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Rising to the Occasion
Gal Gadot proves she’s a wonder woman in more ways than one.

by Evan Jameson
You won’t find many movie stars with the following credentials: army soldier, martial arts expert and national beauty pageant winner. But upon meeting Gal Gadot, it’s easy to see how the pieces of the puzzle all fit. A former Miss Israel, her ebullient personality and charismatic nature immediately convince you that she could use either charm or kung fu to bring you into submission.

She first acquired her martial arts skills while serving a two-year stint in the Israeli Army and spent six months refining those techniques while adding some bulk to her otherwise lithe frame prior to shooting Batman v Superman in 2016.

Up front and in person, she smiles playfully and does everything to turn the occasion into a conversation amongst friends rather than the standard promotional chitchat. Charmingly uninhibited and self-deprecating while you sit down to speak with her, she does her best to get you to break out laughing at every opportunity.

She’s also one of the biggest stars in Hollywood having nabbed the hotly contested role of Wonder Woman in 2015. She still can’t quite believe her good fortune, despite the fact she’s now headlining the sequel. Though the current COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the release date of Wonder Woman 1984 until Christmas Day—when it will simultaneously hit theaters and stream on HBO Max—it remains one of the more highly anticipated films of the year.
In this interview, Gadot covers it all; from playing a superhero to carrying the weight of being a role model for young women and why raising a family has been more rewarding than she could have imagined.
How excited are you to revise the role of Wonder Woman?
It’s such an amazing feeling and it’s actually not something that you think about when you go and shoot a movie. When you’re on the set and you’re playing the part and acting, you’re just playing the character and interpreting what you feel from the script.
Not really at any point does it really cross your mind about the feeling or effect that you’re creating for those audience members who are going to watch the film when it gets released. I mean, OK, we do think about it beforehand or even straight after you’ve finished the scene, when the director shouts, “Cut.”
But during that scene, you’ve only got that in the back of your mind and what you’re really doing is concentrating exactly on what you’re doing and making sure that you give everything your best shot and maybe experiment a little bit with each take to get that fine tuning just right.
I’m not driven by what the audience is going to feel, more so because each person who watches it—even from the same group of people who will go and watch it together—are almost certainly going to have a different reaction, because we are all unique. It may affect each person in a different way.
What do you think that audiences will take away from the sequel?
We hope that people will love it, obviously. They will more than likely make their feelings known on social media and believe me when I say that I will try to read as many posts as I can and reply where I can.
It’s great to be able to interact with fans and audiences who watch you on the screen and they appreciate all of the hard work that everyone has put into making movies. I’m also sure that it would be nice for them to be able to speak to someone who has had a direct part in the movie and that we can all celebrate it together.
This will never get old for me. I have to pinch myself all the time. You can’t take on a part like this and become complacent; I’ll never take it for granted. Not even if I wanted to.
On the days when you’re doing the premieres and parties or when people recognize you on the street, do you moments when you wish you were more “normal?”
I would like the work to be a little more normal. A little more typical working hours. There are stretches when I’m away from my family and that’s what I don’t like. That’s when it’s like, “I hate this.” I mean, I love the work but I don’t like being separated from them. But then you have lots of time at home being mom, being normal so yeah … I mean, c’mon, every job has its challenges. This has its own set of unique ones but you just do it and get on with it.
You must be a hero to your daughters.
I don’t know if it’s that exciting for them. Although it’s really cute, whenever anyone asks her where I am, my eldest will cross her wrists and say “Wonder Woman.”
Are you excited to be back in action again?
I am so so excited, I can’t put into words how ready I am for everyone to see it. It was interesting because it was the first female superhero role in a long time when the first film came out in 2017. It should never have been like that, but we’ve come a long way since.

I think it’s time young girls and young women have these kinds of role models they can look up to. One night I remember telling my eldest daughter a fairy tale story and she complained that the princesses in these stories never get to do very much and it’s always the princes who are the strong and brave ones. She would complain to me, “The princess, she is so weak. She falls asleep, and it’s the prince who comes and saves her and kisses her and he’s the hero!”

That’s why it makes me so proud to be able to play Wonder Woman because she’s the opposite of the passive princesses and other kinds of female characters we see in movies—she is very dynamic and independent and someone all women and especially younger women can look up to.

So a character like Wonder Woman makes you feel like you’re carrying the torch for women everywhere?
I take this role very seriously. I’m very grateful to have this responsibility of playing Wonder Woman. This is a very big character. It’s important for women to have characters like that to give them confidence and develop high aspirations for what they want to be able to accomplish in life.

Women need to be inspired by other women and movies and TV are very important in shaping how young women feel about themselves. It makes me proud to think that one day when my daughter is a little older she will be able to watch her mother playing this very strong woman. Women need role models like this to feel inspired and empowered.

Has any woman in particular inspired you when it comes to how you approach playing the role?
I watched a documentary about Princess Diana. She said she leads from her heart and not from her head. And I think the same is true of our Diana [Prince].

You’ve been Miss Israel, you’ve been in the Israeli army and you’ve gone on to have a very successful movie career. Where do you get your drive and ambition from?
My father and mother encouraged me and my sister to be very independent and strong-minded. They wanted us to be very self-confident and believe that we could accomplish anything in life if we were serious and determined and worked hard.

