If one had to sum up the acting career of Hayley Atwell in a single word, that word would be diversity. Since graduating from London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2005, noted The Guardian, Atwell has appeared in costume drama (Brideshead Revisited), sci-fi (Doctor Who), historical drama (Pillars of the Earth), fairytale fantasy (Cinderella), legal drama (TV’s Conviction), musical comedy (Blinded By the Light), and, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing Agent Peggy Carter in five Marvel movies and her own ABC series, Agent Carter.
She’s also won acclaim on the stage, winning three nominations for Britain’s prestigious Olivier Awards (the U.K. equivalent of America’s Tonys). Among these: a best actress nomination for her role in the 2019 London production of Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm.
With the news of her casting in a mysterious action-adventure role alongside Tom Cruise in two upcoming Mission: Impossible movies, there’s no doubt that Atwell’s star is only continuing to rise. To learn more about this talented British actress, read on to discover the untold truth of Hayley Atwell.
Hayley Atwell's been a vegetarian since she was 8
It’s an undestatement to describe Hayley Atwell’s childhood as unconventional. As a profile in The Telegraph recounted, her parents — who split when she was just two — were motivational speakers with a New Age bent. Atwell’s American father, a shaman whose Native American name translates to “Star Touches Earth,” met her British mother at a Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People” workshop in London during the mid-1970s. When he moved back to the U.S., Atwell and her mom remained in London, where the future star was raised in “a bohemian enclave.”
When she was just 8 years old, Atwell became so horrified by watching U.K. television personality Loyd Grossman plop a live lobster into a pot of boiling water that she decided then and there to become a vegetarian. In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Atwell described a typical vegetarian dish that impressed her then-boyfriend. “He grew up on Turkey Twizzlers, so he thinks I am an amazing cook,” she explained. “Every time I cook him a meal, he goes: ‘Babe, you should go on MasterChef.’ And I say: ‘Babe, it is only noodles with soya sauce…'”
Hayley Atwell walked on hot coals at age 9
Hayley Atwell’s childhood experiences were a bit outside the mainstream, thanks to her parents’ New Age beliefs. This, noted the Evening Standard, led her to participate in a “personal empowerment ceremony” that involved walking on hot coals when she was just 9 years old. That New Age influence also seeped into her musical tastes. “I had that Sacred Spirit album. When everyone else was listening to garage [rock], I was listening to that and Enya,” Atwell said.
Growing up in an environment so far outside the mainstream, the future MCU star unfortunately found herself bullied and mocked by classmates at school. “I’d see kids fighting in the playground and say things like, ‘I’m sensing a lot of anger here,'” Atwell revealed in an interview with The Telegraph.
As she told the Standard, however, one of those bullies tried to get in touch with Atwell on Facebook after she’d become famous. “Are you kidding me? You made my life hell,” Atwell declared, recalling a typical interaction from her school days. “It’s like psychological warfare, the playground. She’d say: ‘Your trainers [sneakers] are s**t.’ And I’d be empathetic and say, ‘I’m sensing hostilities. Is everything OK at home?'”
Hayley Atwell's first onscreen appearance was in a Pringles commercial
Hayley Atwell did well enough in school to receive an offer to the prestigious University of Oxford. However, as The Hollywood Reporter noted, that offer was conditional on the grades of her exams, which she admittedly “tanked.” Looking back, Atwell told the Independent, she believed she deliberately “sabotaged” herself: “I remember after it all happened and it was clear I wasn’t going to go to Oxford I felt liberated.”
This liberation led Atwell to pursue acting, ultimately landing her first onscreen role: a commercial for Pringles. The money she earned from that Pringles commercial, in fact, paid her first-year tuition at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
After graduating, she landed her first film role in Woody Allen’s 2007 drama, Cassandra’s Dream. Given the controversy that now dogs the once-revered director, Atwell has mixed feelings about the experience. “It was my first film and I didn’t feel directed by him at all. I didn’t have any kind of relationship with him. And that was fine but bizarre,” she later told The Guardian. “It was a great opportunity, so I did the best I could and left … Would I work with him now? No.”
