Hayley Elizabeth Atwell was born on April 5, 1982 in London, England to a Native-American father, who worked as a massage therapist, and an English mother who was a motivational speaker. Atwell's unusual childhood, which was filled with memories of tarot readings and sweat lodges, helped her get in touch with her feelings, particularly when Hayley Atwell started training to be an actor at The Guildhall School of Drama and Music. After graduating in 2005, Atwell landed a regular role in the miniseries "The Line of Beauty" (BBC, 2006), playing the manic-depressive daughter of a disgraced politician. A few more supporting roles in television movies followed, before Atwell nabbed a major part in the Woody Allen crime drama "Cassandra's Dream," appearing as a stage actress and the scheming love interest of Ewan McGregor's character. In 2008, Atwell earned critical praise for her engaging performances in two high-profile period pieces. Hayley Atwell first starred in "Brideshead Revisited," the big screen adaptation of the 1945 Evelyn Waugh novel about a repressed upper-class family whose beliefs are challenged after they welcome into their home a social climber (Matthew Goode) who becomes the object of affection of both Atwell's oppressed Catholic girl, as well as her brother. Atwell also played a major role in "The Duchess," which chronicled the extravagant life of the 18th century aristocrat, Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley). In the visually stunning biopic, Atwell's character was involved in a steamy love triangle between the Duchess and the Duke (Ralph Fiennes).
In 2009, Atwell starred in the remake of the 1960s cult sci-fi series "The Prisoner" (AMC, 2009) as one of the prisoners of a mysterious village and the woman who helped the character 6 (James Caviezel) discover the reason why he was sent to the remote island. By 2010, Atwell's talents finally gained attention stateside. Hayley Atwell starred as the lead character's (Matthew Macfadyen) soul mate on the series "Any Human Heart" (Channel 4, 2010), based on William Boyd's 2002 novel about the life of Logan Mountstuart, a writer who encountered many of the 20th century's most significant figures. Atwell also had a lead part in the highly anticipated action-adventure film "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011) as the superhero's girlfriend who secretly worked for the French Resistance. But her biggest coup was landing a lead role in the epic miniseries "The Pillars of the Earth," based on Ken Follett's 1989 bestseller of the same name. Set in 12th century England, the story followed the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge during the turbulent period in English history known as The Anarchy. Atwell delivered a star-making performance as a haughty and willful aristocrat defeated by religious and political strife during a civil war, a role that earned her a 2011 Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television.