Just a few weeks before Covid-19 would turn the world on its head, Gal Gadot was at an upscale Beverly Hills hotel promoting Wonder Woman 1984, the feverishly awaited sequel to the groundbreaking 2017 female-centric superhero flick which soared to a US$821 million worldwide haul.
Three years later, this Amazonian princess is back - and she couldn't have returned at a better time. Swooping into cinemas for Christmas, Wonder Woman 1984 feels like just the tonic we need at the tail end of a devastating year, not to mention a politically challenging one for the US.
"Life is better when you can have a laugh," says Gadot. "It's important to laugh at yourself, make fun of yourself."
If laughing is a priority for Gadot, there was no shortage of it on the sequel's set, especially given that Saturday Night Live alum, Kristen Wiig (a self-confessed Wonder Woman fan) landed the role of Wonder Woman's nemesis, Cheetah/Barbara Minerva. "Kristen is a laugh-fest to the point where you think you might puke," says Gadot.
The enormous pressure to raise the bar from the well-reviewed original movie is, however, no laughing matter, particularly for director Patty Jenkins, who also helmed the first film.
"That bar was already high and now we need to push it even higher?" Gadot says, her thick-accented, raspy voice escalating. "We started with the fights. Patty Jenkins and I took our kids to see the Cirque du Soleil show. We watched them swinging on those cables, which looked so feminine and graceful and sexy, and Patty said it was an amazing inspiration for the fight scenes," she explains. "We are women. We don't fight like guys." She smiles. "So we got to dance and fight in the air. It was as beautiful as it was badass." She pauses. "For me, going back to Wonder Woman was like coming home."
Set in the 80s with a budget of US$175m (the original was budgeted at US$120m), the film opens amid the Cold War. It was shot over several months in Washington, D.C., London and parts of Spain. Chris Pine returns as Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman's love interest, while there's a new villain in the piece - infomercial king and businessman, Max Lord, played by Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian).
Gadot, a former Miss Israel, is mother to two daughters: Alma, 9, and Maya, 3, who she is raising with her real estate tycoon husband, Yaron Varsano, between their homes in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles. How does her husband feel about being married to the world's most powerful, kick-ass woman?
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"He is so proud!" Gadot laughs. "I married a very strong man and he is very confident. When I was doing my first round of talk shows and I was super nervous and stressing out, he was there with me saying, 'Gal, no one is testing you. Just be.' He's a good anchor for me and he knows how to keep me in my zen zone. We are the best team together and I am really lucky that I have this island of sanity that is my own, my family."
Be that as it may, she thinks her healthy sense of ambition helps her override any potential fears. "Yes, I think being ambitious probably makes me brave because I have this hunger to conquer my wants, even though many times I feel that I'm out of my comfort zone," she says. "But I realise it's important to push yourself and do that for yourself."
Gadot was born and raised in Tel Aviv, along with her younger sister, Dana. Their mother is a teacher and their father an engineer. Like all Israelis, Gal served her two years in the Israel Defense Forces, where she enlisted as a combat instructor. After she completed her service, she studied law and international relations at the IDC Herzliya college. She began a career in modelling, which led to an acting career, and she landed her first role in Fast and Furious (2009), doing her own stunt work. The following year she appeared in Date Night and Knight and Day, and then in 2011, she reprised her role in Fast Five, and again, two years later, in Fast and Furious 6.
Following her performance as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in 2016, (she was arguably the best part of that film), Gadot went on to star in Triple 9, Criminal, and the action-comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses. Then Wonder Woman hit cinemas and Gadot's life as she knew it changed forever.
Certainly, she is proof that dreams can come true. When actors arrive in Hollywood for the first time and take myriad meetings, everyone asks the same thing: What's your dream role?
"I always said, 'I want to play a real woman. An independent, strong, real woman,'" she says. "And that's exactly who Wonder Woman is."
WHO: Gal Gadot
WHAT: Stars as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, alongside Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen, in Wonder Woman 1984
WHERE: New Zealand cinemas from Boxing Day