After eight solo Batman movies and six Superman films, it’s finally time for DC’s most iconic female superhero to show the cape-blokes how it’s done. Mark Beaumont shines a light on Gal Gadot, the ass-kicking ex-soldier bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen
Even at five years old, Gal Gadot wouldn’t be ignored. Her mother often tells the story of one family get-together that ran into the night, long after Gal had been put to bed. Hearing the party move to the rooftop terrace, she slipped out of bed and pottered up, only for no one to notice her. So she did what any normal future Hollywood superstar would do. She grabbed a hose and sprayed everyone with water, yelling, “It’s meeee! Look at meeee!”Gadot’s been bursting out of the background ever since. In the Fast & Furious franchise she regularly upstaged and out-stunted the rest of the glowering beefcakes as ex-
Mossad weapons expert and drug runner Gisele. And even when the foreground featured Bats and Supes battering seven shades of supers**t out of each other, Gadot was no shrinking violet in last year’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice either. She was right there, front and centre, a sword-flinging, movie-stealing wonder of a Wonder Woman – her debut appearance in the iconic role.
So Gadot (pronounced ‘gah-dote’, but originally Greenstein in her native Israel) is the best hope yet to become the first female superhero with the power to smash her way through the cinematic glass ceiling. While The Avengers are giving the misfit supergang genre depths and dichotomies we’d never imagined and Deadpool and Logan are bringing ultraviolent wit and intense adult drama respectively to solo movies, female superheroes have remained largely underused and underdressed. Even when faced with such show-stealers as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad or Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, studios are reluctant to risk another Catwoman, Elektra or Tank Girl – dumper-bound movies all. But Gadot’s steely, immortal Amazonian warrior princess, fronting her own movie this week, looks set to become the first solo superfemale icon, and to hell with the queasy online debate about her body shape or whether she bleached her armpits. “You can’t please them all,” Gal says, “and for me, being an actress, my responsibility is not to pay too much attention to all the noise around me but to pay attention to the script, to the director, Zack [Snyder, Batman V Superman director] and protect the character and try to tell her story the best I can. I can only do my best.”
If iconic comics publisher DC were after hardass glamour, they found the right woman. Voted Miss Israel at 18, Gadot broke off from an early career as one of Israel’s highest-earning models to spend two years doing military service in the Israel Defense Force, as all Israelis must. “You’ve got to give back to the state,” she explained to Glamour in March. “You give two or three years, and it’s not about you. You give your freedom away. You learn discipline and respect.”
She also learned weapon skills and combat techniques that, while fairly useless during the quieter bits of her post-service law course, certainly prepared her for Hollywood. Eight thousand miles away, an LA casting director spotted her modelling card on her agency’s wall and called her in to audition to be a Bond girl in Quantum Of Solace; Olga Kurylenko got that role, but Gadot did land the part in Fast & Furious, performing all her own stunts over three films and rising archly above the drooling bikini fodder scenes. Thriller roles followed in Ariel Vromen’s Criminal and the star-smattered Triple 9, but it was one hush-hush screen test around the same time that would turn Gadot into a one-woman army and all-round superhuman feminist icon.
“They wouldn’t say what [the role was],” she explains. “So of course I was intrigued and I did the audition and Zack was there and it was great. Two weeks later… Zack called me and he was saying, ‘Well, I’m not sure if you have it in Israel, but did you ever hear about Wonder Woman?’ I think I went dead for a few good seconds, came back to life, and then tried to pull off my best voice saying, ‘Wonder Woman, yeah, of course.’”
The significance of the part isn’t lost on Gadot. Wonder Woman getting her own movie doesn’t just reflect the current wave of actresses demanding equality in pay and standing within the rigid Hollywood blockbuster system, she’s also the original whip-cracking heroine – one we’ve been waiting to see kick the superhero genre in the moulded plastic codpiece for decades.
“It’s a huge honour to be the one who got this amazing opportunity to tell such an important story,” she says. “I have a four-year-old daughter and she adores princesses. At the same time, she would tell me, ‘The princess, she’s so weak; she falls asleep, the prince will come and save her and kiss her and he’s the hero.’ So I’m so happy to be the one that’s going to tell the Wonder Woman story. It’s such an important story to tell and I’m grateful for it, but I also think that it’s so important for girls and boys to have a strong female superhero to look up to. The more the merrier, and there’s plenty of room for women to come. I’m very, very happy to be a part of that.”
“For [Batman V Superman] it was important for me that we show how independent she is,” she told Glamour. “She’s not relying on a man and she’s not there because of a love story. She’s not there to serve someone else. She has so many strengths and powers, but at the end of the day she’s a woman with a lot of emotional intelligence. She’s loving – that’s her strength. I think women are amazing for being able to show what they feel. I admire women who do. I think it’s a mistake when women cover their emotions to look tough. I say let’s own who we are and use it as a strength.” Gal even channelled music’s very own Wonder Woman during the audition to land the part. “I decided to put on Beyoncé,” she told W magazine in April. “‘Who run the world? Girls!’ I just started to dance, and I let my anxiety go. Thank you, Beyoncé!” So she didn’t try to emulate the classic ’70s TV series? “No, I was too young to watch the Lynda Carter TV show – I was minus five. But after they cast me, I did watch a couple of episodes. I think that Lynda Carter was a magnificent Wonder Woman and certainly big shoes to fit into. When they cast me for this movie, Zack and everyone had a very clear vision on who Wonder Woman should be, what her story is and how they want to tell it. All I had to do was give my own notes and inputs and just embody everything and be her.”
Wonder Woman is set during World War I (the character’s been around a while, having been made out of clay by Zeus like some kind of ancient, super-strength Wallace & Gromit), and finds our heroine teaming up with the Allied forces, who are presumably losing the war due to a chronic lack of god-forged magical wristbands. Directed by Patty Jenkins, who made the staggering Monster in 2003, it sets out to give Wonder Woman a rounded emotional resonance so long missing from most superheroine roles.
“I’m lucky in that I’ve worked with men who have a lot of respect for women,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “But working with a woman is a different experience. It feels like the communication is different… When Patty and I had our creative conversations about the character, we realised that Diana [Prince, Wonder Woman’s secret identity] can still be a normal woman – one with very high values, but still a woman. She can be sensitive. She’s smart and independent and emotional. She can be confused. She can lose her confidence. She can have confidence.
“I feel like Diana is really accessible. It’s very easy to relate to her. She has the heart of a human so she can be emotional; she’s curious, she’s compassionate, she loves people. And then she has the powers of a goddess. I want to be her. And in Wonder Woman, she has this naivety in her. It isn’t stupid, it’s magical. I would want to be naive like that again… She’s a young idealist who’s been taught that the world is very simple: it’s black or white, bad or good. It’s how she was raised. There’s something charming about the simplistic way in which she sees the world. But once she falls in love and starts her journey with Steve Trevor [Chris Pine], he educates her about the complexity of mankind. There’s no such thing as only good and bad, black or white. It’s complicated.”
Having pumped copious iron to film Wonder Woman in the freezing cold London winter – and somehow found time to have her second child between shoots (in last November’s reshoots they had to green-screen out her five-month baby bump) – Gadot is clearly something of a real-life Wonder Woman herself. But with predictions of a $75 million opening weekend and Batman V Superman sequel Justice League due later this year, she’s yet to fully grasp just how big a deal she’s about to become – not just in the DC universe, but in the real one, too.
“It’s happening and I’m kind of still in denial,” she says. “I’m so busy working that I have absolutely no time to sit down and enjoy the ride. I’m enjoying everything, but I think it’ll take me some time before I can really understand what’s going on.” Gal Gadot: the next superhero superstar or there’s just no Justice.