For those uninitiated into the world of Marvel—specifically Captain America—Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) made her cinematic debut in Captain America: The First Avenger as a butt-kicking bombshell of an SSR agent who helped turn Steve Rogers into a shield-wielding hero. Besides knowing that Cap (Chris Evans) is presumed dead after WWII, that’s all the information you need to watch Marvel’s Agent Carter. EW hit the set of ABC’s new drama to get the scoop on the characters you’ll be meeting:
Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)
How you know the actress: A relative unknown in the States before suiting up as Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, Atwell’s other credits include Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream and The Duchess. She also reprised her role as Carter in Cap 2 and on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Get to know the character: A codebreaker for the U.S. government who was part of the Strategic Scientific Reserve team that created Captain America, Peggy Carter also became a bit of a sidekick and love interest for the hero. “We pick up in this show a year later after she thinks Captain America’s frozen in the ice and dead,” Atwell says. “It’s 1946, so the war is over, but she’s got plenty of work to do in the SSR. Unfortunately the men have a different idea, and they think the work will involve making coffees, making lunches and doing admin. So she’s having to go on secret missions herself in order to fight the bad guys, because the SSR bosses won’t allow her to. She’s capable just as much as the men, but being a woman, she’s not in a position of power to really fulfill her destiny.”
How the war changed her: “It toughened her up a little bit,” Atwell says. “She saw firsthand evil, she knows evil exists. If anything, it probably made her more capable of dealing with the much smaller-scale dangers that present itself post-war. I think it’s opened her eyes.” Alas, the war is also where she both met and lost the love of her life in Steve Rogers. “It’s probably knocked out any sense of romance about life from her, and she’s probably got a fairly simple view of the world. But then that also allows her a freedom to just pursue her own dreams, because she doesn’t have anything to lose anymore. She puts herself on the line because she’s lost Steve, and the worst thing that can happen is that she dies, but then she’d be dying fighting the cause, which is probably her ultimate goal, is to have a good productive death.”
Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper)
How you know the actor: Cooper, who will appear in a handful of episodes, made his debut as Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger. His credits include Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and playing the titular author in the miniseries Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.
Get to know the character: Much like his son, the elder Stark is a genius playboy, who enlists Peggy’s help to clear his name after his inventions fall into the wrong hands and he has to go on the lam.
Relationship with Peggy: “She has a love-hate relationship with Stark in that she knows he’s a womanizer, but she also has tremendous respect for not only what he creates, but remember that he was a fantastic pilot in the war,” Atwell says. “Because of that, she has this relationship with him whereby she has to put aside all of her grievances with him and have a perpetual working relationship. And the other side of it is, she’s the only woman in his life that he doesn’t come on to. She’s the only one that he actually really respects.”
Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy)
How you know the actor: D’Arcy’s credits include An American Haunting, Cloud Atlas and Broadchurch. He also played opposite fellow Marvel actress Scarlett Johansson as the stars of Psycho in the biopic Hitchcock.
Get to know the character: Jarvis is Stark’s sophisticated and well-mannered butler, who will assist Peggy in clearing his boss’ name—though fans may recognize his name as the acronym for Tony’s A.I. system. “As it turns out, fairly swiftly we use that term ‘butler’ in a reasonably loose sense,” D’ Arcy says. “He certainly comes across as being a very solid, very dependable guy, and he’s got a very wry take on the world. He wears it reasonably lightly even in times of intense stress.”
How the war changed him: “It changed the shape of his life,” D’ Arcy says. “His wife comes as a result of the war. Certainly, his association with Howard Stark and the way that it is now in terms of being his butler has come out of the Second World War. That would be two pretty enormous things. As with everybody who comes out of the Second World War, there’s a little more to it that meets the eye. There are stories that remain or want to remain untold, but seep out.”
Relationship with Peggy: The duo are fast allies since Jarvis actually respects her despite the fact that she’s a woman. “It’s a very modern relationship from the one that she has with all the other men in the show,” D’ Arcy says. “He sees Peggy absolutely as a fully rounded human being and is entirely on her side, but isn’t afraid to challenge her because she can be stubborn.”
Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray)
How you know the actor: Best known for his role on One Tree Hill, Murray went on to star in A Cinderella Story, Freaky Friday and House of Wax.
Get to know the character: An arrogant SSR agent who has a lot of swagger, but didn’t leave the war unscathed. “Jack’s the kind of man that always puts his work first,” Murray says. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder. He has a pretty dark past that people aren’t privy to and he keeps it very close to his vest. Because of that, it’s really made him a worker and he’s trying to rise to the top of the SSR as quickly as possible and to do it the right way.”
