From elegant English rose to Spanish siren

Hayley Atwell's role as a femme fatale is all new to her

Hayley Atwell ponders what it was that persuaded the producers of Falcón – Sky Atlantic's adaptation of the Seville-set detective novels of Robert Wilson – to cast her in the role of femme fatale Consuelo Jimenez. Despite being half-American, Atwell is better known for playing elegant English roses whose porcelain skin hides damaged souls than sultry Spanish señoras who may or may not have murdered their husbands. A case in point was her breakthrough TV role in BBC2's The Line of Beauty, and since then, she's played Julia Flyte in the 2008 remake of Brideshead Revisited, starred opposite Keira Knightley in The Duchess, and played Freya in Channel 4's adaptation of William Boyd's Any Human Heart.

"I've never felt that I looked very British," she says. "Even so, Consuelo is a departure for me. I'd never wear what she wears – a lot of bling and a lot of make-up, probably the most make-up I've ever worn on a job. But playing a femme fatale is much more fun than playing a goody two-shoes."

For a star of her stature – she has a blockbuster, 2011's Captain America, under her belt – Atwell is distinctly unstarry. She talks frankly about her one-time resistance to red carpets. "I used to say that I didn't do them because I was a serious actress but I remember going to an event five years ago in flat ballet shoes, a skirt I got from a market and a black H&M top. I looked at the pictures after and saw how well turned out all the other girls on my table looked, and they didn't look superficial or vain, they just looked really good. I was so superior and righteous about the whole thing but I looked awful."

Since that experience, Atwell has reappraised her approach to glamming up for premieres. "You have to decide what level you're going to dress up to and what character you're being – because that's a character in itself. I always wanted to be an accomplished stage actress. I wanted to feel it was my currency. Have a craft, a feeling that I could be Helen Mirren when I'm in my sixties and still have sex appeal but it not be what I'm known for."

Shooting in Spain, she was spotted twice. "Well, I've had two people shout 'Colin Farrell!' at me. It took a moment to realise that that's because I was in a film [Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream] with him." Does the attention bother her? "People staring is a bit disconcerting. I'd much rather people came up to me than stare. Being stared at can make you feel a bit… lonely."

It annoys her when brilliant actors don't get the recognition they deserve. "I was really angry, really riled that Olivia Colman wasn't nominated for a Bafta for Tyrannosaur," she fizzes. "But it's not a fair world. There are brilliant actors whok will never really be known or shun the limelight and limit the choices they have. And then there are those who take huge blockbuster roles and that gives them huge power to go make smarter choices like Keira's done. It's a balancing act, a navigation. No one really knows anything so you make it up as you go along."

Part of Atwell making-it-up-as-she's-gone-along of course includes landing the leading lady role in Captain America (budget: $140m; box office: $369m). Was it an opportunity she found daunting? "I nailed the audition and I knew I had, so I felt I got the job off the back of what I did in the room and not how I looked. That was really empowering. Sometimes you hear horror stories of producers putting doughnuts in front of you to test you or fretting about how much weight you need to lose but I had two trainers who were there because it was an extraordinarily physically demanding part. I wasn't airbrushed in any of the pictures to look smaller. I loved that."

'Falcón' starts tomorrow at 10pm on Sky Atlantic

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits