This Israeli-born Army veteran, who specialized in combat training
techniques, had both an experiential and physical leg up in tackling the role of Wonder Woman. She explains other reasons why inhabiting the character of the Amazonian princess was both a thrill…and the task of a lifetime
by Matt Scanlon
It’s a commonly held misconception that Wonder Woman was the first female comic book hero, but that distinction is actually held by Fantomah, “Mystery Woman of the Jungle,” created by Fletcher Hanks and published in the February, 1940 Jungle Comics #2. A powerfully built blonde who protects her primeval home with a variety of supernatural powers, Fantomah enjoyed comic book gender dominion for just over a year, before a certain Amazonian princess took to the page.
Wonder Woman, according to the character’s creators (psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter), was sculpted from clay by Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, then given life by the goddess Athena (more recent narratives have described her as the daughter of Zeus). Exhaustive training helped develop a
physique of considerable capabilities, and she was depicted in her earliest DC Comics as fighting Axis forces during World War II, as well as duking it out with additional supervillains.
Ultimately becoming a member of the Justice League (along with Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl), Diana Prince (her alter ego) navigated by day through a more normal though often fraught landscape, in which she was regularly underestimated and misunderstood.
Before the release of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, incredibly, the character had been committed to the big screen only twice—in an animated 2009 film for which Keri Russell voiced the character, and as a minifigurine in 2014’s Lego Movie. Fans will be quick to also reference the ABC TV series Wonder Woman (later known as The New Adventures of Wonder Woman) which aired from 1975 to 1979 and starred Lynda Carter.
In what is now her second turn as Diana, princess of the Amazons, Gal Gadot stars in the June 2-released Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg and Geoff Johns. Essentially an adapted origin story, the film depicts Diana’s isolated island home of Themyscira, then her meeting an American pilot named Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) who informs her of how World War I is ravaging the planet. She decides to leave her sheltered existence for the first time and fight to help make it, in fact, the “war that ends all wars.”
Gadot, 31, born and raised in Israel and who took her first prominent stage while winning the 2004 Miss Israel competition, left modeling shortly after taking the prize to join the Israeli army at the age of 20, specializing as a combat trainer (most Israeli citizens are required to do military service). After briefly studying law in post-army life, Gadot was spotted by casting agents, and auditioned for the role of Bond girl Camille Montes in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, but lost the part to Olga Kurylenko. She did, however, pick up the role of Gisele in 2009’s Fast & Furious, and reprised it in Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the break that thrust the mother of two (with husband Yaron Varsano, an Israeli real estate developer) into the notoriety stratosphere, and she explained at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con that she immediately grasped the importance of inhabiting the character for the first time as a cinematic lead.
“There are so many beautiful, strong, inspiring male role models male superheroes. There are not enough female ones,” she said. “My daughter [who was four at the time] loves princesses and everything about them. She has a full collection…but she also thinks that they’re all weak. She would say to me, for example, ‘This princess just goes to sleep, and then the prince wakes her up.’ So I think it’s important for girls and boys to be inspired by and exposed to these amazing, bigger-than-life female role models.”
At the latest San Diego Comic Con, in reference to the new film, Gadot offered further inspirational background to a press pool that included Industry staff.
“Wonder Woman has the heart of a human and the strength of a goddess, and the combination of the two is powerful,” she said. “I remember, before we started shooting, I watched a documentary movie about the real Princess Diana, where she said she leads from her heart and not from her head, and I think that this quote describes our Diana [Prince] best.”
For the multiple fight sequences, Gadot was required to train in weapons combat, capoeira (a martial art combining dance, acrobatics and music), Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kung fu, and kickboxing.
“I had to prep five months before we started shooting,” the actress added at last year’s Rhode Island Comic Con. “Lots of horseback riding, which was awesome…and painful, plus martial arts, sword, and shield training. There was also a tremendous amount of gym work. Weights, diet…everything.”
Key to the plot structure, according to director Jenkins, was Diana combining otherworldly physical capabilities with a naïveté that reacts with surprise and horror to the cruelties of the world of human beings.
“There are a lot of superheroes who are chosen and find themselves in these positions of wanting to stop crime or save people, but she’s one of the very few who believe in goodness and kindness and justice and love,” Jenkins offered at a 2016 San Diego Comic Con panel. “She comes to our world hoping to install that in other people, but is willing to use force if that’s what she must do.”
“I love the world of the Amazons…that they have freed themselves of the enslavement of men,” the director added.
“At some point, they had to become incredible bad-asses to do that…to get themselves where they did…From that point on, of course, they’re going to have different points of view about how to move forward. Do they stay on the island forever or do they reach out?”
“I think it’s wonderful that we had a platform in order to spread Wonder Woman’s messages,” Gadot said at the Rhode Island event. “Which are women empowerment, compassion, love, and justice… so many big and beautiful values to share with not only girls and boys, but with men and women.”