It took playing a World War II-era woman for “Captain America: The First Avenger” star Hayley Atwell to feel retro-empowered.
“I think Peggy is someone who can kind of hold her own around guys, obviously,” says Atwell, who plays the film’s no-nonsense British military officer Peggy Carter. The character develops a soft spot for the scrawny but spirited underdog Steve Rogers as he journeys into super-soldierdom, but effectively keeps other wolfish admirers at bay – with her fists. “She punches them in the face if they try anything, which was brilliant because then it meant that I had her confidence in playing her to just make sure that I felt heard on the set. And I kind of am a tomboy, anyway.”
“I loved the fact that she was a 1940s woman and she was strong,” says Atwell of her role, who’s Cap’s match in guts and determination. “It kind of reminded me of the strength that Bette Davis had and Katharine Hepburn had. I love the fact that she doesn't need to be saved and there's an equality there. It feels like a much more modern-day relationship, that they're kind of kindred spirits. She's had her own struggles to get where she is because she's a woman, as he has because of his physical disadvantages. So they kind of understand each other, in a way.”
Atwell was also enamored of the sense of glamor that pervades the era. “There was something so fabulous and stylish about that time,” she says wistfully, even though Peggy spends most of the movie in uniform. However, she did get one moment to play dress up.
“There's one scene with a red dress,” she laughs, “and that's because Anna Sheppard, our brilliant costume designer, was just like, 'You know, darling, I think it's too much of the uniform. You should have something sexy and beautiful, so I’m going to make you a red dress, okay?' And she really fought for me to have a moment. That was her suggestion, and I was really grateful for it.”