'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Gal Gadot ('Wonder Woman')

Gal Gadot - Wonder Woman Build Studio-Getty-H 2017
Desiree Navarro/WireImage

"I never planned on all of this," says Gal Gadot, the 32-year-old Israeli actress who played DC Comics’ most iconic female character, Wonder Woman, in the first major-studio superhero film ever to center on a female protagonist, Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, as we sit down at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. Thanks in no small part to Gadot's breakout performance, the Warner Bros. picture, which hit theaters June 2, became the hit of the summer, garnering a 92 percent favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com and grossing more than $800 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing superhero origin movie ever and turning Gadot into an A-list star. "I'm the luckiest girl in the world," she says, flashing her movie star smile.

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Gadot's path to Hollywood stardom couldn't have been more unconventional. Born and raised near Tel Aviv, she graduated from high school and then, at the age of 18, despite having never modeled before, was selected to compete in the Miss Israel contest. She won, "which freaked the shit out of me," she says, because she became nationally famous, and "it was kind of overwhelming." She subsequently was sent to compete in the Miss Universe contest (she recalls, "I saw [Donald Trump] there ... he shook our hands and introduced himself ... I was dressed"), and then briefly worked as a model before enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces to fulfill her mandatory two years of military service. Afterwards, she decided to study law and international relations — "the worst thing I could ever have done to myself," she laments — while still modeling on the side.

One day, Gadot's modeling agency, which also represented actors, informed her that the casting director for the upcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace who was in town looking for the next Bond girl, had seen her photo on the wall and requested that she come in to audition. She begged off, insisting that she was not an actress or prepared to play a role in English. But her agent insisted that she show up, and she did, doing well enough to land several callbacks. Although that part ultimately did not pan out for her, it piqued her interest in acting — "I was like, 'Wow, this is fascinating — this is so much more exciting than going to freaking law school,'" Gadot laughs — and she started working with an acting coach, informing her agency that she now was interested in acting opportunities. Before long, she landed the lead on an Israeli TV series — "the best school for me," she reflects — and then the same casting agent who had pursued her for Quantum of Solace went after her for the role of Gisele, an ex-Mossad motorcyclist, for the Fast and the Furious franchise. She wound up appearing in its four most recent installments.

But outside of the Fast and the Furious opportunities, Gadot was struggling to find traction in Hollywood. "I had so many almosts for big, great things, but I was never big enough of a name," she says, citing as an example the part that Charlize Theron ultimately played in 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road. "It was always me and 'the big name.'" The "rejection" proved hard for her and she felt increasing "pressure," particularly because each audition required her, her husband and her young daughter to commute from Israel to Hollywood. "It just came to a point where I was like, 'I don't want to do this to my family. If it's not going to work, why push it?'" she recalls. "I was on the verge of quitting everything and just going back to Israel." But a week before the date listed on what she expected to be her final return ticket from Hollywood, Warner Bros. asked her to audition for a secret project. She showed up, read for director Zack Snyder and then flew back to Israel. A few weeks later, she received a call, was told that she was being considered for a role in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and was asked to come back to town to do a camera test opposite Ben Affleck. "I'm like, 'What the fuck is going on?'" she remembers. Snyder finally told her that she was being considered for the part of Wonder Woman — at that point only in Batman v. Superman — and she was ecstatic because of "everything that [Wonder Woman] represents." Gadot explains, "For me it was like, 'Oh, my God, that was my dream role!'"

When news leaked out that Gadot had been cast as Wonder Woman, not everyone in the DC Comics fan-base was thrilled — in fact, quite a lot of "trolls," as she calls them, were critical of her selection. "The thing that I really noticed was they were very judgmental and being very critical about the way that I looked," she says. "They had a lot to say about the lack of boobs and the lack of booty." She continues, "Everyone was talking about, 'How come I don't have big breasts?' I never thought that this was the most important thing that Wonder Woman would have to have; I thought it would be the performance. But if you want to be realistic and if you want to be [faithful] to the truth, the Amazons had one boob, because of the bow and arrow — they had to cut off the other boob — so should we go there? What do you want me to do?" What Gadot did do was work out tirelessly, spending several hours of every day for eight months training in the gym and choreographing stunts — while also never losing sight of what lies beneath the character's surface. "The main thing for me was, 'Okay, she's gotta be strong and independent and powerful, obviously, but she needs to have some warmth and she needs to be a little witty to make her more relatable.' I wanted her to be charming, in a way."

After Batman v. Superman wrapped, but before it opened on March 25, 2016 (to a disappointing critical and commercial response), Gadot learned that Warner Bros. wanted to make a Wonder Woman in which she would star, a stand-alone film, for $149 million, to be directed by Jenkins, best known for 2003's Monster. Jenkins has confessed that she had reservations about Gadot before meeting her, but was won over once they met; Gadot, for her part, agrees. "We had an amazing connection from the very first moment that we sat down together and started to talk," she says, adding, "Patty was literally the best person for the job." Following another, even more grueling training period — built around six-hour workouts — Gadot went to work for Jenkins in freezing cold England, working six-day weeks over a six-month period. It was exhausting, but all worth it when the film opened and was received with massive enthusiasm by critics and audiences (it made $103 million its opening weekend and remained atop the box office for its first two weekends en route to becoming the 20th highest-grossing movie of all-time). "I'm still processing that," the actress says, "but I'm super proud and I couldn't be happier and [more] grateful."

Wonder Woman has had a particularly profound effect on little girls, many of whom have responded with delight at seeing a woman at the center of a superhero movie, and one of whom was moved to tears upon meeting Gadot at San Diego ComicCon. "It's a privilege to be able to affect people to such an extent," Gadot says, "especially little people." The actress, who is back in Israel for the first time since the film's release, now as a national hero, says she looks forward to continuing to play Wonder Woman over the coming years — next in Justice League, which hits theaters Nov. 17. There reportedly have been reshoots on that film in order to feature her character more prominently; Gadot promises, "You're gonna see Wonder Woman more in Justice League." In the meantime, she's reveling in her film's success and message — "To be a feminist, to me, is all about freedom of choice and equality, and I think that everyone should be feminist, and whoever is not is a sexist," she says — and she's excited to use her newfound fame to help make other films that are important to her. She teases, "There's a very, very special project that I'm working on — and I can't wait to share it."