The death of a fan changed Hayley Atwell's life
Joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe brought Hayley Atwell a whole new fanbase, attracted to her gutsy, empowered portrayal of Agent Peggy Carter. One of these fans led Atwell to a life-changing epiphany.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Atwell opened up about Georgina Callander, a member of the Agent Carter fan club who was killed during the 2017 terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. “My life took on a different kind of focus at that point,” Atwell admitted. “It really does kind of give meaning to my work.” Atwell also shared a photo of herself posing with Callander on Instagram, along with a touching tribute: “Thinking of her family and friends today and the precious life so tragically lost.”
Atwell was further touched, she told Decider, when other members of the fan club travelled from all over the world to attend Callander’s funeral. Atwell expressed her admiration for “a group of girls who were able to come together and develop a strong friendship network, and then experience such devastation and such horror, and yet because of their friendship group be able to comfort each other and comfort Georgina’s family. It’s really moving to me.”
Hayley Atwell's seriously committed to activism
Hayley Atwell’s teenage years, observed a profile on the actress in The Telegraph, marked her first forays into the activism she’s continued to pursue as an adult. “As a teenager, while her friends were out experimenting with alcohol and cigarettes, she was on anti-vivisection and Free the Dolphins marches,” noted the outlet.
That activism was on public display in 2011, when Atwell set off on a charity mission to Nicaragua organized by Christian Aid. She shared her experience in an interview with Vogue, admitting that she was “a bit dubious” about how celebrities who do charity work can come across as “self-promoting.” However, when the organization asked the future MCU star to spend six days in Nicaragua to get a firsthand look at the work they were doing to help coffee farmers in the country, she confessed that becoming better informed was something that “felt right morally and ethically.”
One thing Atwell witnessed was extreme poverty, which, she said, “Certainly puts things into perspective … most people live off £1.50 a day [about $2 USD]. That’s half what I spend on a coffee.”
Hayley Atwell feels 'genderless,' but loves her curves
There’s one significant aspect of Hayley Atwell’s anatomy — well, technically two — that have always set her apart from some of her more waif-life Hollywood peers. “I know I’ve got curves and big boobs and I’m never, ever going to complain about that,” she told The Telegraph.
As Atwell recalled in an interview with the Evening Standard, once puberty hit and her breasts grew larger, she “started to get attention from boys.” Yet at the same time, the future actress was also drawn to such traditionally masculine pursuits as rugby and wrestling. “They called me Hulk Hayley back then. I used to wrestle with the boys,” she continued.
Despite her curvy figure, Atwell told the Evening Standard, “I’ve always felt quite genderless. Which is odd, because I have big boobs.” And in that same interview with The Telegraph, she explained her take on the perception that she’s markedly more voluptuous than other actresses. “Do you know what? I don’t think I’m curvaceous,” Atwell declared. “It’s simply that most other actresses are really, stupidly tiny. When I meet some of them, I can’t believe it.”
Pal Emma Thompson intervened when a producer told Hayley Atwell to lose weight
While filming 2008’s Brideshead Revisited, a producer advised Hayley Atwell to lose some weight. When co-star Emma Thompson caught wind of what was said, she was livid. During a Swedish television appearance, Thompson — without mentioning Atwell by name — recalled her response: “I said to them, ‘If you speak to her about this again, on any level, I will leave this picture, you are never to do that.'”
Atwell confirmed to the Evening Standard that she was the “wonderful actress” Thompson mentioned in her anecdote. When told to lose weight, Atwell recalled, “I thought, ‘OK, I suppose I should.’ Then Emma Thompson said to me, ‘You’re not a model. You’re an actor.’ In the end, they accepted me for who I was.” She added, “If I’ve ever had an insecurity about myself in this industry, Emma always has an amazing ability to say something to put it all into perspective, so that you don’t hate yourself.”
