You may best know Hayley Atwell as Marvel’s Agent Carter, the bum-kicking secret agent who shared a long, fraught romance with Captain America — but she’s so much more than her most publicized role. From her early days in London’s West End to her upcoming role in Mission Impossible 7, Atwell has sought out complex roles of women caught between worlds, with moral quandaries to solve and tough decisions to make.

But her choice of roles doesn’t just come down to a smart agent or good advice from a mentor; Atwell herself appears to be elements of all the characters she plays. Tough, smart and bold, her choice of roles reflects a performer who is always open for a challenge, be it as Margaret Schlegel inMasterpieces Howards’ End, or as Caroline Mortimer in the upcoming The Long Song.

Read on to learn more about this many-faceted actress:

Atwell is a little bit country, a little bit (Brit) Rock’n’Roll.
While Atwell was primarily raised in the UK by her British Mother, she spent school holidays in the US with her Irish/Native American Father. She continues to hold a dual citizenship in the UK and US — a boon when it comes to choosing roles!

She considers herself as genderless.
Though Atwell uses feminine pronouns and has played strictly female characters on stage and screen, Atwell has expressed in interviews that she feels genderless, and tweets about her “tomboy” interests.

An artistic childhood for Atwell started with writing…
Atwell wrote letters to her future self as a child — some of which she still has yet to open.“The last one was written when I was 13 and it’s to open on my 40th birthday," she has said.

But she quickly chose acting as her discipline.
In 1995, Atwell saw Ralph Fiennes play Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London. His performance — described by the New York Times as "excellent," "charismatic," and one of naked passion — convinced her that acting was the route for her.

A promising school start for Atwell…
Like many British performers, Atwell attended Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her contemporaries during her time there included Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and close friend Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block).

...led to an impressive debut on stage.
Atwell first took to the boards professionally in a staging of Prometheus Bound at the Sound Theatre in London. In the production, she supported David Oyelewo’s Promethus as Io, the mortal woman turned cow by Zeus to hide his infidelity with her from Hera.

Atwell’s had a busy (if confined) pandemic...
While most of us are staying indoors, Atwell has been jetsetting with Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible 7 & 8 cast and crew to Norway, Venice and beyond. But that doesn’t mean that she and the team aren’t taking quarantine seriously. Posts on her Instagram show consistent mask-wearing — as well as lots of views from her hotel room, as she isn’t able to explore the city outside of her work on set.

Luckily she’s a voracious reader.
Atwell’s Instagram is filled with photos of the books she’s been reading while flying to locations and in her downtime — including capsule reviews with many of them!

Atwell has a great mentor: Emma Thompson.
For her role in Howard’s End, Atwell sought advice from the original Margaret Schlegel — Emma Thompson, with whom she worked in the 2008 Brideshead Revisited. Emma imparted to Atwell one of her key rules: “Only cry once in a film, for maximum impact. Decide where it’s going to be. One weep, maybe two, but you have to be very clear about why you’re doing it.”

We can’t wait for Atwell in The Long Song.
Playing opposite Tamara Lawrance as July in the upcoming The Long Song, Atwell says that the role of slave-owning Caroline Mortimer made her feel disgusting and gross. But she goes on to say that she thought she was meant to feel that way, and wanted to explore that feeling — to use the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of why someone could do the horrible things her character does.

Watch Atwell in Howard’s Endhere, and be sure to tune in on January 31, 2021 for The Long Song.