Magazine article Variety

Hayley Atwell 'The Work Is Better Than You Are'

Magazine article Variety

Hayley Atwell 'The Work Is Better Than You Are'

Article excerpt

Hayley Atwell made a name for herself among American TV audiences when she joined the Marvel universe as Peggy Carter in "Agents of SHIELD" and "Agent Carter." Period dramas seem to be her specialty; she starred in 2010's "The Pillars of the Earth" and now takes on the role of Margaret Schlegel in "Howards End." Still, Atwell, who will soon also appear on the big screen in "Christopher Robin," says her focus isn't on historical eras but on strong writing.

Is there pressure with "Howards End" to live up to the expectations of audiences who read the book or saw the 1992 film?

Coming from theater, as an actor, you have this canon of great roles, if you're lucky enough to get a bash at something - whether it be Lady Macbeth or Hedda Gabler or Cleopatra or Nora in "A Doll's House." And Margaret Schlegel is just a great role for a woman. So, you don't say, "Judi Dench played Lady Macbeth and [so I] don't want a stab at it." The work is better than you are, so you're just trying to go toward the work and what the character and story requires of you. Good writing, for me, steers my performance, and I get out of the way.

What advice did you receive early in your career that you still use today?

When I left drama school, my teacher pulled me aside and she said, "I believe after these three years of working with you, your biggest strength is how flexible you are in taking direction; you're very good at listening and then doing what the director asks and taking the idea and running with it. …

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