‘Agent Carter’: James D’Arcy on Jarvis’ quippy charm: ‘Rambo, he’s not’

Jan. 14, 2015 | 11:57 a.m.
2051104 ca 1103 agent carter kdm 12 Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Marvel's "Agent Carter" shoots on location at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca 1103 agent carter kdm 14 Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Star Hayley Atwell gets a lipstick touch up in between takes on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Enver Gjokaj and Chad Michael Murray on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Actor Enver Gjokaj, executive producer Louis D'Esposito and actor Chad Michael Murray on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca agent carter kdm 561a Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Chad Michael Murray and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca agent carter kdm 549a Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Enver Gjokaj and Chad Michael Murray on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca 1103 agent carter kdm 09 Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Executive producer Louis D'Esposito and actor James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca 1103 agent carter kdm 19 Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca 1103 agent carter kdm 18 Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

2051104 ca 1103 agent carter kdm 21 Agent Carter: James DArcy on Jarvis quippy charm: Rambo, hes not

Director of photography Gabriel Beristain and executive producer Louis D'Esposito on the set of Marvel's "Agent Carter." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

In Marvel’s latest series for ABC, the 1940s adventure “Agent Carter,” James D’Arcy provides the perfectly cultured counterpoint to Hayley Atwell’s sophisticated spy as Edwin Jarvis. The man Friday to Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark, Jarvis becomes a key ally for Peggy as she sets about to try to clear Howard’s name after he’s accused of treason — their Tracy-Hepburn-flair unquestionably add to the period charm of the limited-run show.

“It’s a really fun role to play,” D’Arcy said on the set late last year. “They write such fabulous banter for us. We have fun when we’re shooting, we have fun when we’re not shooting; it’s great.” (Click through the gallery above for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Agent Carter.”)

Set one year after the events depicted in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the series sees Peggy working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, where despite her impressive record of wartime service, she is relegated on the basis of her gender to glorified secretarial duties. After some of Stark’s more dangerous inventions turn up on the black market, she independently sets out to find the culprits, with the assistance of Mr. Jarvis.

Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy in "Agent Carter." (Kelsey McNeal / ABC)

Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy in “Agent Carter.” (Kelsey McNeal / ABC)

Hero Complex sat down with D’Arcy — whose extensive credits include turns in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Hitchcock” and next month’s “Jupiter Ascending,” among other projects — to find out more about his take on Jarvis, who, of course, is due to turn up in a very different guise on the big screen this summer in Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”)

Hero Complex: What intrigued you about playing Jarvis?

James D’Arcy: I’ve known Haley for a long time, so I knew that the project was going to happen, but just as friends. Then I was in London and I was working on something else and got a phone call saying, “You’ve been offered this job, how do you feel about it?” I felt great about it is the answer. I was very excited to come and work with [Atwell] and then I read the script for this and I thought it was really smart, really funny, great action, terrific leading role for a woman, which was something I thought I’d actually like to be a part of.

HC: Were you up to date on your Marvel lore?

JD: I’d seen the “Captain America” films, and I’d seen the [“Agent Carter” ] one-shot that they’d done and I thought that was absolutely beautiful. I thought, what enormous fun to be a part of something like that. I think Marvel have hit a groove where they’ve just got the Midas touch at the moment. They know their audience. They know exactly how to pitch something so that it is exciting and interesting for the audience. I quite like the fact that – I think of Marvel, I think of superheroes – there’s no superhero in this show really. There’s just a very extraordinary woman at the center of it. You know, Iron Man isn’t super either. He’s just got a great suit. Marvel are very clever at hooking you in because you identify very well with the characters.

James D'Arcy in "Agent Carter." (Kelsey McNeal / ABC)

James D’Arcy in “Agent Carter.” (Kelsey McNeal / ABC)

I knew something of Jarvis because as soon as they said to me, the role is Jarvis, I immediately associated it with Paul Bettany in “Iron Man.” I didn’t know that Jarvis then becomes the Vision later on — I had considered whether I should go and re-watch the “Iron Man” films and then quite quickly I came to the conclusion that no, I’m not trying to do an impression of Paul. [In the “Iron Man” films, Jarvis] is an AI system, which is based on Tony Stark’s memory of what it was like with the real guy when he was a child. The fact that he’s English is kind of helpful, but beyond that, I’m just here to try to serve what our writers have written as best I can.

HC: The writers seem to a real ear for Peggy-Jarvis banter.

JD: Jarvis is perhaps not the world’s greatest action hero — Rambo, he’s not — and so Jarvis helps more in terms of pithy one-liners rather than fending off the bad guys. There is a bit of gun-toting fending off of bad guys but that’s what’s brilliant. There are big action sequences in the show — for a TV show, it’s huge — but they write these sequences… so funnily. There’s always a little joke in there at some point, so you’re engaged in the action sequences as much as you are in the more character bits — or the action sequences serve character as well as plot and all the rest of it. They’re very clever, the writers.

HC: Are there particular qualities Jarvis has that you admire?

JD: He does have a very good moral code, which I really like. I do think that there is now — and understandably because it’s a very successful area to mine for drama — this area of antiheroes, “Breaking Bad” being the real tip of that iceberg. But now there are so many antiheroes that I feel like if your character doesn’t have OCD and an alcoholic and have suicidal parents… it’s relentlessly bleak all the time. I really admire that this show is mining drama out of something that actually makes you feel good at the same time. I really love that about the show. I suppose I’m just trying to be faithful to that impetus.

Hayley Atwell and James D'Arcy in "Agent Carter." (Kelsey McNeal / ABC)

Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy in “Agent Carter.” (Kelsey McNeal / ABC)

HC: So, you’re not someone who exclusively enjoys weighty dramas then?

JD: I like them enormously, and from an actor’s perspective, they’re fun to do obviously because you get to go to quite complex and difficult places. But I think there is also an argument for having things where we try to find dramatic moments through people who are not screwed up in 17 different ways. They’re actually decent people. To mine the drama out of that, while also making it fun and action-packed, is a pretty tall order. I think it’s pretty brave for the writers to try to take it on honestly. I think the easier route is to make everybody much more troubled, then you can easily get to the drama. I think Marvel have hit such a great groove right now that if anyone can do that, it’s them.

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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