How the war changed him: “Jack Thompson has definitely been scarred by his circumstances that he’s been through in the war and by his memories and everything that he has been through,” Murray says. “The war is something that each one of these men that has gone through. They carry a badge of honor, but a lot of scar tissue from it. So, each has been warped in various ways.”
Relationship with Peggy: Much like the rest of the men at the SSR, Jack doesn’t pay Peggy the respect he probably should. “It’s very fitting for the ’40s in that women were looked at in a way as second class citizens, which is really difficult to swallow nowadays of course, but back then it was as very different issue,” Murray says. “He looks upon Peggy with unsatisfied eyes. He doesn’t necessarily see an agent. He doesn’t give her the credit that she deserves.”
Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj)
How you know the actor: Whedonverse fans will recognize Gjokaj from Dollhouse, though his credits also include Vegas, Extant and Dexter. Fun fact: Gjokaj made a cameo in The Avengers as a police officer during the battle of New York.
Get to know the character: Much like Peggy, Sousa is ostracized at the SSR, but for different reasons. “He’s an ex-war vet who sustained an injury and is now crippled and walks with a crutch,” Gjokaj says. “He’s adjusting to life now not as a solider or even as an active agent, but somebody who around the office does filing.”
How the war changed him: Sousa wasn’t just affected physically, but also emotionally. “This character is somebody who defined himself completely in a certain way and then you take all of that away and now everything that was his strength is now his weakness,” Gjokaj says. “This guy is asking himself that question: can he still be a man with a disability? Is he still manly? Now he’s got to try to figure out how to be smart and he’s not used to using his brain. He’s much more used to being in the trenches. He’s much more used to doing something physical.”
Relationship with Peggy: Much to Peggy’s chagrin, Sousa defends her at the SSR. “This is pretty much the only guy in the office who can see Peggy for what she is, which is a very, very talented agent,” Gjokaj says. “Sousa definitely has feelings for her. I don’t know if she has feelings for him. I don’t think he would even imagine that she had feelings for him because of who he is, because of his disability and who Steve Rogers was. He would think that she’s out of his league.”
Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham)
How you know the actor: The Boardwalk Empire alum has appeared in several Fast & Furious films, as well as Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street and True Detective.
Get to know the character: An old school chief with the SSR, whose tenacity gets in the way of seeing what an asset Cater can be. “He’s Carter’s boss and he’s worked his way up,” Whigham says. “He’s not a politician. He’s really worked his way into the position that he’s in. He’s tough and he doesn’t suffer fools easily. We make mention of it at some point that I have blankets, a toothbrush and pillow in the office. At the expense of my marriage and everything else, this is the Everest of what Dooley does. We’re finding him at the pinnacle of what he really wants to do in life. The job is everything.”
How the war changed him: “It may add to his toughness and his integrity,” Whigham says, noting that Dooley is more focused on the task of tracking down Howard Stark than to worry about the war.
Relationship with Peggy: Though Dooley comes down hard on Peggy, he has a level of respect for her he keeps hidden from the other men. “Underneath everything, he treats her just like everyone else does, but he cares deeply about her,” Whigham says.
Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca)
How you know the actress: How I Met Your Mother fans may recognize her as Ted’s daughter—spoiler alert: Fonseca admits she really knew the mother was dead the whole time, but forgot in later years—but her credits also include Nikita and Desperate Housewives.
Get to know the character: Unaware of Peggy’s secret life, Angie becomes a point of normalcy in the super spy world. “Angie is an aspiring actress who works at the Automat and she’s just doing her best to stay positive to try and get on Broadway because that’s her dream.”
How the war changed her: “There’s no extravagance,” Fonseca says. “There’s just not an abundance of items and things in the world. It really brings you to what the bare necessities of what’s important.” For instance, “There’s a lot of powdered eggs,” she continues. “I made a choice as Angie to be like, ‘When I make it on Broadway’—this is just inner dialogue—’I’m not going to have powdered eggs and oatmeal that looks like slush.’ There’s this dream of bigger things that is on a lot of people’s minds.”
Relationship with Peggy: “She befriends Peggy and she just doesn’t let her take no for an answer as far as being friends,” Fonseca says. “There’s definitely a mystery around Peggy Carter for her and that’s probably subconsciously why Angie likes her so much.”
Marvel’s Agent Carter premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.