Wonder Woman is about to blush.
“There is an effortless intelligence and humor and delight,” says director Patty Jenkins of “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, who happens to be sitting beside her on the couch. “You hit all the beats of strength and power and warmth, but there’s this delightful other quality that the right Wonder Woman can bring, which is she’s comfortable in her own skin, so she’s able to be funny and quick and playful; this light and wonderful spirit of a generous person. That makes me want to watch her all day and be with her and be like her.”
Then, turning to the heroine’s unglamorous fighting style:
“One of my favorite things about Gal is —”
“— that she runs really funny,” interjects Gadot, to laughter.
“ — is that you look fantastic no matter what you do! I wasn’t going out of my way to make her look good or bad; I was able to sink into the acting.”
With some embarrassment, the actress looks at the interviewer, who is not about to dispute the point.
“She’s super-talented,” says Gadot of her director, recovering. “When we met for the first time, we had really good sushi, we were talking about life and the fact we have this tool — the title of ‘Wonder Woman’ — and so many people cared so much about this character, and we would have a lot of exposure. And she didn’t just want to do an entertaining movie; she wanted it to make a statement. And we live in such a cynical world now, where the jokes are with a wink-wink, we wanted to say something that is truthful and real and super-needed now.
“And she’s a wonderful person,” Gadot says, laughing, touching Jenkins’ shoulder, “and I love you so much!” The two laugh, hugging.
Yes, a conversation with Jenkins and Gadot is a massive love fest. To be fair, these two have earned a victory lap.
There are many reasons why the beloved Amazon took 75 years to reach the big screen, but in an era when $150-million budgets are commonplace, it’s hard to politely explain why no woman had been given the reins to such a blockbuster until now. Jenkins is the first, and the first female director to have a live-action film gross more than $800 million (at least $200 million more than previous record holder “Mamma Mia!”), among its many box-office records.
And whereas previous “Justice League Universe” movies had averaged a Rotten Tomatoes score equivalent to a beating in a dark alley (36%), “Wonder Woman” is one of the best-reviewed films of the year (92%). To say it was made with a lighter touch is like comparing shiatsu to the caress of an anvil. But it wasn’t just the humor and absence of dark green filters: The heroine herself represents an idealism lacking from her dour predecessors.
Says Jenkins, “That is something Gal and I believed in — a superhero who’s tough and powerful and all those things, but also loving and thoughtful and kind.”
Gadot adds, “She had never lived under any social mentality that men are better or stronger and women are less. Nobody wanted to bring a character who was preaching and angry, but she’s oblivious to the whole gender thing.
“Many times when you go to see movies, the strong woman is tough and cold and distant. We wanted to make her real. Women have always been strong and independent, but they [have also been] warm and loving and kind.”
Gadot cites Jenkins’ insistence on emotional truth, even in the fight scenes. The director steered her from anger, making kicks and punches merely means to an end.
“I’ve done a few action movies before,” says the star of several “Fast and Furious” movies, as well as “Keeping Up With the Joneses.” “This was the first time I got to do the action in such an emotional way.”
Jenkins never considered the genre a limitation to her message. “I just want to make beautiful, big powerful things that are fun and entertaining, but have an impact on your life and can change the world,” the director says of her career plan. “I don’t think there’s any genre you shouldn’t aim for that with. I have found [in given years] that documentaries have been the most moving, incredible things, or Pixar films have been the most incredible thing. There’s no genre I’m closed to. I think art has always been this way — serious things are taken more seriously. But that doesn’t mean it’s true, and I don’t think of it this way.”
The film’s positivity may be one of the factors separating it from its peers and getting it some awards-season traction.
“The other day at a SAG Q&A, a member said that his niece, she lost both of her legs and I think she’s 7, and she watches ‘Wonder Woman’ every day and that’s how she gains power and strength,” says Gadot. “It’s overwhelming.”
Jenkins says, “Everyone has a Wonder Woman inside of them, gender-blind.
“When I was at the DGA, a guy who had spina bifida who was in a wheelchair, he said, ‘I spent my entire youth in a gown, and naked, being prodded and poked and having no control. … When she takes off her cloak and steps into [the field of battle] with so little on — how vulnerable she was, and yet so strong …’
“It was very emotional to him.”