In a world full of superheroes and actual ass-kicking female characters on TV, Peggy Carter was a pretty special figure. To this day there’s still talk of the post-World War II secret agent potentially heading up her own film on the big screen, in order to stop more atomic threats.
Until then, Hayley Atwell, the woman who made Carter so famous, is back in full force as a whole new kind of hero on incoming series Conviction; as the lawyer that reopens old cases in order to free the wrongly convicted. It’s a much more human role in terms of the realistic versus the fantastical, but it came with one pretty big challenge for the English actress: nailing an American accent.
“There are certain words, like the word ‘murderer,’ that I find pretty hard to say in an American accent. Considering this is a legal procedural and I have to say it about once every episode…,” she laughs, before explaining the importance of getting the tone of her new character, Hayes Morrison, right. “I didn’t want her to have a Valley Girl tone, or to speak [in a higher pitch]. Sometimes women speak up there in a little girl voice and Hays has gravitas and power. So I wanted to settle her into something a little deeper. Since the pilot, I hope that I’ve relaxed into it a little bit more.”
To help her, Atwell has a dialect coach on set who’s on standby to help “iron out anything that sounds too bright,” but also to help her nail the inflections and flow. In the pilot it seems to be working for her, at least from what we’ve seen.
As Hayes Morrison, Atwell doesn’t just have to sell being a lawyer. She’s also the former First Daughter, who grew up in the spotlight and fell into some heavy party girl ways despite being top of her class in university. The pilot kicks off with her in jail, and in order to make the charges go away she strikes up a deal with D.A. Conner Wallace (Eddie Cahill) to head up his new Conviction Integrity Unit. Obviously this ruffles a few feathers, especially with the guy who was originally promised that job, Sam Spencer (Shawn Ashmore).
“Ultimately she took his job, but she’s not going to undermine herself or downplay herself or be self-deprecating or apologize for that,” Atwell explains. “She has such a strong sense of self in the workplace. It comes from the privilege she’s been brought up with and her intelligence. Hays has the confidence when she walks into the room, knowing she is just as smart if not smarter than most people who are in there.”
But let’s get real for a second. This is also a salacious drama involving murder and high-stakes situations. Of course the characters are also going to have a certain… sex appeal, right?
“She uses her sexuality when she needs to, she’s a very sexually active and confident person as well,” Atwell says. “She can kind of shock people with that, with how loose tongued she is about her sexuality and saying things that maybe women aren’t supposed to talk about in the workplace. But we can be just as crass as men and just as comfortable talking about our bodily functions. She makes no apologies for that.”
Okay, yup. We’re on board. No offence Peggy Carter, but Hayes Morrison may be our new favourite butt-kicking female character.