Gal Gadot Breaks Into Hollywood’s Major Leagues
November 6, 2017
From a mere mortal’s perspective, it looks like the best gig in a gig economy: superpowers, supergadgets, and a supersecret lifestyle. Caught up in all the sexy superlatives, it’s easy to overlook the downsides of the job: constant death threats, battling evil 24/7…and the dress code? A onesie in latex or stretch polyester, which means zero carbs. And unless your superpower is bladder control—hey, have fun going to the bathroom.
These are the burdens the Justice League must bear, and with them comes an array of mental health issues, ranging from PTSD (Batman) to depression (Superman) to ADHD (The Flash) to anxiety (Cyborg) to identity crisis (Aquaman). Add an addiction (plus box-office–induced anxiety—the new Justice League film is out this month) and you’d have a codependent’s dream team.
Then there’s Wonder Woman—Diana, princess of the Amazons, she of Themyscira, an island of women living in a bliss bubble unseen by the modern warring world, which may or may not explain why she’s the only super who doesn’t need a psychiatrist.
“There’s been a fear for years of her being ‘clean’ and yet still tough,” says Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, who, three-quarters of a century after Wonder Woman made her DC Comics debut, brought the superheroine’s story to big-screen life last year, starring Gal Gadot. “So many people’s assumptions about what would make a tough woman is actually a damaged woman. People were confusing strength with defensiveness, and I was like, ‘Why would she be defensive? She totally trusts people! Why would she be angry? She assumes that she’s going to be treated well. She has no chip on her shoulder!’”
Wait until she finds out she’s getting paid 80 cents on the dollar.
Unlike her colleagues, Diana is sunny-side up and gets to wear couture straight from Themyscira Fashion Week: a Roman armor-influenced, molded-resin minidress lined with faux fur, with matching over-the-knee greaves, wedge ankle boots, a flowing cape, and one-of-a-kind accessories—a magic tiara, bullet-bouncing bracelets, an heirloom sword and shield, and a golden lasso of truth.
Today being Casual Wednesday in Los Angeles, Gadot emerges, unadorned and unarmed, from a black chauffeured SUV, wearing a black button-down shirt, sky-high cutoffs, and black Gucci loafers. Her shiny black hair is in a ponytail; a tiny diamond hoop earring sparkles in the sunlight. Makeup-free, with a heart-shaped face, Cupid’s bow lips, and smiley, almond-shaped eyes, the Israeli actress looks much younger than 32. When Jon Hamm first met “this bouncy girl in a baseball cap” on the set of 2016’s Keeping Up With the Joneses, he says, “I thought she was a production assistant.”
Gadot (pronounced Guh-dote) insisted that we meet at this strip-mall hole-in-the-wall, asking that the name of the place stay off the record. “Because, as you can see, it’s small, only eight chairs. It’s amazing.”
Suffice it to say we’re at a sushi joint, and given the prices on the menu, the fish were hand-caught by Aquaman this morning. Gadot orders a beer and the omakase (chef’s choice), telling the waiter, “No salmon eggs, no sea urchin, no clams.” Same here.
“You’re gonna love it,” she says. “They take the temperature of the fish, cut the fish a certain way…remember Soup Nazi on Seinfeld? ‘No soup for you!’ It’s like that—they say, ‘No wasabi! No soy sauce!’ They manage your mouth.” She arches an eyebrow, snaps her chopsticks apart, and leans in. “Do not—do not—talk about this place.”
The accent is definitely working for her. Deep and exotic, it makes whatever Gadot happens to say funnier, or sadder, or sillier, or more serious, and overall extra-charming. Even more so when she transposes words or drops one from a sentence, or furrows her brow while struggling with a definition: “What does this mean, resolute?
