Hayley Atwell as Marvel's Agent Carter

EXCLUSIVE: Hayley Atwell on kicking ass in a man's world on Marvel's Agent Carter

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Jan 6, 2015, 12:57 PM EST

The war may be over for Agent Peggy Carter, and the love her life presumed dead after Captain America: The First Avenger, but the beautiful agent is about to face a whole new kind of war on Marvel's Agent Carter, said English actress Hayley Atwell in an exclusive interview with Blastr.

“It's a very smart thing that Marvel has done, taking essentially a modern-day woman who's way ahead of her time and putting her in an era where she is completely surrounded by challenges and barriers that she has to overcome. She is a modern-day hero in an older setting. That is very thrilling to watch," said Atwell. Marvel's Agent Carter premieres tonight in the long-awaited two-episode premiere on ABC at 8 p.m. The show takes over the timeslot of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a seven-week run.

The new series is “particularly important in the cinematic world of Marvel, [but] it also stands alone as a very exciting journey that this woman goes on that women can relate to, that men are inspired by and attracted to," she said.

Peggy Carter, who was first introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, was also featured in the Marvel One-Shot short film, also called Agent Carter. And Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s viewers got a treat when Peggy appeared during the season-two opening of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel's Agent Carter follows Peggy's adventures in 1946 after she's lost the love of her life, Steve Rogers, and peace has been declared. Upon returning home from the war, Peggy finds herself marginalized and doing administrative work. However, she ends up covertly working for the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) and going on secret missions for Howard Stark while trying to battle the sexism of the time and negotiate life as a single woman in America.

“There's so much of her character that's unexplored. The series is full of adventure, but it's also the kind of psychological, emotional cost of her in this particular world,” she said.

“That means that there are lots of different ways that we can explore her and lots of stories we can tell on the backdrop of this very tense environment of 1946. People are coming back from the war and they're building up the country again. She's back working, doing effectively admin, and has to prove herself again to the government, that she's willing to do a lot more and she's capable just like the men. So there's a lot of great tension. It's not just the baddies that she's fighting, but it's people that she's working with that she's having to fight too,” said Atwell.

However, it's not all drama and action. “It's also cut with some great wit and satire and farce and a dry sense of humor that the Brits bring to it,” she said.

Marvel's Agent Carter comes from creators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and executive producers Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters and Stan Lee. The series also stars Dominic Cooper, Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj, James D'Arcy and Shea Whigham.

In 1946, "Women in a male-dominated environment are having to fight that much harder to be known and to be seen ... so Peggy gets to explore that and also prove the men wrong time and time and time again -- that she is not only capable, but she's doing it her way and she's an intelligent, sexy, smart woman,” she said.

Atwell, who holds dual citizenship because her mother is English and her father is American, said she can relate to the trials her character goes through.

“I think Peggy's a fighter and a survivor, and I recognize that as aspects in myself. I think she's always trying to better herself. Her main objective is to be the best fighter that she possibly can for a cause that she believes in. I feel like I want to be the best version of myself that I can through the medium of making movies and telling stories. So I relate to that on a very personal level. I think everyone has a story and everyone has personal challenges and a path that they're on and limitations that they have to overcome. I always pursue that, and I pursue all aspects in my life as an opportunity to grow from. That's something that resonates with Peggy. That's very much what she's doing,” she said.

That's also something that resonates with Atwell. “They built the show very much around what I'm capable of, which I love. There's a lot of freedom for me to be able to challenge myself, to be able to prove the range that I have physically and emotionally, which I haven't been able to do on a scale this big before.”

Despite the “lovely” experience of working with Marvel, Atwell admits there has been a challenge or two along the way when it comes to portraying Peggy.

“You know what it is? My biggest challenge is actually trying to go to the bathroom in so many layers of Spanx and tights and harness and mic packs. It literally takes me about 20 minutes just to get the whole thing off,” she said with a laugh.

And then there's her role as Hayley Atwell, Stunt Woman. “[I'd] feel like I was a bit of a fake if I wasn't making at least an attempt to do my stunts. It's been great. I've unfortunately damaged a few of the stuntmen, punched them in the face and kicked them in their private areas. A bit of damage control is needed on set when I'm around, because I kind of throw myself into it. But that challenge is where I love my job, the variety of being able to learn lots of different skills. Every day is different, and every day provides itself, obviously, with different dialogue and different themes, but also this physical challenge where she's having to fight the bad guys. We've been fighting on top of moving vehicles and in small, confined areas. It's been a hoot. I've loved every minute of it,” said Atwell.

The actress promises, "Marvel has got the winning formula at the moment of success and taking over the cinematic world of action movies. They're re-pioneering people like Pepper Potts and Black Widow to have these central female roles, which feels like a bit of a revolution in Hollywood at the moment, people speaking out about wanting more roles for women, more diverse women of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds and races. That's why it's a privilege to be part of that revolution,” said Atwell.

Here's a look at Marvel's Agent Carter:

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