A subsequent report claimed the producer in question was the notorious Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly told Atwell she looked like a “fat pig.” However, Atwell clarified to Harper’s Bazaar UK, “I’d like to say for the record I was never called any names by him.”
Hayley Atwell has the craziest party trick
Fans of Hayley Atwell who follow her visits to TV talk shows can attest that she’s often asked to show off one very impressive — and very strange — talent. Before demonstrating that ability on Britain’s The Jonathan Ross Show, Atwell prefaced it by admitting, “It’s quite weird, and I’ll look like a blowfish when I do it.”
With that, Atwell clamped her lips together, and blew out her cheeks like famed trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie while a squeaky voice emanated from within. “I’m stuck inside, I can’t get out!” yelled a muffled voice from inside Atwell’s closed mouth. The titular host joked in response, “Why didn’t you do the whole interview like that? That would have been incredible!”
Among the many other shows on which Atwell has demonstrated her unique gift was q on Canada’s CBC Radio. Host Tom Power described what he had just witnessed as “unbelievable,” saying, “That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re gonna cancel the show after this, because it’s not gonna get any better than that.” Atwell also managed to crack up Christopher Robin co-star Ewan McGregor during a press junket with her ventriloquist trick. “That is so peculiar,” McGregor observed while laughing.
Hayley Atwell: Dubsmash legend
Once Hayley Atwell discovered the Dubsmash app, there was no stopping her. For the uninitiated, Dubsmash allows users to lip-sync to a snippet of a song or dialogue from a film or TV show.
A video posted on YouTube compiled several of Atwell’s greatest Dubsmash hits, usually accompanied by friends to lip-sync everything from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to ’80s classic “Tainted Love.” Among those making cameo appearances were actors Billie Piper, Ron Perlman, and Atwell’s Captain America co-star, Chris Evans, who appeared in costume (shield included). Another compilation features even more fun, an eclectic collection that ranges from Spice Girls to The B-52s to Aretha Franklin to the Oompa-Loompa song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and more.
Atwell’s love of Dubsmash hit new heights during 2015’s Comic-Con. It was then, Entertainment Weekly reported, that she and her Agent Carter co-star, James D’Arcy, decided to face off against fellow Marvel actors Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennett from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As a bonus, there was a charitable component to the rivalry: fans paid $1 to vote for the team of their choice, with the proceeds donated to STOMP Out Bullying and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Hayley Atwell pulled a hilariously cruel prank on co-star Dominic Cooper
There are certain actors and actresses in Hollywood known to be pranksters. George Clooney, for example, has pulled off some doozies in his day. As it turns out, Hayley Atwell is no slouch in the prank department, judging from one she described during an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden.
As Atwell explained, she was filming an episode of Agent Cooper with Dominic Cooper, who plays the young version of Howard Stark — a.k.a. father of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark — in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “He, as you know, is a very gorgeous, charismatic, sexy, cool man,” Atwell said. “There was a picture that was taken of us upside down after a stunt, and I zoomed in on Dominic’s face, and he went, ‘You need to delete that immediately!’ And I said, ‘Yes, I will — as soon as I have texted it to the rest of the cast.’ So, I did.” She then had the far-from-flattering photo printed on t-shirts worn by the entire cast and crew.
Not content with a mere t-shirt, Atwell also placed the image on a phone case — and, as a special gift for James Corden (Cooper’s close friend and onetime roommate, who was hugely amused by Atwell’s prank) — a full-sized blanket boasting the embarrassing image. They proudly displayed this to viewers as Corden quipped, “We can all snuggle under Dominic’s terrible face!”
Hayley Atwell's final appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't what you think
Hayley Atwell first played Peggy Carter in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and ultimately reprised the character in five Marvel movies, the Agent Carter TV series, an appearance on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a short film called Agent Carter (as a bonus feature on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray release). Elderly Peggy dies in Captain America: Civil War, but returns in Avengers: Endgame, when Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) goes back in time and reunites with her in the 1940s, where he decides to stay.
