who played skinny Steve, would watch Chris’ take on the monitor and then mimic everything he did.
Even if Chris breathed on a certain line, Leander would make sure he knew what that breath would be so Chris’ head would match Leander’s body. It is so subtle, but it is that attention to detail which I think makes it more realistic.
Then we’d do the scene again with Leander and he would have a prosthetic chin and prosthetic nose so he would look structurally more like Chris and it would be easier to put Chris’ head on Leander’s body. It was incredibly technical.
– It looked amazing on screen.
Yeah. Leander had vigorous training too. He got the skinniest he has ever, ever been. He was a slight man anyway, but he didn’t look like that in real life.
– What was it like for you to do the scenes over and over and over again with Chris and then Leander? You would have to be perfect too.
Yeah. I’d have to match it for continuity. It felt like Peggy was a bit promiscuous. She was having an affair with someone else (laughs). I enjoyed the technical challenge of it. I find it amazing you can achieve things like that. I relished it.
– Are you signed on to be in The Avengers and the Captain America sequels?
I’m contracted to do anything they want me to do. I have to be available to them if they need me. For this Captain America movie, it is set in the 1940s. Captain America can time travel. Peggy can’t because she is mortal.
– They might bring Peggy back and she would be 90-year-old. You’ll have to spend more time in the prosthetics make-up chair than what Hugo Weaving did in this film.
(Laughs) Yeah. I’d love that.
– What’s the best advice you have been given throughout your career, or even life?
The best advice, when it comes to working, is the most simple advice. That is never, ever be late. Once you have mastered that it is 99 per cent of the work done.
In drama school I was told to continue to take risks and that I was in the business for the long run. Like what Shakespeare says, strive for perfection. Never believe the good or bad opinions of other people because it is only relative to their own experience.
Captain America: The First Avenger is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray