Not many network TV show trailers feature the female lead snorting a big line of coke in front of her boss. But ABC’s Conviction (Mondays at 10/9c, premiering tonight) is different, and so is Hayley Atwell. Though the London native has spent the past five years in the Marvel Universe, playing spy Peggy Carter in the Captain America and Avengers flicks and her own Agent Carter series, she drops the British accent and picks up the attitude for her latest role.
She plays Hayes Morrison, a spoiled lawyer and former First Daughter who is busted for cocaine possession and given a choice: head up the Conviction Integrity Unit, investigating cases of possible wrongful conviction, or go to jail and embarrass her political family. (Take a wild guess what she decides.)
We asked about her new gig, whether we’ve seen the last of Peggy Carter and the importance of coordinated lingerie in this candid Q&A.
“My character’s aware of how she looks and that she can use her sexuality if she needs to…”
You’ve been playing Peggy Carter in films and on TV since 2011. Has it been strange to say goodbye to her?
I don’t feel like I’ve said goodbye to her. She does seem to live on a lot for the fans, and Marvel is still such a big part of my career and my professional family that I would absolutely not rule out the idea of going back to Peggy at some point, or seeing her in other avenues. I love her, and I hope that she has a life elsewhere in another time, a special or another network, perhaps. The great thing about Peggy is we know from Winter Soldier that she lives a long life, so she can come back.
What intrigued you about Hayes?
There’s a wild aspect of her; she’s just stayed at the party too long, and she doesn’t quite know how to leave. And she’s missed her ride, and the lights have gone off, but she’s eating congealed pizza. The fact that she could be messy around the edges, that she can be a little bit blurry in her choices, makes her a lot more relatable. She’s still cleaning up a lot of the psychological mess and damage of her 20s, where she haphazardly found herself working as a lawyer. Now she’s in a prison cell for cocaine possession, and she’s at frat parties, and she’s sleeping with students. She hasn’t got herself together.
Where is her relationship with her boss, District Attorney Wayne Wallis (Eddie Cahill) headed?
This is a love/hate relationship, and she’s met her mental match. Now, for Hayes, that’s really sexy. That’s something to butt up against. That’s stimulation. I don’t know whether or not it could ever go into love. I think she’s terrified of actual intimacy. It’ll be interesting to see how they kind of chink away at each other’s armor.
Hayes has a great wardrobe…
She’s in the public eye and knows how important dressing up is. She’ll wear heels but make sure they’re sexy Louboutins, and you’ll see an Alexander McQueen skull or Valentino spike here or there. She’s aware of how she looks and that she can use her sexuality if she needs to. When you’re wearing a beautifully cut, tailored outfit, it does give you a confidence and she delights in that.
Did you always want to act from an early age?
I did. I was very shy. I wasn’t kind of a showy kid at all. I didn’t have a showy mum either. But I loved theater, and she would bring me to the theater. I would watch the works of Helen Mirren, Fiona Shaw, Juliet Stevenson, Helen McCrory, Judi Dench, these powerful women who were clever and empathetic, but they were also complicated. I thought, “Whatever they are, I want to live in that world.” They had strong opinions. They were willing to challenge themselves, and they had a kind of muscularity and ability to hold an audience for two hours on a stage.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Emma Thompson said, “Always wear matching underwear.”
Always! But the main thing is to show up and be professional. To be good at what we do takes discipline. Actors sometimes get to a certain point and then they get incredibly lazy. I want to continue to be stimulated and challenged and work with really great minds. That’s what inspires me and keeps me going forward.
Photo: Bob D’Amico/ABC