Agent Carter has given us one of the most fascinating villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whitney Frost is a classic femme fatale, who’s also a science genius, with extradimensional death powers. We spoke to Wynn Everett, who plays Whitney Frost, about playing a villain with real vulnerability.
Spoilers ahead, for people who aren’t caught up on Agent Carter...
One of the most fascinating things in last week’s two episodes is the way that Whitney Frost appears completely blindsided by her husband’s betrayal. She really believes he’s going to help her get help from the powerful Council that he belongs to—and she’s shattered when he helps them to attack her, instead. Just how naive is Whitney, anyway?
The relationship between Whitney and her husband has always been a complicated one, said Everett. We know from the very first episode of the season that Calvin Chadwick cheated on his wife, and “he chose a very unwise mistress, which kind of got them in the trap in the first place.” This stupid choice set off the “domino effect” that led to Isodyne being shut down, the Zero Matter accident, and everything else that has happened to Whitney, said Everett.
So Whitney is very aware that her husband is not faithful to her and that she can’t entirely trust him—but at the same time, she really believes that he has her back, said Everett. “So that betrayal was, I believe, very real.” She really does believe that Calvin is bringing her to the council to highlight her knowledge and all the wonderful things she can do with Zero Matter. “It was piercing” to realize that she’s been completely betrayed.
“It’s incredible” to play a character who’s simultaneously a genius and yet totally naive, said Everett. “The creation of this character is very human.” Whenever we see someone who is a leader in their field, or a great achiever, we assume they have to be great in every area. “But no-one is capable of doing that. There’s no human alive who’s capable of doing that.” So she loves that these characters are allowed to “be as naive as they are, and to have these blind spots, where a viewer would say, ‘What are you thinking?’ But they’re not thinking. Especially for Whitney—she’s not thinking in her right brain, because the Zero Matter is taking over everything, her whole thought process.”
When Everett first took the role of Whitney, she told the creators she thought Whitney Frost was trapped by Hollywood, “by this role she has to play out as an actress.” But the creators responded, “Yes and no. [It’s] more [that] she’s trapped by this sense of beauty, and what her mother told her was the only way that she would be able to get ahead.” But as her beauty is destroyed by the Zero Matter on her face and the cracks are (literally and figuratively) opening wider and wider, “it’s allowing her to find her real power within, and shut the door on all the things her mother told her about, ‘It’s only your physicality.’”
In tonight’s episodes, we see a moment where Joseph (Ken Marino) tells her that her power is beautiful and good, and “you should not hide this.” This is “so incredibly layered,” and has a lot of meaning for people today, in terms of what we’re being told about beauty and power, said Everett.
But meanwhile, Whitney is trying to be in charge of the Council, this super-patriarchal organization. “The only way she’s able to wield the authority is because they’re petrified,” said Everett. “Watching what she can do with Zero Matter, it’s just a pure sense of fear, [so] they obey. And she’s willing to take that, even though deep down I think what she yearns for is the respect that she sees Peggy get. And Peggy does it in a non-violent way, a non-threatening way, [because] she’s just doing the work.” But Whitney can only command respect through total fear.
One of Whitney’s best moments is when she talks to Dr. Wilkes about the fact that they’re both science geniuses, who aren’t taken seriously because Whitney is a woman and Dr. Wilkes is African American. Could Whitney ever have a moment like that where she bonds with Peggy over their shared experience with 1940s sexism? “We were just talking about that,” said Everett. “Deep down, there’s almost an obsession with Peggy coming from Whitney and Dottie [Underwood], because of the goodness within Peggy that we envy so much. I think we both wish that we had that. We really do envy her, and it’s turned into hatred. And it turns into the desire to eliminate her. She’s almost a constant reminder of what we’re not.”
How much did Everett base her portrayal of Whitney Frost on Madame Masque, the Marvel Comics villain that Whitney is loosely based on? “I researched a great deal on Madame Masque, which was insane,” said Everett. “It was so vast, and so huge, her backstory—where she’s gone, and the evil, and the good, and her interactions with Tony Stark, and the plane crash, and her upbringing—I mean, it just goes on and on. It’s incredible to see how these creators have taken the elements of all those [stories about] Whitney Frost from Marvel, and literally just dripped them into the Whitney Frost that they’ve created.” You see shout-outs to the comics version of Madame Masque everywhere, from the masks that hang in the background of her scenes to her ties to the Maggia (aka the Mafia), as personified by Joseph. “It’s all so beautifully tied in and weaved together, in a very unique way that honors the old and honors the new.”
Speaking of Joseph Manfredi, getting to have a number of scenes with Ken Marino has been a lot of fun, said Everett. Marino is “incredibly kind” and easy to be around, and “just wanted to play.” Marino does a lot of comedy, so this was “a dramatic turn for him,” and it was a fun challenge. “He just took it head on and had a blast with it.”
Agent Carter appears tonight at 9 PM on ABC.
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, which is available now. Here’s what people have been saying about it. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.