“When I was based in Israel, way before Wonder Woman, way before anything, I went to my dialogue coach and I told her, ‘My objective is within a year to speak completely American English.’ She said, ‘Gal, dear’— she’s like sixtysomething years old, adorable, full of compassion—she said, ‘Gal, it won’t happen.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m gonna come for three days a week for a few hours, like we make a boot camp out of it!’ She said, ‘But why would you want to do it?’ I said, ‘I’m such a niche, with my accent. I have to play the international girl. There’s no international girl in every movie! This narrows my opportunity.’
“She said, ‘Yes, but you know what? You’re special like this. Do you have any idea how many Americans there are in Los Angeles, looking for roles, who look more American than you, sound more American than you? Just be you.’”
The advice turned out to be prophetic. In 2013, Warner Bros. execs and the director Zack Snyder were screen-testing callbacks to play Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The role was small, an intro of sorts. They needed a certain someone who was loaded with charisma, beauty, strength, and grace, and who appealed to all genders—someone with chutzpah—to front a potential franchise.
“This was the very first time we put her on-camera,” Snyder recalls. “It was a chemistry test with Gal and Ben [Affleck], shooting a scene I’d scripted to see how Batman and Wonder Woman—as Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince—would look and feel when they were together. It was an intense scene, a moment where they were having a discussion about his plans and whether she would come and join him or not. The tension builds, and at the very end she says, ‘I’m not the one in trouble here, Bruce; you are.’ You really saw how she could go toe-to-toe with Ben. He was supposed to watch her go and then walk off-camera. Instead, he watched her go, slowly turned, looked directly into the camera, and made a face, a ‘Whoof, she’s awesome!’ We all knew she was the one.”
“I hadn’t seen any of her other work,” Affleck admits. “But it was clear that not only could she do it, but we really needed to have her; that she could make something great out of this character that is actually a lot harder to play than it looks. Not veering into camp or overly serious—it’s a really fine line to draw. And she’s also breaking ground as a female superhero carrying a movie. There was a lot of pressure on her.”
You’d never know it. After Batman v Superman, Gadot was in Atlanta filming the underrated spy comedy Keeping Up With the Joneses, costarring Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, and Isla Fisher. “I knew what she was about to get into with Wonder Woman and Justice League and everything else,” Hamm says. “And I just thought, Oh God, you’re about to go on the, like, 100-mile-per-hour, round-the-world rocket-ship trip. But she was so sanguine about it, and mellow. A lot of people, if they’ve got a lot going on, it leads into acting out and behaving badly. Gal, never.”
When last we left our three Batman v Superman superheroes, they’d saved mankind but were down a player, as the self-sacrificing Superman took a Kryptonite spear for the team. In the new Justice League film, the entire planet is yet again under threat, and not just from North Korea.
Duty calls, and Batman and Wonder Woman team up once more, drafting other heroes from the DC pantheon into the fight. “There’s kind of a Magnificent Seven aspect to the forming of the group,” Affleck says. And between the two lead characters, a resuming of the chemistry question: Will they, won’t they, why don’t they? Fun!
A waiter sets down two plates, each with a slice of translucent something, and barks, “No soy sauce!” “Oh, it’s so tiny and cute!” Gadot says. She pops it in her mouth, makes a big show of savoring it. “Look at us! You’re from Oklahoma!” (Actually, South Dakota.) “I’m from the Middle East. And we’re here and the sun is shining and we’re eating great food. We should be grateful.”
It was in a sushi restaurant in Atlanta that Gadot and Jenkins first met in 2015 to discuss their vision for Wonder Woman. Jenkins had been hired in a hurry after Wonder Woman’s original director, Michelle MacLaren, dropped out over creative differences. (It’s been reported that MacLaren, known for some of the most amped episodes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, had a more badass Wonder Woman in mind.)
“Patty said, ‘What do we want this movie to be?’” Gadot says. “We agreed we had to aspire to have it be a masterpiece with a profound message—not in a heavy way, but in a fun way, an interesting way.”
No problem. Jenkins, best known for 2003’s Monster, a critically acclaimed indie biopic about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, knew the exact tack to take on the superhero project. As she’d done in humanizing Wuornos, she saw her subject Diana Prince from the inside out. “I was interested in taking a journey from her point of view,” Jenkins says. “I was just a person looking at another person and telling a story of what it feels like to be her.”
