Exclusive: Hayley Atwell's Captain Carter brings 'chutzpah and style' to Marvel's 'What If...?' series
Move over, Steve Rogers. Peggy Carter's the captain now.
Animated series "What If...?" – the latest Disney+ Marvel project following "WandaVision," "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and "Loki" – reimagines key characters, storylines and scenarios in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first of nine weekly episodes (streaming Wednesday) takes fans back to "Captain America: The First Avenger" and explains what would have happened had British intelligence agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) received the super-soldier serum in 1943 instead of Army soldier Rogers (Chris Evans).
USA TODAY has an exclusive clip from the debut of "What If...?" in which a buff, souped-up Captain Carter wields Steve's familiar shield (now with a Union Jack instead of the stars and stripes), throws motorcycles and goes to town on a bunch of evil Hydra goons.
Voiced by Atwell, Captain Carter takes on the Red Skull (Ross Marquand) and Hydra in their quest to use the powerful Tesseract. But even as a super soldier, she has to deal with a bunch of sexist military dudes not taking her seriously. Her love interest Steve is still in the picture and plays an important role: Instead of becoming Captain America, he pilots an Iron Man-like armored suit called the Hydra Stomper. (Other MCU movie actors returning to voice their characters include Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark.)
"It’s an exciting and worthy progression of the character," Atwell says of this new version of Peggy. "Audiences get to see her in a more dynamic way, and it puts an end to the now-tired narrative that she’s underused beside her male counterparts. She was. Many women across industries have been and are. It’s time for change and for seeing more characters onscreen implementing that. She knows her value, always has, and here she gets to live it out."
And while Steve took becoming Captain America very seriously, Peggy gets pure enjoyment from her extraordinary new strength and abilities. "The ease with which she wields her power allows for moments of levity, which add to her charm," Atwell says. "Work has to be fun, otherwise it’s a dispiriting grind. She’s got chutzpah and style and flair. It makes for a far more entertaining experience for the audience."
Putting the focus on Captain Carter was "a natural place to begin the 'What If...?' storytelling, to look at a movie that has been around longer than most of the MCU films and use that as our first foray into the multiverse," says executive producer Brad Winderbaum. Carter is "one of the most integral characters in the show" and fans can expect to see her again, he says, with the likes of Doctor Strange.
Atwell, 39, began playing the character in 2011's "First Avenger," then on two seasons of the 2015-16 ABC series "Agent Carter" and in several MCU movies, including a memorable moment with a time-traveling Steve in the final scene of "Avengers: Endgame."
Was that the perfect MCU ending for Peggy? "Structurally, yes," Atwell says. "The satisfying delivery of their return to one another and the eventual dance is an appropriate closing point to their romance. Of course, there was a lot more going on for Peg: She would have been living a full life, which was not touched upon, and I understand why. She would need a lot more screen time to explore that."
"What If...?" producers have said some storylines might make their way into future live-action projects. Atwell says she'd be game to play Captain Carter onscreen under the right circumstances.
With "brilliant" screenwriters such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Emerald Fennell "breaking through and adding multilayered and bold qualities to their female characters, the possibility of Peggy getting an opportunity to take the helm in a far more ambitious way does excite me," she says. "I would invest fully in a process where the right creative team was put together to pave the way for Peggy to tap into the cultural consciousness of today and become a modern heroine of our times. I wouldn’t settle for less than what she and the fans deserve."