“I thought it was a fitting end to a story that has affected so many people,” Atwell told The Hollywood Reporter of the brief but touching scene. However, that’s not the last fans will see of Peggy Carter — which isn’t too surprising, considering the actress previously told CBR, “I would absolutely not rule out the idea of going back to Peggy at some point, seeing her in other avenues. I love her, and I hope that she has a life elsewhere at another time.”
As Entertainment Weekly reported, the character would be part of a 2021 Disney+ animated series, What If?, exploring how things could have turned out differently for various characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Peggy Carter’s case, this means that she — and not Steve Rogers — is the subject of the super-soldier experiment, transforming her into a female, British version of Captain America.
Hayley Atwell's Mission: Impossible role is shrouded in mystery
In 2020, Hayley Atwell was cast in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise, set to appear in both the seventh and eighth movies. While details about her character were kept tightly under wraps, a few beans were spilled when she and M:I 7 director Christopher McQuarrie appeared on the Light the Fuse podcast.
According to Collider, Atwell shared a few clues about her character. “There’s ambiguity … the interesting thing we’re exploring is her resistance to a situation she finds herself in,” she explained. “How she starts off, where she becomes. The journey of what she comes into and what is asked of her and potentially where she ends up.”
Meanwhile, McQuarrie was adamant that Atwell’s character not “be a repeat of any character that’s come before” in the franchise, describing the role as “a destructive force of nature.” He also hinted that the part is a very physical one, revealing that Atwell landed the gig after a “two-hour stunt audition.” Praising her “frightening talent with a knife,” McQuarrie promised that moviegoers would see “a very different side of Hayley” in the M:I franchise.
The truth about those Tom Cruise dating rumors
It wasn’t long after Hayley Atwell was cast in Mission: Impossible 7 that reports began emerging, claiming her relationship with the movie’s star had become romantic. “Tom Cruise is secretly dating British Mission: Impossible co-star Hayley Atwell — 20 years his junior,” declared a headline in The Sun, with a source alleging the two “hit it off from day one” and had “become fairly inseparable.” According to The Sun‘s insider, Cruise and Atwell had “been meeting up after hours, and she’s been to his London pad. They get on brilliantly, and both seem very happy.” Seemingly corroborating this report were paparazzi photos taken of the duo on location while filming scenes for the movie, including one in which the pair were holding hands.
So, was it true? Were Cruise and Atwell really Hollywood’s hottest new power couple? Not according to “multiple sources” cited by People, who claimed that The Sun’s report was full of it. “Not true at all!” one insider told the outlet of the dating rumors, maintaining the two weren’t romantically linked.
Hayley Atwell's net worth is surprising
Hayley Atwell has been acting professionally for well over a decade, with IMDb listing her first screen role as a 2005 TV movie. Since then, she’s appeared in numerous films and TV series, most notably including her work with Marvel. With all those screen credits under her belt, it would be easy to assume that the in-demand actress would be ridiculously wealthy, especially after signing on to two Mission: Impossible movies.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, however, Atwell isn’t as rich as some of her fans may imagine. In fact, the site estimates her net worth to be just $3 million — enough to live more than comfortably, to be sure. However, it’s certainly not the kind of money that people associate with the likes of her M:I co-star Tom Cruise, whose own net worth is estimated to be a whopping $600 million, or Captain America‘s Chris Evans, who reportedly boasts $80 million to his name.
Then again, Atwell’s lower net worth shouldn’t be all that shocking, given that she’s been quite open about her refusal to take on certain roles, such as “the supportive girlfriend” or “the sexy b**ch,” if she thinks they won’t be fulfilling. “I’d rather earn next to no money by doing a play,” Atwell once told Vulture. “I don’t want to box myself in, but I want to be able to stand by the choices that I made.”
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