I also played a lot of sports like volleyball and dodgeball and basketball and learned to be very competitive. It kind of gives you an extra edge where you push yourself harder. All of that helped me when I started living in Los Angeles—you have to be very tough-minded if you want to succeed, especially when a lot of people want to put you in only certain kinds of roles. I had to work very hard to prove myself and avoid playing sexy roles or parts where you’re just the “girlfriend” supporting the man.

What’s interesting about your career is that right when things were beginning to take off for you you decided to start a family.
It was the right time for me. I’m so happy to be a mother and being able to experience this beautiful, joyful feeling I have being with her. I’m glad that I had my first daughter in my 20s because I think it’s much easier to raise a child before your career takes off.

Many women today believe that they should wait until they’ve already established themselves in their careers before having children. But I thought it was better for me to have a child sooner rather than later because when you’re in your 30s that’s probably the time when you’re working harder than ever in your job and that’s an even busier time.

What do you think has been the most important factor in your success?
I think believing in myself has been the key and also, having a lot of ambition and a very positive attitude in life. If you believe in yourself and have the kind of drive to excel at whatever you set out to do, that’s going to play a big part in helping you realize your dreams.
You’ve kept your knack of mixing things up by sliding in comedy projects along the way. 
Well I love to make fun of myself; I am always the first person to laugh at my own expense. You know, you do Wonder Woman and before long, it’s like, “She’s just does superhero movies. She just does action.” And no, I want to try all kinds of scripts.
I was talking to a well-known director and telling him that I was doing a comedy next and he sort of looked at me with this weird expression, as in, I knew what he was thinking: “Comedy… you?” He was like, “You know it will be really difficult, comedy is one of the hardest things you can do.” And I said, “I know, but I want to give it a try and I like to make fun of myself.”… And you never know unless you try. Who cares if I fall flat on my face [laughs]! Just always try.
How did you get the idea of entering the Miss Israel pageant?
I had finished school and I was waiting to start my (compulsory) military service and I thought it would be fun to enter the competition. The Miss Israel pageant has a very good reputation in our country—it’s not seen as something that is degrading to women at all. I never for a minute thought that I had any chance of winning and I was shocked when I won. But it gave me a chance to do some modeling and get into acting later which was something I became very interesting in doing.

And it helped you land a campaign with Gucci. What was that experience like?
I’ve always been a great admirer of Gucci and I was really honored to be asked to work with them. They spoke to me about the campaign and I was very anxious to represent a fragrance that is intended for women who want to be both powerful and feminine.

You’ve mentioned your mother as being a kind of “wonder woman” in her own way.
My mother has been a major influence in my life and that of my sister. Both my father and mother raised us to be very capable and independent women with a strong sense of ourselves and a positive outlook on life.

That kind of spirit is very important. I grew up believing in myself and thinking that I would be able to accomplish the goals I set out for myself. My mother was the one who taught me to have big dreams and go out into the world with a sense of adventure.
You auditioned for the part of the Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, right?
Yes. At first I didn’t want to go to the audition. ... I wasn’t an actress, and there was no way I would get the job. Also, I had just started studying law in Israel and I saw my life in a different way then. But, finally my agent kept calling me and persuading me and I decided to go after all.

Even though I didn’t land the part, the entire experience and process of auditioning and working on my acting made me realize that [being an actress] was my next big goal in my life. Acting was something I knew instinctively that I could be good at and all my friends told me that I should give it a shot.

Then three months later I won the part in Fast and Furious 4 and doing those films gave me the chance to show what I could do. I’m sure the work I did in those movies helped me get the role of Wonder Woman because [director] Zack (Snyder) knew that I could play a tough and physically aggressive woman.

There are lots of fight scenes and I had to learn to do swordplay as well as martial arts kind of stuff. One thing I want to get better at, though, is the lasso. That’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be! (Laughs) The army never trained me for that!

Was it hard for you to endure some of the initial criticism of your being chosen to play Wonder Woman?
That was a long time ago, but yes, people were complaining that my boobs weren’t big enough and that I was too skinny. It’s the same old story my entire life. But people forget that the real Amazons had only one breast so that it would make archery easier! I don’t think that there should be one ideal female form. Women are very diverse and wonderful beings and it is more important to have a strong sense of self and purpose to be able to go out in life and make the most of it.

You’re married, you have two children and an amazing career. Do you feel you have it all now?
It’s always difficult for women to meet the expectations we have of ourselves now. We’re always trying to please everyone as well as our own ambitions and we can never manage it. We place probably too much pressure on ourselves because we want to be the best wife, the best mother and be very successful in our careers. We want to spend as much time as we can with our child but, of course, we also want to be able to work and have very full lives. Women have a lot more freedom now but because our roles are changing in society and that means we have to adapt our thinking to what it means to be a successful and happy working mother.

How has being a mother changed you?
Raising my daughters has made me so much stronger. When I fell pregnant the first time I was considering whether it was a good time to have a child and I came to the conclusion that there is never going to be an ideal moment. I thought it was the right choice to make and I so I had my baby and things have turned out very well for me. Having my daughters has brought me both a lot of energy and also a lot of good luck.

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 9 (December 2020).

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