The first day Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot met, they slipped into a sushi restaurant and didn’t stop talking for four hours. “Both of us were so passionate about so many topics,” says Gadot. “Family life, World War II, the Holocaust, humans, race, politics. We were upset and we were happy and we were thrilled.”
That conversation is still ongoing. Months after their film, Wonder Woman, became the summer’s biggest hit, the pair continue to fizz with chemistry, so much that they speak in sync—they don’t just agree, they overlap, both voices filling the room at once like two harmonious guitars.
“We realized very quickly that we wanted to do the same thing,” says Jenkins. They dreamed of making a classic, Richard Donner-style superhero movie—“a tentpole of yesteryear”—that was exciting and romantic and funny and, above all, inspirational. Jenkins hadn’t hired Gadot. The star was already part of the franchise after Wonder Woman’s brief debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yet, both knew from that first meeting that they were a match made in Themyscira.
Laughs Gadot, “We were meant to be.”
Since then, they’ve only grown closer. They’d shoot six days a week, and on the seventh day, get together with their kids. Late into the shoot after months of stunts and rain and physical exhaustion, when Gadot’s knee would start to ache, Jenkins’ would, too. “The relationship got symbiotic,” says Gadot. “If my right shoulder was painful, her left shoulder was painful. She was mirroring my pain.”
Gadot earned the sore muscles of an action star. But to prepare for her battle scenes, she and Jenkins cared more about calibrating Wonder Woman’s inner feelings than her stunt choreography. Ask them about shooting the centerpiece No Man’s Land sequence, a slow-motion ballet of bullets and cannons and arm gauntlets and shields, and Jenkins focuses on the conversational scenes before the dangerous charge, and Wonder Woman’s frustration with continually being told no.
“I didn’t think about the way I hit or I attack,” says Gadot. “It was always, ‘What’s my emotional state? Why am I gonna do this?’” Jenkins would ask Gadot to adjust Wonder Woman’s anger, usually by taking it down a notch.
“She’s not vicious,” says Jenkins. Watch closely and spot Gadot flipping her sword to whack Germans with the non-fatal handle. Audiences are used to blockbusters that pause the plot during action scenes so people can cheer. But study Gadot’s movements and see how Wonder Woman reveals dimensions of her personality even when she’s silently running across a field.
“The story doesn’t stop because you’re fighting,” says Jenkins. “The fighting is the story.”
“Exactly!” says Gadot. “To—to—” She waves her hands searching for the right word.
“Emote?” guesses Jenkins, reading her mind.
“Yes! To express yourself!” Gadot grins, slapping her knees in glee.
“Acting is so whole-bodied,” says Jenkins. “We’re reading a gajillion kinds of micro-clues about another human being and what they want. How she’s standing, how she’s feeling, how she’s feeling inside, how she’s approaching, these are subtle things. The lines that she’s saying are only one part of it.”
Wonder Woman walks with confidence because she believes that the world is kind. And when it’s revealed not to be, her body language changes. Now, her confidence is layered with sacrifice and resolve—emotions that Gadot thought a lot about before she shot each take so that when she was in the moment, she wouldn’t have to be consciously aware of them at all. She imagined herself wearing Wonder Woman’s qualities almost like a second costume. The character’s inner life told her how to move.
That pivotal scene in the control tower, where Wonder Woman learns that killing Ares doesn’t rescue mankind from their hunger for violence, was one of the hardest to get right. Humans grow up knowing we’re capable of both good and evil. Wonder Woman thought we were better than that, an innocence that’s so alien to adult move-goers, it plays as ignorant. “It’s easy to get condescending,” says Jenkins. Gadot wasn’t just fighting the god of war—she had to fight the audience’s cynicism.
“Big performance things, where very sensitive emotional turns matter, don’t happen overnight,” says Jenkins. She turns to Gadot and smiles. “Every once in a while they do! Like the dance!” she says, thinking of the scene where Gadot and Pine sway in a town square of liberated villagers. “That was the easiest thing!”
Gadot snaps her fingers, “Like from the first take!”
“Both she and Chris are super smart,” says Jenkins. “As a result, the quickness of their dynamic, the speed of little things like her eye movement, and reaction time, it’s amazing to me.”
“I’m very, very, very lucky that the world made sure that Patty was going to direct this movie,” says Gadot, beaming. The actress gets annoyed when people think that Jenkins was the right Wonder Woman director only because she’s a woman. “No, Patty was the right director because she knew exactly what she wants and how to get it,” insists Gadot. Jenkins has run around sets since she was 20 years old, building her resume up from camera operator to short film director to the highest-paid female hit-maker in, well, ever, thanks to her salary for the upcoming Wonder Woman 2.
Plus, Jenkins never stops shooting until she has the perfect take. “Patty always gives her million percent,” says Gadot, so everyone on set becomes equally invested, to the point that when the star had to film re-shoots while five months pregnant—her belly painted green so it could be animated out—the mom-to-be willingly threw herself on the floor for a face-slam. They decided not to repeat that for the second take.
On the last day of filming, Jenkins was even more of a perfectionist than usual. It was Wonder Woman creator William Marston’s birthday—pure coincidence—and all they needed was one final shot of Gadot crouching on the ground. But Jenkins couldn’t stop asking for retakes. Could Gadot lean forward more? Could she raise her other foot? The positions got stranger and stranger. Surely, they had the footage? Jenkins had to stifle her giggles. She just didn’t want the movie to end.
“She pranked me!” yells Gadot. Both burst out laughing. Wonder Woman could have figured out the problem earlier with her lasso of truth. But the actress doesn’t mind a bit.
This feature is part of a series of three cover stories celebrating Women in Hollywood for the 12/13 print edition of Deadline’s AwardsLine magazine. Click here to read our feature with Dee Rees and Mary J. Blige on Mudbound, and look out for Greta Gerwig & Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird later today.