Take the emotional sequence in which Wonder Woman walks, then runs, alone across a WWI battlefield—no-man’s-land—to liberate a small town from German soldiers. She doesn’t know she’s not going to die—it’s only while fighting to survive the distance that she discovers the true strength of her superpowers. “That scene is my pride and joy,” Jenkins says. “Because it’s about her transformation into Wonder Woman, rather than us watching Wonder Woman show up.” Right there is the reason the $149 million movie grossed $820 million worldwide.
For Gadot, the scene is especially weighted. Her grandfather Abraham Weiss was 13 when the Nazis invaded his village of Munkács in Czechoslovakia. His father died fighting in the army. Weiss and his mother and brother were sent to Auschwitz; he was the only one in his family to survive the camp. Weiss passed away in 2014. “One of the stories I’m developing is about the Holocaust from a women’s perspective,” Gadot says. “I feel like this is part of my mission, to tell the story, because it was such a horror, and he always told me if you forget about your history, the history will repeat itself—especially now, with everything that’s going on.”
“Gal was perfectly cast at a time when the news is about equality and justice for females, equality and justice around the world,” says Robin Wright, who plays Diana’s aunt, Antiope, a fierce Themysciran general, in the film. “That she embodied the female superhero who represents that? That’s why it became global. It was synchronicity.”
Can you imagine Wonder Woman with an American accent? No way.
Not to be the bearer of fake news, but it’s highly likely that Gadot is an agent of the Mossad, here on a mission to recruit an all-girl Justice League. From the sketchy intelligence gleaned so far, other members probably include:
Penélope Cruz: Her favorite actress.
Wright: The star of her favorite film, The Princess Bride, had just dined with Gadot and Jenkins when she called me for our phone interview. “We said, ‘We have to do this once a month!'”
And Gadot’s Batman v Superman and Justice League costar Amy Adams? Definitely in, whether she knows it or not. “Oddly enough, I’m actually with Gal now,” Adams says, giggling on the phone as the two stars’ kids play in the background. Gadot says something, and Adams yells, “No, come on! I’m going to gush about you!
“In the first film, we only had one scene together— when Superman dies—so everything I know of her is outside of work,” Adams continues. “I’m a little shy, and Gal said, ‘I don’t care if I have to pursue you! You will text me back, and we will be friends.’ And you know what? It’s hard to say you feel flattered by someone pursuing a friendship, but I was really flattered because she’s such an interesting, well-rounded person. I’m actually holding back because she’s right here. She’s definitely girl-crush material.”
Fast & Furious director Justin Lin sensed something mysterious about Gadot from the get-go. “I still remember her audition tape,” says Lin, who gave the actress her big Hollywood break in 2009. “A lot of other actresses were playing the scene. But Gal made me feel like, I want to really get to know more about her. There was so much depth, like a life prior. There’s an unknown about her.” He chuckles, perhaps privy to the fake breaking news. “Every time I sat with her at a meal, I’d find something out: ‘Yeah, I was in the military.…’”
This much about Gal Gadot is for certain, according to the Department of Justice League dossier: She grew up with her younger sister, Dana, just outside Tel Aviv, in Rosh Ha’ayin, a small city where her father, Michael, worked as a mechanical engineer and her mother, Irit, as a phys ed teacher.
It was, by Gadot’s account, a happy childhood: “Sport was a big thing—boredom is the biggest enemy of youth. When teenagers are busy, especially with sports, they get to release all these endorphins, all the frustration or whatever you feel.” That said, she also exercised an early talent for the clandestine. “I was a really good hider! You know, skipping school; you go out and tell your parents you’re going out with the girlfriend, and you go to the boyfriend…”
A soccer-team cheerleader, basketball player, and hip-hop dancer, Gadot graduated from high school and was crowned Miss Israel 2004, before serving the mandatory two years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a combat instructor.
