After only months off TV, Hayley Atwell has a new starring role this fall — and fans might marvel at the transition.
Surely, Atwell is best-known for portraying the altruistic postwar do-gooder (and Captain America’s doomed paramour) Peggy Carter across Marvel’s many squeaky-clean Avengers properties, including the lamentably cancelled Agent Carter.
Well, it was a Hulk-worthy leap from that to her new role: a troubled former first daughter who takes a job trying to help innocent prisoners, only to evade a cocaine charge on Conviction, premiering Monday on CTV.
And she relished making the transition from superhero to antihero.
“It’s almost like Chelsea Clinton has been hanging out with Lindsay Lohan,” she mused about her prickly character. “She’s clearly brilliant and it’s such a shame she uses it for her own downfall.”
Days before the show’s launch, Atwell sat down with the Star in Toronto, where she’s filmed the series since July.
How have you liked Toronto?
My best friend lives here — she married a Canadian — so I know Toronto pretty well. I remember the ice storm of three years ago, which scared the hell out of me; I’d been thinking about having Christmas here.
Any favourite local spots?
This amazing sushi restaurant called Miku. I love Fresh; it’s my go-to place. The quinoa onion rings are amazing. I like the transformer salad, the club wrap, the holiday wrap. They do this chocolate coffee shot with cayenne pepper and maple syrup, which has me bouncing off the walls. I like Trinity Bellwoods. I’ve been helping with Save our Scruff, which is a dog rescue charity, so I’ve been fostering dogs here through them. It’s been lovely.
(Co-star) Shawn Ashmore’s a local, has he been helpful?
Not really (laughs).He’s an L.A. boy now.I do tease hima littlebit. We came up with a stripper name (based on) the colour of pants you’re wearing and the last thing you ate. Shawn is known as Black Waffle now on set.
I can’t think of many network shows that reference the protagonist doing cocaine.
It’s one of the things that was so appealing to me in playing her. I thought it was quite bold of a network to open with that, and it progresses in every script we’ve done since. That’s really quite brave of a network show, actually — this isn’t HBO. With her, there is a self-destructive button and it seems like she stayed at the party a little too long. You don’t behave like that unless there’s something else going on.
It’s not necessarily a political show, but is there social commentary in a show about the flaws of the legal system, at a time when so many people are incarcerated?
We just did an episode that was originally titled “Black Lives Matter”; that is very much the focus point of the case of that episode, and brilliantly so. We don’t just want people to watch Conviction before they go to bed to help them sleep. It’ll engage with them and make them want to have conversations with each other about what’s happening; we’re all responsible for how society is to move forward, and what diversity means, and the fact that we’re in an inherently, subtly racist (system).
Are there any legal procedurals you’ve especially liked?
I’m really weird. I don’t have a television. I only watch shows that are five years old because enough people I love and respect convinced me to watch them. Myself, I like avant-garde theatre in the U.K. — the work of Ivo van Hove and Rob Icke and Simon Stone. I read weird books or poetry. But standard television and formulaic television is not something I tend to watch, I suppose because I like to explore things that are so far from my world.
Almost a year ago you got rid of your Twitter and Instagram accounts, which many people couldn’t imagine doing.
It’s really hard. I came off it because I didn’t know where I stood with it, and I thought I should only engage with it if I follow my own rules and use it the right way. When we get into the world of selfies and social media, it can become deeply narcissistic and not very good for our empathy levels. This self-obsession and self-promotion — it sits really strangely with me. It was a bit of a clusterf--- conversation I was having in my own head.
Is it amazing to be free of it all?
Ohhh, it’s a joy. I think I’m going to start an Instagram account purely for talking about the show, because that’s part of my job as an actor. I look at other Instagram accounts, and it’s easy to assume the whole world is having a great time and their life looks infinitely better than yours. The normal, the boring, the mundane, the domestic is bad, and we should always look glamorous and fabulous. But that’s not the case. The people I like to follow are less “look at me” and more “look at what I’m into.”
If you look at the “personal life” section of your Wikipedia entry, there’s exactly one sentence, and it’s about an art history course you took. You’ve really maintained your privacy.
Thank God! It’s so boring. People don’t need to know. I really don’t want people to be that interested. Go and look at a sunset. That’s so much more interesting than what I had for lunch.
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