Her obligation fulfilled, Gadot—at warp speed— entered law school, began modeling, left law school, and was cast in Bubot (“Babes”), a short-lived Israeli scripted series following the lives of models.
Within two years, she landed Fast & Furious. Between reprising her role in three of the franchise’s films, one small babe part led to another: Entourage, Date Night, Knight and Day, Criminal, and before you can say “Red leather, never yellow leather” five times fast—her dialogue exercise—Gadot became the most powerful movie star in Hollywood.
“My agent met her and said, ‘You and Gal have to do a comedy together,’” Adams says. “So now I’m writing a comedy for us. I’m not kidding. We’re going to pull Isla [Fisher] in, too.”
Meanwhile, back in our secret L.A. sushi location, every time Gadot tilts her head and touches that tiny diamond hoop in her upper left ear, like some agreed-upon signal, the angry waiter shows up. “No wasabi!”
Gadot got the cartilage piercing on her birthday. “I turned 28, and I felt, My God, this is a serious number— everyone has their number. I said, I’ve gotta do something to make myself feel young again. I’m too coward to do a tattoo.”
She leaves tattoos to her husband, 42-year-old multimillionaire real-estate developer Jaron Varsano. “But,” she says coyly, “I cannot tell you what they are.”
The two met at a desert retreat where Gadot, then 20, had gone to heal multiple breaks of the heart. “The boyfriend in high school I had been with for four years, we went our separate ways, and I was fine with that,” she says. “But then I had another relationship and another relationship, and they were all older than me, and they kept on breaking up with me! And I’m like a Labrador puppy—I just need to be with someone, be loved and hugged. I love to laugh. I don’t like to be by myself.
“So as a kicked puppy, I went to the desert, and I took Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose, a university psychology book. It talks about what triggers us as people, what we’re affected by, the fact that there’s no such thing as falling in love. You don’t fall in the net of love.
“Then Jaron got there with mutual friends, and we all stayed in the same area on the dune in tents. And he came, and he didn’t look at me twice. And that annoyed me”—she looks the other way. “What’s with the overconfidence?
“The food was so bad there, like super not-attractive food,” Gadot continues. “So Jaron drove to this French restaurant an hour and a half from there, and he bought the entire menu and brought it back to everyone. So we were sitting in a circle, and I’m like Mama Goose serving food for everyone and bringing them the plate; and he’s sitting next to me, and I just put my hand on his thigh, and that was it for him. We started talking until the sun set and the sun rose. The entire night.”
They have two daughters—Alma, five, and Maya, nine months—and after nine years of marriage, Gadot is still a goner. “He’s my superman, the love of my life…how far can I go with this?” Quite far.
The bill paid, Gadot winks good-bye to the chef behind the sushi bar and, in a perfect American accent, says, “Awesome, man! I loved it, dude!” She points to a sign: NO SPICY TUNA ROLL. NO CALIFORNIA ROLL. “See, I told you,” she says.
Outside, the black SUV is idling. Gadot, in a generous kidnapping attempt, offers me a lift to the hotel. Inside the car, she introduces her friend Noa Dolev, who rides shotgun, next to the chauffeur. The two women have known each other since they were eight. Dolev, 32, works for a peacekeeping organization that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Noa was a newcomer” to their school, Gadot says. “The teacher told Noa’s mother that she should call my mother, and we should have a playdate, and that was it!”
“Yeah, and then we fell in love!” Dolev laughs.
I ask Dolev what her best friend was like growing up, and she turns to Gadot. “Can I say?”
They break into rapid Hebrew, two giggling girls.
“In school, Gal was the most friendly, very popular girl,” Dolev says. “I was the trouble one.”
“Noa is very loyal,” Gadot says, smiling at her.
As we turn the corner onto Sunset Boulevard, a 40-foot Justice League billboard looms into view. There she is, Wonder Woman, front and center. Just the kind of superhero this crazy, uncertain, perilous, spinning planet needs.